Another hard step…

We picked up Ziva two weeks ago today and I am continually stunned each day by her progress. She has about 80% usage of her back left leg and probably about 50%-60% usage of her back right leg. The left one “auto-corrects” like the veterinarian wants it to but the right one still hasn’t fully connected back to the brain. That will come with time Dr. Stephanie claims…everything comes with time and once again, waiting.

Two weeks ago, we were also stunned by the grand total of Ziva’s medical bill at the emergency hospital. The amount, you ask? Well, for about 5 days in ICU and another 3 in hospital, CT Scan with myelogram (spinal cord dying,) emergency spinal surgery and numerous other much needed expenses to get her back to where she is today, the grand total comes to $13,401.05AUD. And she hasn’t even started physiotherapy… We luckily have pet insurance which has paid for some of the costs but as usual…never all of the costs.

For two weeks, I have wrestled with creating a GoFundMe account to ask friends…well, YOU, for help. It feels odd, it feels weird, it feels…like I’m doing something wrong. I tried to explain it to my friend Amy in that I’M usually the one helping others. I’M not used to ASKING for help. But this very unexpected situation, especially at this time of year, has thrown us for a loop. As I continue to to pay for unforeseen costs such as a $200 extra large wire kennel to keep her contained, a $125 full body harness that helps keep her back legs supported while she walks, another $180 for medication to help her with her continued confinement, I’m wondering what physiotherapy will cost and how long Ziva will need it. Will her right paw continue to flip under not righting itself correctly and will physiotherapy help this? I don’t know the answers to these questions right now. But the wondering has helped me “push the button” on the GoFundMe account.

So here is the link to our GoFundMe page: GoFundMe: Ziva’s IVDD Medical Fund Feel free to share it with friends who know Ziva or who tend to help others “just because.” I truly appreciate any and all help anyone is able to provide. If your only way to help is to share it on your FaceBook page then good on ya! Every kind of help is welcome and we are thankful!

I hope everyone has a wonderful and amazing holiday season.

Merry Christmas, from the Smiths!

A Long Overdue Visit

My days have become centred around morning and evening update calls from Dr. Stephanie Conroy of Northside Vet Specialists.  Dr. Stephanie is caring for Ziva during the day at Northside Emergency Vets where she has been since Saturday evening. This morning’s update was a call for help to see if I could get Ziva to eat. She had eaten for the doctor on Tuesday morning, her first since being admitted, but hadn’t eaten since then. Her vitals are good, stable, she had some physio-therapy this morning, but she seems to be very anxious at the hospital. I readily agreed to come help.

None of us have seen Ziva since Saturday night and I suppose I am the one that has taken all of this the hardest. I am still quite stunned at the severity of her injury but mostly at my inability to handle it when it happened. I pride myself on being levelheaded and able to handle stressful situations but Saturday night when Warren woke me from a sound sleep to tell me Ziva had hurt herself, I seriously assumed I’d go out there and fix her right up. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to find my baby at the bottom of our hilly backyard, terrified and dragging the whole back half of her paralysed body. There would be no flick of a switch fix for this one, Susan. This was an horrific nightmare that was just beginning and I was completely out of my league. I floundered, I flopped, I screamed, I all out panicked, and inside I was the most terrified I had ever been in my life. Not only did I not know what to do but I could not take control on my own like I normally do. Ziva is a 36.5kg (80lb.) Golden Retriever that is solid muscle to the core and at least half of her is now dead weight. I couldn’t pick her up on my own and carry her uphill; hell, Warren could barely do it but together we got her upstairs and inside the house.

There was no blood anywhere, she wasn’t frothing at the mouth (which could indicate a paralysis tick) and she absolutely refused to lay down and take the weight off of her front legs. In that moment, I had not a clue what to do so I did what any mother does in these situations; I gathered her between my legs and into my arms and just held her as tight as I could. Somehow I would figure out what to do; at some point, something would come to me but until then I was going to hang onto her for dear life to let her know I was there and to keep her from slipping on the hardwood floor.

