Saturday, August 23, 2014

I Killed My Dog

"All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For after all, he was only human. He wasn't a dog."

Charles M. Schulz

"I want a dog," Cheryl said and that made me realise that I wanted one too. The last time I had a dog was when I was 14 years old - and that was 14 years ago. My dad brought home a brown Cocker Spaniel when I was 11 but now I wish he didn't. I was expected to be responsible, to care for another living being on my own but unfortunately, I was just a stupid kid with two escaped adult hamsters, a litter of dead hamster pups and half a dozen tortoise carcasses on his permanent record. I was clearly not ready and predictably, that poor little spaniel lived its short miserable life in the driveway of my grandmother's house, its long beautiful curly fur in mats with a thousand grey bloated ticks draining its life blood. I also failed to train him and sometimes, I even made him jump at neighbourhood kids I didn't like to terrorise them.

One day, when my mother picked me up from school, she told me that my dog was dead. I was told he chose a nice sunny spot beneath a jackfruit tree in front of my grandmother's house earlier that morning and went to sleep forever. He was just 3 years old. My mother took me to a large deserted bridge connecting the mainland with a man-made island called Pulau Melaka and had me dump my dog's body right into the sea with my own two hands.

"I hate animals," my mother told me. "But if you had let me know that the dog was sick, I would have taken him to the vet for you."

But I didn't know. I had no idea because I was just a stupid kid and my stupidity and irresponsibility killed Pixel. Pixel was the name I gave him. That name is a stain upon my conscience; a badge of shame and regret that have followed me all my life since.

Now at 28, I am twice as old as I was when I lost Pixel. We have a baby fast approaching his 1st birthday and two mostly intact cats, and we just moved into big house with an even bigger garden. I thought there was no better time to give myself a second chance.

So, Cheryl, Darwin and I went to the local animal shelter together to look for the newest member of our little pack and that's where we found this little white puppy sitting in his cramped cage atop his own excrements - and even though he had every reason to be miserable, he wasn't. He came right up to the side of the cage to sniff at my fingers and lick them, his tail wagging up to nines. Having spent the last two years being licked by Sophie's sandpaper feline-tongue, the softness of his tongue surprised and delighted me.

But he wasn't a good looking pup. He was recovering from a bad case of mites and had bald patches all over his body. His large bat-like ears were completely hairless and flea-bitten. Besides, I was also worried because he looked a tad too old - about 4 months old - and I read that the older a pup starts training... well, old dogs, new tricks, y'know.

We also saw a trio of pups in another cage which looked far healthier but Cheryl said, "Those cute ones will get adopted." And we might very well be the only chance that that hairless little dog had to leave the shelter so we did what felt right. We took that sweet but mangy-looking pup back home and on the drive back, I christened him Benjamin Sabrecat.

Or "Benji", as we came to know and love him.

Benji at Shelter
4 days before we brought Benji home, we went and applied Frontline® on him.

Benji 1st Bath
Benji given his last bath at the shelter by Cheryl before we took him home.

I was determined to do right by Benji in a way that I never did for Pixel. Before bringing Benji home, I studied several dog care and training books to make sure I was truly ready this time. Cheryl thought I was being obsessive but she didn't know just how much this meant to me. Quite early on, I was determined that Benji would not be sleeping out-of-doors so that meant house-training needed to be instituted pronto. Every 3 hours, I would take Benji out into the yard to eliminate and learn where his toilet was suppose to be and I somehow managed to stuck to it, even waking up in the middle of the night at 3AM just to take Benji out for him to make his little doggy deposits back to nature. There were a couple of oopsies in the beginning which necessitated some vigorous cleaning (and cursing) but in less than one week, Benji got the hang of it! I was ecstatic. It felt like I was finally doing something right.

But I can't take all the credits for myself because Benji was, we believed, no ordinary dog. He was very smart and empathetic. We thought night-time whining would be a problem but he ceased that on the first night after only a few shushes. In the same week he was house-trained, he quickly learned to sit, shake paws and lie down on command as well. Initially, he barked and bounded after our two cats but he quickly stopped doing that as well after realising that his overenthusiastic approach would only draw disapproving hisses from me (and the cats). He was gentle with Darwin and never leapt up around him as dogs are wont to do when they are playful and excited. Benji was so responsive, so eager to please, so perfect. I cannot even begin to describe how proud I was of him.

