It was late in the afternoon by the time Savannah and I reached Pozo Almonte. The young Chileans that had driven us nearly a hundred miles from out of the desert wished us well then took off toward the coast. I was immensely grateful to them, but my focus was elsewhere. Savannah was pallid, weak and her typically wagging tail was uncharacteristically limp.
Over an hour before something had ruptured in Savannah’s nose. Since then blood poured from her nostrils like water. When I tilted her head back to cause the blood to coagulate, so much blood ran into her throat that she struggled to breathe. She gurgled up horrible sounds as she fought between swallowing and breathing.
Thankfully, we were in a moment of relative calm. We’d been deposited at the local health center and Savannah wasn’t bleeding. The workers at the health center told us there was nothing they could do for a dog, so they showed me to a spigot and gave me rag.
“Thanks,” I said, sloshing the rag in a bucket of water.
Savannah’s hair was matted down with dried blood. As I scrubbed her blood swirled off her hair, onto the concrete, and down the drain by her paws.
Our prospects were better than a few hours before, at the very least we were in a town with ample shade to keep cool, but there wasn’t a veterinarian in Pozo Almonte. For that we’d have to find a way to Arica, a port city more than two hundred miles north.
Leaving for Arica immediately wasn’t an option however, Savannah wasn’t in the state to do anything but sleep, and anyway the busses had stopped and there were no taxis running.
Once Savannah was clean I removed my shirt. Savannah had bled so profusely that blood soaked through and dried on my skin. I washed myself with the rag then switched shirts.
A worker, with a rough mug and frizzled hair pulled back in a ponytail like he owned a Harley, pointed to my cart.
“You’re walking?” he asked.
“Not right now.”
I went over my face with the rag then tossed the rag in the bucket.
“Is there a hotel near here?” I asked.
The worker turned and pointed. “Just around the corner.”
Savannah and I left the health center damp but free of blood. Around the corner were two hotels across the street from one another. By some miracle Savannah was holding herself together. I hurried to get us a room before she inevitably began bleeding again.
The first hotel wouldn’t even consider taking Savannah so we went across the street. At the second hotel the receptionist was a thirty-something man in a wheelchair. His arms were thin and he had a goatee which made him look professorial.
Initially the receptionist said no to Savannah, but with some cajoling I was able to get him to call the owner of the hotel. The owner didn’t answer immediately so the receptionist told me to have a seat.
I sat on a pleather white sofa. Savannah dropped her head on my foot.
The receptionist wheeled over then bent to stroke Savannah’s back. I looked at him briefly and smiled. I did my best to appear implacable, but underneath each second passed about as pleasantly as clamps tightening on my teeth.
“She’s very calm,” he said.
“We’ve stayed at lots of hotels,” I returned tightly.
I reached down to pet Savannah. She looked up at me without moving her head. Her scleras were bloodshot. It seemed she was ready for a three day sleep.
After twenty minutes the owner returned the receptionist’s call. The receptionist spoke on the phone too quickly for me to understand, but eventually said to me, “My boss is a good man.”
“We’ve got a room?” I asked.
“Yes. You’ll have to go in the back though. In case your dog barks.”
“That’s fine, she won’t bark, she never barks. Thank you so much. We’d be on the street otherwise.”
He handed me a key then pointed beyond the common area. “You’re upstairs.”
I brought my cart inside, nodded to the receptionist as I passed him, and walked overly upright to demonstrate just how calm I was.
The hotel had the feel of a jacket pulled over one’s head in the rain, barely enough and only temporary. In the back was a square patio with rooms lining the second floor. I left my cart at the bottom then made my way to the room with Savannah. After three steps Savannah sneezed, splattering the concrete with blood.
I cup my hand around her snout and we hurried upstairs.
Outside our door Savannah sneezed again. Blood shot between my fingers and flecked across the tile.
I jammed the key into the keyhole and turned it to open the door. I nudged Savannah inside then ran downstairs to haul up my cart.
By the time I was able to drag my cart into the room Savannah was sitting at a pool of blood looking as miserable as I’d ever seen her. Before I could tend to her I grabbed a roll of toilet paper and ran outside. In case someone came to check in on us I wiped the blood from the tiles and hastily did what I could with the blood on the concrete.
Then, back in the room, I unfurled half the toilet paper to soak up the puddle of blood and used the other half to cover Savannah’s nose.
While I worked at cleaning the floor with one hand, Savannah sneezed through my other. Red streaks painted the wall, the furniture, my cart. I realized it was pointless to clean the floor while Savannah was still bleeding so I put all my focus on her. I took off my shirt so it wouldn’t get bloody then slid Savannah against a wall and put my arm around her.
I had a wad of toilet paper over her mouth and nose. I kept her head tilted back. After a few minutes I could feel the toilet paper was soaked-through. I swapped it for gauze from my medkit.
