Keep calm and carry on

July 1, 2012

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VANCOUVER, BC, Jul 1, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Keep calm and carry on. Such sensible advice on how to deal with an emergency. Originally coined in 1939 to raise the British morale in the event of an invasion, it conjures up images of stiff upper lips, resolute spines and cool heads.

My mother could be the poster child. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model on how to react to an emergency. My first memory of her in action took place in the mid 1970’s when a 12-year-old neighbour pounded on our front door screaming for help for his twin brother who’d been hit by a car. In a split second, mom, the picture of calm, was out on the road, marshaling traffic around the fallen boy and his crumpled bike. Ordering inert onlookers to call 911, she then knelt at the victim’s side, assessing his vitals, all the while offering soothing words of comfort. Never once did her focus falter.

I so admire this ability to quickly form an unwavering plan of action. It’s not that I personally dissolve into a frenzied panic. It’s just that my reactions tend to be far more lethargic. I invariably revert to my youth and instinctively look to an adult for help. Age is but a number. When it eventually dawns on me that I’m an adult, thoughts turn to the hopeful belief that this is probably just a bad dream. WAKE UP! Only when the nightmare continues are possible options considered. Precious time, meanwhile, has inexorably ticked by.

Thankfully, most of my emergencies have involved our dogs, not my children. One incident that comes to mind was when Fergus, our seven-year-old black lab, badly cut his paw on a walk in 2000. After going through the above mentioned sluggish path to acceptance, I finally steered him towards home; bloody paw prints stamped onto the sidewalk with each step. Knowing he needed stitches, but having only 10 minutes before I had to pick up my two young children from school, I quickly bandaged the injured appendage and left my patient locked up snugly in the furnace room, confident he’d be fine.

Twenty minutes later we returned to a virtual bloodbath. Every surface was covered: the furnace, the walls, the floor and the dog. It was curious to note that the bandage was still firmly in place. How had I missed a second wound? My six-year-old daughter quickly assessed the scene and announced in a calm, mature manner, ‘Mom, you bandaged the wrong paw . . .‘

My most recent test took place this past Sunday. On a break from timing races at my teenagers’ swim meet, I returned to the car to take our two year old border collie cross, Poppy, on her third walk of the day. She bounded onto the path and we headed into the bush. Located near a winding creek nestled at the foot of the North Shore mountains, the locale could not have been prettier.

Suddenly there was a decisive change in her demeanour. Scrabbling for purchase on the slippery rocky slope high above the swollen creek, Poppy’s black and white body tensed and grew rigid. With her normally perky ears now pressed flat against her head and lips stretched tight over her teeth, her breathing became laboured and shallow. Guttural keening rent the air. Clearly no longer of this world, she was having a seizure; a first for us both.

Threads of knowledge from first aid lessons taken years ago miraculously surfaced. ‘Remain calm and reassure.’ Difficult to do as she was thrashing ever closer to the rushing water. If she fell in things would seriously escalate. There was no time for thought, only action. Bracing my legs against her arching back, I reached around her flailing head and clipped on the leash.

After what seemed like eternity but what was surely only a minute or two, my girl began to pull out of it. Now clearly confused and terrified, she launched into the air, snarling and barking. Time stopped. I found myself crooning a litany of nonsensical words of comfort. Curious heads popped over the bank but it was obvious time was our only salvation.

Finally, recovery was complete. An exhausted Poppy passively made her way over to me as I fought an irrational urge to flee. Slowly we managed to make it back to the car and on to the vet.

With the slew of tests reporting only good news, her future health is uncertain. My plan? To keep calm and carry on.

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