Read Dog Stays in the Picture Online

Authors: Susan; Morse

Dog Stays in the Picture (14 page)

Things go from bad to worse. Nina becomes increasingly alarmed, noticing strange bloody scratches right in the area where a wing might connect with her shoulder blade, and the skin around the scratches is all bumpy, like a plucked chicken. Plus, there's this whole self-mutilation angle. When Erica sees her daughter's scratches she says,
You're doing it again
,
and clips Nina's nails, accidentally­-on-purpose cutting some skin with these badass nail scissors, making her yelp. After Nina snags the prized part in
Swan Lake
, the company's­ former prima ballerina, Beth (Winona Ryder, quite striking as the bitter has-been), jumps in front of a car and winds up in the hospital. Of course Nina has to go visit, and sees horrifying jagged infected stitches and nasty pins sticking out of Beth's leg up close with this God-awful
Psycho-
esque
music screeching.

As we press on, Nina is clearly unraveling, pushed to the breaking­ point by all the pressure. She's bulimic, naturally, and she keeps hallucinating, seeing her own threatening doppelgänger from the corner of her eye (evil Nina, dressed in black instead of pink, lurking in mirrors). Her paranoia really kicks in when the company is joined by Mila Kunis as bad-girl ballerina Lily (properly­ spelled in the credits!) and the director points out Lily could play the Black Swan with both wings tied behind her back. (Lily literally­ has huge black wings tattooed on her shoulder blades.)

I can't help connecting this to myself. My body is haywire. Is it real, or is it all in my mind—menopausal hysteria?

Nina hallucinates a hot lesbian sex scene with Lily (guaranteeing tremendous box office draw, if you ask me) made particularly freaky because when Lily goes down on Nina, her face morphs into Nina's, and she says,
My sweet girl,
which is what Barbara Hershey always calls her daughter (good heavens, I can't even look at Eliza) and then tries to smother her with a pillow.

One thing I'm noticing, lying here on the sofa: my knees. Is it possible I can bend them a wee bit more easily than I could when the movie began? Is the doxycycline kicking in? I've been on it for four days, and Margot said this was a test: if I feel any improvement after a few days there's a good chance I do have Lyme disease. Holy crap! Now what?

Another thing: this movie is fascinating. The dancing is electric, the women are acting their tights off, and the director has us on the edges of our seats. There are all these intriguing details. The entire story is told from Nina's unreliable perspective, and there are millions of interpretations you could make a case for: Nina's schizophrenic, and her mother doesn't exist. Or actually her mother does exist, but she's been secretly molesting Nina. Okay—maybe Nina's mother
exists, but Lily doesn't. Or, Lily exists but she's nice, not threatening. Nope—nobody exists in this movie except for Nina, who is not a dancer at all, she just wishes she was; she's one of those haunting people you see pinballing down New York's sidewalks talking to themselves. We may never find out the truth, and that's totally fine, because it's a Rorschach inkblot: what's perceived reveals as much about the viewer's own subconscious as anything else, and besides, the whole thing is riveting no matter what.

For me, the penny drops the night before Nina's first performance, when she flies home in a panic and slams the bedroom door on her mother. Tiny black feathers are popping out of her gooseflesh and THEN, she takes a step, and her frigging knees snap backward, like a duck's legs. It's so extreme it borders on ridiculous, but the essence hits me right in my solar plexus: Nina's body is staging a mutiny against everything she's striving for. This I understand in my very soul. Here I am, on the brink of a whole new season of undisturbed marital bliss, my children are launched, and there's this unexpected gift of a beginning: a book being published. Like Nina, everything's going my way, but what happens? A complete physical collapse happens, that's what.

I shout to Eliza
THAT'S ME!

Lilly startles awake from her bed in the corner and bolts from the room, and Eliza looks at me like—
WTF, Mama? You're turning into a swan?

11.

Fossils and Quacks

JANUARY 2011

I
've stumbled on a war.

After reading and talking and surfing, here's my unscientific take: there are a lot of people out there all hot and bothered about ticks.

There are roughly two camps, and they seem to hate each other intensely. One camp tells us Lyme disease is rarely contracted, easily detected, and quickly treated. This is the camp that tested me twice, didn't find anything, and is unimpressed when I tell them my knees have not always looked like giant raspberries. This camp seems interested only in one measly ankle, which hurts less than anything else but apparently looked a little funny on an X-ray. They're waiting for results from an ankle MRI, but mostly I get the impression this camp thinks things would be much easier on everyone if I'd just take some Advil and buzz off. Oh, to buzz off and get on with my life … I used to be able to lift my feet off the floor. I participated in a triathlon last summer—I did not always shuffle around like a geriatric version of Frankenstein's monster—I'm kind of frightened by how little the first camp has to offer.

Then there's the second camp. The doctors in this group say Lyme and other tick-related infections are extremely sneaky and persistent, with many different symptoms, and they believe traditional lab tests are unreliable. This camp likes to put people on risky long-term courses of antibiotics. I'm not big on antibiotics, so I'm not ready to fully commit to this camp quite yet. I'm also not big on dementia, total incapacitation, and death, which, according to the second camp, can happen if you have Lyme disease and you don't get rid of it.

