“A dog is one of the remaining reasons why some people can be persuaded to go for a walk.”
– O.A. Battista
Sooner or later, everything died under the foot of a Black Angus, or so it seemed.
My husband, Gary, left me alone with our dog, Starr, and headed to Oregon. His granddaughter had brain surgery scheduled to remove a tumor on her pituitary gland. No doubt, after a successful surgery, he’d
stop on his way home and inspect cows. Even though he worked as an electrician, cows were his first love, next to me of course. We already owned 350 Black Angus—he wanted more. He planned on retiring as a farmer in a couple of years, and they would be his retirement income. My sister, Rena, and her husband, Ron, came to spend the week-end with me.
They carried their bags upstairs then we sat down to enjoy a glass of iced tea. Deer season opened in a couple of weeks and they would be back for Ron to hunt. He wanted to be ready for his favorite pastime by putting up his deer blind. Starr loved to go for rides so he invited her along. Ron jumped in the truck, Starr hopped up beside him and they pulled out the drive.
The headache I woke up with wouldn’t go away— Ibuprofen didn’t help. Rena complained of a headache. We thought missing breakfast caused our problem, so we went out for a quick-lunch of Steakburgers and Curly Fries. After awhile I said, “Hey, my headache’s gone.”
“Mine too,” Rena smiled.
We chalked it up to not eating earlier. The warm and sunny day made conditions perfect for metal detecting—our favorite hobby. We spent the day on our knees, digging in the dirt.
We returned home around 5 o’clock. Ron changed his mind about spending the night and wanted to go home. I tried to talk him into staying. Then I wouldn’t have to be alone in a big log home, out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to keep me company except cows, and all the stray varmints. Talk about being stubborn. Ron’s strong will reminded me of a bull in our pasture. He set his mind to leave, so they packed up and headed home.
I started to get another headache. I figured I’d better get a bite to eat. After filling a plate with chicken salad, chips and a dark-chocolate brownie, I sat down at the table. After I finished my meal, I decided to get on the computer. With my laptop on the kitchen counter, I perched myself on one of the bar-stools—ready for my evening on the Internet. Before long, I fought to keep my eyes open. Once, I literally almost fell out of the chair when I dropped off to sleep. Thinking I was tired from being out in the fresh air all day, I shut my computer down and headed to bed. Taking my clothes off, I noticed my dirty knees and legs from crawling around on the ground. There’s no way I’d be able to stand and take a shower, with legs as weak as noodles. I told myself I’d shower in the morning. No big deal. My husband was gone and I was alone. My dirty legs could wait.
Never had I fallen asleep so fast.
Sometime, a little later, like in a fog, the dog whimpered in the background. She was whining and barking to go out. I laid motionless.
You better get up, I told myself, or she’ll make a mess and Gary’s not home to clean it for you. I could barely move. I plopped back and fell asleep again. Starr woke me with her incessant whining. I raised my head off the pillow, slowly, and managed to stagger to the door. Oh, God, why am I so tired? I can’t believe all the fresh air made me so weak. I must really be out of shape.
I clung to the door so I wouldn’t pass out and waited for Starr to come back. I remembered a time when beautiful flowers filled the yard. Royal Purple Bee Balm circled the deck—bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds stopped for a sip. The cows put an end to my green thumb. No matter what I planted, they destroyed everything. All thoughts of a pretty yard ended. No matter how many times Gary fixed the fence—cows managed to break out. Starr got plenty of exercise chasing the beasts. She made a good herding dog, even if she was only a chocolate lab.
One day, a man called to inform us one of our cows ended up in his yard by the pool. His kids were afraid to get out of the water. I searched for the wandering Angus.
We’ve had calls late at night from frantic neighbors, “One of your cows is in my yard!”
Even worse, we received a call from a furious driver who had collided with one of our cows on a dark country road. Thankfully, no one was hurt, except Gary’s wallet.
Starr returned within a few minutes. To my surprise she didn’t want to go back in the house, unbelievable. I coaxed her with the promise of a treat. I inched my way back into bed.
Another hour or so passed and the dog started in again, whining, getting in my face, trying to wake me. I remember lying on the bed talking to myself. Something‘s wrong. You have to get up. Get out of bed. Something is happening. Wake up!
I felt so calm, and lifeless.