Eventually I screamed for Warren to get my phone from our bedroom and when he returned, I realised I had not one single clue who to call. Not one…not one person’s name came to my mind, not one organisation, just one thought kept going through my mind, “I don’t fucking know what to do! WHY don’t I know what to do?” And then I realised I could call our vet’s office and get an emergency number off of their night recording. I mistakenly called the vet’s mobile number and when his voice mail picked up, I cussed a little more, hung up and dialled the main office number. Thankfully Dr. Pete of Two By Two Vet actually picked up the phone – how that worked at 10:30pm on Saturday evening, I don’t know but I’ll ask him next time I see him. I couldn’t even talk straight, I couldn’t even get the words out correctly, but thank God Pete understood me and told me to take Ziva to NEVs. He had to repeat it FOUR times and I had to actually write it down because every time he said it and I repeated it, my brain forgot the name. Those that know me know my short term memory is something I pride myself on – well, in times of trauma, it quits working.

We eventually got Ziva in the car. Thank God for Warren’s brute strength and my fumbling fingers that painstakingly programmed the NavMan with the address I had Googled. Thank God also for wonderful and amazing places and people like NEVs – Northside Emergency Vets and the Northside Veterinary Specialists. After passing the building once because there were no lights, turning around in an abandoned parking lot and driving the wrong way on the wrong side of the street to get back to the parking lot I had passed, these incredible human beings from inside this unmarked building came out with a stretcher (which Ziva wanted no part of,) eventually abandoned the stretcher and physically picked up Ziva and whisked her inside to immediately start the emergency care she so desperately needed.

It has been a very long four days of waiting, waiting on the phone call in the middle of Saturday night to hear it wasn’t any kind of toxin or poison: the snake bite kit had come back negative. On Sunday waiting on the phone call from the specialist who had examined Ziva, he determined a spinal injury had caused her paralysis and he wasn’t sure she would walk again because she didn’t have deep pain reaction on the right side of her body. Waiting on another specialist to do a CTScan, she found an abnormality in Ziva’s lower spine and it was best to call in the surgeon to do emergency surgery while she was still under anaesthesia. Waiting on the surgeon to call after surgery, he said her injury was far more severe than any of them had thought, that her ruptured disc had shot out like a cannonball through her spinal cord causing a large bolus of blood to form and press on her nerves but that he was able to repair everything. The surgeon telling us that we needed to wait and let nature take its course but that if she got the deep pain reaction back in her left paw like she had before surgery, then he would consider it a success. Waiting and waiting to hear if Ziva could feel the deep pain in her left paw and to be rewarded with the news that not only did she feel it in the left but she she felt it in the right…we had a miracle on our hands!

So now my days are spent waiting on my morning and evening update calls from Dr. Stephanie. I can’t get much done on a daily basis. I tend to break down and cry often, my imagination gets the best of me and my worry about my baby can literally take my breathe away. I’ve never felt more helpless, more out of control and completely useless than I have this week. So when Dr. Stephanie asked me to come down and see if I could get Ziva to eat, I readily agreed. Finally! Something for me to do! I took all of her favourite foods, her treats and and even a peanut butter treat filled frozen Kong. I was prepared and I was ready. I schooled myself not to expect anything from Ziva, not to expect our usual happy go lucky Ziva but to just BE there for her – a taste of home, to let her know we missed her. So here is a video of my first, VERY LONG OVERDUE VISIT with Ziva:

The visit was difficult and I left feeling bereft. She still cannot be comfortable laying down on her side, but once there I immediate sprawled on the floor next to her and began scratching her in the places I knew she loved. It took her a solid twenty minutes to finally calm down, stop shaking, and begin to breathe through her nose. Her anxiety level is high and her inability to make her back legs do what she wants causes her great stress. So the two of us just lay there on the floor of the hospital room and I calmly talked to her about what has been happening at home while she slowly calmed her breathing. I eventually offered her a few niblets of roo, and low and behold she gobbled them up. She probably ate about 10 niblets of roo, each the size of maybe a small vitamin. She also drank most of the bowl of water Nurse Hannah brought to her. After that, she wanted nothing to do with food. She had refused cooked chicken from Dr. Stephanie earlier this morning and now she wouldn’t even lick the melted peanut butter from the Kong off my finger.

