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The Dog Lady Blog

Saturday, July 11, 2009 :


Much Ado Not Knowing What I Do

Without a doubt I had one of the most unnerving events occur at my sanctuary in preparation for my water to be delivered by Mr. Bagshaw...I have a 1500 gallon water tank which Mr. B. fills whenever I call. This water is basically for the dogs--providing their drinking water, filling their baby pools, and for my bath water (garden water, too, when my rain caught supply has dwindled). For my drinking water, I usually mooch a couple of gallons from friends who have running water when I visit the.

Typically, once the water tank is empty, I climb into it in order to wipe down the inside with bleach cleaner and paper towels. The bleach fumes are unpleasant at best yet the tank must be cleaned, especially in the summer when algae thrives. The opening to the tank is on the top, maybe one foot in diameter. I don't like being in there; I'm not a fan of small, unventilated areas. To this day, my stomach still lurches when I remember...I was almost four years old when I fell into a cistern (twenty five feet deep) behind my great-grandmother's house. I literally dangled by my tender fingertips on the inner edge well opening, screaming like a mini-banshee. I can still hear the smack of the screen door as my dear great grandmother, Edith, scurried to my rescue. I tried to use my feet to brace myself against the wall of the well but I knew it wasn't good when I began sliding down the wall of the well. Just as tears began to sting my eyes, I felt Grandma Edith's hands grabbing onto and squeezing my arms like oranges. Like a carrot in the ground, she plucked me up and out of the well-- and certain catastrophe. But back to 2008...

Each time prior to my immersion, I have an old five gallon drywall mud bucket that I drop into the empty tank along with the bleach spray and roll of paper towels. There is always a bit of residual water that the pump can't get. Therefore, I sop up the water (maybe 50-60 ounces), squeezing it from the paper towels into the bucket. Then I pour the contents of that bucket out of the opening at the top of the tank. Unfortunately for me this day, I dropped the bucket outside of the tank onto the ground and as it rolled away I realized that I had no way to get out of the tank...and the size of the tank? 6 feet in diameter and 6 feet tall, made of slick, thick poly plastic.

It's easy getting into the tank. All I do is slowly lower myself and kind of drop down into it. Getting out of the tank is another issue entirely. That's where my mud bucket comes into play; I stand on it when I've finished cleaning the tank's interior, lifting myself up almost like you do when getting out of a swimming pool (when you don't use the ladder). It always works without a hitch. I then take a hard rake, lean into the tank opening and use the rake's teeth to "hook" the mud bucket handle and like a fish, I lift it out slowly.

Mr. Bagshaw was due to arrive at 10 am, more or less, so I got into the tank around 9:30 am, leaving ample time to complete my cleaning chore. The dropped-bucket-scenario arose at about 9:45. At first, I actually thought I could jump up and hoist myself out of the tank. I was delusional. Despite the obvious impossibility of the situation, I continued to JUMP up and a couple of times caught hold, anxiously bracing myself in the opening of the tank with my arms, armpits, torso and back. After five minutes of this, I collapsed the floor of the tank, deciding to wait for Mr. Bagshaw (despite the increasingly claustrophobic sensation building within my central nervous system that was telling me to chew a hole through the tank so I could get the hell out of there).

I knew it had to be after 10am by this point and I hoped Mr. Bagshaw was close to arriving...and then the punch of reality: Mr. B always calls before heading my way. This is to confirm that I'm home (he prefers that I'm there to control the dogs while he does his thing). If there's no answer, there's no water delivery ergo no Mr. Bagshaw coming to my rescue. And don't you know that at just that moment, my phone began ringing, far from my grasp, up on the porch...

I started to feel a teeny bit hysterical; the bleach fumes were caustic and the only way to get fresh air was to stand on my tiptoes, my head tilted back horizontally in an attempt to breathe.
I must say that it was awfully uncomfortable but I kept imagining people in worse situations than this...compared to some, Katherine, you're in the pink... After a few more minutes of this I decided to try again to get out. With every failed jump, my panic began to build--the fact that no one would think it odd that they hadn't heard from me for a couple of days kept gnawing at my psyche; I am, after all, a reclusive individual who doesn't get lonely and doesn't like visitors all that much. All of my friends know this so what would be odd about not hearing from me for a few days.

The harder I tried to get out, the more I floundered. The fact that I was a gymnast for years made no matter; I was out of my element. Between physics, gravity, noxious fumes and the intense, anxious fatigue I was feeling, I felt powerless. Again on my tiptoes (and by then my calves had started to cramp), head tilted back again, I gulped some fresh air and started talking to myself: "stay calm, stay calm, stay calm"--like a mantra.