I tried to move. My arms and legs weighed a ton. I couldn’t force them off the side of the bed. Cows mooed and sounded alarmingly close.
I heard a voice, not out loud, but strongly in my spirit, say, Get up! Get up! If you don’t get outside, you’re going to die.
With the help of the Lord, and every last ounce of strength I managed to muster, my legs came off the bed. I tried to stand, but crumpled and fell across the chair beside my bed. I dropped to my knees. My heart raced so hard I struggled to breathe. Am I having a heart attack? I gasped for air. I walked, half crawled towards the front door, I kept hearing a voice, If you do not get to the fresh air you’re going to die.
I pushed the front door open and flopped in the lawn chair, my dog, Starr, beside me. I’m not sure how long I sat in the cold outdoor air, which had dropped to 31 degrees, with nothing on except my underwear. Sweat poured off me. I thought I was having a heart attack. Being so confused, I thought I should call an ambulance, then decided not to.
Maybe I’d go in the house, take a shower, and get ready to drive myself to the hospital. No, something’s wrong. You can’t drive. Go get dressed.
After what seemed like forever my heart finally slowed down. I started breathing a little easier. I sat for a few minutes, then decided I should at least go to the hospital and get checked out. Back into the house, halfway across the living room, I was overcome again. I could barely breathe. My heart started beating faster, so I turned and bolted back out the door. I sat on the porch for a few more minutes, then decided I had to get dressed. I held my breath, covered my nose and ran for the bedroom to grab my clothes. I scurried, picked them up, ran back outside, and pulled them on. I held my breath again, ran back in the house to grab my purse, and a third time to get my keys.
My heart beat way too fast. I still had shortness of breath and wasn’t sure what I suffered. I wondered if I’d be able to drive to the hospital, or if I’d best call an ambulance. One thought kept running through my head: Lock Starr in the truck so she’ll be safe.
That’s the last thing I remember.
Next thing I knew, I pulled into the parking lot with absolutely no recollection of how I’d arrived. I didn’t remember getting in the car. I didn’t remember what I did with Starr. I didn’t remember the seven mile drive to the hospital.
On the verge of collapse, I walked into the hospital entrance. The doctor took one look and rushed towards me with a wheelchair. Now I knew what Ma talked about, “Always make sure you have on clean underwear in case something happens and you have to go to the hospital.”
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
I was confused, but I told him what I suspected. Within seconds they hooked me up to oxygen, drew my blood, tested it, and told me, indeed, I had carbon monoxide poisoning.
“Are you married?” he asked.
“You didn’t leave your husband home in bed did you?”
“No, but I don’t know what I did with my dog.”
The nurse brought me a phone. “You need to call someone to check on the dog.” she said.
“Find someone to pick her up, or I’ll go after her myself, otherwise, she’ll be dead by the time you get home.”
The fire department found Starr. I had left the front door wide open. Starr was sitting on the porch, waiting for me to come home. I had my kids take the dog to the vet to make sure she was alright, too.
The fireman turned off the furnace, opened all the windows, ran “Do Not Cross,” tape around the place, and inspected the premises.
One of the cows had lain down close to the house and flattened the vent for the exhaust duct, forcing all the fumes to build up in the house.
They tested my blood level, which was at sixty percent. “Most people with a level so high never survive,” she said, “hard to tell what the percent was back at the house, before you breathed fresh air.”
Until my blood levels reached twenty percent, they wouldn’t release me from the hospital. No one was allowed to go back into the house until all the walls had been washed down and everything thoroughly cleaned and aired out. Fans had to be put in all the windows.
My brain was foggy for a good 30 days after the incident. My sister, Rena, made me a T-shirt with a picture of Starr on the front saying, My Lifesaver, STARR. I know the Lord works in mysterious ways. He used Starr as a tool to save my life.
I’m thankful Ron was stubborn enough not to spend the night. I would never have been able to climb the stairs to get them out of the second story, or maybe, because I was so confused, I would have even forgotten they slept upstairs. Of course, the Lord was at work again. He sent them home.
True to the mysterious voice, if I hadn’t escaped out of the house, I would have died. God used Starr, gave me the strength to get out, and somehow, guided my trip to the hospital. I’m so thankful I listened, and didn’t die under the foot of a Black Angus.
As told to Wanda S. Maxey by Penny Smith