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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: An unexpected shift of holiday plans and finances

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In a very unexpected way, Hilda has become a one-dog Live Local income injection this winter: money spent at the vet for surgery, on her rehab needs, and on local tradesman and fencing supplies (a la Steven’s Hardware and Farmers Supply).

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“Well, what I’m worried about is hospitalization,” I said. “I mean, neither of us have a lot of prescriptions or go to doctors.”

REMARKABLE LIVES: Jock Brandis with Hilda (lef) and Horace (right). Photo by Gwenyfar Rohler

REMARKABLE LIVES: Jock Brandis with Hilda (lef) and Horace (right). Photo by Gwenyfar Rohler

Jock nodded agreement and commented yet again it would actually probably do me good to go to a doctor occasionally.

We were trying to wade our way through the world of health insurance plans, pricing and payments. Like more Americans than most people realize, this is the first time both of us have had health insurance. Jock is finally on Medicare and I am in the exciting world of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

We sorted through things to figure out what would actually work for us and what we could afford. Insurance is so irritating to deal with, because when you pay for it everything is fine. Then, when you need it but don’t have it, another headache arises. The fear is that there will be an emergency and no way to pay for it.  What I didn’t expect was that the hospitalization I had to worry about was for Hilda, our puppy.

“Your exam fee is $88,” the lady behind the counter said. “We will provide you with an estimate of other expenses, X-rays and treatment, once the doctor has done the assessment. We do have a busy night, so there is a wait. Are you prepared to pay the exam fee?”

We nodded dumbly at the receptionist.  I was holding my bleeding, obviously injured, furry life-light in my arms. Yet, the lady was seriously asking if we were going to leave…

Once I calmed down enough to process what was happening, I had to admit, that for many people, cost would be a barrier to treatment. There have been times in my life when I was borrowing money and setting up payment plans to cover vet bills. But walk out and refuse treatment? No.

I had a couple of readers comment that the Live Local column hasn’t mentioned anything about holiday shopping or Small Business Saturday. Instead, I wrote about how unexpectedly I found myself making a lot of adult decisions this year—one of them included finally getting financially solvent. That did not mean there was much wiggle room left, and as a result, our holiday plans have successively scaled back from, “Let’s spend Christmas in Cuba on a Full Belly Project trip and introduce Jock’s inventions!” to “Let’s go on a one-day road trip together to somewhere special!” to “Please, let’s bring Hilda home alive and on the road to recovery.”

One evening last week a wonderful young man knocked on our door at a little past 7:30 and asked if the injured dog outside belonged to us. Apparently, our little adventuress managed to make a hole in the backyard fence and went out to explore. A car hit her. Just typing that sentence is a nightmare.

I have been here before, but it was much worse. The year my parents and I moved into the house on Market Street, our beagle, Coppy, got out of the yard on Christmas Eve and disappeared. We didn’t find him for several days. Just imagine being the parents of a 7-year-old on Christmas morning with her dog missing and his new tags under the tree. A miracle happened: The lady behind the car that ran over Coppy scooped him up and took him to a vet and guaranteed payment for his care. What would have happened to him if she hadn’t been willing to do that? Would he not have had emergency surgery? Probably not.

Confronting the upfront question about paying to have Hilda examined brought all that flooding back. At 7 I didn’t understand what guaranteeing payment for his care meant. But right now it is pressing and clear. Coppy did get reunited with his family who missed him terribly, and he made a full recovery.

“I love Tollers; they’re one of my favorite breeds,” the vet said when we finally got to talk with her about Hilda’s X-rays.

“Really?” I asked in surprise. “You are one of the first people I’ve ever met who has heard of them.”

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers are not overly common in North Carolina. The vet earned my undying love with a brief soliloquy about all of the breed’s fine qualities. She ended with a comment that they are smart, which was probably what caused the events of the evening.

No kidding.

Hilda can disassemble a crate from the inside and be out in a matter of minutes. The fence around the yard is just a more interesting challenge for her.

As of press time, she is awaiting orthopedic surgery to reassemble her rear leg.

“I guess we got sidetracked by other things, and lost sight of the priority with the fence…” Jock lamented. 

Yes! “Jarring” is the word for having my world rearranged and made starkly clear: Does anything else matter? No? So, let’s put this back the way it should have been in the first place.

This time of year we talk about spending time with family and putting the heart and soul back into the season. Well, Hilda is my family. Outside of Jock, she, Horace and Hosannah are pretty much the most important people in the world to me. I would happily sacrifice my extended relatives to any apocalyptic consequences if it came to a choice between them and Hilda.

The grand we spent on the first night at the vet is just something we had to do. “It’s basically our Christmas present to each other this year,” Jock summarized. Figuring out the payment for the next steps is that: the next step. As is putting together her recovery. Apparently, she is supposed to be confined for three months. Instead of buying gifts, we are assembling dog beds (she always slept in our bed so we never bought a dog bed) and crates in various locations.   It’s not like we can leave her in a crate by herself for three months. We are setting up strategy locations around the house and at the bookstore to keep her in the center of things.

Then there is Alcatraz, as our backyard is now known. What little available funds are left are going to a massive overhaul of backyard fencing and to John—who thought he was going to work on house projects for me this winter. No, those projects have shifted.

So in a very unexpected way, Hilda has become a one-dog Live Local income injection this winter: money spent at the vet for surgery, on her rehab needs, and on local tradesman and fencing supplies (a la Steven’s Hardware and Farmers Supply).

I have to say: She’s a pretty remarkable life.

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