My favourite memory of him was last Sunday when we spent some time together in our yard as a family. I was weeding the garden while Darwin frolicked in his inflatable pool filled with colourful plastic balls. Benji was let off leash and he went to and fro between checking Darwin out from the side of the pool and watching me work quietly without getting in the way at all. His fur had begun to grow out and his ears were covered in a new growth of white fuzz. It looked like he was going to turn out to be a handsome dog after all. Cheryl took pictures, so we we will always have Sunday.

Sunday with Benji 3

Last Wednesday, I came home during lunchtime because I forgot my phone and while I was there, I let Benji out in the yard and after he watered the grass, I noticed his reluctance in stepping back into the house. It was a beautiful afternoon so I thought, what the heck, I would let Benji enjoy his day in the sun a little longer and reminded Cheryl to bring him in again at 3PM. Then, I busied myself hanging up some bird feeders I put together clumsily on a couple of trees in the bottom of the garden. The last glimpse of Benji I had was him going right down to the woods that bordered the edge of our garden to poop. "Attaboy," I thought to myself.

After a short nap, I left home to return back to work in my car. I went to the surgical ward to interview an alcoholic who was brought in because he vomited blood and was having the shakes, and after that, I dropped by at the clinic to assess an old Malay lady who was referred to me for dementia (she wasn't - the referring doctor screwed up the ECAQ). That was when I received a call from Cheryl. She was weeping piteously on the other side. It was wrong. She shouldn't be crying. There was no reason for her to... Oh no... No no no no no no no...

"He's not moving," she told me through her sobs. "There is so much blood. He's dead. Benji's DEAD."

I don't know how but I knew immediately what had happened. It felt as if I had fallen into a deep, dark pool of unreality and its chill had frozen my mind in rigid disbelief. I automatically told Cheryl to calm down, hung up and concluded my session with the not-demented old lady. Then, I went to my Head of Department to ask permission to return home early, which he granted after I told him what had happened. On my drive home, I raced through all the rooms in my head and rifled through all the drawers, searching for a memory, a clue, an explanation for this crazy living nightmare I am living through... and I just lost it. I broke down at the wheel and cried my heart out. I cried for Benji. I cried for Pixel. I was a little boy who lost his dog all over again.

When I got home, I espied a metre-long monitor lizard crouching in the grass and staring greedily at my driveway. What it was eyeing was a small, white, furry body lying on the concrete floor in a large, thick pool of congealing blood. On its fur, I could see the black marks where the car tires made their cruel prints on him. There was a trail of feces coming out of Benji's rear end, telling me that he crawled about a feet, shitting uncontrollably in his death throes before he stopped moving. The blood clots were disturbed, which meant that Benji was alive for at least a few minutes - maybe up to an hour - before his suffering ended. I can't imagine what he could be thinking in his last moments or how much pain he must have endured before he could finally rest. He would have been so confused, so alone at a time he needed his family the most, and the thought just breaks my heart.

I killed my dog. I couldn't believe it. I did this. I am a murderer. Benji slept under the car and I drove over him, not even knowing what I did as I was doing it. At that time, I thought I would go mad from the guilt.

It was almost 5PM so I told Cheryl to pick Darwin up from daycare. I would deal with Benji, I mumbled even though I was having trouble knowing where to begin. I took his collar off and wrapped his little broken body in the blanket he usually sleeps on before carrying him to the forest bordering our garden. There, between a clump of banana trees and a bamboo grove, I dug Benji's grave with a trowel and a weeding fork. I don't know why it mattered but I remember thinking that I should dig a hole big enough for him to lie down in.

Before Cheryl left, she came to me to hand me Benji's red collar and the small aluminium candy box I kept his treats in.

"He owns the collar," she told me fiercely. "This means he has a family and not abandoned. Give it to him. Let him wear it."

And I did. I put his collar around his neck for the last time and nestled his treat box by his side before putting him back into the earth. Then, I went inside and cried into my hands until my head hurt. Till now, I am still seeing flashes of his motionless tiny body in the driveway throughout the day and I still feel my heart race every time I put my car in reverse. I kept replaying the day's event in my mind, wondering what little things I could have done differently so that innocent, blameless Benji wouldn't need to die such a violent, lonely death. There was a million things and one, and I missed every single one of them. If only I have brought him back in instead of leaving him outside. If only I put a chain on him when he was out. If only I didn't forget to take my phone to work, causing me to return during lunchtime to retrieve it. If only I looked for him before I backed my car out of the driveway. It was a bottomless spiral of what-ifs and if-onlies; so many chances were there for me to save him that I can scarcely believe he could even have died.

