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All of Them At Once


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So, I should be doing better. At least, it seems like I should. Time is supposed to start the healing process, or so they say and while that may not be entirely true a little space has helped me at least organize my feelings with regards to loss in the past. Just... not so much this time. 

I guess I should start from the beginning. My partner and I work at the same veterinary practice every other Thursday providing routine surgeries to low-income clients. March 9 was just such a Thursday. We got up a little late and rolled out bed grumpily. Our malamute, Erik, had gotten into the trash over night and was being kenneled for the day. Our lab, Navani, had gone out to play while we were getting ready for the day and she was back inside trying to fend off the attentions of the three newest additions to our fur family, our dachshund puppies, Ritsa, Jezria and Ja'akov. We also had a friend's dog, the pretty and shy Belgian Malinois staying with us while our friend looked for a pet friendly apartment. Our house sat on fifteen acres of land and was back from the road in the rural outskirts of Bloomington, Indiana. We typically let Hezal, Erik and Navani out to roam the neighborhood - a practice that is very common in our area and with our neighbors - but Erik and Navani had taken to sneaking down the road to steel corn feed one of our neighbors was leaving out for the deer, so they were being kept inside on work days when I couldn't supervise them directly until we could get an invisible fence. Hazel, though, never left the property and we usually let her out to run around. Our cat, Auri, was hiding in the bathroom from the overactivity of the morning. 

As we ran out the door we forgot that we had intended to take the dachshunds into the clinic that day to get their next round of puppy shots, and I was reasonably sure I had forgotten to let Hazel out as well. But we didn't see that as too big a deal. As we started our first surgeries of the day we reasoned we could go back on our lunch break, pick up the puppies, let Hazel out of the house for the afternoon and free Erik from his kennel. 

By 11:30 we were on our second surgery of the day. We were in the OR with a patient open on the table in front of us. My partner is a vet, and I'm a tech so while she performed... I think it was a neuter; honestly I can't remember and that's not common for me... I monitored the anesthesia and the condition of the patient. Things were going well. We were smiling and laughing, and even had a shot at being done early that day if we kept up the pace set. Things were going much better from our scrambled morning. Then my phone rang. 

As the one monitoring the patient I am not gloved in and I am not a part of the doctor's sterile field. Part of my job is to provide things to the doctor that are in sterile packaging and to be able to access non-sterile objects such as medications that might need to be administered. So, it's no risk to a patient if I take a second to touch or look at my phone during a procedure, but I do not typically do this. I didn't answer the first call. I didn't even look to see who it was. When it rang a second time I pulled it from my pocket to shut it off and saw that it was a friend and colleague who knows better than to call me at that time unless it is.an emergency. (In point of fact, this is the friend who is Hazel's pet parent) This time I answered. 

She didn't waste any time telling me what was going on. "The house is on fire," she said. It took me a minute to understand her. 

Our house was on fire. We didn't know it at the time but they weren't sure how long it had been on fire by that point, and the fire department had been on the scene for half an hour trying to put it out. It was completely engulfed. I hung up the phone and told my partner what I knew about what was going on. Then we finished the surgery and rushed out of the hospital as fast as was humanly possible. 

By the time we got home there was nothing left but the crumbling outer shell of burnt out wood and the stone chimney that rose from the basement all the way through to what had been the roof. Later we would learn that it had gotten so hot that the chimney and the foundation cracked. No one and nothing was salvageable from inside. The firefighters were just relieved to know that no people had been at home. 

I couldn't have cared less about the building, about the lifetime worth of sentimental things that had been inside, or anything remotely like that. All I could think about was the fur babies. Someone - I don't remember who, but probably a firefighter - did his best to reassure me that they would all have succumbed to smoke inhalation long before the flames reached them. I heard what he was saying and on one level I appreciated it but it was like listening to someone speak underwater. 

That day I had no time for grief. There were a million things to be done. One of the other techs at the hospital had already had the wisdom to cancel our afternoon surgeries, so we didn't have to worry about that. Instead, I turned my attention to calling the insurance company so we'd have a place to say, to calling the Red Cross (who were great) so we'd have a little initial money to get something to wear other than the clothes on our backs, to figure out what to do about lost medications and put some picture together of what I was going to need to do over the next few days. I spent that day doing everything that was necessary for the immediate circumstances and visualizing what would need to be done for our next steps. I knew there were feelings waiting there for me but they were in the background, not pushing their way forward and I didn't draw them out. It left me free to function. 

There have been a lot of ups and a lot of downs since the day of the fire. Two days after the house burned down we got a call from a neighbor who had seen a brown dog wandering around, lost. We checked the property and it turned out that I had let Hazel out that morning. She was frightened, hungry and cold but she was alive. It was like a miracle. Bringing the news to my friend that her dog hadn't been lost stands out in my memory as this beautiful flash of hope and love. 

