I never got around to updating this over winter break, so I’ll pick it up there. Ahh the good old pre-covid days.
The fall semester was exhausting and felt much longer than spring. The only break being Thanksgiving which allows you to catch your breath just long enough to prepare for a 2-week sprint too the finish. After finals, it appeared the first significant storm of the season would push the coastal river stages up and bring in some early winter runners. I worked a few days in the shop, took care of all the business that gets overlooked during the school year and planned to leave on the 24th. Early season and minimal intel on runs have never stopped me before. I caught some grief, mostly from my Pop,s about not being around for the holiday but I set out on an open-ended trip to search frigid emerald waters for a pull.
The storm continually weakened and dropped significantly less rain than projected but the wheels were already in motion and it still felt like enough to get fish moving. I arrived at a rather busy campsite for this time of year and was actually happy to see people, families, and kids out camping in the rain and cold, celebrating holidays in their own ways. Despite the campground hustle and bustle the river was quiet and for the next few days the god and I enjoyed our favorite runs in relative solitude. Being surrounded only by towering redwoods, chirping river otters, the occasion raven caw, and a friendly camp fox put my mind at ease. Well mostly…
Somewhere around here I am on record saying that the god is free from the neurotic tendencies that are common among shepherds and herding dogs. While that is mostly true, he has always had a bit of car anxiety especially on longer journeys and winding mountain roads. Over the last year and half, it has progressed to the point that I crate him to keep him as calm as possible but also to keep him from trying to climb into the front seat whilst travelling at high rates of speed, yeah that was kinda the last of his free rein of the backseat.
I have tried a couple different things to calm him down on longer trips, but most have a mild or short-lived effect and inevitably the anxiety takes over. It’s exhausting for him and stressful for me and I have always justified it as the ends being worth the means. He loves getting there, loves being on the river, loves being at camp, and I love having him with me, so we’ve put up with the stress to this point.
After making a predawn pass through some of my favorite water we take a page from Joe’s book, foldy chair, heater buddy, coffee of the irish variety and a chance to warm numb fingers before another go.
I have walked many of these trail for years and am always in awe of the scale and beauty of this place. This root ball is a particular favorite.
The dsfk roadkill fox tail in my intro has ended up in some bugs I like to fish out here.
I landed several of these chrome bullets during the trip. Occasionally they slam the fly so hard your heart stops and you prepare for a battle. It’s a hell of wake-up call and you make sure your paying attention, make sure you keep the rod low, make sure not to blow your hook set, make sure your drag is where it needs to be. A warmup exercise for a game that would not be played this time around.
After a several early morning wake up calls and long overcast fishing days the two of us were beat and sunny skies called for mid-morning naps.
And 2nd breakfast.
and breakfasty lunches.
The river level never approached the forecasted stage and dropped quickly. We fished lower and lower in the system until we could smell the salt and eventually ran out of fresh water. I spoke with a local as I was packing up who found one a few days earlier but shared my thoughts that it had dropped out and was time to wait for more rain. We chatted for a bit and eventually discovered we were from the same town; he and his wife had moved out to the coast a few years earlier to escape the valley heat. I ran in to them a few weeks later at the shop in town and we picked up our conversation about runs we like to fish and such. Small world, good people.
Back on the road the god’s anxiety was dampened by his exhaustion but still made for an uncomfortable ride. When we stopped for gas, I noticed he had pressed his head up against his crate so hard that it was irritated and nearly bleeding. Throughout the trip I had been contemplating what to do going forward. It became clear that though I love having him with me, he may have to stay behind on trips with long car rides. It seemed I had selfishly downplayed his fears in order to justify my desire to bring him along.
I have taken a few trips without him in recent years and in the past few months and though he always gives me some shit when I return, he is happy to see me, and I try to make it up to him. He also still comes along on shorter car ride trips and still enjoys the shit out of running gravel bars, ripping through meadows and begging for campfire scraps. A compromise of sorts.