The first camp thinks the second camp are unscientific quacks. The second camp thinks the first are antiquated fossils, and everyone's hurling accusations about mistreating patients for devious financial motivation. Quacks say fossils are on the take, profiting from the continued use of outdated tests they originally helped develop, and amassing oodles of grants and lecture fees based on their mainstream pedigrees. Fossils say quacks make a killing on the dangerous IVs they hook patients up to for months, even years, at thousands of dollars a pop.

It's not only patients who are upset by all this discord. Fossils don't like to do interviews because of a barrage of vitriol and death threats from patients and advocates in the quack community. Quacks don't mention their specialty on websites, because powerful fossil supporters are hell-bent on putting them out of practice. Caught in the middle are a
ton
of frantic sick people (me included), venting on the Internet, grasping at straws. And there are plenty of straws out there, including alternative healers even most quacks and fossils scoff at—fringe-type practitioners with herbs, minerals, diets, and eccentric tests.

Here's my status update: I'm still stuck in Philly seeing doctors and continuing the doxycycline. Aches persist, radiating out into many more random joints. After a routine dental hygiene appointment, for example, my jaw doesn't want to open all the way anymore. I'm constantly monitoring myself for cognitive impairment, but if I am impaired, how will I know? How does a crazy person identify their craziness? I'm aware my symptoms could be a sign of all sorts of things besides ticks. But the word on the street is if you have a tick infection and it goes untreated too long, it can invade your brain, and then you're cooked. I am not going to discount tick involvement until I've looked under every rock.

Appointments are exhausting. Every outing has to be carefully calculated with meticulous consideration of parking lot layouts and such. A simple trip to the grocery store is a major expedition, and meals are reduced to anything with minimal prep, like soup. As much as possible, I'm inert, which would be perfect for Lilly
if it weren't so hard for her to relax when the cat's around.
(When does that rabbit sleep? It's everywhere.)

I haven't given up on dog training. It's not easy, because I'm always forgetting to keep treats close at hand for rewarding good behavior. Wendy wants Lilly to get used to the clicker instead of constant treats anyway—this is a little metal thing that makes a “click” noise. You're supposed to just click and give her a treat so she can associate the sound with positive reinforcement. But Lilly's too jumpy. She definitely loves the new treats—as soon as I open the cupboard where we keep her freeze-dried liver and duck strips, her chin starts vibrating with anticipation—but I must be doing something wrong with the clicker, because she floors it out of the room every time I pick the thing up.
(It's nasty. It tells you something bad's going to happen.)

Lilly's chin quivers for more than just treats now. I've found her erogenous zones. We have these long, blissed-out sessions; she's discovered she loves being stroked along her brow and in the tender crevices in front of her ears. If I stop, she's never pushy asking for more. She sort of pauses for a second or two, waiting to see what will happen, and then gently shifts position, inviting more attention in the most subtle, respectful way, almost forgiving me in advance in case I've had enough: a slight lift of the chin, or a single paw gesturing discreetly, like a blessing. I can tell she's dying for more; her chin betrays her. I can't help wondering if anyone ever had the time or inclination to stroke this lovely sensitive animal during her working years.

Always in the back of my mind is the looming possibility that I may not be able to justify keeping a complicated dog if my health doesn't improve. I want so much for this to be Lilly's Forever Home. One foot in front of the other.

Another thing Wendy stresses: If a dog has any kind of separation issues, it's vital to make departures and arrivals as boring as possible. I sort of knew this; our first dog, a sweet Australian shepherd mix named Aya, used to get so excited when we came home she'd lose control and pee all over the place. We were using a training guide written by the Monks of New Skete, who explained that we could avoid messes by not talking to Aya till she'd been outside. The technique worked, although it took a while to get our friend Tom to cooperate. Tom, an actor, was kind enough to stay at our house sometimes when we traveled. But he liked doing things his way, and he loved how special Aya made him feel when he came home from auditions. Tom sincerely appreciated Aya's attention, insisting it was worth the mess—until the night he brought home a lady friend.

This was one of those romantic third-date's-the-charm-type situations, and Tom was optimistic. Everything had been carefully planned: jacket and tie, reservation at a romantic high-end restaurant, a bottle of good wine stashed in the fridge for later, and clean sheets on our guest bed. Tom had been counting on Aya's usual rapturous welcome routine to provide any needed character references and help seal the deal with his extremely attractive date—the theory being any guy who is loved this much by a dog has got to be worth putting out for.

When Tom and his lady arrived at our house after dinner, Aya put on a show. Egged on by Tom's cries
(Aya! I'm home!)
she felt moved to express her delight with even greater abandon than usual, whimpering in ecstasy, rolling over on her back to expose her belly. And when Tom finally bent down to tickle her, Aya released the waterworks with gusto, her thrashing tail serving as a sort of irrigation device (like a long-range sprinkler on a golf course) thoroughly drenching everything within five feet (Tom's coat and tie, the date's pretty dress), directing most of its force with remarkable precision straight into Tom's appalled open mouth
(Aya, stop it—glug—augggh, no!)
.