I suffer from a couple of mental illnesses and I don't do well without dogs. We were still grieving and would be for a long time, but we got in touch with the breeder we'd worked with before - a woman we knew pretty well and trusted in the way she took care of her dogs - and got on the list to have pups from a litter that was going to be ready to go home in six weeks or so. Six weeks seemed like forever (and it was). Two days later, a man who was a client of the clinic we do our surgeries at but a complete stranger to us, came to us when he heard about what had happened. He gave us a monetary gift, and a puppy that his elderly neighbor had bought and decided she was going to take to the pound. So, now we have three puppies and Hazel, who is staying with us in our long-term 'temporary' housing. I love them all, and I love seeing them. 

The place we are staying is very nice. It's in Indianapolis, which has it's pros and cons but I'm not really going to complain to much about having to stay in the city even though I prefer the country. It's furnished and most days I feel like a stranger using someone else's things. I worry about every bit of wear. I broke a glass the other day and nearly panicked because I didn't know how I was going to explain it to our landlord. My temper is frayed. I used to have an excellent control on my temper but my fuse is shorter now and I can tolerate less before I get upset. I'm having nightmares almost every night. Most of them are not directly about the fire. The central theme in my dreams is a loss of control over something critical. 

Of course, we're dealing with all of the same stuff everyone else is too - COVID, the social unrest, etc. 

I know my friends think I am doing better. In public I seem very well controlled, and I'm not always wandering around like Eeyore, in a cloud of depression. But the truth is different. I'm not doing well. I was eating too much at first, when we were in the hotel. Now I hardly have an appetite. My partner and I are trying to be there for each other; we aren't without each other's support. I worry about her. I know right now when she goes on an intense internet shopping spree trying to replace things we had or trying to put together supplies for the reconstruction of the house she is acting out her grief. She's having nightmares too. I don't know how to help her. I try, but I don't know what to do. I've spent a lot of time feeling very numb. I've spent a lot of time feeling very guilty - playing what if in my mind; what if we'd taken the dachshunds for the vaccinations? What if I had just let Erik and Navani out and worried about the neighbor's corn feeder later? I don't know. 

There are a lot of factors and I know I've gone on long enough already. I'm sorry; brevity isn't one of my skills. I've lost beloved pets before. It's been hard before. I've lost human family members before. But nothing has hit me quiet the way this has and I am just not sure how to begin to actually cope with it, instead of just appearing to cope with it. 

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I am not really sure how to respond, this is so tragic. I am so sorry for everything that happened to you and your sweet dogs. 

I hope maybe you and your partner can get some counseling help as you work to rebuild your lives. Coping is literally one day at a time as you know. Time is all that heals.  

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OMG, I am so sorry!  This is everyone's worst nightmare.  

I do hope you will take AJWCat's advice and get counseling for this.  I know you'll always wish you could have had a different ending, it's very hard.  Thinking of the "what ifs" is our way of trying to find a different possible outcome, but there's only one outcome and that's the one that happened.  I hope you realize you are a good pet mom that cared about your animals and this is not your fault.  If you feel it is somehow, realize that feelings are not fact or even rational, and forgive yourself...what would you tell a best friend going through this?  Tell yourself that.  be kind, understanding, patient with yourself, you will need it.

My heart goes out to you in your grief.

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I am so very sorry. My gut clenched reading. The events you've experienced stand out as traumatic and as such your reactions, like anxiety and nightmares, are along the lines of ptsd.

While my circumstances are extremely different I too am leveled, belly to the ground, from loss and trauma. I have struggled with mental health issues most of my life but was assaulted three times in three months, in unrelated crimes, a decade ago. It coincided with 2.5 years of misdiagnosed Giardia, (I was shopping in the children's section.)

By the time I was properly treated I had developed multiple auto-immune disorders. But, mentally and emotionally I left the planet from the trauma and crossed a fine line I had been walking, into disabling mental illness. I have yet to find my path through.

What I can say, the kind of trauma you have experienced is extremely isolating. People just don't get it and expect that you will snap back to your "old" self in a very short period of time. Truth is it's natural that your previous mental health challenges are exacerbated.

You may find respite reading about ptsd. It took me several years, but once I was able to define my special crazy as ptsd, I felt less alone. Reading about the symptoms felt like finally being seen. While you probably wouldn't technically be diagnosed with the disorder because of the very specific events that "qualify", for me, the events you've experienced are horrible and nothing short of traumatic.

Be kind to you.

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@pamcoco  Thank you for your very touching post, it was so very sweet of you to respond.  You are using what you have been through to help others, that is a good way of deliberating purpose through tragedy, as I refer to it as.

Forest Grove, a beautiful place...I am up the mountain from Oakridge, also a beautiful place in Oregon!  

I am sorry you have been through so much but it sounds like you are finding your way through it, God bless you.

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