COVID Collaboration by Meredith Stephens and Alan Noble

Writing does not have to be a solitary pursuit. Meredith Stephens and Alan Noble interweave paragraphs from their individual stories to produce this piece of COVID collaboration.

Canine capers during COVID

The handbrake was not set. He had only left the vehicle unattended for a minute. One moment of carelessness, a lifetime of guilt. His car quickly gathered momentum and rolled down the hill smashing through bushes and trees. Ferris, his five-year-old border-collie, was trapped inside.

She was halfway through her Zoom lesson when she noticed fresh blood oozing from the large lump on Tia’s elbow. This lump was different from Tia’s many other lipomas. When she palpated the lump the texture was irregular and firm.

Ferris was in the prime of this life. Like most Border Collies, he had boundless energy. Together with his owner, he lived across the street from a park, a word he knew very well. He loved jumping and fetching, but his favourite activity was swimming. He loved swimming in the ocean, especially if his owner went into the water with him. His owner would always have to spell B-E-A-C-H in his presence, otherwise, he would race to the front door with that “take me to the beach” look in his eyes.

Tia’s grey muzzle and grey eyebrows lent her an air of refinement. Despite a cataract in her right eye, her black eyes sparkled as she keenly observed the goings-on around her. She was slowing down in her twilight years but continued to relish her outings. Her tail would wag and her whole body would quiver with excitement every time she saw her family members. Her greatest pleasures were her food and fraternizing with the family.

He watched on helplessly. The car traveled 400 metres smashing into the bottom of the gully with such force that there was debris scattered everywhere as if a plane had crashed. He ran stupidly fast down the steep hill, barely in control. All he could think was, “Could Ferris possibly survive such an impact?” When he got to the crash site, the car was upside down. He could make out Ferris’ crate, but he couldn’t see him. He peered through the rear window and could see Ferris staring back at him. Phew, he’s alive! He managed to crack open the door but the crate was bent and it was a real struggle to open it. His hand started bleeding. He could smell oil and diesel. What if the car suddenly exploded? He pulled Ferris out and that’s when he noticed there was something wrong with his back legs.

She told her students that her dog Tia needed urgent treatment. Then she promptly assigned some homework, concluded her lesson, and logged off Zoom. She drove for fifteen minutes to her vet in Colonel Light Gardens. Because of social distancing, everyone was required to wait outside in their cars and telephone from there to indicate their number in the parking bay. Then she realized that she had forgotten her phone, so she had to break with protocol and go inside. She tried to avoid touching the door by pushing it with her elbow and then announcing her arrival at the reception. The young vet on duty came out to the car and took Tia inside to inspect the lump. When she reappeared she told the owner that she suspected Tia had lesions of some kind and recommended a biopsy.

His phone had been resting in the centre console of the car and was now nowhere to be found. He tied Ferris to a tree and ran uphill to retrieve a second vehicle. He rushed back to Ferris, placed him on the back seat, and drove recklessly to the nearest vet, ten minutes away in the township of Willunga. They were able to stabilise Ferris but informed the owner that he had suffered a spinal cord injury and was possibly paralyzed in his rear legs. Ferris would need to see a specialist veterinary surgeon. It was a Saturday and most specialists were not available, but there was one highly recommended one, about thirty minutes away. The drive was interminable. He could not believe that he had inflicted such a horrible injury on his dear dog.

She brought Tia back the very next day for her biopsy. The dreaded results came ten days later. Tia had cancer. Paul, the surgeon, came in on his day off to perform the urgent surgery. Back home, she waited anxiously for a few hours until Paul phoned to explain the results of the operation. He’d managed to remove 99% of the tumour, but some of it had spread too far. She went to pick up Tia and phoned from the parking bay as before. The vet nurses escorted Tia from the clinic’s back entrance as she staggered down the ramp, gingerly placing one foot after another. Then they gently lifted her heavy frame onto the back seat. Her owner was relieved to be reunited with Tia.

The veterinary surgeon Richard inspected Ferris and confirmed his owner’s fears that Ferris’ rear legs were paralyzed. Richard thought however that since the injuries to his spine were very low down in his back, there was a 50/50 chance Ferris might regain the use of his rear legs. He was immediately admitted to surgery. Four hours later his owner got the call. It went as well as could be expected, but it would be several days, possibly a week, before we would know if Ferris would regain the use of his rear legs. Seven days came and went without signs of improvement. Another three weeks passed and he received the call he had been dreading. Ferris was not getting any better. Ferris either needed to be discharged or euthanized. Of course, he brought him home. Ferris, normally such an energetic tail-wagger, could still summon some movement in his tail. That was all he needed to know.

She arrived home and lifted Tia out of the car. Tia found her feet and rushed to the front door. She wagged her tail as she was reunited with the other family members. Over the weekend she was able to stagger around the house, but not upstairs, so she was confined to the ground floor. On Monday morning her owner had to start her usual round of lessons using Zoom. As usual, Tia was at her feet, but this time she was awake. Her owner moved her laptop to aim the built-in camera to show Tia off to her students. She knew she had aimed in the right direction by the “oohs” and “ahs”. They too were relieved that Tia was recovering.

Several more weeks passed, and Ferris had gained some mobility. He was still paralyzed, but he was able to use his strong back muscles to lift his rear and move awkwardly on two legs. What he really preferred was swimming, where his injuries didn’t slow him down. He didn’t care that his rear legs were now rudders and not propellers and he certainly didn’t blame his owner.

A few weeks later she took Tia to the beach. Tia, like most labradors, loved the water and jumped right in. Tia spotted a Border Collie fetching a ball in the water and paddled out to say “hi”. She had found a new friend named Ferris. They frolicked in the water, returned to the sand, and acquainted themselves with each other’s scents. They both looked forward to their next play date.

PS: The owners hit it off too.

Meredith Stephens teaches English in Japan. Her work has appeared in Borderless Journal, Quarantine Stories, Transnational Literature, The
Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Writers’ and Readers’ Magazine, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, and anthologies of feminist motherhood (Demeter Press).

Alan Noble

Alan Noble is the founder of the non-profit Australian Ocean Lab (AusOcean) with the mission of helping our oceans through technology. Former head of Google Engineering in Australia, a founder of StartupAUS, and on the board of the South Australian Museum, he is a keen sailor, an aspiring writer and blogs at  

About the contributor

In this co-authored article, Meredith Stephens and Alan Noble describe the remarkable resilience of animals when faced with life-changing experiences.

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