Storytelling theme of the night: Lists (in any form)
*Includes changes by hand night-of performance.
WARNING: GRAPHIC (blood, needles)
When the DVD came in the mail on a Saturday afternoon, I got kind of excited and popped it in right away. My dog: Woodrow Wilson, and I settled on the couch and I got farther than I ever had before: Daryl Hanna's first scene in that weird-ass building. That's when Woodrow started acting a little funny.
Now, at the time, Woodrow Wilson, or Woodrow, or Woodie, is a two year old, 95 lb bully-bully mix who has been my near-constant companion since he was 7 months old. He can easily place his paws on my shoulders, yet somehow thinks he is the size and weight of a Chihuahua.
Anyway, he had been lying across the couch with his huge head in my lap for the movie up to that point, but then he got up and was standing on the couch, and leaning closely in toward me. I thought he was scared but there was no storm or fireworks (such a baby). But he wasn't doing anything: Not shaking, or sniffing, or whimpering. He was silent and just leaning toward me and staring at me. It was really weird. So I placed my palm on his breastbone and nudged him off the couch with a gentle "Get down." And instead of getting down he darted at my face and bit me twice. Since he had not been making any menacing movements or sounds, I was pretty unprepared for this.
Woodrow bit me here on the left check twice. Once like this, then immediately again like this. He held the second bite-- he kind of froze-- and was just standing there on the couch, biting down on my cheek. I had enough presence of mind to say "No," And I barely had to touch my fingers to his jaw and he let go. He jumped down from the couch, and behaved the way he does when he knows he's done something wrong--tail between the legs, not wanting to make eye contact. 0% confrontation. I was confused over what had just happened, so I figured I should separate the two of us for the time being. I hooked a finger under his collar and led him to his kennel, which he loves hanging out in because it is huge, and he went right in and settled down. No growling, no barking, nothing.
As I slid the lock on his kennel door, some blood dripped from my cheek onto my forearm, so I head to the bathroom to check out my face. I looked in the mirror and had an instant disconnect between what I thought I was seeing and what I actually saw. What I thought I saw was my teeth, through my open mouth. What I was actually seeing was my teeth through a hole that Woodrow had torn in my cheek. I don't think it took me long to understand what I was looking at, but as more blood began to well-up from the tear and stream down my cheek, I realized, “Ok, certain things need to happen immediately:”
- I need to stanch the bleeding.
- I needed to call 911 and request an ambulance.
- I need to get my wallet, keys, phone, ID and insurance card—and,
- I need to pack a bag with spare clothes.
I retrieved my phone and dialed 911. Now, since the blood couldn't get OUT as much, it was seeping IN. To my mouth. And I started choking a little. [Inserted PSA to the crowd here that there will be much more blood talk and also needles in this story.] Hunched over, spitting out mouthfuls of blood into the tub in order to speak clearly over the phone, I explained to the dispatcher that my dog (No, ma’am, not a human. A dog.) had bitten my face, that I would need stitches, and that the blood was coming quickly, so could they send an ambulance?
I packed that emergency bag with wallet, keys, insurance card, phone, and a change of clothes.
I went down to the front vestibule of my apartment building, and waited patiently by the door for the ambulance, the towel beginning to soak through to the other side.
Once I had nothing left to occupy my brain, the reality of the situation sank in: My dog, who has never been violent, just bit a hole in my face as casual as you please. There’s a hole in my cheek. That I can see my teeth through. I started to cry, partially from confusion, partly for something to do, and partially because the shock was wearing off and my face was starting to hurt like a MOTHERFUCKER.
Apparently I had been too calm on the phone, because the EMT's arrived expecting to treat a small bite. When I'd lowered the towel to let her have a look, the first thing the EMT said was "Jesus Fuck” and she shoved the towel right back onto my face, yelling to the driver to take us to the hospital. On the way, she asked me to confirm three times that it was a dog, not a human, which had bitten my face. Then insisted I was lucky to have my left eye. Somehow, I was not comforted.
At the hospital, I was given my very first taste of morphine. Which feels exactly like God coming down to take a nap in your body.
Shortly after that, I was asked three more times to confirm I was bitten by a dog, not a human. But, by that time I was far gone enough on the morphine to tell them I was bitten by Jem and the Holograms.
They told me I was going to get a shot of local anesthetic. In my face.
They had three male nurses come in and hold me town, which I thought was unnecessary, since a) I have no problem with needles, and b) I’m the size of an oompa-loompah, I mean what kind of damage could I actually do? However, any kind of unwanted movement while a needle is in my face…? Ok, I could understand the precaution. What I DIDN’T understand was what it was like to have anesthetic injected into an open wound. And they DID. And THAT was why they were holding me down.
