The little blue oval waited just beneath the rim of the plate, next to a giant chocolate cookie slathered in peanut butter. Aleve for my body’s middle-aged betrayals; comfort food because pain should have a reward.
I focused on a thriller to keep my mind off my aching back. Louie fixed his eyes on me.
“Louies can’t have chocolate,” I said absently. Then I looked down and realized I had already eaten the entire cookie. “Here you go,” I said, handing over an empty plate with a schmear of peanut butter for him to lick.
He was still smacking his lips when I shot out of the chair. “The pill! Oh my God, the dog ate my pill!” I googled fast.
“Naproxen is highly toxic to dogs and cats.”
I read the warning to my husband, hysteria rising, while I dialed the emergency number. The animal hospital receptionist listened then put me on hold. I googled how to induce vomiting. “Get the hydrogen peroxide!” I yelled to my husband, who ran upstairs. The minute she came back on the line, I blurted, “Should we make him throw up?”
“Just bring him in.”
“Forget the hydrogen peroxide,” I yelled. “Get the car keys.”
They were already in his other hand. He fastened the lead on our bemused dog.
“Wait! I didn’t tell her how away we are. Maybe there isn’t time!” I hit redial.
“Just bring him in,” she repeated, calm for a living.
I sat in back, cradling our fuzzy standard poodle while he politely craned his neck to see over my shoulder out the window. Louie loves road trips. “I am so sorry!” I moaned, stroking his head. “I’d never hurt you on purpose!” My apologies seemed to bore him, so I switched to my husband: “How can you ever forgive me if I killed our dog?”
Other than a mildly puzzled, “You had your pill on your plate?” Andrew had offered no reproof. “You seem to be jumping ahead a bit, sweetheart,” he said now. “The dog is not going to die, and even if he did, I would not divorce you.”
We pulled up to the hospital. “I’m the idiot who gave her dog Aleve” was all I had to say. They took the lead from my hand and rushed him to the back.
“Capsule or tablet?” the vet tech called over her shoulder.
And with that they were gone. I paced, reading the framed photos of grateful dogs who had received wonderful care for ailments not caused by their own family member. An older rescue, Louie had startled us with blazing good health. At least until I poisoned him.
After what seemed a much longer wait than it was, the vet tech took us into one of those little rooms that fill you with dread. But when the vet appeared, she was all smiles. “What a sweet dog,” she said, not adding, “through all the vile things we had to do to him.” They had gotten “a lot of vomit,” she said, but no pill. Now they would force-feed him charcoal to absorb the toxins. It could take a while, and it would not be pleasant.
Finally they brought him out, his pretty silver muzzle blackened by charcoal and his eyes glassy. He stood quietly, exhausted by his ordeal, and let me stroke him. I put him through hell and still the unconditional love? I knew he had no idea what I had done to him—but on the other hand, he is not dumb.
They sent us home with two heavy-duty drugs to ward off any internal damage, one to dissolve and syringe into the side of his mouth, and the other to give him while wearing gloves with one because it could induce an abortion. This did not relax me. Granted, I am too old to be pregnant and if Andrew were, it would be quite the coup—but a pill that strong?
The third medicine would just be over-the-counter Pepcid, but all we had was my husband’s fruit-flavored chewables. (Seriously? At fifty-four?) Determined to be a model wife and dogmother for the rest of time, I volunteered to race to the drugstore.
By the time I got home, Louie had thrown up slimy black charcoal all over the Oriental rug in the living room. When we finally got him situated and the rug scrubbed to a clear gray stain, we went upstairs and found out he had tossed up more black slime on our bed. He had lost every bit of medicine we shoved into him. I called the hospital again. Should we redose him? No, they said wearily, just start over tomorrow.
Like a penitent in a medieval convent, I scraped and scrubbed and laundered, then took, not missing the irony, another Aleve.
The next morning, Louie was completely uninterested in breakfast. I called the hospital again, wondering how soon they would block my number. Could I give him the meds on an empty stomach?
Melodramatic on a good day, I thought of all the couples who divorce after a child dies, understanding for the first time how quickly any bond might turn brittle when an innocent life is compromised by an adult’s stupidity. “You’re sure you forgive me?” I asked my husband, who just rolled his eyes. Spoonful by spoonful, I fed Louie chicken tenders and white rice, moistened with a little broth. Then I cooked Andrew a really good dinner. Afterward, he ate one of those chocolate cookies.
The memory flashed like a strobe: biting into that peanut-buttered cookie and hitting something hard. Ah, a pecan shell, I’d decided when a sharp, acrid taste filled my mouth. It even spoiled the flavor of the rest of the cookie, but I plodded on, unable to fathom the existence of an inedible cookie.
“What?” Andrew asked, seeing the look on my face.
Tentatively, I described the little hard thing in the cookie, how chalky and bitter it had tasted.
“Exactly what a pill would taste like,” he said slowly.
I nodded, the clincher dawning on me. “There aren’t any nuts in those cookies.”
They were soft throughout. A pill on a plate could easily get pressed into the bottom of one and stick there.
Andrew and I looked at each other.
“All that for nothing?” I said faintly.
I had made those I love suffer physical misery and mental anguish. In a court of law, they would win handily. Was unwitting harm morally culpable, too? Aristotle thought those who caused harm unwittingly were culpable if they failed to regret it; that would let me off the hook. But modern jurisprudence speaks of “culpable accidents,” “culpable ignorance,” and “unintentional torts,” implying a moral responsibility even when (or because) one is clueless. That sadistic little adage, “We always hurt the ones we love,” made sense here.
Except that, thanks to love, my hand-wringing was moot.
They had both already forgiven me.