Sunday, December 23, 2012

Winston The Wonder Dog Returns: The Script We Know Too Well

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published December 27, 2012]  © 2012 
Winston, our beloved but massively high maintenance grand dog, is back in residence again for one of his prolonged visits to Camp Grammy and Grampy.   My younger son, Henri, and his wife, Erica (Winston’s owners) and my husband, Olof, and I are all besotted with Winston. But we are especially besotted with him when he’s at the other party’s house. 
Winston, I should note up front, is wonderfully affectionate (if overly enthusiastic) around people, and is a breed recommended for young families.  In fact, we have not a moment’s concern about him with our young grandchildren.  But he is definitely leash aggressive and has a tendency to charge our front gate when other dogs come by looking not unlike a pit bull on steroids. 

I’ve read on numerous occasions that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners.  How about bad trainers?  Winston has been failed by more alleged animal experts than you can count.  During one of Winston’s lengthier sojourns at our home, I chronicled the saga of our finally hiring a trainer advertised as the Cesar Milan of San Diego who, to my horror, showed up with a shock collar.  (

Over four months, I spent three hours a day dedicated to training Winston and by the time he went back home, he was vastly improved.  But for $200 per hour of dog training and hundreds of hours of my time, I thought he should be at minimum a candidate for canine canonization.  You know:  Lassie,  Rin Tin Tin, Winston.  Alas, even with his behavior collar turned up to Defcon One, nothing will dissuade Winston if a big black dog or small white fluffy one (Winston is a specialist) should cross his path.  Of course, he can’t actually get to them (leash, gate), but he’s willing to die (and/or hurl Grandma face first to the pavement) trying. 

As soon as Olof and I learned that the kids were going back east for Christmas with the other grandparents this year, it was a foregone conclusion we’d end up with Winston for another of his Holidays in La Jolla.  Given Winston’s unpredictable behavior around other dogs, he is not kennel material, unless the fellow guests are all Chihuahuas whom he mysteriously loves.  Olof and I even discussed whether to take the heroic route and just volunteer. I mean, it wasn’t as though we didn’t know the script well. Sure enough:

Act I, Scene 1:   As the kids are about to leave at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, Henri asks, as if an afterthought:  Oh, by the way, could we take Winston for the week when they are away at Christmas?   One of them (read Erica) could bring Winston down just before they go and another of them (read Erica again) could come down and get him as soon as they return.  It would be ten days max.

Act I, Scene 2: Henri says he knows we know how miserable Winston is if left home alone with merely a dog sitter service to check on him twice a day; he’s such a social animal. (He really is.) 

Act II, Scene 1: Since we’ve said yes (we could swear that neither of us has said yes), if it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience, while they (read Erica) are more than willing to make the (massively inconvenient with two tiny kids) trip down here from L.A. in all that nasty traffic for drop off and another for pick up, six hours each time (we’d genuinely hate to do this to Erica, whom we adore),  it would help them more than we can even fathom if they could just leave Winston here now until After the New Year. (Note indeterminate pickup date.)

Act II, Scene 2:  They’d be our best friends forever. (OK, maybe he didn’t say that.)

Act III, Scene 1:  Going in for the close, Henri goes on to say that they were waiting to see how Olof looked (Olof had some unexpected surgery that went terribly wrong this fall), and they are thrilled to see that he looks absolutely GREAT!   So much better than they could have imagined given his harrowing saga! 

Act III, Scene 2:  Henri and family drive off a short time later leaving us standing in the front yard clutching Winston’s leash and bowl.  “You know, Olof,” I say, “It really wouldn’t have hurt you to act a little more frail and incapacitated.” 

Final Act: Winston, meanwhile, licks my hand. Then takes off like a shot for the gate.


Monday, December 10, 2012

*Olof Swears Off Medical Care Forever

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published December 13, 2012]  © 2012

The older we get, the harder it is for me to get Olof to medical appointments.