What happens is the needle is inserted slowly, pushed underneath and through the entire plane of the damaged flesh, then drawn-out slowly, as the syringe is depressed, leaving the itchy anesthetic in its wake. My limbs twitched reflexively as the itching gave way to burning, then sizzling then iridescent pain. The left side of my face became electric, and the nurses leaned in on my limbs as I shook. I felt every torn piece of pulp as the surgeon massaged the ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NOT-FUCKING-WORKING-YET ANESTHETIC through my face. And the surgeon began stitching me up.
He narrated everything he was doing, and had an excellent bedside manner. Turns out the wound wasn’t just a simple tear. I had:
- A punctured nostril
- The main tear in my face
- TWO lacerations on my lower eyelid,
- Lacerations on my upper, middle and lower cheek
- An additional laceration on the inside of my mouth
- A partial tear in the corner of my mouth
- And a puncture that is now new dimple.
He had finished the stitches on the top half of my face before breaking the news to me that he had not anesthetized the bottom half sufficiently. He asked if I wanted another needle of sparkly pain-fire in my face before we continued. I believe I remember answering: “UHN. NHOO...”
He did the lower half of my face without anesthetic. FYI: the tiny pricks of the stitches were nothing by comparison. I made the absolute right choice. ::self hi-five::
I was released from the ER sometime in the middle of that night with just under 40 stitches. I was restricted from speech and advised to stay on a liquid diet until they came out. The stitches looked like pieces of broken railway track that had floated away from each other on eroded soil over time, all crooked and abandoned on my face—it was kinda cool looking, but I still had morphine in my system, so the ninja-gauze mask that covered my face from the nose-down ALSO looked kinda cool. So did the cab, so did my door, and eventually, my bed.
The next morning, Animal Control came for Woodrow. I didn’t know they were going to do that on a Sunday. I thought they wouldn’t come till Monday, at least. I thought I had more time to understand the situation. Anyway, they took him. They put one of those pole leashes on him. He was so scared, he was shivering all over. And I couldn’t talk to calm him down. He whimpered all the way to the truck, and I had to help him get in, because he was too scared to jump up on his own, and I didn’t trust the guy. Once he was gone I couldn’t stop crying, holding my jaw with both hands to keep from stretching the stitches out.
Animal Control said they would hold Woodrow for 10 days. In that time, they said I had to decide whether or not he was a danger to me and to others. If I decided he wasn’t, then I could come and get him. If I decided he WAS a danger, then he would be put down.
Three days after the ER visit, I got my stitches taken out, and the surgeon put something akin to superglue on my cuts to keep them healing. I was still restricted to liquid foods, and had a terribly lop-sided, swollen face, but I could talk somewhat, and began retraining the left side of my mouth to grip things like straws and spoons. To this day I still drool a little because my mouth doesn’t seal perfectly anymore, but if you know me, you know that just adds to my charm.
Once I could talk, I called the married couple who had fostered Woodrow, the people from whom I’d adopted him. Noelle, the wife, cried with me on the phone. Neither of us could believe Woodrow capable of an attack, he’d undergone several disposition tests while a foster puppy and had aced them all. His training and socialization had been a breeze – he was a joy and eager to please. I mean, that dog would have done anything for a Dorito! We knew there had to be something else to it. I called Woodrow’s vet, who was also shocked at the news. He said that without the benefit of an examination he could only theorize one of two diagnoses: early onset canine diabetes, or a brain tumor caused by inbreeding. Either of which can cause unexpected aggression or perception issues that come and go in flashes. Woodrow had been a rescue from Georgia, they think, a cast off from a puppymill. But Animal Control won’t let a vet in to examine a dog being held for biting a human. So the decision had to be made blind.
I was too scared to bring him home. I hate being told that I made the right decision, even though if I were in my friends’ shoes I would have said the same thing. But I was inconsolable for a long time. I couldn’t help wondering, if it was just a misunderstanding…what if I ended a perfectly healthy life over something that could have been healed. Or prevented.
So it is four years later, and I’ve long ago successfully massaged away most of my scars. There are three left that I couldn’t quite get rid of: The main one still meanders down my face from the left of my nose to my upper lip. The puncture in my nostril just looks like a poorly-healed nose piercing. And the laceration on the inside of my mouth is still a tightly-bound ridge that I often probe with my tongue when I’m not thinking of anything in particular.
I still think about Woodrow practically every day, though not at the obvious times like when I look in a mirror—I really don’t associate him with the scars. I just miss his face. I miss his company, his affection and his sweet disposition.
I still can’t settle on where the blame goes. For the most part I settle it on myself.
And while I could care less if there’s a heaven for humans, I kinda hope Woodrow is chowing down on Doritos somewhere. With that sheer, undiluted joy with which he approached everything.
And shit. At this point, Fuck Blade Runner, I don’t care if I ever finish it.