I started to feel sorry for myself, having to die in the tank, like the chick in "The English Patient", the one who dies in the cave. I admit it: I began to tear up. What is it with me, water and deep holes in the ground? I looked up at the opening again, pathetically preparing another "jump" but I just couldn't do it. I had maniacally exerted myself so hard and so fast that now all I could do was shake like a leaf, my numbed limbs trembling beyond use. I felt like I was frozen even though I wasn't cold. By that point, it's about 10:30 and indications are that Mr. Bagshaw decided to postpone his delivery until he knew I was home...after all, I didn't answer the phone.

...more air. I needed more air! In keeping my head tilted so far back, I began to feel dizzy, lightheaded, a bit faint-ish. Maybe my carotid artery blood flow was being compromised from distending my neck so radically. Now I know how little dogs feel having to look up all of the time. A few of the dogs-Larry, Otis, Emily, Fred and Bayly- gathered around outside the perimeter of the tank, listening to their food source whimper, keeping a sort of vigil over me. Larry, a true genius of a dog, started whining and tried jumping up on the tank in an attempt to climb in with me. Now the rest of the pack started stressing out as they sensed my ill fated mood. Needless to say, my aforementioned falling-in-the-well-at-four-years-ordeal only added to my relentless and suffocating anxiety, adding a little post traumatic angst to the picture. What in the hell am I going to do...?

Suddenly, a couple of the dogs started barking. Wait. Then a couple more sounded off. I could tell that they had started up our long driveway, barking, barking and barking. I stood very still,
cocking my head like my dogs do, straining to hear. I mean maybe you can squint your eyes to see better (or think you can) but you can't squint your ears...could it be him? My ears pricked; in the distance I was sure (?) that I heard the faint grumbling of a diesel engine. I waited. I shook. I listened. Then the dogs stopped barking. Nothing...

...I stood still, craning and straining my now rubbery neck, stretching to get fresh air from the tank opening. I was feeling sick. Throw-up sick. Suddenly, the dogs began barking again, and I knew it had to be my preserver in his gargantuan truck, chugging inch by inch down my very steep drive. Of course, it seemed to take an eternity as I listened to him turning around, getting in position to back up to my tank like he always does. FINALLY he parked and turned off his engine. Mr. Bagshaw has been delivering water to the dogs and me for over ten years so naturally the dogs love to greet him and they always do so with zeal. I started screaming his name but he couldn't hear me over the canine cacophony. I listened as he shouted over the din of dog talk, "where's my sunshine?" (that would be me). T he dogs were trying to tell him--Larry especially was pulling a "Lassie", trying to get Mr. B to follow him. Then, just for a nano-second, they all got quiet so I SCREAMED (hurting my own ears, I was so loud: "MR. BAGSHAW!!!" The dogs started barking again but now Larry is jumping on Mr. B only to scuttle back to the tank where he clawed and barked and whined until he made his point. It worked. A rustle of footsteps and there he was, Mr. B peering down into the tank, mouth agape. Shocked at the site of me crying, soaked with desperate perspiration, reeking of bleach and upended by exhaustion, Mr. B. asks, "why are you in there crying?". I rasped through my bleach burned throat, "FOR THE LOVE OF MAN, GET THE BUCKET OVER BY THE TREE AND HAND IT TO ME NOW-PLEASE!!". He scurried off and quickly returned with my bucket which I rapidly invert, step up onto and I gulp what was the sweetest of air. Pathetically, I start pawing at Mr. Bagshaw, begging him "PLEASE PULL ME OUT OF HERE!" My fresh bruises were already turning purple and throbbing. He hooked his arms under mine and for the second time in my life, I was plucked like a carrot out of the ground-- only unlike my childhood incident, I was fairly freaked out. All I could croak to Mr. B was, "I don't care where or what on my body that you'll need to grab, just get me out here now!". And he did. Just one of the things I do to keep this sanctuary running.

My bruises turned out to be unbelievable in size, depth and color. I've been so sore and strained that lifting 50 pound bags of dog food today is painful; usually I can toss them like bean bags. I've been trying to ease my self-inflicted pain by soaking in sun-warmed water, in my six feet long, two feet deep bathtub (actually an oblong, galvanized water container for livestock). I feel fairly sure that I can get out of this receptacle.

I really do love my life here. I've never been happier. In the end, none of the inconveniences feel inconvenient. I'm never lonely. I do for others. I live simply. I want for little. Existentially speaking, it'll all be cake once my mortgage is paid. For the most part I find that "living poorly" is a state of mind. Sure, we all need money. But do we need lots and lots and lots to live happily? I used to think so. Now I think not. If I can continue doing what I love--what I've been doing non-stop for 15 years now--for the rest of my life, I'll be the happiest human possible.


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