There's a limit to the amount of narrative suspense I'm willing to inflict on my readers, so I'll say right now that we're fine: spouse, self, and the three dogs. The hens are fine too, but then, they never go anywhere.
I was reading Trollope in bed three nights ago when my husband announced that he was having severe chest pains. 911 is an easy number to remember, even in the midst of panic. I made the call and rushed to get dressed and put away the dogs so they wouldn't jump all over the EMTs as they attempted to save my husband's life.
I needn't have rushed. It was the night of the full moon, and the nearest rescue team was busy saving other people. Forty-five minutes later, I followed the ambulance down our driveway for the forty-five minute drive to the hospital. I don't much like driving at night, and doing 75 mph was almost as scary as imagining what might be going on inside that ambulance.
In the emergency room, nurses attached my suffering husband to various monitors, administered nitroglycerin, which didn't work, then morphine, which didn't work either. When asked to rate his pain on a scale of 0 to 10 he said "nine," then took a breath and said "ten!" Not just every breath, but every heart beat increased the pain.
We were left alone for a long time while x-rays and tests were being analyzed. Then an angel in the form of a (seemingly) teenage Indian doctor shimmered in and said that the test results and my husband's response to various proddings indicated that he was not having a "cardiac event." But he would have to be admitted, and monitored, and seen by a cardiologist the next day.
At four in the morning I arrived home and went to bed. Bisou jumped in and curled herself into a little bean shape against my stomach, and we both went to sleep.
When I awoke, the news continued to be good (less pain, more negative test results). Before I left for the hospital, not knowing how long I'd be gone, I asked my friend who runs the canine B&B to pick up the dogs and take them home with her.
That evening, having been assured by the cardiologist that my husband's circulatory system was in perfect health (the severe pain was due to a virus-caused inflammation of the membranes surrounding the heart), limp with gratitude and relief, we both returned home.
Ah, life without dogs! Do some people actually live that way? What do they do with themselves all day?
The next morning, after a luxurious lie-in--nobody to let out, let back in, or feed--I set out in the station wagon to pick up the dogs. The weather report predicted mixed precipitation, but in Vermont you can be basking in the sun at home while your neighbor down the road is being blinded by a blizzard.
A few minutes into the drive, it started sleeting. I passed several snow plows scattering sand, then noticed that there were no other cars on the road. The wind was howling, but I was in an optimistic mood. Hadn't I just driven at 75 mph behind an ambulance, in the dark? "I'm tired of being a scaredy-cat flatlander!" I muttered. Vivaldi was playing on the radio, and I hummed along, feeling invulnerable.
At the intersection of the highway and the dirt road leading to the B&B, the road curves steeply upward. I saw that its surface was covered in several inches of wind-blown--and therefore dry and slippery--snow, and wondered what the return trip would be like.
As I loaded the dogs into the car, I felt like a figure in a snow globe, one being shaken by a crazed six-year-old. We got underway, Bisou in her crate on the back seat, Wolfie and Lexi in the cargo space. More nice music was playing on the radio. We made it up a hill, then down. We were crawling along a flat stretch when the car hit a deep rut and was flung into a spin. I saw the white trunk of a well-grown birch tree advancing towards us, and then we were in a ditch.
I squeezed out over the passenger seat, freed a screaming Bisou from her upturned crate, then went to let the big dogs out the back, but there was a tree in the way, and I couldn't open the hatch. Wolfie promptly dove onto the back seat and out of the car. "Stay with me," I told him while I put Lexi's collar on and tugged, then tried to help her raise her front legs high enough to get over the back of the seat. But she laid her ears back and said apologetically, "Sorry, I can't."
What to do? I couldn't leave her in the car: she was scared, and the car was tilted at a perilous angle. I couldn't call for help because there is no cell-phone reception in that particular spot. And besides, nobody could have gotten to us in those conditions.
It's difficult to think clearly when howling gusts are flinging snow into your face and you can't see and your heart is pumping hard because of the birch tree. But it seemed that there was nothing for it but to walk back to the B&B, if I could only get Lexi out of the car. I went around to the back again and the obstructing tree (sapling, really) agreed to be pushed away just enough that I could open the hatch.
I lifted Lexi out and we headed back down the road, the three dogs on their leashes, and me trying to keep from spraining an ankle on the snow-covered ruts. Lexi was glued to my side, doing the best heeling of her entire 13 1/2 years. Wolfie was out front, looking out for malefactors. Bisou was having a great time, but every once in a while a gust would blow her back behind me and she'd tangle her leash around my legs.
I had no idea how far we'd have to walk. On one of the hills I felt a pull behind me--Lexi's arthritic hips were giving way. Would I need to carry her the rest of the way? But she managed to keep walking, and, after letting Wolfie (for once!) pull me up my friend's driveway, we reached our destination.
Then it was comforting words, strong hot coffee and phone calls. My husband dealt with the insurance and the towing. Because of the road conditions, it took two different trucks before the car was finally rescued. And so were we--after the town truck plowed the road--by my fully-recovered spouse.
In the early winter twilight, doubly limp with relief and gratitude, we arrived home, where there was barely a sprinkling of snow on the ground.