The dog fight! This is the story of why we had to make the above rule in our house.
I was standing in the sunny kitchen with Susie. The morning was bright, soft, and warm for November. Standing on the reddish-brown tiles of the floor we watched several of the dogs frolicking outside the French doors. Susie was holding her adorable baby girl. Helen was a little over 6 months old. As the big dogs belonging to Susie and Murdoch appeared around the corner of the house I said to Susie, “Do you think I should bring the little dogs into the house?” But she said, “Oh they were all together last weekend, they will be fine.”
It was Thanksgiving vacation and all of our children were coming to stay for several days. There were 5 children plus wives and husbands and our 7 grandchildren. Also their dogs. We were planning a hunt breakfast after the fox-hunt on Saturday. We were all getting ready to go to Thanksgiving dinner with Big Pink and Big Malcolm (my parents-in-law) at Ferry Point their home down on the Potomac River. Charley Jr and his wife and girls Kathryn and Eve were in Washington DC visiting my mother. I was babysitting their dog, Bisby. They left her in my care because they knew I loved dogs, dachshunds in particular. They knew I would keep her safe. But even as Susie assured me it would be all right, the visiting dachshund, Bisby, exhibited the behavior that caused the incident. Bisby was not used to so many dogs, she sort of cowered, crouching and making herself submissive. As the larger dogs, a Great Dane and a Rhodesian Ridgeback came at a run towards us I felt nervous and full of dread. And sure enough, the normally sweet tempered Great Dane, Harley, came after Bisby and tossed her up into the air. Terrified I rushed outside along with Susie, who was still holding baby Helen. Susie could not use her arms because they were full, but she kicked her feet at Harley and shouted at her to stop. I stooped down and thrust my hands into the fray to grab the dachshund who was now on the ground clearly wounded. I KNEW when I did this that I would be bitten by someone, but there was simply NO choice. And sure enough, as I scooped up Bisby, she bit my finger. A tooth went right through the first joint of the first finger of my left hand. It hurt so badly!!! But I put the pain out of my mind and grabbed the dog to me holding her close. I took her over to the sink and set her in it.
Then I made a terrible mistake. NEVER LEAN OVER A WOUNDED DOG. When I leaned my face over her body to see what her belly looked like she bit me in the mouth. It was so quick and hurt so much I am a bit fuzzy about the next few moments. I felt as if my lip had been bitten off. I was in pain and I was scared. But I also had gotten a glimpse of Bisby’s belly. It was ripped open and I could see her insides. But even bleeding and in pain, I wrapped a towel securely around her to keep her together. In the meantime, my son Murdoch had come into the house and my maid Angelina was standing there looking frightened. Murdoch called his brother Robert who was living nearby at that time. He said “Mom had her face badly bitten by a dog and you need to come here immediately,” Robert thought Murdoch was playing a trick on him and hung up the phone. What? So Murdoch called back and said “I am serious! Mom’s lip is badly bitten, the dog is dreadfully wounded. Get yourself down here and drive me to the vet.”
Robert came quickly after that, and off they went to the emergency vet in Leesburg. The dog was securely wrapped up in a towel so her insides would stay put. In the meantime, Susie handed her baby to Angelina and said “Here! You take her. I am driving Mrs. Matheson to the hospital.” And still sort of in shock, I just did what she told me to do. I had not looked at myself in the mirror and was not sure just how bad it was. But in my heart, I was thinking of the worst possible scenario. What if my lip was missing? What if they could not sew it up? What if I had to wear a face mask to disguise my disfigured mouth? It was terrifying.
Besides that, since it was Thanksgiving Day I knew the hospital would have minimal staff. I knew I needed a real plastic surgeon, not just some random emergency room doctor. We called the hospital and I told them I was on my way in. I tried to explain that I needed a doctor who could repair damage to my face. They said that the hospital protocol was to “evaluate” the situation before calling in a specialist. “Let me assure you, I need to be seen by an actual plastic surgeon, this is my face!” My emphatic statement made no impression on them. Then, I called a friend who was a doctor at that hospital and asked him if he knew of a plastic surgeon. He gave me the name of a doctor but said I would have to deal with the “protocol”. Anyway, Susie drove me safely to the hospital. When we first arrived at the Emergency room a young doctor looked at my face and said “That cannot be fixed”. This is NOT what one wants to hear when going to the hospital.
Susie was so reassuring. She waited with me and it was not too long before a woman doctor appeared, the plastic surgeon. She was a little strange. I no longer remember her name but I remember that she made me take off all of my clothes even though it was my face that needed fixing. I thought it was a very weird request. In those days I was wearing pantyhose. I asked if I needed to remove those and she said “YES.” I thought she was strange. In any case, I lay there in a scanty hospital gown, while she washed the area around my mouth with what felt like a high-powered fire hose. She certainly got the area clean. But she told me she could not sew the lip up yet. Only a little piece was missing, making a divet just at the lipline. She said it had to stop being so raw and inflamed before it would work to sew it up. I do not remember her cleaning my hand where the dog bit through the joint of my finger. Perhaps I forgot to mention it, because the lip hurt so much. Finally, we were free to go. By that time Charley had arrived at the hospital and Susie had gone back to Heathfield to feed her baby who was still breastfeeding. They ended up putting a bandaid on my lip and sending me home.
