This article first appeared on PositiveLite.com, Canada's Online HIV Magazine, on Feb. 20, 2014.
I don't pretend that this story is at all unique. I tell it because I suspect it may be part of a growing trend -- HIVers assuming the role of caregivers where previously they thought of themselves as recipients of care. It's a bit of an adjustment.
Last time I wrote, while dealing with my partner requiring radiation therapy after surgery for prostate cancer, I was also dealing with an ailing basset hound, our beloved Peggy, who had to be put down, also because of the big C. But it was not all sad faces in our household because we had just acquired a new puppy, Ruby, also a basset hound, to fill the hole Peggy left in our hearts.
Now there's caregiving and then there's caregiving and I'd contend that dealing with a puppy just separated from its mother, not yet house-trained and with more energy than a barrel of monkeys stretches caregiving's very definition. How many human patients, after all, can't you leave alone for a minute in case they pee on the floor, start chewing the baseboard, terrorize the pets in the house or try to make a break for freedom across the Siberian landscape that surrounds our home. Not many I'll wager.
A new puppy is much like a new baby, but with added barking, and just as high maintenance -- but with cuteness for days that makes it all worthwhile.
So I equate my role in seeing that she is well fed, watered and toileted as very much a caregiver. (I also see her as unparalleled therapy for the other subject of my care right now, my partner. He has just started radiation therapy and I think he will do well -- in fact I know so -- and having Ruby in his life will be good for him, and for me. Already he is beaming. Me too.
His therapy is five days a week in Oshawa, over an hour's drive from here, so rather than grapple with all that driving, he's staying with his sister closer to the hospital during the week. This leaves me with another entity in my care -- the house, a rural property set in seven acres on a sloping hillside that in winter -- and this winter in particular is sometimes a challenge to get at. (Think "luge" when it's icy outside.) Add to that the fact that I am not a particularly practical person -- I can change light bulbs but it more or less ends there -- and looking after the house and puppy alone, while worrying about my partner, will stretch my caretaking capabilities to the limit.
Plus, I guess I will finally have to learn how the dishwasher works.
It's often said that adversity -- if you can call all this adversity -- does us good, makes us stronger. Give me six weeks (the length of my partner's radiation therapy and my house/dog sitting duties) and I can tell you if it's true. Meanwhile sitting in my home office doing my editor's thing for PositiveLite.com -- we all operate out of our own homes here in case you didn't know it -- will provide just the right degree of distraction.
But it's all good, really. My partner is going to get better, I know it. Ruby is going to emerge as the most beautiful and well behaved dog on the planet -- and the dishes will get washed.
Second thoughts, I'll settle for the first two at least.
Talking of the cutest puppy in the world (we were, weren't we?) want to see some pictures of our little pride and joy?