Monday, December 18, 2017

Football, Choking Puppies, and Perspective

As a football fan who grew up in Western Pennsylvania, I spent most of last week thinking about the Steelers game against the Patriots. Whoever won the game would likely be the AFC's #1 seed, and the road to the Super Bowl would then go through their home stadium. The stakes were high.

History hasn't been kind to the Steelers in this match up: the Patriots have won 10 of the last 13 games, including some truly lopsided AFC Championship Games. Tom Brady & Belichick just have the Steelers' number.

Tonight would be no different, as the Patriots turned up the heat when it mattered, came back from behind in the fourth quarter, and held on through a truly bonkers final minute to win 27-24. 

The Steelers had a chance to win the game in the final seconds or, at least, kick a field goal to send it to overtime. Instead, a strange series of plays ended with a fitting interception to prove once again that Pittsburgh is the weaker brother in this rivalry: not quite up to the task of knocking off the champs.

The game kind of crushed me. I actually felt angry and depressed. I was aware that it doesn't make any sense to get this riled up over a football game played by millionaire athletes, but I genuinely was upset about the outcome. Mostly because I believed they finally were going to beat the Pats, only to be disappointed again.

As I do after every week's game, I was talking to my best friend about it on the phone. (As guys born in 1980, we're just old enough to still use phones to speak to other humans.) Midway through my complaint about how we'll never beat these guys, Mrs. Done by Forty screamed that she needed my help. 

Like actually screamed: "Brian! I need you!"

Cayenne, our golden retriever, was choking. She doesn't chew her food and, despite using a puzzle bowl, must have gotten food stuck in her throat. She wasn't breathing. She was laying down and heaving, tail tucked between her legs, looking to my eyes for help. 

I started freaking out. 

We'd just lost Pepper last summer. I couldn't lose Cayenne, too. 

Mrs. Done by Forty managed to google some instructions as I lifted her legs, started doing some half-assed Heimlich maneuvers. None of that was working, so I threw my shoes on and grabbed my keys, thinking we needed to get her to the animal hospital. 

But we knew there wasn't time for that.

I finally did the thing you're not supposed to do, and just tried fishing my fingers into her throat, and that somehow got her to throw up. After another minute, she threw up the rest of her dinner, a mess of kibble entirely un-chewed and held together by glob of clear, sticky saliva, and she immediately seemed back to normal. 

Cayenne calmly walked over to her dinner bowl and stared at us, ready to be fed a new dinner.

Pumped up on adrenaline, Mrs. Done by Forty and I slumped to the ground, and I started bawling. I was sure I was going to lose her there on the kitchen floor.

But she's fine, thank God. We called the animal hospital and they told us not to even worry about bringing her in: just to keep an eye on her for any signs of odd behavior. 

Still, my brain is a useless clump of worry now. I couldn't finish my house chores, or cook dinner, or write. But I am relieved, and happy.

I'm certainly not upset anymore about some fucking football game.

I get confused a lot the time about what matters. My emotions rarely match the situation, and I find myself getting angry about things that are trivial: like being five minutes late, or the house being messy.

My therapist gave me a little tool to help me keep things in perspective. When I feel angry, I ask myself where it fits on a scale of 1-10 in importance. 

"What number is this?" I ask myself. At least when I remember to.

A football game, even one against the Patriots, is a one. My puppy nearly dying is, I don't know, a nine.

Reaching financial independence by forty? That's a one, friends. 

I don't need to stress about hitting a financial goal, because the things that matter are all good. I'm healthy. My wife is healthy. My adorable dogs are healthy. We have a house with water that magically appears out of faucets whenever we'd like, lights that shine at the flick of a switch, and air that we can turn to whichever temperature we think is comfortable. There's food in the pantry and more in the fridge. I'm gainfully employed and Mrs. Done by Forty is pursuing a freaking PhD for God's sake. 

Things are good. Outside of the occasional choking hazard, I really and truly have nothing to worry about. I should remember that the next time something upsets me.
It's probably a one.


  1. Holy shit, you need to start this post with a disclaimer. "All dogs survive!"
    I'm so sorry you had to deal with this horrific experience, and completely relieved that Cayenne is ok. I know that when my dog is hurt or sick I fly into total helicopter mom mode. I'm going to be inconsolable the day he passes away.
    While I wish you hadn't had to deal with the choking of your pup to figure it out, this is a wonderful revelation about the relative importance of worrying. <3

    1. Hey Piggy! I really should have put a note in there, but I'm a sadistic fucker and kind of think the tension adds to the story.

      Our pups really are family and I guess this is giving us a small insight into what parenthood might be like. Who knows.

      But yeah, I hope I can return to this post the next time I worry about the stock market, whether we spent an extra $100 on groceries, or whether my wardrobe is 'grown up' enough.