Life has been hectic in the last several months. My university transitioned to an online format in March as the virus was ramping up and made the decision early on in the process to continue virtual throughout the entire 20/21 school year. I knew virtual class was going to be a bitch and it has proven to be so but what are you going to do? At this point it seems more beneficial to be in school for the foreseeable future instead of looking for employment. So, the challenge over the next few months will be to stay motivated while staring into a screen all day.
Thinking about the coastal rivers surely helps.
That brings me to my last update before the semester begins. The god.
As some of you may be aware the god has had a rough couple of weeks. While at the takeout after a beat the heat float the god swallowed a bait rig tangled up on the beach. I grabbed the braid that was going down his throat and cut it. In my hand I held a hook, weight, swivel and thought maybe I’d dodged a bullet and he’d only swallowed a clump of braid. He seemed fine for a while but eventually vomited a bit and the piece of braid was still right where I had cut it. Something was stuck. X rays at the vet showed a hook lodged mid esophagus and he was going to need a procedure to remove it. My local vet didn’t have the capabilities to perform the procedure, there is a vet surgical center in the area with an internal medicine specialist, but they happened to be on vacation. So, Monday morning following the x rays the god and I headed two hours south to the regional emergency surgical referral center.
Vets have safety protocol in place and upon arrival a tech met me in the parking lot admitted him, filled out paperwork, handed over a large sum of cash for deposit and wait in the parking lot for a phone call. Call comes, the plan was to use and endoscope to remove the hook, the vet seemed confident and said it shouldn’t be a very long procedure. They put the god under around 4:00 pm and less than an hour had passed before I got a call. Vet says they can’t see the hook in the esophagus, only the braid attached to it is still in his throat. The hook has migrated into his neck tissue and would require surgery. Vet says he’s going to wake the god up, try and get a hold of the surgeon working the next day, and call me back. So, I wait in the parking lot for a few more hours, get a phone call and vet gives his assessment. The hook is in a precarious spot and they are planning to go through his chest cavity to remove it, he starts talking about heart and lungs and complications and fuck my heart sank. He said they would keep him overnight and reassess in the morning after the surgeon was in the building. With nothing more I could do I drove home for the night, started making phone calls, started looking at how much money I had in the bank and attempted to get some sleep
Five o’clock the following morning I drove back down and repeated the process, fill out paperwork, sign DNR form, hand over deposit and wait for a phone call. A few hours pass and the vet calls, he and the surgeon have looked over the x rays and endoscope and they feel like they should be able to reach the hook from his neck avoiding the possible complications of going in through the chest. While this was a much safer plan it had its own inherent risks and there was no guarantee they would be able to find the hook. Still they and I decided this was the best shot.
They put the god under anesthesia around 1:30 and expected the procedure to take an hour or two depending on how quickly they could locate the hook. While he was under, they would use the scope to assess any damage to the esophagus as well as remove the remaining braid after the hook was out.
Several hours passed and the call came. Surgery was successful! The hook was out, the braid was removed, and his esophagus was in good shape limiting the chances for complications down the road. The surgeon was optimistic but was still concerned about post op infection due to how much they had to “explore” to find the hook. It was late in the day and the god would stay overnight for observation, so I found a hotel and tried to rest.
The next morning, I drove over and again sat in the parking lot waiting for a call. After signing off on the paperwork, handing over the remaining balance and getting a crash course on wound care, drug information and scheduling in the parking lot. We were on our way. Even in a drug induced haze the god still wasn't thrilled about the car ride home and I tried to make it a smooth as possible. No more car rides for a while I promised.
