Definitely not chorizo

The road was dark and empty. Lonely. I wondered how long someone – me – might lie there unaided if their car ran off the road. How long before another car would come along. It could be hours. I knew I was driving too fast, the fall-away at the side of the road and the deer signs telling me I should slow down. But my tiredness and desire to get home pushed me on. What would the consequences be if I crashed? I could die. I could cause myself life-changing injuries. I could kill the dog.

I’d very nearly killed the dog once already today. That was why we were on this lonely road after midnight, with the Google maps woman telling me where to go long after I knew where I was and didn’t need her anymore. This lonely stretch of 16km, another lonely stretch of 13km, then the final lonely stretch of 8km.

I’d laid an old bedsheet on the back seat of the car in case Lady vomited. It had been a last-minute decision. She was already in the car; I’d packed what I was taking with me and I was about to get in when I thought about the potential for vomit. So, I ran back into the house and grabbed a sheet from the box of painting supplies on the high shelf in the utility room.

I expected her to vomit because, in the past hour, I’d force fed her 40mls of extremely salty water and, before that, 10mls of olive oil. She was miserable from all this manhandling and force feeding. Why was she being so horribly punished?  

She’d be dying unbeknownst to me right now if I hadn’t spotted her eating what I at first thought was a stolen slice of chorizo. Naughty girl, I thought, but I left her to it. Then I saw she had another one – or was it the same one? I couldn’t be sure. It seemed to be wrapped in plastic. I called her to me, prized it from her clenched jaws and started to remove what I thought was a plastic wrapper only, to my horror, to read the words, in Spanish, ‘raticida’. Rat poison. I took it to the bin and, as I did, she went back to the source, behind the bin, and found another one. I made her drop it and I wondered what to do. Had she eaten one already? Or was the one I removed from her mouth the first one? My walking buddy Jennifer calmly Googled what to do and said, ‘She needs Vitamin K.’ I left my half-full glass of beer on the table and walked home, calling the vet along the way.

The vet advised 10mls of olive oil, which should stop her absorbing the poison if there was any in her system. “Keep an eye on her,” she told me, “And if you see any changes in her, call me.”

I forced the olive oil into her and then Googled ‘My dog ate rat poison’. Without exception, every site urged going to the vet immediately: ‘Do not waste your time trying home remedies’.

I called the 24-hour emergency vet in Huelva for a second opinion. She advised me to force feed her very salty water. With a syringe. Sideways into her mouth so it wouldn’t go into her lungs. Based on how far away I live from Huelva and how long it had been since she’d possibly eaten the poison, if she didn’t vomit in an hour, I was to take her in. It’s critical that you don’t let too much time pass, she said.

I didn’t have a syringe. Someone with a small child is bound to have syringe, I thought. I phoned Egle because she has a three-year old son. Soon I had a syringe and I managed to get 40mls of water into Lady in the face of major opposition. Katie held her. I held her. I chased her around the kitchen table. She wriggled backways out of Katie’s grasp and under the table. Was 40mls enough? The vet hadn’t said how much was enough.

I didn’t want to wait to see if she’d vomit. I made supper for the girls, packed a few things in a bag – my book, wallet, doggy passport. My head was pounding and I could feel the world closing in around me in what felt like the start of a panic attack. I couldn’t imagine how bereft we’d be if the dog died. She’s been our rock of joy through so much in her short three and a bit years of life.

Forty minutes after I’d forced the salt water into her there was still no sign of her vomiting. I got in the car, grabbing the old sheet for the back seat, and set out on the one-hour drive to Huelva. It was a horrible night for driving. Rain on the windscreen, the inside of my old car misty with condensation, the roads wet and a seemingly endless stream of headlights of cars coming from the opposite direction.

The Google maps woman took me on a route that ultimately got me lost. I was losing precious minutes. I would have found the building easily on my own, had I looked at a map and not relied on that Google wan.

When I finally parked up, Lady jumped gleefully out of the car, expecting a walk. Her glee was short-lived, however, when she realized we were going to the vet. She’d never been to this vet before, so what was it about the place that made her stick her tail between her legs and try to escape back out the door? The vet’s clothes? The smell of the place? Whatever it was, Lady knew trouble was in store and I had to drag her in the door against her will.  

“I’m going to give her an injection that will force her to vomit,” the kindly-faced vet said. Lady struggled and screamed while one woman held her and the other stuck a long needle in the scruff of her neck.

“Where should we go?” I asked.

“Stay here. She can vomit on the floor. Animals are always vomiting on the floor here,” the vet said matter-of-factly. I sat on the long blue bench, and looked around at the blue plastic floor, imagining a room full of animals of all shapes and sizes simultaneously vomiting. Lady sat beside me, glued to my leg.

Two women came in, a mother and daughter, and natives of South America, I guessed. The older woman, red-eyed and still crying, carried in her arms a cat on a cat bed. The vet saw them into her office.

And that was when the vomiting started. Lady started to retch, making a hideous noise as she did so. First out of her mouth and onto the blue plastic floor were two packets of rat poison, still intact, both with the word ‘raticida’ still clear. The woman at reception came from behind her desk with a roll of paper towels, a bottle of bleach and a bin liner. We hunkered down together and peered at the vomit. The two sachets of poison certainly looked intact, but it was hard to tell if they’d been breached. Meanwhile, Lady was retching again and this time produced the chicken she’d had for lunch. As I cleaned up one pile of vomit, she produced another. I left the first pile where it was, for the vet to see when she came out.

