Make Yourself At Home

I try not to sweat the small stuff.  Really I do.  But when I leave home, and leave my menagerie in the care of a house sitter, I am nothing if not explicit.  The directions for the care and feeding of my four dogs and two horses (the cat got a reprieve from his Boston eviction until May 9th) come to a total of four printed pages, small font, single spaced with nice paragraph indentations and bold headers like EMERGENCY!!   A walk through prior to the departure date is mandatory, to demonstrate the intricacies of the garage door and the cable TV.  The house sitter is equipped for every possible natural disaster. The keys to the van, already loaded with dog crates, are left on the kitchen counter and the van itself has enough water, canned goods, leashes and dog food to last a good month. Thermal blankets are located behind the driver’s seat, just in case hell freezes over here in sunny Southern California.  Flashlights are industrial quality, and batteries are included.  You could say that I am a “Be Prepared” kind of person.

Last week the rare occasion occurred where my husband and I had different trips planned at the same time.  He was going to Japan on business, and I had plans to meet a friend in Albuquerque for a three day getaway.  I tried to round up the usual suspects for housesitting, but all were previously booked. So rather than cancel my trip, I took the plunge and hired someone new.  She came over a week before the trip, loved the animals, memorized their names quickly, and took notes on top of my printed instructions.  She said she would leave her own dogs at home with her daughter and that she had no prior commitments during the time that I was to be gone.  I left home with a sense of relief that finally, I had found the right person for the job, and my parting words were, “Use the latches on the doors leading to the living room and please do NOT let those dogs pee on my brand new living room carpet!”

As I pulled through the gate onto my own driveway on Saturday night, the first thing I noticed was the horse trailer sitting inside.  A horse trailer?  My horses haven’t traveled in years.  I briefly considered peeking inside the trailer, but I could see my own horses down at the barn, and decided to go inside.  My dogs were lying down, relaxed, fed and happy–no worse for the wear.  So far so good.  My house sitter was seated at the kitchen table.  She beamed at me and said, “I enjoyed staying at your house SO much!  It was like having a vacation.  I should be paying YOU to stay here!”  She then elaborated, “I hope you don’t mind that I brought my horse over.  He didn’t get along with the white one so much, but he was fine with the chestnut!”  Seeing my look of surprise, she said, “I only wanted to take a little ride up the street to see the neighborhood.  I hope that was okay.”  I nodded numbly, wondering how far behind my horses were on their vaccinations.  She then went on cheerfully, “The dogs all got along great—my Great Pyrenees managed to go swimming in the muddy stream, so my daughter and I had to hose him down with the garden hose but we got him clean, and washed all the towels.”  I resisted the urge to run look at the certain hairballs in the washer and dryer.  She stood up and said, “I’ll come back ANYTIME!”  As she walked out she grabbed a large blue accordion that I had somehow missed on the way in.  She smiled and declared, “The dogs loved my music!”

As the horse trailer crunched out the driveway, I decided to have a look in the living room.  The stampede of pawprints were unmistakable, as were the large yellow spots on the white carpet that kept me occupied until around nine pm, when the sound of geysers through my open kitchen window led me outside. A trail of broken sprinkler heads crushed by the wheels of the swaying horse trailer created a fountain effect not entirely dissimilar to the fountains at Bellagio.  Unfortunately the water was not falling on the grass.

Multiple applications of pet odor and stain remover plus one brand new Bissell vacuum later, along with a hefty repair bill for the sprinkler system, parts and labor, all is well with the world.  My traveling companion said, “Did you call her?  Did you yell at her? What did you say??”  I shook my head.  As I said, I try not to sweat the small stuff.  After all, the “kids” are all right.  Anybody know a good house sitter?

Monday Monday

I wonder if I will still hate Sunday nights when I retire.  I’m quite sure that I am not the only one who feels this way.  Sundays used to be a day of rest—perhaps for some it still is.  But for me, it’s panic day.  So very much to do, so little time to do it.  I just came in from grooming and feeding the horses, brushing three deerhounds, clipping forty-eight dog toenails and then cleaning the results off the garage floor, it’s almost 7 and I haven’t showered or washed my hair or paid the bills.  Damn it, the leftover turkey is gone and I have nothing in the house to take for lunch tomorrow. Run to the store. Oh, no gas in the car?  Damn it. Most Sunday nights I stay up til 1 or 2 am, because that’s what it takes to get ready for Monday.

This particular Sunday night panic is even worse than usual, because it is coming after I have had an entire week off work.  I briefly check the list of things that I had promised myself I would do during my week off, most importantly, as I mentioned in a previous post, get rid of many of the superfluous belongings I have accumulated in the last 15 years.  In this task I failed, despite my father presenting me with the gift of one of his favorite books, entitled “Clutter’s Last Stand”, likely destined in my hands to become another piece of clutter. I had even planned to take a picture of my three now adult children for a Christmas card (wishful thinking, I know) since they were all home and actually in one place at the same time—well that idea was roundly vetoed with painful choruses of  “you gotta be kidding me!”  Which prompted me to remind my daughter of her childhood girlfriend’s family, the parents and six children, still dressing up each year in matching outfits with a theme—I’ll never forget the eight matching red and white Ducati motorcycles, with matching leather outfits, and their matching long blond hair flowing as they simultaneously shook their ringlets out of their helmets, but I digress.  Some things you just can’t compete with.  At least the white table cloth and napkins that were hiding out in the rarely used dining room are finally washed and put away.

Re-entry is always tough—take it from NASA.  I’ve learned over the years to try not to think too much about my patients and my staff when I am off, otherwise it’s not a true break from the routine.  But being away from cancer patients for a week is a double edged sword.  Oncologists tend over time to become, in the words of that old Pink Floyd song, “comfortably numb.”  Coming back to work after a week or two off is like reentering a world where the colors of panic and pain and sorrow are suddenly more vivid, and more deeply felt. It takes a few hours, or even a day to get back into the rhythm of the cancer center, and then suddenly, it’s like I never left— “just another manic Monday.” Thirty times tomorrow, I will open an electronic chart on my desktop, walk into an exam room, and say, “How are you feeling today, and how was your Thanksgiving?”  I hope they had a nice holiday.  I know that I did.