The two days back home seemed promising. God discovered the magic that is wet canned food, incision look good and he seemed to be in good spirits with no excessive pain. The morning of the third day I had some work to catch up on and my sister was going to keep an eye on him while I was out of the house for a couple hours. He ate some breakfast and was a little sluggish but ok. After a few hours I came home to check on him and he just seemed down and sluggish, I sat down with him and he pressed his front paw into my thigh, and I knew he wasn’t comfortable. I thought about my own post op experiences and thought that his immune system may be kicking in, all the good IV drugs were out of system and he might just be in a little more pain today. Finished up work and came home, still sluggish, still looking uncomfortable and within a half hour of being home his throat, mid incision, swelled to the size of my fist. I called the vet office that did the surgery and loaded him in the car headed towards the local emergency vet. On the phone the tech said there is a chance it’s just lymphatic fluid, no big deal. Looking in his eyes I believed otherwise.
By this time its mid afternoon on Saturday and he got admitted quickly but we were stuck. The vet working tells me there’s a chance it’s an abscess that would require surgery, but she can’t be sure without lab work, the lab has already picked up for the day, closed tomorrow, sample wouldn’t go out till Monday and results wouldn’t be likely till mid-week at best. If it’s an abscess it needs to be treated as soon as possible. So again, in the parking lot I wait for a call. Vet calls after speaking with the internal medicine specialist and tells me he’s stable, they’re going to keep him overnight in hopes of having a clearer prognosis the following day, hold tight and we’ll call.
Following day is more of the same. They can’t be sure, but the best course of action seems to be, go in and clean out any possible infection before it has a chance to get worse, check to see if there is infection in or near the esophagus as that may require more extensive treatment. Surgeon would be in tomorrow morning and after his assessment would sign off on the plan and go through with the procedure.
Call comes in around 10:30 Monday morning and the surgeon agrees, let’s be proactive and hope that the lab work backs up the decision. The god is scheduled to go under around 2:30, wait for a call.
A few hours pass and I began to worry, all the what ifs start to race through my mind. Luckily the call comes, and he is stable, wound was cleaned and no damage to the esophagus, and a temporary drain tube was put in place to remove excess fluid over the next couple days, all good news. The surgeon feels like he should be well enough to go home that night so again I get a parking lot crash course on wound care, how to drain the “grenade,” different course of antibiotics and anti inflams.
The drain is a bit precarious and over the last few days it has been more or less a round the clock task of making sure the god doesn’t rip it out, pinch it closed, etc. He's done really well at not messing with it but he's still a god so...I haven’t slept much over the past two weeks and even less since Monday as anytime he moves during the night, I would check to make sure it wasn’t pinched closed or being yanked on, scratched out, or licked at. Happy to say that everything has progressed positively, the fluid and swelling continued to dissipate and as of about an hour ago the tube was removed!
It will be a mellow couple of weeks with only essential car rides for a follow up, ample canned wet food, and lots of neck scratches from me as I’ve tried my best to keep him from doing those himself. I am exhausted, I won’t be making my end of summer trip, I’ve had to adjust a lot of financial plans, but I have my god. This ordeal has certainly given me some perspective on things, made me realize and contemplate mortality and the fact that his life will inevitably be short, make sure to enjoy the time we have. It’s helped remind me just how important and powerful the bond we have is and that it shouldn’t be taken for granted, how far I have come with him by my side and how far I hope to go in the future with him as my friend and guide.
I am damn near in tears writing this, so I better wrap shit up. I have always respected the honesty shown around here. I hesitated initially writing the first part of this tr months ago because it was not “epic” and made me contemplate and come to terms with some things that are easier to just brush over behind the internet veil, post a sick photo of and say some catchy bullshit about the “swing life,” or “river god”. Life and fishing rarely go according to plan. The great days are so few and far between and usually outnumbered by the bad days. I have learned to weather and enjoy the bad days of fishing, the bad days in life I am still working at but over the past five years or so have gotten much better at navigating.
I’d like to thank those of you who reached out, it meant a lot. Those of you who read this post and give your own god a scratch or maybe a special meal from a can, they’ve earned it. I’d also like to thank all the vets, surgeons and techs who were involved during just such a fucked time were in, it was an incredibly frustrating process but for the most part they were absolute professionals and did what they could to help ease things through.
Fuck bait scum