The door to the consulting room opened and out came the vet and the two women, both sobbing, tears streaming down their cheeks, the cat nowhere in sight. The vet hunkered down and inspected the contents of the first pile of vomit.

Behind me I could hear the two women making arrangements for their dead cat with the woman at reception. “What name do you want?” she asked. Both women said the cat’s name a few times, but the receptionist couldn’t get it right. “I don’t want to get it wrong,” she said gently and handed the older woman a piece of paper. “You write it down.” Meanwhile, Lady stood by the legs of the younger woman, wretched and retching, and I thought, with horror, about to vomit onto the woman’s shoe. That’s all the poor woman needed – being vomited on by some stupid dog minutes after her cat had been put to sleep.

I grabbed Lady by the collar and pulled her to me, trying to keep her close – or at least away from the mother and daughter – while I cleaned up the vomit. As soon as I cleaned up one pile, Lady produced another.

The two women stood around, while the receptionist completed their paperwork. I didn’t know how to react to their grief. I wanted to console them, to say I was sorry for their loss, but the proper words in Spanish deserted me and all I could do was clean up and feel awful that they were grieving for their cat on a dog vomit-covered blue plastic floor.

“When should we come back?” the older woman asked the vet. “It’ll take a few days,” the vet said. “I’ll call you when it’s ready.” The ‘it’ I presumed referred to the cat’s ashes. The pair left, the cat basket under the older woman’s arm, empty. Their loneliness for the cat was palpable.

The vet gave Lady a second injection to quell the nausea and gave me a prescription for Vitamin K. I got lost twice or three times trying to find my way out of Huelva, despite (or because of) the Google woman. It was almost 2am by the time we got back to Sanlúcar.

In the days that followed, Lady showed no ill effects of the poison. It is likely she vomited it all up. For the next ten days, I forced her to take Vitamin K four times a day and an anti-nausea table to counteract the Vitamin K twice a day. She really hated me for those ten days, eying me suspiciously every time I went into the kitchen, for fear I’d return with the syringe or the pills.

Has she learned her lesson? Of course not. She’s a dog.

The view from the window

God knows, there are worse views. From high up in the village, our house looks southwest over the orange village rooftops and beyond. Below us lies the whitewashed church, perched on its own hill in the centre of the village, and beyond, up on the next hill, two picturesque windmills and the green field below where white and chestnut horses peacefully graze. I can’t see the river, but the hills of Portugal are almost within touching distance and the river runs between them and the village.

Home Feature

It’s like a scene from a Hollywood movie, a cardboard cutout of an idyllic southern European village. Imagine Mama Mia, or Chocolat, or Jeremy Irons in the final scene of Damage.

It’s just as well that it’s such a pleasant view. Since September I have been staring at that view for more time than I ever could have imagined. To coincide with moving into the house (indeed, because of moving into the house) I slipped a couple of discs in my lower back, leaving me severely incapacitated. I can’t walk very much, I can’t do most of the things I love to do. All those things that draw me to life in the village and the things that make me feel part of village life are, for the moment, out of reach. It’s a strange and unpleasant feeling to be in the village and yet not in the village.

But I have the view. Despite the picture postcard quality of the place, I know this is no cardboard cutout. Behind those pretty whitewashed walls and under those orange roof tiles there is love and laughter, joy and sorrow. And in the hills beyond, the seasons bring change, there are lambs and rock roses and wild flowers.

I am reminded of (though in no way compare myself to) Seamus Heaney’s poem Field of Vision* as I sit looking out on the view from my office desk or from the sitting room. For almost six months I have watched the seasons change, the parched sun-baked golden brown of summer giving way to the bright rain-fed greens of winter and spring. I’ve watched the sky, the bright blue empty sky, and the immense clouds sometimes bringing torrential showers of rain. These mornings I look down on fog, an inversion over the river, like steam rising from a witch’s cauldron.

The changing life of the village is harder to observe from this remove. Like those subtler changes in the landscape, one has to be in the village, rather than observing it from afar, to understand and appreciate its changing moods. I cherish those rare occasions these days, when I get out, when I feel sociable enough to be a part of village life again for an hour or two.

I long for a time when I can once again take a carefree stroll down to the bar and have a coffee or beer with whoever happens to be around, chat with my neighbours when we pass on the street, be spontaneous in my socializing. And I long to get beyond the village, to take long walks in the hills again, to be nose-to-nose with wild flowers, to row across the river in my little red dinghy and walk the smuggler’s trail in Portugal.

I am optimistic that all those things will come my way again. I expect I’ll appreciate them all the more for the months I have spent merely observing life through the frame of my front window.

*Field of Vision
Seamus Heaney

I remember this woman who sat for years
In a wheelchair, looking straight ahead
Out the window at sycamore trees unleafing
And leafing at the far end of the lane.

Straight out past the TV in the corner,
The stunted, agitated hawthorn bush,
The same small calves with their backs to wind and rain,
The same acre of ragwort, the same mountain.

She was steadfast as the big window itself.
Her brow was clear as the chrome bits of the chair.
She never lamented once and she never
Carried a spare ounce of emotional weight.

Face to face with her was an education
Of the sort you got across a well-braced gate —
One of those lean, clean, iron, roadside ones
Between two whitewashed pillars, where you could see

Deeper into the country than you expected
And discovered that the field behind the hedge
Grew more distinctly strange as you kept standing
Focused and drawn in by what barred the way.