Goodbye, Benji. I will miss our walks late at night, your soft gentle licks and your huge floppy ears. You were a good dog.

You were too good for me.

You will always be family, Benji. I am so sorry.

Benji in the Garden
Benji exploring our backyard.

Benji Sitting Quietly at Vet's Waiting Room
Benji's first visit to the vet for his kennel cough which he picked up from his time at the shelter. He was told to sit so he did. It was less than a week after he came home with us.

Benji Pooping with Tongue Out
An already house-trained Benji pooping outdoors.

Benji and Darwin
Benji meeting and greeting the other baby of the house for the first time.

Sunday with Benji 2
Benji and Darwin on our last Sunday together.

Sunday with Benji 1
Darwin, Benji and me.

k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Going Bump at Night

"There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"She's been having hallucinations and thought she's possessed," the medical officer on the other end told me. "We are admitting her for observation - in case it is really endometritis - but we would appreciate it if you can come and review her. She seems distressed though. Afraid. Especially after we told her that she would be admitted."

18 year old Malay woman. Just given birth to her first child a few days ago. Judging from the brief blurb my O&G colleague gave me, it might mean postpartum psychosis. It was 10 PM and I was not thrilled considering that I had to chase my last postpartum psychosis patient down a long hallway to stop her from "rescuing" her baby from the nursery.

I quickly found the ward and the patient's bed and I saw that both the patient's husband and mother was helping her to settle down. I know I should never make snap judgements from simple once-overs but the girl I was suppose to see appeared a lot saner than I thought she would be. Her name, for the purpose of this article, is Ruya.

After introducing myself, I interviewed everyone and this was the story I was given: When Ruya was twelve, her grandmother witnessed her rising from her bed after she had fallen asleep. She then tried to leave her room when her frightened grandmother gave her an urgent shake, jolting  her out of her blank, trance-like state. Ruya herself was surprised to find herself out of her bed and remembered none of her actions preceding her awakening. "It was like waking up from sleep," she told me.

Throughout the years, this odd nocturnal behaviour recurred alongside frequent nightmares. Ruya's baffled and terrified family then sought out the help of bomohs, shamans and medicine men who confirmed their worst suspicions - Ruya was being plagued by djinns and demons which possesses her to steal her away. However, nothing these witch doctors do could free Ruya from their clutches. "The spirits are too strong," they said in their failure.

Finally, they came into the care of a Muslim imam - a man they refer to simply as the Ustaz. The Ustaz gave them the same supernatural diagnosis and have told them that over the years, the spirits plaguing Ruya had multiplied in numbers due to the machinations of vengeful bomohs they have stopped patronising. And, with the help of this imam, the incidence of grand-theft-Ruya decreased as she grew older. Then it stopped altogether. Impressed by the spiritual mojo that this imam displayed, the family converted to Islam because clearly, it is the One True Religion™, is it not? Why else would Ruya's night visitors loosen their grips on her?

Keeping my face as straight as I could, I asked one very critical question: Did any of these "paranormal activities" occurred when Ruya is awake?


"My O&G colleague told me that you appeared very distressed and upset that you have to be admitted in this hospital. Why is that?" I asked further.

Ruya said that that's because she was afraid that she might have to stay in the hospital overnight alone. The Ustaz have apparently told her that she must never ever be alone or the spooks and djinns will take the opportunity to assault her again.

"Please tell O&G to discharge me tomorrow! Or my mother will have to sleep here with me for another night!"

At that moment, I felt very angry but since I'm a professional, I smiled instead. I started off by telling them that there are a lot of schools of knowledge and I happen to be from a school of medicine. I told them that what I know might bring Ruya some relief and proceeded to explain that Ruya is (or was) a somnambulist i.e. she walks in her sleep. Sleepwalking is very common in children and as a child grows older, the episodes will naturally decrease in frequency, as observed in Ruya's case.

After my brief lecture, Ruya's mother thanked me and mistakenly addressed me with the honorific of "Ustaz" (which I declined politely). Ruya's husband however incorporated the information I have given him into his worldview and agreed that the devious ghosts and ghoulies have been using sleepwalking to lure Ruya out of her bedroom. Holy crap, you can never win with these people!