  2. OMG, how terrifying. I'm so glad Cayenne is OK, and so sorry you had to go through such a horrible experience. I think I'd be tempted to dole out her food one piece at a time after something like that!

    The perspective is valuable though, isn't it? Your story reminds me of how I felt the morning of September 11. At the time I had a new rescue kitty who was having "issues" with the litter box, so I had him corralled in the basement while he was figuring it all out.

    Anyhow, I got up that morning, called CatMan to tell him I was up, and then went down to check on the cat. I was quite upset and worked up about the peeing situation, and then the phone rang. The minute I heard CatMan's voice saying "you haven't turned on your television set this morning, have you?" I knew something was wrong... and then he just started reading me the CNN ticker.

    At first I was simply terrified, but quickly that faded and the only thing I could feel was gratitude for my quirky little life - which most of the time I complained about. I felt grateful for my low-paying, stress inducing job. I felt grateful that I had a roof over my head, food to eat, and a warm place to sleep. And I even felt grateful for my crazy dysfunctional family. I picked up the cat and just started hugging him... I told him he could pee wherever he wanted as long as he didn't leave me.

    I think maybe that's one of the reasons I love disaster and apocalyptic movies so much... they help me keep things in perspective. Like when your beloved Denver Broncos fall from Super Bowl victors to bottom of the heap horror story in 2 short seasons... I sometimes have to remind myself how very lucky I am to have the privilege of caring about something as stupid as football! BTW, your Steelers totally got robbed. There's NO WAY that wasn't a touchdown! Sigh.

    Big hugs to you and Mrs. DBF, and of course, to Cayenne.

    1. Hey Eco Cat Lady!

      Yeah, we may be cutting up her food into fourths now. We did switch to the Royal Canin Golden Retriever brand (rather than the large breed) and the kibble is HUGE. We're switching back (bag arrives tomorrow). For now, it's getting cut up and soaked in water. The girl doesn't chew!

      9/11 is one of those days I'll remember, too, though I wish I had the reaction you did. My live in girlfriend had to talk me out of signing up to join the Marines. I was just so angry that I lost all perspective. Plus had just turned 21, so I think my age had a lot to do with it.

      But your cat story is a lot more useful. I'm glad you took that out of the tragedy: the reminder that life is precious, and we don't need to sweat the small stuff.

      And yeah, I agree that sure seemed like a catch. But I'm choosing to focus on the fact that they had a chance to kick & go to overtime, so they need to work the sidelines, the end lines, and only throw it if it's 'there'.

  3. I'm relieved to hear Cayenne is okay. Man, you went through the ringer there. Life sure does smack us in the face with unforeseen variables. You'll be fine, good sir. Especially since you're wise enough to take stock in what you have today. You'll appreciate what you'll have even more tomorrow (after 40 when you're able to write even more, walk the dog even more, etc. etc.) Peace!

    1. Cubert!

      Yeah, as good as things are now they sure seem to be on an upward trajectory lately. We've won the lottery so many times already. It's a blessing that we need to do a better job sharing with others.

      Once we hit FI (maybe just a bit before you?) then we've got to remember to make the most of it.

  4. Glad to hear Cayenne is must have been scary. Is there some dog Heimlich maneuver you can learn just in case for the future? As for the Steelers and Pats, I can't say I'm a fan of either team. But I've got to say they really need to fix that "catch" rule. I mean seriously!? Honestly, I don't even watch much sports anymore or get angry when my teams do horribly like I used to. Lucky for me since I'm a Giants fan and their season was a wreck. Yea...perspective...sports aren't that big a deal to me in the grand scheme of things.

    1. Aaagh! So sorry for the crazy late reply, Andrew. Things are crazy in our house at year end.

      We do know the doggie heimlich but it wasn't working for us. I assume this is user error, as always. But we did read up on it a lot so maybe we'd fare better next time.

      And we owe the Giants two big thanks for keeping the Pats' from two more trophies.

      Agreed that the catch rule needs to be addressed. It's comical how badly their new rule has been implemented.

  5. Oh man, I'm with you - I'd lose my mind if I lost my dog like that (or any way). I'm so glad to hear Cayenne is okay (and love those names, btw).

    Certainly puts things into perspective, doesn't it.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Caren! Yes, a bit of perspective is our silver lining here.

  6. We've had a couple of "choking" incidents with our toddler (nowhere near as bad as the one with your dog by the sounds of it) and it doesn't half scare you ay!

    Glad that you're taking the positives out of what happened and keeping all the other meaningless stuff in perspective now.

    Saying that, I see the Steelers are still well in with a chance for the Superbowl so I'll keep an eye on the results and be rooting for them with you :)

    Happy new year!