The impact was harsh.
My tires squealed in protest against the Florida asphalt and it was only ingrained training that kept me from losing control of my car. For a moment, a memory flashed across my consciousness - a memory of hot sand, hot road, hot metal, and gunfire. That passed quickly, however, replaced by the instincts of a military veterinarian. I had the driver’s door open and my flip-flops on the ground before I had even finished putting my Prius in park.
I thanked G-d that the country road was deserted. It was nearly midnight on a Saturday night - too early for the bars to empty, too late for church-going folk to be going about their weekend business. I slammed the cherry-red door behind me and ran as fast as I could across the hundred yards or so between me and the point of contact. I was now praying that I wasn’t too late.
My unwitting victim turned out to be a thickly muscled dog with white fur; in fact, the only reason I had been able to see him at all, was because of his bright-white sheen. He didn’t appear to have any external wounds, so my breath caught in my throat - hope immediately pushed through my veins along with the adrenaline that was making my hands shake. There was a full moon above, so I could at least make out the basic details of the dog sprawled across the far left lane of the two-lane highway. From what I could see, he had no collar, but he was clearly well-fed; I would have thought him rather well-groomed, considering, but the smell of unwashed dog clogged my nose as I crouched down beside him. As I settled down on my haunches, my focus abruptly switched from such minor details, to any sign of lingering life. A back paw twitched, but I paused before reaching out toward his shoulder - it could just be a final death throe, a last muscular shudder. But, then his side heaved weakly - once, twice - and I didn’t waste my further time trying to determine the nature of his injuries.
I pressed my bare hand, unafraid, against his muscle-hard shoulder. I could feel the blood still coursing through his heart; I could still feel that strong heart beating, although erratically. I had only moments, so I took a deep breath, stilled my mind, and reached for the pack of blood lancets I kept in the right thigh pocket of my cargo pants.
The movements were instinctual - I had carried the knowledge of my gift with me since puberty, which for me had come early at about age 10 or so. I had come to terms with it sometime in my late teens and had used it to great success in the course of my veterinarian practice. As long as there was still breath, as long as there was still blood moving, as long as there was still sentience, I could bring the dying back to life.
I pricked my right forefinger and squeezed the tip just enough to coax a single drop of blood to glisten on top of my skin. Without further ado, I grabbed the dog’s muzzle with my left hand and gently tugged until his jaws opened just enough for me to move my right finger between his canines. I wormed my finger beneath his heavy tongue and stroked the soft membranes underneath just once - just enough to make sure that my solitary dab of blood was smeared against the highly absorbent sublingual gland. I started singing a song, softly, as I pulled my finger free of his mouth and stuck the box of lancets back into my pocket. The miracle worked best with music, I had found; I couldn’t really explain why, just as I couldn’t explain how I had been born with such an unbelievable “talent”. It was mostly intuitive and the music just came to me, as I leaned back and waited for my blood to reawaken the life within my four-footed patient.
The song that came to mind was always different; then again, every life was different, so the randomness made a strange sort of sense. For this guy, the song that came to my lips, was “The Stolen Child” by Loreena McKennitt.
The seconds dragged on like decades, as I waited for the signature inhale of breath that would let me know if I had gotten to him in time. But, then, there it was - a deep heave of his side and a following huff of air against the cold asphalt at his nose. And, as always, I exhaled a sigh of relief; I didn’t always make it in time.
Now, however, I had an interesting predicament on my hands. He was still lying on the road and even an old country road could be occupied by the odd car so late at night. I had given the poor fellow life...but the dim light of an incoming vehicle began to brighten the rise of the road in the distance. I had to get him moved, but he was dead weight - no pun intended.
“Dammit,” I muttered under my breath, as I fished a pair of plastic gloves out of yet another pant pocket; I never left home without them.
I grabbed the dog beneath his front legs and awkwardly dragged him the few feet across the road to the grassy shoulder between the northbound and southbound lanes. Bright headlights illuminated us both as a car whipped by us, passing over the spot the dog had been lying on just moments before. Those headlights swam in front of my eyes for several lingering seconds and I was too disoriented to notice that the vehicle had begun to slow. As soon as my vision had returned to normal, I had turned back to my patient, concern making me worry my bottom lip between my teeth. I was never going to get him into my car - not easily, anyway. And even if I had bought him a firmer hold on life, he could still die. I had no idea of my car had ruptured internal organs, or if he had snapped his neck against my bumper, or any number of other unpleasant possibilities. He still needed medical help and a dog was not any different than a person - it mattered very much how I moved him. I may have already done damage just by dragging him manually the short distance to the shoulder; I didn’t want to risk further injury by trying to manhandle him into my backseat.