Realising that this is a battle I don't want to fight so late in the evening, I politely excused myself, went down to the labour room and told the O&G team that they have just referred a case of sleepwalking to me. I gave Ruya an appointment, but not for her somnambulism.

Anyway, how did the imam "know" that it was evil spirits that's plaguing Ruya? Was he lying or did he fool himself into thinking he is able to detect supernatural entities just because he went to Qur'an school or something? And boy he must have considered it a great success to convert an entire family to his brand of magical thinking. Had Ruya's family consulted a Christian pastor or a Taoist priest just as her symptoms were abating, they would be following a very different god today.

I am frequently told that I should leave people's beliefs alone because, why take them away if it comforts them? Ruya is one of the reasons why. Thanks to pure superstitions peddled by the shamans and the imam, a young woman had become so afraid of the world around her that she must be accompanied by family members at all times. And this is not the first time I have one of my patients harmed by one of these charlatans.

This is the 21st fucking century, people. Stop being afraid of the dark.

He who bumps back,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, August 01, 2014

I Am Twenty-Eight

"Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest."

Larry Lorenzoni

My birthday visited me last month and since I have tweaked my social media accounts to not alert my acquaintances to its passing, I received only birthday wishes from the usual suspects. My mom and dad did, and so did my sister. As with all previous years, I got a birthday greeting on Facebook from that one guy with whom I went to high school who was born on the same day I was. The nursing matron who oversees the department I work in wished me as well, no doubt after recently handling my work documents but thankfully, she did not pass the word. Like some mountain-dwelling misanthrope, I purposefully kept my birth date a loosely guarded secret just to see who doesn't care enough to remember, so I can in turn forget their birthdays in a passive-aggressive fashion. Take that, friends-I-don't-have!

My wife reminded me of it weeks before le quatorze juillet (my birth date) came up, repeatedly asking me what I want for my birthday. Then, in spite of the (variable and confusing) answers I gave her, she got me a bottle of Ralph Lauren's Polo Blue Eau de toilette because my last bottle of BO concealer ran out two years ago. I take it that she thinks I stink but she's still married to me, so I guess it's true love after all.

Wrapped Present
She wrapped it so I can unwrap it in a few hours time at dinner.

Polo Ralph Lauren Blue
Eau de toilette literally means "toilet water".

Polo Ralph Lauren Blue Unboxed
Now I shall smell like a polo player.

This prompted me to look up the difference between eau de toilette, eau de parfum and eau de cologne and apparently, they are just different gradings for a scent's concentration. Eau de parfum contains about 10-20% aromatic compounds, eau de toilette has 5-15%, while colognes are usually citrus extracts with 2-6% strength. There are significant overlaps in the number ranges because the French just don't give a fuck like that. Anyway, the different grades dictates whether you can spray a fragrance on yourself liberally or simply dab your pulse points with a drop or two. Judging from how some people's application of their fragrances can make my eyes water from 6 feet away, I suspect that very few people are aware of this fact. They won't notice that their scent is overpowering of course because of olfactory habituation (the why-is-this-pile-of-poop-smelling-less-offensive-the-longer-I-stand-beside-it? phenomenon). Maybe I can share what I learned about perfume strengths with them and lose even more friends.

And what did I get for myself?

Well, since I asked, I'll tell me. I bought a new smartphone to replace my stupidphone. It's a Samsung Galaxy S5 - an Android - because I am an atheist and I want no part in the Apple religion. I also bought myself a few video games from Steam (Penny Arcade's On The Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness 3 and 4, and Might & Magic Heroes VI) and made myself a birthday drink for good measure.

It was a piña colada, of course.

Homemade Pina Colada
Add cat to taste.

And because birthdays are just thinly veiled excuses to stuff our faces and then vowing (and failing) to eat less for a whole week after that, we went to Sharing Planet, a nearby restaurant that serves food portions meant to be shared by two or three average-sized Malaysians. Cheryl and I ordered two whole portions and ate till we hate ourselves.

Sharing Planet Mega Nachos and Cheese
Quesa-nacho grande. La tentación del diablo!

Sharing Planet Mixed Grill
Mixed grill, with the addition of a slab of rump beef.

Now I'm twenty-eight. I'm at that age when I need to mentally calculate how old I actually am if people catches me unaware with a sudden question. I guess the older you get, the less significant each year becomes, eh?

Thirty ahoy,
k0k s3n w4i