As she began to get agitated again, I stopped everything and we went back to just laying next to each other, me scratching and talking, and her slowing her breathing. I told her there were a few things she needed to do in order to come home. Her catheter had been removed that morning also, so weeing on her own was a big to-do. Eating was another one which she could continue to work on after I left the hospital. I don’t think her tummy feels well and Dr. Stephanie agreed she might need some anti-nausea and reflux meds to help her. Mainly I talked and I’m hopeful she listened. I have to view her as a trauma patient who has lost the use of her legs and is terrified…because essentially that’s who she is. She has a long road of recovery ahead of her, rehab, physio, lots of exercise, hopefully lots of acupuncture and whatever else we find that will help her. This is our second child and we will do whatever it takes to help her walk again, no matter what.

Here are some pictures from my visit. The first is her “not very happy face but it’s definitely her BRAVE face,” the second one is our failed carpet picnic and the third is her surgery dressing. Please keep Ziva and the Smith family in your thoughts and prayers. Her medical bills are tremendous at the moment but we are holding our own. Many have encouraged us to do a GoFundMe page and if it comes to that, I’ll let you know. Right now, good thoughts, steadfast prayers and loving vibes towards Ziva are most needed. Cheers, Susan


Concerns For Our Safety in Times of Emergencies

If you read the comments to Warren’s amazing post of the Sydney Storm of the Decade also known as Stormageddon, you will know there is concern for our safety in these times of emergencies. In response to this, I would like to share the amazing work of the Australian government in such situations.

Unlike the United States, Australia has a system for dangerous weather and other emergencies. Every state has a State Emergency Service (SES) made up mainly of volunteers numbering in the ten thousands. When there is an emergency, ONE of the many services offered by the local SES is emergency alerts. The SES issues warnings to landline and mobile telephones linked to the addresses (properties and houses) within a geographical area affected by an emergency. Warnings are also sent to mobile telephones based on the last known location of the handset at the time of an emergency. All three of our mobile phones received the following text:

Tuesday 8:38pm: SES FLOOD EVACUATION WARNING. Residents adjacent to Manly Lagoon. Evacuation may be possible. Prepare now. Listen to the radio. Tel 132500

The SES then went door to door of every home in the evacuation area and spoke to the occupants. We were one of those homes. The SES recorded our current details, they wanted an address and phone number of where we would go if the evacuation became mandatory (also leaving current information on the closest evacuation centre) and asked for our permission to give out details should someone call them looking for us…i.e. like YOU, Papa! (New South Wales State Emergency Service may be reached from outside the country at +61 2 6261 3305)

When the evacuation alert was lifted, all three of our phones received the following text:

NSW SES All clear for residents adjacent to Manly Lagoon. No further flood threat. Tel 132500

So as you can see, Australia has an amazing emergency system in place. Granted if the emergency were a tsunami, the previous process would probably happen simultaneously and with more SES personnel going door to door. Mads is never far from her mobile therefore she would receive the immediate text of an impending tsunami. If she were at school, the school is equipped to handle any and all emergencies and has processes and procedures in place for such emergencies. In my case (and if Mads were with me) I would follow the directions given by the SES in the emergency text. Less than one block from our home is a hill with an elevation level of 40+ metres. I’m not saying that elevation solves the problem but it is a place to start. Warren will receive the same text plus he would probably be the safest as he works on high floors in the CBD’s tallest buildings. As far as getting home, the Sydney Harbour is not the ONLY way to get to the Northern Beaches. There are ways to go inland to the west, then go north and come back east to the Northern Beaches.

It is all doable and in the end, it WILL all work out.

Knowing too much…

Since my last post, I have had a few quick moments with my friend Sharon and we were able to share a nice but short cuppa on Friday. I don’t know whether she needed to talk or whether I needed to hear. All I know is that I deeply regret asking if the family knew anything more about when and what happened to Barb when she fell in her home. Because I am very familiar with Barb’s home and the three floors of her townhouse, Sharon was able to tell me more than someone who wasn’t familiar with her home. I have constantly and consistently regretted asking her about the accident for the last three days. I know too much now.

For those that know me, you know my mind works in different ways than most others’. I think in pictures. I think conceptually. My thoughts are always pictures flitting though my mind. It is difficult to explain but it is what it is. Anyway you would think that by the age of 45, I would know not to ask for more information than I need to process a situation. Barb fell from a ladder in her house and has died. That’s all I needed to know but out of that dreaded word curiosity with some compassion for my friend thrown in, I asked if the family knew more about what happened. I know too much.