I was lost so thoroughly in my thoughts, that I didn’t notice that the car that had passed us by was now heading back our way, driving against the flow of the non-existent traffic. I didn’t notice anything, actually, until dancing blue-and-white-lights illuminated the white fur stretched out at my feet. Startled, I turned, only to find that headlights had been aimed straight into my face. I barely registered the flashing lights hovering eerily in the dark air above those headlights; it was a voice who finally called my attention away from the eyeball-blistering intrusion.
“Everything okay, ma’am?” a deep drawl called out from behind the extravagant display of light between us.
“Yes, Officer,” I raised my hands up toward the light, palms flat, partly to show that I wasn’t armed and partly to block the sudden feeling that I was standing in front of an interrogation lamp. “Hit a dog.”
“You okay?” it was too bright in front of me and too dark around me, for me to see any movement, but his voice sounded as if it had moved a step or two closer.
I wanted to snap back with - “Obviously. I’m not the one laying on the side of the road.” - but decided maybe it would be more prudent if I didn’t let the headache forming rapidly behind my eyes to get the better of my common sense. So, I just sighed and waited for him to emerge from behind the safety of his car door - maybe, then, I could turn my back on the unnecessary high beams.
“Yes, sir,” I did turn slightly to motion toward the poor dog clinging to life at our feet. “But, he won’t be if I can’t get him to my clinic.”
A solid form had finally materialized from behind the bright lights and I could finally make something out of my hopefully-would-be-helper. I couldn’t make out any specific details - like his face - but I did see his arms, bare from the bicep down, in his short-sleeved uniform. If his forearms were anything go by, getting my unwitting patient moved wouldn’t be much of a struggle.
Thank you for small favors, I thought, with no intent toward sarcasm; I was glad not to have a desk jockey come to my aid. That dog was heavy.
“Clinic?” the faceless uniform and voice moved closer, until his shoulder blocked out the right headlight; I could have cried with relief. “You a doctor?”
“A vet,” I corrected and finally, I turned to crouch down next to the dog.
As far as I was concerned, the situation was obvious. Pick up dog. Move dog to car. Drive like hell. Get to clinic. Save dog. I wasn’t entirely certain that the officer at my back was keeping up with my rapid train of thought, however. When he hovered for two seconds too long, I turned my face up toward him - only squinting only a little bit, now that he’d moved in front of one of the headlights - and waved my hand impatiently.
“He’s still alive. I can save him, if I can get him to my clinic down on Eglin Parkway. I can’t move him, though.”
I’ll give the officer credit - once I spelled it out for him, he responded appropriately.
“Got something to move him with?”
His question - as simple as it was - took me by surprise. For a second, my mind flailed uselessly as I puzzled over his meaning. Then it hit me - of course. A wounded animal wasn’t any different than a wounded person. It was best not to move them, but if you had to, it was best to move them on something. As it so happened, I had a suitcase full of towels and sheets shoved between the back of the passenger’s side seat and the floorboard.
“Yes,” I nodded and stood up again, saying as I straightened - “I’ll go get it.”
Time was of the essence - I didn’t hesitate as I ran off to my still-running Prius and wrenched open the back passenger’s side door. Seconds later, I had unzipped the suitcase in question open far enough to fish through its contents and pull out a queen-sized sheet. I tucked it hastily under my arm and ran back to the scene of the accident, pausing only to open the hatchback door and to shuffle around a few boxes in anticipation of my patient.
“Here,” I nearly covered the officer’s face in the sheet as I fumbled with it.
He took it all in stride, though - I had to hand it to him for keeping a cool head. He simply moved out of the way of my not-so-helpful attempts to open up the sheet and grabbed the first available corner as it began to fully unfurl. In hasty silence, we worked together to unfold the sheet and then fold it again length-wise into something of a stretcher. Then he took a knee on the rough asphalt by the dog’s head and motioned for me to do the same by its haunches; we both smoothed the sheet out on the ground next to the dog and stretched it taut in preparation for his swift evacuation.
“On my mark,” the officer ordered in his deep voice as he slid his hands beneath the dog’s shoulder. “One...two...”
