18 April 2020 — The COVID Diaries: Staying Sane in a Time That’s Not


Dear Diary,


I wrote to you yesterday about our very official, blind taste test: Nathan’s Beef Franks vs. Hebrew National. 

Honestly, Hebrew National has been my favorite for years, so I assumed they’d be the winner even though I’ve never had Nathan’s.

Then I looked at the hot dogs and they look virtually the same in the package, so I thought they’d tie.

Then I tried them, and everything I thought I knew was upended.

We all liked Nathan’s wiener best.


Unanimous agreement.

Also, SO MUCH CONVERSATION ABOUT NATHAN’S WIENER. “Nathan’s wiener is saltier.” “Nathan’s wiener is a little oilier, in the good, slightly drippy way.” “Nathan’s wiener bends when it gets hot, but bendy wieners are JUST AS FUNCTIONAL — and tasty — as straight wieners so I’m not judging Nathan’s bendy wiener or anything. I’m just saying.” Overall, we just liked having Nathan’s wiener in our mouths more than the competitor. And that was pretty much the exact conversation on the subject. I’d like credit, though, Diary, for not saying to my children how much I enjoyed swallowing Nathan’s wiener. Fortunately, my friend Jessica gave me a trophy for that — 🏆 — so I’ve received the recognition I deserve.

So. Now that I’ve corrected that oversight, Diary, we can carry on with today.

Today, so far, has been wiener-free. 

But I did have to take this baby…

…to the vet for that thing on her nose.

It’s swollen and lumpy and raw and crusty and the vet doesn’t know what it is but maybe mites, sunburn, ringworm, bacterial infection, bite of some sort, or f) all of the above. Also, it could be something else entirely. It was like taking a human child to the doctor when they’re sick.

Doctor: Why are we here today?
Mama: My baby is sick.
*exam, test, etc.*
Doctor, final diagnosis: Your baby is sick.

Except in this case it was…

Vet: Why are we here today?
Me: The puppy has an unknown wound on her nose.
*exam, test, etc.*
Vet, final diagnosis: Your puppy has an unknown wound on her nose.

I feel fine about that, though, because even though I can expertly diagnose things like “sick child” and “puppy with an owie,” I can’t prescribe the pile of medications the vet sent home with me to treat f) all of the above. 

Of course, it was a different experience going to the vet today amid the pandemic. There’s no waiting inside anymore. You call when you get to the parking lot and a technician comes out to take the puppy inside while you wait in the car. 

I listened to How I Built This on NPR and watched pearl zit extractions on YouTube while I waited. And I observed other folks who pulled in for appointments.

The aged and rusty Jeep with two malamutes.

The silver Lexus with the German short haired pointer.

The red Toyota Tercel with the senior humans and their beagle with his faded fur, talking to him, petting him, keeping him entertained while they waited longer than the rest of us. 

The technicians came and went, masked, medications and clipboards and remote credit card readers in hand. Dogs in. Dogs out. Tails wagging, thrilled with an outing.

And then the tech finally arrived at the red car. The couple got out — he in his thin white shirt and blue jeans, she with short curly brown hair and a shuffling walk — and they walked up the ramp to the building together. Beagle held close. Technician leading, then unlocking the door, then letting them all inside.

I’m not gonna lie, Diary. My heart contracted, and I whispered a quick “no,” hoping I was wrong. 

But a few minutes later — no more than twenty, which doesn’t seem long enough for a life to end and lives to change — the couple came back out. Alone. 

Still, I thought. Still, maybe they just left him for surgery?

But no.

They wept as they closed the door. They wept as they moved slowly back down the ramp. They wept as he helped her step off the curb and into the parking lot and to the car and into her seat. 

And I missed the end of How I Built This, which, until then, had been riveting. I was watching them, instead. Fully focused. Wondering if I was intruding on their private grief and yet compelled to bear witness and not look away.

I wanted to tell them I’m so very sorry for their loss.

I wanted to tell them they’re not grieving alone.

But I sat in my car, and I stayed silent, knowing nothing I could say in that moment would matter. Knowing it might cause embarrassment and was unlikely to provide comfort with pain so fresh and raw.