For the last 60+ hours, if my mind was not engaged in an active thought process to accomplish something, I lived and relived Barb’s fall and subsequent actions. These are horrific thoughts that have brought on a deeper emotional devastation than I previously experienced when learning about her death. Each day is a scosh better – according to the Urban Dictionary, a scosh is a hair less than a smidgen. And that’s being generous. If I could change my thoughts, I would but facts are facts and my mind knows better. I woke up crying on Saturday morning. I knew not to linger long in bed. I got up, found MWH in the kitchen and fell into his arms in hopes his hug would drive away the thoughts. I whispered, “I know too much.” His hug brought enough comfort to get dressed and walk with him to the local coffee shop. A morning filled with a fantastic cup of coffee and two huge newspapers helped. I also went and spent time with the Kilpatrick’s to watch their youngest son Riley play soccer. The evening was also spent with Jody and Sharon on a Harbour cruise to experience the lights of the annual Vivid experience.

Yesterday I was not so successful. It was laundry day for me and I allowed myself to withdraw from the family while sorting clothes, watching TV and climbing deeper and deeper in my thoughts. We are all still a little stunned here and coping the best we can. I took a break from being wife and mother – I needed it but it wasn’t the most healthy way of dealing with the situation. It is Monday morning now, I’m writing to purge the thoughts, I am back in the present and today will be a productive day. The funeral and wake for Barb is on Wednesday. It will be another difficult day to tackle but as long as I remember that with each new day, life will get a scosh better. It will. Life is a process. It will unfold how it is meant to unfold. My job is to stay in the present, not dwell in the past.

It still sucks to know too much…

The Morning Paper

It was how Barb and I first met. The memory of my first meeting with Barb will be forever burned in my memory. The reason? I have never had another experience like it. I’m not sure I ever will…this is hard to put into words…I’ve tried three times and haven’t quite found the right words to express what I saw in her face and what I felt in my soul. That’s all it took for Barb to become embedded in my soul – one chance meeting at the front gate of a 5 unit townhouse.

Here in the Northern Beaches of Australia, there is a daily paper called The Manly Daily which is delivered for free from Tuesday thru Saturday to every door in the Northern Beaches, some 170,000+ doors! When we first moved into our townhouse in Balgowlah, this was the only paper I had until I decided which Sydney newspaper to subscribe to: The Sydney Morning Herald or The Daily Telegraph…it reminded me of living in Chicago and ironically the Herald is delivered as a normal newspaper and the Telegraph comes as a “magazine newspaper.” Anyway, I walked down the outer gated corridor of the townhouse block to the front gate. We lived at the end in Unit 5 therefore I passed every unit on my way out the front gate. As soon as I made it to the front, a woman was also walking from the first unit to the front gate. For those that know me well, you know I have an inner first impression barometer that can instantly zero in on individuals I meet for the first time. I intuitively know whether they are friend or foe. Barb is the only person who has surpassed that barometer and given me instant peace in her presence. Those that know me also know that when the barometer reading is friend, I will instantly say hello with a massive smile on my face. Barb beat me to it. There was an instant glow in her eyes and a smile on her face that made me want to crawl up on her lap and stay there forever. She seemed so happy to meet me. Her smile was huge and her eyes lit up. This beautiful woman was seriously joyful about meeting me? Yep! That’s just the essence of Barb. Thus began the friendly back and forth of delivering the morning paper to the one that woke up second on any particular day. I also knew that if the paper I put by Barb’s front door was still there at lunch time that I needed to check on her. I usually did this by texting Sharon: “Where is Barb today?” Either she was at one of her children’s homes, had left early  that morning for her son’s home in Avalon or maybe an early day in court. This is the Gladys Kravitz in me that comes out wherever I live. I’m observant to a fault sometimes.

It just hit me while writing this that I wonder if we still lived in the townhouse, would I have found her sooner than the speculated 36 hours after she fell. If she fell Sunday night, I would have wondered about her on Monday when her paper was still there. I’ll never know and I won’t speculate…I won’t torture myself in that way. I definitely know that my soul might not have withstood finding Barb as one of her daughter-in-laws did on Tuesday morning.