On the count of three, we moved in tandem, lifting the dog barely above the asphalt beneath him and transitioning him swiftly the few inches to the left onto the sheet. Then there was silence again as we grabbed our respective edges of the sheet and shuffled awkwardly the few yards over to my waiting car.
“Is he still alive?” the officer asked, almost haltingly, as he took the bottle of hand sanitizer I abruptly handed to him.
He had walked over to the front of my car with me, after we had secured the dog and carefully closed the back of the Prius. We stood there for a few moments as we cleaned our hands, my driver’s side door open and the Prius beeping quietly to remind me that I had not only left the keys in the ignition, but had left the headlights on as well. I paused as I took the sanitizer back from my unexpected help and titled my head slightly to the side as I “checked in” with my patient.
We shared blood now, the dog and I. I would know if he died, but I hadn’t felt the pain of his passing yet. He still breathed, even if barely.
“He’s hanging in there,” I nodded, before fixing the officer with a stern look. “But, not if I don’t get him on the table as soon as possible.”
“I’ll go ahead of you,” he offered, to my surprise (and secret relief); I couldn’t tell in the dim light, but I think he smiled. “Try to keep up.”
“Did he make it?”
The question startled me and I dropped my keys with a muffled oath. My head whipped to the right and for a few heartbeats, I stared stupidly at the policeman leaning one muscled forearm out the open window of his patrol car. Then memories floated up out of the fog of exhaustion that had settled in over the last hour and I pressed a hand to my heart.
“Good grief, Officer! Give a girl some warning next time!”
He leaned his head out the window and grinned up at me; finally, I could make out his face. He was a handsome man - short-cropped brown hair that shone faintly blond where the rising sun hit it. Square jaw, high cheekbones, angular features, aquiline nose, green eyes...usually, I would have sputtered moronically over my words, to be the recipient of such an Adonis’ attentions. But, I was too tired to care, frankly, and any sense of “he’s so totally out of my league” had was tempered by the fact that he’d helped me carry a badly injured animal out of death’s way.
“Have you been out here this entire time?” I glanced suspiciously down at my watch - it was now nearly 10 o’clock.
“Of course not,” he scoffed, but the good humor in his eyes softened any bite that might have accompanied his words. “But, I was heading home and saw that your car was still parked here,” he waved a long-fingered hand toward the vehicle behind us. “I just parked, actually. Was gonna’ head in and check on him,” he paused for just a fraction of a second. “And you.”
“Oh,” I raised a hand and pushed my own fingers through the frazzled locks that had fallen out of my braid and into my eyes. “Thanks. He made it. No internal injuries, but he has a cracked skull, a broken shoulder and rib cage, and some fractures along his right leg. He’ll heal, though.”
“Damn,” my companion whistled admiringly through his perfect white teeth. “Dog’s built like a tank, huh?”
“Pretty much. S’typical of his breed, though,” I replied, my voice quiet; at the quizzical lift of a sandy-brown eyebrow, I added - “He’s a Catahoula cur.”
“Never heard of it,” the patrol car’s door opened and the officer eased out of his seat; I watched with an interest completely detached by exhaustion, as he stepped past me and bent over to pick up my keys.
“It’s a hunting breed - state dog of Louisiana, actually. Bred primarily to hunt wild hogs,” I stifled a yawn as I accepted the keys that were handed back to me.
“So, he can take a beating, huh?”
I squinted at the name tag pinned to the broad chest half a hand’s breadth away from me. I glanced up at “Officer Kendall” to see him eyeing me closely; I got the distinct impression that there wasn’t much that escaped the notice of that green-tinted gaze.
“That’s one way of putting it,” I offered a slight smile and lifted my hand, keys jingling, in playful salute. “Thanks for stopping by, Officer Castellanos.”
“No problem,” wide shoulders shrugged, as if stopping to check on a wounded dog and his rescuer was part and parcel of the job.
He stepped forward and offered his hand, which I took instinctively. His grip was firm and his skin was warm without being clammy. I matched the strong squeeze of his fingers with one of my own and I saw a flicker of respect flash in his bright eyes.
I was the daughter of an Army Ranger and a soldier in my own right. I didn’t give delicate handshakes.
“Dr. Trinity Sangster,” I offered him a wan smile and never imagined that in giving him my name, I had just changed my fate forever. “Pleased to meet you.”