The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

When Nice People Do Rotten Things

I was half- listening to NBC's TODAY show this morning. There was a segment where two gentlemen were interviewed about a book they had written, "When Good Men Do Bad Things" or something similar. It was an interesting concept, and I was put in mind of a dog we had once.

We got Princess when she was 4 months old, and my youngest child was 4 years old. She was beautiful - a black and silver-beige German shepherd with a personality and capacity for learing and caring I have never seen in a dog before nor since. She grew up with the young boy, waitng for him when he was due home from school, "helping" him when he played ball with his friends until the poor child asked me to bring her inside. She slept either across his bed or beside mine. She was a true family dog, and was easily trained because she wanted so much to please us. In turn, we took her for regular vet visits, kept her shots up-to-date- and fed her the best we could find.

One day, as my then-husband and I sat having breakfast, Princess and the young boy were wrestling around in the family room, where they were visible to us. All of a sudden I heard a snarl and looked up to see this wonder-dog snap at her playmate. She didn't connect, but the look on the child's face was complete surprise and - horror. I put the dog outside and we tried to assure the boy that she wouldn't have hurt him, although at that moment we really weren't sure. The boy's father's first reaction was that we would have to get rid of the dog. We certainly couldn't keep a dog that would hurt our son!

I was also shaken. But my first reaction toward the dog was to make an appointment with her vet and beg for time from the boy's father. It was totally out of character for this dog to behave so badly toward the kid she loved so much.

At the Vet's office later that same morning, I explained the situation and he gave her a thorough going over. It turned out she had impacted anal glands - something, the vet assured me, would make anyone cranky. It was a problem that could be fixed, and we did that. Princess had her anal glands removed. They would no longer make her cranky. Princess never snapped at the child - or anyone - again.

Maybe that doesn't seem related to anything about human relationships on the surface, but I believe it does. If someone you know and love goes against the behavior you know (and love), I believe the first reaction should be the same as we gave our dog those years ago. Get that person in for a complete end-to-end physical as soon as possible.

Years down the trail from the incident with Princess, I was in another relationship with a man who, while he wasn't perfect (who is?) was a good partner for me. In the beginning. As time went on, his personality started to change. He showed a mean side I had never seen. He was increasingly cranky, pessimestic, and had become emotionally abusive, bordering on the physical. I was afraid, and opted out of the relationship. I didn't understand what had happened, but I have had enough experience with all sorts of abuse to know that I had to get out.

Several years down the road I learned that this man had collapsed, and during the investigation of that, a large, baseball sized tumor had been discovered in his head, not in the brain proper, as I understand it, but exerting considerable pressure on the brain by its very presence. It was considered a brain tumor, however, and it was the sort of tumor, I learned by research, that slowly builds over a period of 20 years or more. It spontaneously changes from harmless to malignant after a certain length of time, and once it changes it can spread with lightning speed.

By this time he had remarried - I knew he wasn't alone, and I was glad of that. But I began to wonder ... Those years before, in fact, when he and I first met, he said it had been years since he had been able to smell or taste anything well. Years into our relationship he presented himself to a doctor with his complaint and was told he was full of nasal polyps. Removing those, he was told, would improve his sensations of smell and taste.

It didn't.

In my research I discovered one of the symptoms of brain tumors is the loss of the senses of smell and taste. I wish I had known this sooner. I wish I had sat him down with his doctor and said,"well, it wasn't the polyps - what else can it be?" and kept after the doctor until the right diagnosis was found. There might still be one nice - though not perfect - person left on the planet.

I was afraid, I felt threatened, and I was right to leave because I did not know to give this man the same benefit I gave to my dog those years ago. I didn't know to ask the questions. But I have learned this, and I want to pass it along: When someone we love has a behavior change, it may well be physical. The loving thing to do (assuming the behavior is not threatening to others or him/herself) is to get that person to a doctor for a complete evaluation. Say it out loud to his/her doctor yourself -- "this person has been behaving entirely out of characterfor him/herself. I want to know why."

We need to explore the physical first when a loved one seems different. After that, feel free to Google the book mentioned in the beginning!

Watching out --


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