The reason I started this post this morning was because of a chance encounter I had when I took the elevator to the lobby of our building to pick up my Manly Daily. As I was picking up the paper, the second elevator door opened and I heard, “Well, hello again!” I looked up and there was the sweetest, spriest, smallest elderly woman I had met before when retrieving the paper. I said, “Good morning! May I get you a paper?” Her response, “Sure, sure but I need SEVEN of them.” I said, “Well all-righty then!” As I counted out the papers, she grabbed her subscription paper from her box, another paper from another box and came over to me to get the 7 other papers. She said, “I have a system you know.” Indeed she did – my assumption was a hoarding system and she needed help! As I walked back towards the elevator and turned waiting for her, she had a big smile on her face she said, “You can go on up or wait for me, whichever you want!” I said, “No worries, I’ll wait for you.” She stunned me by walking over to the heap of Manly Daily newspapers to grab another one off the stack. “SERIOUSLY,” I thought, “you want MORE than 7 papers?” This is most definitely a serious hoarding problem. She quickly negated my thoughts by walking to one of the apartments on the ground floor and dropping the paper by the front door. She walked back to the elevator with her massive stack of newspapers and said to me, “She is 90 years old and with this weather (very cold and very rainy) she won’t want to walk out here to get a paper.” Thus began a change in my impression of this assumed newspaper hoarder. I used my security tag to activate the elevator buttons, pushed number 3 and asked her which one she needed. She said, “Oh, push 12. I start there and work my way down. Saturdays can be tricky!” I suspect they are since the Manly Daily can be twice it’s size on Saturdays with a multitude of store inserts. As we reach my floor this lovely woman says to me, “See you soon! Have a good day!” I promptly went into our apartment and began to sob. I missed my first “paper lady.” I just want one more hug, one more glorious smile, one more day, one more hour, and one more cuppa with my first paper lady. I miss you, Barb!

A Life Cut Way Too Short…..

It is with great sadness and absolute devastation that I share with you that my beloved “Bob” has died. You will remember Bob from one of my favourite posts ( I am heartbroken and not quite sure what to do with this massive hole in my soul. I deeply loved (still do) this woman from the bottom of my heart as a daughter would love her mum. She taught me so much about being a better person in the extremely short seventeen months I was graced with her presence.

On Tuesday morning, I received a phone call from my best friend here in Australia. Sharon happens to be Barb’s daughter-in-law married to Barb’s oldest child, Jody. Jody and Sharon are MWH and my’s favourite people to spend an evening with out on the town. Jody is close to Warren’s age and Sharon is my age and an “older mum” like I was. They are the parents of the magnificent Ava. Their children range in age from 6 to 19 and there are four in total. Anyway, Sharon called me yesterday morning and I knew as soon as I said hello and heard Sharon’s voice that something horrible was wrong. Sharon told me that Barb had died and that another daughter-in-law had just found her. Evidently Barb was being typical Barb and climbing on a ladder in her stairwell to “sweep the walls” for cleaning. She fell from the ladder and down the stairs hitting her head on the travertine floor below. I don’t know specifics as this turned into a police investigation because she was by herself when it happened. I only know that this family of twenty-nine in total has lost their nucleus that held them together. Barb was your quintessential Matriarch had this been an Italian family.

I have never experienced this type of loss in my adult life. Yes, my grandmother died not long after my wedding to MWH but I had never lived in the same city as Grandmommy and I didn’t have the bond with her that I had with Barb. Please do not get me wrong, I was devastated by the loss of my grandmother and often wondered if she never traveled to Texas for my wedding, would she have lived longer. She fell not long after we left for our honeymoon and never recovered. The loss I felt yesterday I felt to the depths of my soul, from my toes all the way to my head. I truly understand what it means to wail with grief. The loss is overwhelming along with the sadness of never being able to see her again. Barb was truly a magnificent human being, a severely devoted mum, a DAILY committed grandma and a very encouraging friend.

