When my wife walked into the bedroom, she told me later, she knew right away that it smelled like shit. The only question was whose fault it was. There were three usual suspects, but only one of them still in the room. Spot was lying in gastrointestinal misery in his crib at the back of the house, and the dog had escaped as soon as his owner had decided, for some reason, to attack him with the Diaper Genie.
So it looked incriminating for me, I suppose, and smelled even more so. I was crouched in the corner, shirtless, unshaven, feverish and woozy when Spot's mom walked up behind me. It would make sense if I had lost it before reaching the bathroom, the way Spot had been blowing through his diapers for the last two days. She saw me working the pump spray and scrubbing a brown smear off the wall about six inches above the floor. "It was the dog," I told her. "I don't do vertical surfaces."
Gunther, the younger of our two family dogs, and unlike Spot or myself, was in perfect health. But in this tale of the sick caring for the sick, brought on by a gastrointestinal upheaval that nearly incapacitated our household for two weeks, he too was swept into the vortex. With barely enough energy to take care of my son, I had begun to neglect the dogs, and hadn't walked Gunther in a little over 24 hours. So when I pitched the Diaper Genie, Gunther was fully loaded, and probably a little edgy. The results were, as they say, like writing on the wall.
I called my gastroenterologist a few days into Spot's illness and at the beginning of my own. He painted me a picture of what was going on. "There's a gastrointestinal variant of last season's flu, and it's now epidemic in North America, but is hitting the Midwest especially hard." Words from the mouth of Science itself, both soothing and surreal, like watching Doppler radar tracking a line of tornadoes on TV, and then looking out my kitchen window to see a few cows and a Volkswagon blow by.
The odd thing about sickness is that it's difficult to describe first-hand. We have powerful scientific abstractions, but very little in the way of first-person narratives of epidemic illness. It's so unpleasant, most people try to block out details of the pain, the odor, and the sourness that comes to coat the senses. Which is why I resort to numbers in order to convey something of the day that led up to my dog's attempt at graffiti.
Spot barfed 3 times. That's just one day. Not a little spittle on the T-shirt barf, but river of white chunky lava, there went everything I spoon-fed my feverish and dehydrated child two hours ago barf, followed by a 4-alarm yowl. With each of these barfs came a full load of laundry, and in order to clean up, I had to heft Spot up what seemed to be an ever-steepening flight of stairs. Each of these loads of laundry was preceded by bathing and a full change of clothes for both parties, all conducted at the slow tempo to which the rotavirus or any of its henchmen reduces all human activities.
In addition to these 3 loads of laundry were 3 further loads generated by Spot's violent diarrhea, which soiled 6 successive outfits, including accompanying sheets, blankets, towels, and some of dad's clothes. Simply keeping clean clothes on Spot's back took all the strength I had, after 4 days of my own increasing nausea and a thin diet of rice porridge and bagels.
Add all these numbers up and they amount to an extreme situation. Spot was very sick, and I couldn't seem to do a damn thing about it. He wouldn't drink, and what I fed him he tossed back up. Meanwhile, my ability to take care of myself was flagging. Our home had become a neighborhood biohazard, with millions of rotaviruses wafting onto every surface, waiting to jump from a pen, a postage stamp, a doorknob, onto my hand and then to the UPS guy, starting a fresh new cycle in another neighborhood or another city.
So when Spot kept screaming as I peeled back his damp and vomit-soaked shirt, the sludge falling off his clothing and on to my forearm, I lost it. Things had, at that precise moment, come to the point of being more than I could handle. The reptile part of my brain took over. Spot screamed, and then I screamed, and so he screamed, and I screamed back. It was like a cartoon.
That's when I stood up, grabbed the Diaper Genie, raised it overhead in some pathetic invocation of Conan the Barbarian, and hurled it with a yell into the bedroom. Like some morbidly ripe tropical fruit, it's white plastic casing split open in the middle as it collided with the bed frame, rupturing its transparent blue bowel, full of neatly-folded packages of nastiness, allowing them to scatter like so many seeds across the floor.
Right about then, I think, is when Gunther decided to shit and run.
My wife has a way of arriving at scenes like this in the nick of time, like a superhero. She looked at the mess, asked where the dog went, and then left to tend to Spot.
I gathered the fecal material I had managed to scatter across most of our bedroom, disposed of it, and, in what seems to be the only fitting way to end most days of caregiving as Spot's father, took a shower.
"Throwing the Diaper Genie is not the kind of behavior we want to model for Spot," my wife wrote in an email the next morning, one that I vaguely recall reading through a blur of dehydration, dizziness, and stomach pain.
I agree completely.