We did not go to our home but instead drove to Ferry Point where the family was having Thanksgiving dinner. We arrived in time for a bit of turkey though the others were just finishing dessert. Everyone was very impressed that I was there to participate in spite of my injuries. The boys who had taken the wounded dog were also back at the luncheon with news that the dog was going to survive. Of course, they had to leave her there at the vet, but she was going to make it. There was a certain amount of coolness from Charley Jr’s wife. After all, I had let their dog be terribly injured “on my watch”. I felt terrible about it. But it was a memorable Thanksgiving. We went home to Heathfield and my wonderful daughters pretty much took over the entertaining of family, feeding meals, and keeping me quiet and fed in my room. Not only were my children staying there but we had plans to have the Thanksgiving Saturday hunt breakfast at Heathfield. So I was preoccupied with that those plans but I knew I needed to do something about my lip. A friend’s husband was a plastic surgeon who practiced at Fairfax Hospital. He told me he would meet me there on Friday afternoon. And when he saw me he said “Oh yes! I can fix this.“ And he began to place instruments on a tray beside where I was laying on a hospital pallet. As he was getting ready to “fix me up”, I said, “Doctor the thing that really is hurting me now is my finger.” He asked to see it, and when he looked closely he began putting his instruments back in their cases. “I cannot operate on your lip now because your finger is infected. You must be admitted immediately to the hospital for three days of intravenous antibiotics.“WHAT???” I could not believe my ears. What did he mean “he could not operate?” What on earth did he mean about being admitted to the hospital? “ You could lose your finger,” he said. “Or you could lose your hand, or your life. This is serious. And you must do as I say.” You know that sinking feeling when something is just so inevitable and yet so unexpected and so unwanted that you just cannot believe it? That is how I felt.
There was simply no choice in the matter. I did not want to lose my hand or my life. So I checked myself into the hospital and Charley brought me some clothes and my toothbrush and personal items. I settled in to stay. My daughters were going to take over for me with plans for the hunt breakfast. It was all arranged and they did a beautiful job of preparing for the next day, Saturday. Meanwhile, I was bored to death at the hospital but spent time on the phone with friends, family, my mother, and anybody who would listen. That night two young nurse “trainees” came in to remove the stent and replace it with a new one. They were totally scared. They were actually so inept that it was funny. They apologized and I said “Don’t worry. I am experienced and it is all OK. Thank goodness you are not practicing on someone who would be frightened by your lack of knowledge, lack of competence.” The next morning I was sitting on the edge of my bed speaking to someone on the phone when I noticed a puddle of liquid on the floor under the bed. Checking further to see from where it had come I noticed that it was from the plastic tubing which came from the IV bad and supposedly was going into the IV in my hand. Nope.
I called for the nurse to point out that the very expensive anti-biotic was spilling on the floor. And then I called a doctor who knew about my case. “Do I have to stay here at Fairfax Hospital? Or can I go to Fauquier Hospital where I know everyone?” He told me that it did not matter where I was as long as I was getting the IV antibiotics. So I was able to check myself out of Fairfax and head for Fauquier County. But on the way, we went to Heathfield where the hunt breakfast was in full sway. I was able to enjoy a couple of hours of my own party and see all of my guests. My daughters had done a perfect job along with my regular kitchen help and the hired waiters and servers who were there working at the party. I had lots of fun at that breakfast because I was not responsible for any of it. It was only necessary to enjoy myself. This I did until it was time for my next infusion of anti-biotics. I checked in to the Fauquier Hospital and spent two more days and nights there. What a story it is to tell now, all these years later.
Because of the number of things that got in the way I never got around to having my lip worked on by a plastic surgeon. There was a piece of skin missing, which made a sort of divet in my lip, a depression in the skin. Unsightly, but not traumatic. My son-in-law David had given me some Chinese ointment in the hospital. He said, “This stuff is magic. It grows skin.” And in spite of the fact that it smelled terrible, I used it religiously. It worked. These days you would only notice to scar if you look very closely. I use lip liner every day to define my lip and fill it in with lipstick. I look just fine.
Bisby the dachshund survived and my son Murdoch paid the thousands of dollars of the vet bill for her treatment. Charley jr. forgave me for not protecting his dog better, but his wife, not so much. Honestly, I understood why she was so angry. But there really was nothing to be done about it by that time. And I did save the dog by reaching for her and rescuing her from Harley’s wrath. I have the scar on my lip to prove it. Bisby lived to be 16 years old. She outlived that marriage and was loved by all for many many years after the incident. Dachshunds are tough little dogs. Don’t ever doubt it.
Copyright©. 2022 Bonnie B. Matheson