And then I came home and sat here all day at my kitchen table thinking about that little beagle sitting on his lady’s lap with his big, floppy ears and wide open eyes watching me back through our windows. I thought about that beagle between jumping up to do loads of dishes and remind kids for the bajillionth time to do their chores and stretching and folding dough and contemplating the merits of slow rise bread versus immediate gratification.

I thought about how many losses are so much greater right now than this trinity of two senior citizens and one beagle in a small Oregon town, now short a member.

I thought about the losses larger in scope and more profound in numbers and depth. And I thought about how nothing feels bigger to those two people than the loss of their companion anyway. 

I thought about how I, a stranger, am mourning with them, crying real tears, and hoping they have glimpses of peace and moments of comfort. And I thought about how that’s right somehow. Proper and good. That there are humans assigned to mourn the tiny losses, too, which are as fathomless as the sea. And that I’m privileged to have been assigned to this one. 

I wonder how often we grieve and move inside the bubble of our pain, not knowing that others grieve with us. And how we might feel about each other and our place on this planet — our purpose, our community, our own feelings of isolation and loneliness — if we understood that sometimes there’s a human across town shouldering just a bit of the burden, and we’re not alone, after all.

At least, not really.

With love — and thinking of you, too,




P.S. On the one hand I feel like I should apologize for the whiplash of wieners and then loss. On the other hand, if authenticity and Both/And matters — and obviously I believe it does — then apologies aren’t needed. I’m going with the other hand. I hope you understand. ❤️ 

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16 responses to “18 April 2020 — The COVID Diaries: Staying Sane in a Time That’s Not”

  1. That huge laugh followed by tears was everything I needed this morning. I find myself holding in emotions or maybe just having stuck emotions these days. This made me feel all the feelings. The whole range and that was beautiful, and funny and sad and a dirty trick and so needed!

  2. This is so oddly timed… I have a friend here in GA, and she had to go to vet, same routine of waiting in cars and techs running. However while she waited a couple went up to a bench outside the vet office with their elderly pet, and the vet/tech came out with a few needles, and the couple said their goodbyes on a bench outside the office. Not sure if they weren’t allowed in or chose to stay outside. She felt many of the things as you did.
    There’s something about not knowing what we’re supposed to do in these moments that bonds us together. And when we are the ones saying goodbye, will we be aware of those around us, sitting where we once were?
    Goodbyes always come too soon with our furry family, my hopes are that in this time of unusual ways, that everyone is given the chance to say it.
    Waving from the edge of the dark…

  3. Thank you for your compassion for that couple and their dog, and for sharing it. Even in the midst of this mess our country is in, people who still notice other’s pain that ISN’T part of the huger bigger mess are, I think, what will keep us all going in the long run. Compassion is important, and you have it in spades.

    That may not have made much sense. I’m running low on sleep and high on caffeine. Imma go hug my cat right now, whether she likes it or not.

    • Sometimes I think we make our whole “purpose on Earth” more complicated than it needs to be. If all we ever do is show compassion and share pain, we’ve done everything that needed to be done. ❤️

  4. I cried reading this. It’s a beautiful thing, to honour and somehow share in those kinds of pain. And of course I remember two occasions when I had to do what your senior couple did.

    • ❤️

      Also, I clicked through to your site, Alex, and you’re a lovely writer, friend. I SO resonated with the suicide adjacent post. I’ve been there. You have an important voice. Waving in the dark.

  5. Many years ago my Brittany Spaniel had what looks exactly like your dog’s nose. It was diagnosed as a Staph Infection. Vet was very surprised. Not common I guess.
    Just a thought. Cleared up with proper meds. Not good without.

    • Interesting! We have some lab work out — I wonder if it’ll come back showing staph infection. If so, hopefully the antibiotics she’s on will help. If we’re still stumped post-lab-work, I’ll definitely mention staph to the vet. Thanks for the tip.

  6. Beth, my husband and I this week were like the couple you described here, being let into the vet clinic and donning masks and gloves to say goodbye to our Lucy. It’s like you wrote this for us. Thank you for your beautiful words. ❤️

  7. Oh :*(

    Our dog is very sick. It’s day by day with him. We’ve wondered how they’re handling that in this time…

    • I’m so sorry, Maria. If it’s any consolation, the vet staff was very compassionate and very clear that these folks and their pup were The Priority. What a hard time for sick babies. ❤️

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