In the past 24 hours I have researched the Barb I never knew. The public Barb that tirelessly worked for the rights of women and children who were victims of domestic violence. Barbara Kilpatrick is responsible for some of the toughest domestic violence laws in Australia. Even up till the last days of her life, she still fought for this often discarded group. As I stated in previous posts, Barb retired to take care of her grandchildren. Depending on the day of the week and even the weekends, Barb would have one grandchild to as many as five or six grandchildren in her home caring for them while their parents had work commitments or just needed time for a yoga class. I used to joke with her about getting her “daycare center” licensed or the government might come after her. Her response was always a bubbling joy of laughter that could only be seen as her immense happiness at the opportunity she had with these children. In the middle of all of her “daycare duties,” Wednesday mornings were always reserved for court. Barb continued in her retirement to travel into the central business district of Sydney to represent the many women and children who were victims of domestic violence who desperately needed an advocate on their side. They could always count on Barb. In 2003, Barbara received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her service to the community, particularly as an advocate for women and children affected by domestic violence. If you’re interested in this highest honour, you can read about the OAM here

I’m sure there will be more posts in the coming days and weeks from me about Barb and her incredible family. This has been cathartic for me.

Another catharsis came from my time with her family last night. This family ALWAYS gathers, in happiness and in sorrow. I knew this would be the case and decided to make two batches of my much-loved Southern Living recipe of Southwestern Soup. This is the easiest, yummiest and most comforting meal I make. It is winter here in Australia and the only thing the recipe was missing was some snow on the ground…..and Barb’s presence. The family was gathered at Sharon’s house and I texted her asking if I could bring soup, tortilla chips, sour cream and coriander (cilantro in the US) over around 5:00pm. I didn’t want to disturb the family but knew there would be a need for mass quantities of food. Sharon gave me the go ahead so MWH, MBD and I took food to the family.

A small caveat here: this is MBD’s first loss of a loved one and it has been traumatic for her. She, like me, cannot make sense of this life cut way too short. We have cried together, hugged for dear life and are mucking our way though the grief. When we arrived at Sharon’s, the street was lined with cars, the front yard was filled with children playing soccer or climbing trees, small groups of adults scattered around the lawn watching children while grieving, the front door was wide open and the house was filled with more children and more adults. This is the massive gathering I have come to love from the Kilpatrick family. These types of gatherings are difficult for MBW and MWH as they are very much one on one conversationalist and friends. These gatherings can be overwhelming to MBD which we have come to realise stems from being an only child. I’m used to families upon families from my childhood days of “multi family one bedroom lake house ownership.” The families were not related but everyone got along and you made due with what was available. You knew who the core group was but you also accepted the straggler that came with one of the families as part of that family, another member of the core group. I’m used to fitting in this way. MWH comes from large gatherings of related families, cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters all gathering outside at his parents home. All of this is to say I never felt MORE at home than at a Kilpatrick gathering and my husband and daughter never felt MORE out-of-place.

Anyway, Sharon met us at the car when we arrived with the food. I immediately grabbed her for a tight hug and some tears. I whispered in her ear this was MBW’s first loss and in the background we both heard MBW break into tears and begin apologising for those tears. Sharon then immediately went to MBD, hugged her and encouraged her to come into the house with the food. Out intention was to deposit the food, share our condolences and leave. As soon as we put the pots on the stove, Sharon turned to me and said, “Right, how about a cuppa?” The “cuppa” tea is where my relationship with this wonderful family began.

I knew this is what my soul needed but I also knew that my husband and daughter needed to go back to the comfort of our home. I had spent the day grieving by myself and I needed time to process the loss with the people who knew Barb best. I’m thankful for MWH as he continues to learn my nuances and understanding that I needed this time. He said he would take MBD home and would come back and get me whenever I wanted. I requested an hour and a half and he countered with, “If you need longer, all you need to do is text me.” In that moment, I loved him more than I ever have. He understood my need to be with this family and didn’t question my staying. He also took our daughter home and fed her and took care of her. The time with the Kilpatrick family was instrumental in my grieving. I helped out in the kitchen, swapped stories with different family members, cried on a few shoulders and willing offered my shoulder for the same.

I’ve rambled enough this morning and it’s only a little after 8:00am. As I said before, I’m sure there will be more posts about this family in the days to come. I am incredibly thankful for the short time I had with Barb and for her impact on my life. She will always hold a very special place in my soul and the feeling of loss will always be there. It will diminish as the days go by and I know will be filled with Barb’s bubbling joy of laughter thus leaving immense happiness in my soul.

Goodbye Bob – I love you and I’ll see ya on the flip side!