You'd have thought the spark of romance would have been extinguished, but apparently this particular lady friend was a sport. If it hadn't been for Aya, Tom and his dream date would never have ended up in our shower. …

After time spent with Tom, it could take a week or so of the silent treatment to settle Aya back into continence. Lilly is a tougher nut to crack.

Right now the objective is to keep her out of that “Lizard Brain” mode altogether so her destructive impulses won't be triggered. I try to time my doctor visits for when helpers are available: our housekeeper, Lillian, or our friend Gaillard, who rents an apartment above our garage. Whenever I return, Lilly gets the prescribed cold shoulder, kind of like my old Robot Mama routine at Eliza's school drop-offs.

I'm becoming more and more aware of possible parallels between my concerns about this animal and my protective attitude while raising our children. You know how when things get sort of dicey, and you can't shake the feeling there's some lesson you're supposed to be absorbing? A building sense of doom, as if everything's only going to become worse until you surrender to whatever it is? There's something about my growth as a human at stake here, maybe something I didn't quite resolve while raising children. I can't put my finger on it yet, and I am beginning to wonder how the joint business factors in. Why is this happening right when I can finally travel with my husband?

Nothing to do but press on. Lillian, Gaillard, and the O'Briens have also taken over the dog-walking regimen, which is a huge help, and fortunately Wendy pays house calls. I'm doing everything I can think of to untangle the worst of my medical puzzle and get Lilly shipshape so we can both head to New Orleans as soon as possible.

Fossils don't have much to offer. Two highly regarded specialists have made it clear fourteen days of doxycycline is plenty. Only a fool would want more, and if I insist on being a fool, I'll have to go elsewhere, meaning, I guess, to a quack. They have no other ideas.

I do think the doxycycline has been helping a little; it's subtle, but I'd like to take Margot's advice and continue. I'm on the lookout for nasty side effects—none so far. I have only a few weeks' worth of the stuff, and a doctor's blessing is required. I feel sort of like an addict trying to plan the source of my next fix, and while I plan, I'm dabbling in the fringe because it seems best to use an open-minded, multipronged approach. First things first: Mother Brigid's holy cotton balls.

These are Ma's latest Answer To Everything: A while back, a couple of the icons at her church unexpectedly started oozing this myrrh-type substance—literally, fragrant oil squished out of the hands and eyes of the saints in the pictures for a couple of weeks. The priests were low-key about it. The Orthodox take on weeping icons is they're a sign of pending sinful-type trouble in the world—either that or the devil is messing with their heads. I personally have no opinion either way, and I'm flat-out desperate anyway, so when Ma suggested I try rubbing the stuff all over my joints, I figured I had nothing to lose.

On her return from church, Ma presented me with a Ziploc baggie containing a couple of little oil-soaked cotton balls. The oil is colorless, and the scent, although faint, was immediately noticeable when I opened it. A lot of my affected joints are extremely tender to the touch—my knees and wrist feel like fresh bruises—so I was a little tentative rubbing the cotton balls over everything. While I waited for signs of change, I kept thinking,
If this works, does it mean I have to convert?

Not an altogether unpleasant experience, but so far holy cotton balls are about as curative as Advil (meaning
not
). What's most important is that Mother Brigid is satisfied she's done her bit. On to the next.

There's a handful of alternative people I trust, decent healers who've successfully cured an assortment of our family's afflictions when the medical community was stumped. My favorite is Siegfried, a homeopath in L.A. I've consulted with Siegfried for decades—he's a whiz at treating children's mysterious coughs and stomachaches right over the phone, but I know from long experience Siegfried can be a little grouchy if I argue in favor of certain immunizations, or decide to opt for antibiotics instead of following his directions. I highly doubt Siegfried will endorse my doxycycline habit any more than the fossils have. I know him too well—Siegfried's going to tell me it's all about caffeine, sugar, and dairy products. As much as I adore him, I have a hard time believing I can fix myself by simply cutting out Godiva chocolates on Valentine's Day. I'm not feeling up to another confrontation just yet. I'll save Siegfried for later.

Our local acupuncturist, Bella, has actually detected traces of Lyme disease in my system. She suspects the carpet cleaners I brought in after David left used something toxic that may have sickened me enough to allow lurking Lyme bacteria in my system to attack and cause my symptoms. I guess anything is possible. …

I keep going over stories of fellow sufferers—it's amazing how many women my age develop joint trouble. I have a feeling doctors don't find middle-aged women all that interesting. We complain too much; we're not worth bothering with unless we've got something more life-threatening and sexy, like breast cancer. Maybe we need to start rattling the cages, marching (shuffling) on the White House. The AIDS community did it in the '80s and '90s; now it's our turn. If this is not ticks, what the heck is it?! ABBA Ladies Unite!

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