Olof maintains this is because at our age, there’s just no good news to be had.  Do they ever say, “Wow, you look so much younger!” he queries?   Or, “You really should be drinking more Scotch?”  No, he says, they just take pains to remind you that you’re one day closer to decrepitude and death.  

I’ve previously written about our primary care doctor, whom we affectionately refer to as Dr. No.  As in no bread, no pasta, no rice, no potatoes, no fun. Dr. No has a personal vendetta against high-glycemic carbs.   It’s the potatoes that are hardest for Olof who is a serious spud man. 

It’s not, of course, that we religiously adhere to this regimen, but it sure sucks the enjoyment out of eating something your doctor insists will kill you. 
“Shouldn’t have eaten that,” Olof will mutter glumly after a rare meal of pasta.  “It’s got troglodytes in it.” 

“Triglycerides, Olof,” I’ll say. He’s got the concept if not the details. 
At this point, Olof refers to a week without white carbs as being “clean and sober.”   Not coincidentally, he has developed what he calls a “food porn” habit.  He closes the door to the bedroom to watch Rachel Ray make baked potatoes with butter and sour cream although he admits he always feels dirty afterwards. 

Anyone who knows Olof knows that he has a strict Do Not Feed the Lions philosophy about medical care.  In his experience, comments of any kind to a medical professional only engender tests or more drugs, or more commonly both.
Hence, Olof goes into Total Deaf-Mute Mode in a doctor’s office.  He’s only there because I’ve bludgeoned him into it.  Dr. No and I talk while Olof sits there looking like he’d rather be watching a twelve hour marathon of feminine hygiene product commercials.  Never have I known a person with a more world-class aversion to medical care.

But sending him alone to a medical appointment is an exercise in futility.  I carefully write out a list of his medications (he has no idea what he’s taking) and a list of questions which I admit are mostly mine.  OK, totally mine.  Both usually evaporate into the ether between our home and the doctor’s office.  And when he gets home we end up having conversations like this:
Inga:  So what was your blood pressure? 

Olof:  How would I know?
Inga:  Um, you were there when she took it?

Olof:  I didn’t ask.  She wants me to take some drug.
Inga:  For what?

Olof:  I don’t know.  She called it into CVS.
Inga:  Well, did you ask about side effects?

Olof:  She said something about calling her if something happened but I can’t remember what.
Still, I have to admit Olof may have a point about medical care.  Recently I strong-armed him into a physical which, just as he feared, showed something that required further tests.  And then more tests.  Followed by, well, more tests.  (Olof’s theory is that our top-of-the-line medical insurance is just a little TOO good.)  Olof missed a ton of work over this and became increasingly surly about it.  Ultimately, it was determined that although he had nothing symptomatic, and in the end, nothing imminently wrong, that given his international business travel schedule to places with questionable medical care, it was strongly recommended that he undergo a minimally-invasive preventative one-hour surgery so pathetically routine that a child could practically do it.  He could even have dinner the same day!  Back to work in two days!  Then he wouldn’t have to worry about ending up in a (statistically unlikely but possible) crisis in some far away country.

I am definitely adding “it’s a simple outpatient procedure” to my list of cautionary phrases, right after “packed flat for easy assembly.”  Through nobody’s fault, including and especially Olof’s, the one-hour procedure deteriorated catastrophically into five, and Olof spent most of the next week at Scripps Memorial sucking ice chips, pushing his on-demand pain pump button and muttering through clenched teeth, “But I wasn’t even sick!”  I think if he hadn’t been tethered to a lot of machinery, he would have fed me into a wood chipper.  Really really slowly.  Suffice to say, I am not currently his favorite person.  This is EXACTLY, he grumbled, 25 painfully-lost pounds and weeks of lost work later, why he avoids medical care. 
But in all things, there is a silver lining.  When he was finally paroled from Scripps, the surgeon recommended a “surgical soft” diet including – yes! oh, yes! - mashed potatoes.  For the first time in a week, Olof actually perked up from the dead.  He looked at me and whispered, “You will never tell Dr. No.”