Having traveled three and a half thousand miles to share Valentine's Day with his British wife (me), my New Yorker husband could never have imagined how the weekend would pan out.
We had been invited to a friend's birthday party and thought it best to leave Bailey, our chocolate Labrador, at home.
Bailey's response to this unusual turn of events was to idle away the hours gnawing through my entire back door. We arrived home to discover a few wood shavings where once a rather nice door had stood, and a very sickly looking Labrador who proceeded to throw up all over my freshly cleaned carpets.
Over the next half an hour he became more and more distressed and was continually retching and swallowing. Even my husband, an Italian American who, during those heady pre-Bailey days, only thought of animals in terms of how they were cooked, agreed we needed to get him to the emergency vet.
My daughter, Catherine, volunteered to drive as I was in panic mode by this stage.
As it was 10 pm the veterinary surgery had morphed into a high security Rikers-like building and we had to be buzzed in. Twice. There was an outer door followed by an inner door, and then we were questioned at reception. Of course you can walk in to our local hospital at any time of the day or night without any security whatsoever. People walk into the emergency room with axes in their head and the like, and nobody bats an eyelid.
Even though I considered Bailey's case an emergency, it appeared we had to stick to British veterinary protocol and have him weighed before the examination could proceed.
This took four people five minutes of floundering around to achieve as, just like me when I hit the bathroom scales, he insisted on keeping one foot on the floor which screwed up the reading by making him appear lighter than he is. When he eventually stood still the vet took a deep breath and paused for effect before breaking the shocking news.
"He's at his limit, his maximum weight," she pronounced before looking to see if the severity of her declaration had penetrated.
It had. We all knew what this news meant. A D. I. E. T.
Still reeling, we walked briskly into the examining room where Bailey proceeded to make me look like a complete idiot by having a miraculous recovery. Not one of the symptoms I had meticulously described over the phone earlier were apparent.
But by this stage, the vet was all systems go. Sticking a thermometer up Bailey's rear end (with great aplomb I noted), there was no stopping her. She announced she was going to administer two shots, one an anti-inflammatory in case there was something stuck in his throat and the other to stop the vomiting. She punctuated the two shots part by snapping on her latex gloves. I am absolutely certain this was not how my husband had envisaged spending Valentines Day when making his travel plans.
"These are going to really sting!" she warned before shooting some fluid out of a giant vial as if to prove her point. In fairness to Bailey he handled it well, and I believe he actually dozed off for a while during the procedures.
This done, we all packed up our hats and coats, thanked the staff profusely and headed home with a sigh of relief, a gigantic invoice in hand.
However, Bailey quickly went downhill. He lay on the kitchen floor obsessively swallowing and frantically licking the wall. Something was definitely wrong. So, we all piled back into the car, my daughter once again at the wheel.
For the second time that night, we screeched to a halt, got buzzed in -- twice -- inner and outer doors, and sprinted into the reception by which time Bailey was once again, and quite mysteriously, symptom-free. Nevertheless the vet said, "I think we need to keep him in overnight."
A quick glance at my husband and I could see he was feeling somewhat dizzy. An overnight wasn't going to come cheap.
"Worst case scenario, we'll have to scope him," she added, at which point my husband looked close to cardiac arrest.
After checking out Bailey's overnight quarters, which, by the way, were about the same square footage as our Greenwich Village apartment, we hugged him goodbye and once again headed home, my husband, now leaning on my daughter and I for support as he triple-checked the second invoice of the night.
Driving home without our dog was no fun at all.
That night, as we lay in bed, I couldn't sleep thinking about our upcoming move to New York. With the shocking revelation that Bailey was at his "limit" weight-wise, the way things were going he might even be deemed too fat to fly!
And, what if, like me, he had a fear of flying?
Lying in the dark, I was wondering who would be there to comfort Bailey if he was nervous during turbulence? I turned over to ask my husband this very question, but he was sound asleep, probably dreaming of all the extra novels he would have to sell to pay Bailey's medical bills.
The next morning the phone rang at 8 am. It was my new best friend, the vet.
"I think Bailey has just been attention seeking," she informed me. "He's fine. You can pick him up any time you like."
Catherine, who is a psychology major, put a comforting arm around me and said, "Look mum, don't worry about Bailey. He's just like you and I. He's a drama queen who suffers from panic attacks."
Her diagnosis was not only alarmingly accurate but completely free of charge. She then cheered me up no end by pointing out, "Remember, muscle weighs more than fat. Bailey is just really athletic."
I always knew that someday, some way, those college fees would make sense, and there it was. Bailey wasn't too fat to fly.
As for my wonderful New Yorker, his Valentine's Day gift came in the form of these words.
'Honey, Bailey has medical insurance." It made his Valentine's Day. It really did.