Since there was no veterinarian in town there wasn’t much I could do but minimize the amount of blood loss. I ran through what might be done with my limited resources.
At a thought I sprung up, darted into the bathroom, and swung open the hot water valve in the shower. I was back with Savannah a moment later. Already there was a small puddle of blood at her feet.
I wondered how much more blood she could lose before she passed out.
Minute after minute eked by until at some indecipherable point the nosebleed slowed, then stopped all together. I examined and reexamined Savannah’s nose to be sure the bleeding had really stopped, then I released her from under my arm. She hobbled into a dark corner and laid down.
The severity of our situation wasn’t lost on me, Savannah was as sick as I’ve ever seen a dog, and rather than being in New Jersey where vets were available on call twenty-four seven, we were in the dust-blown town of Pozo Almonte in the middle of the driest desert in the world. Help for Savannah was coming from nowhere but myself and there was no way to demand I be taken to Arica or a passionate rant I could give to make Savannah better. The only things I could do were small things – small things like increase the humidity in our room, tilt Savannah’s head back, keep the mess Savannah was making from us getting kicked out, and sprint to the pharmacy for tranquilizer.
I gave a quick rub to clean the worst of the blood off the floor then touched Savannah on the head and said, “I’ll be right back.” I checked that I didn’t have blood on my face, then I threw on my shirt and ran downstairs.
There was a pharmacy across from the health center and inside the pharmacy was a whirlwind of boxes tilted and tumbled and tossed all over. Behind the counter waited a middle-age woman with a single blonde streak through her chestnut hair.
“Do you have anything to relax a dog?” I asked.
The woman stretched and yawned and nodded all at once. Then slowly she reached out to some boxes on a shelf. Her arm moved with the precision of a snake on morphine, she knocked over boxes and slid plastic bottles to the ground, but somehow withdrew a box about the size of my thumb from the back.
She plunked the box onto the table. In green lettering was Pacifor.
I didn’t know any of the active ingredients, but the medicine was labeled as a central nervous system relaxant for dogs so I bought it. I bought a box of gauze too.
I left the pharmacist in her chaos and sprinted back to the hotel. Even at eight, when the town was stretched with long shadows, the temperature was over ninety. I ran two blocks and was sweating.
Back in the room Savannah was where I left her. The rest of the room was a snapshot of panic— specks of blood on everything, the sheets yanked half off the bed, and my first-aid kit sprawled over the table.
The room was noticeably humid now. The shower was working furiously to scorch the bottom of the tub and steam was billowing forth.
I scanned the instructions of the relaxant then put a dozen yellow drops on Savannah’s tongue.
She was already as weak as a candle in the sun, but after a few minutes I had to put my cheek next to her nose to be sure she was still breathing.
I double checked the box. The dosage was correct, the Pacifor was just strong as hell.
I grabbed some extra blankets from a shelf and set them beside the bed. I scooped Savannah in my arms and placed her on the makeshift bed, being sure her nose was turned down against the tile in case she started bleeding anew.
With Savannah out cold I went to work scrapping off the dried blood on the floor. I spent a long time picking away with my knife. At points I took away a little too much and some color in the tiles was lost, but for the most part I did pretty well.
After that I showered. When I was finished I turned off the water, inside it was more than humid enough already.
Once I laid in bed I saw that it was midnight.
I wondered what I’d be able to manage the following day. Either a bus or a taxi had to be gotten. We had to get out of Pozo Almonte to a veterinarian. A bus probably wouldn’t accept dogs though, or if they did they’d have Savannah placed in the bottom and things would turn out terribly. My best bet was a taxi. It would cost a fortune, but I’d be able to take it straight to a veterinarian and it would be an easier ride for Savannah.
To stop thinking I turned on Netflix. A moment later I was asleep.
I awoke with a start sometime in the night. I turned on the lamp beside the bed then looked down at Savannah. She was still out cold. A stream of blood had seeped from her nose onto the floor. I grabbed gauze and put it under her snout.
The next morning around ten I was able to reserve a taxi to Arica for the following day at seven a.m. I would have liked to leave immediately, but I didn’t trust Savannah’s stability or the desert sun beating down on a taxi midday. It would be a four hour ride to Arica. I figured if we left at seven, kept the air-conditioning on, and Savannah was doped up on relaxant, we might stand a change of making it the entire ride without incident.
Back in the room Savannah woke once I returned from booking the taxi. The Pacifor had done such a number on her she could hardly stand. She wobbled over to her water bowl, lapped at the water, then dropped back to the cool tile floor.
She had four or five fits that day, but they were all short-lived. I turned on the shower intermittently and kept her mildly drugged so she never worked herself into a panic.
The following morning I took her outside at six so she could go to the bathroom before we started toward Arica. We made it around the corner of the hotel when suddenly she hemorrhaged and the blood started flowing as bad as it ever had.
I hadn’t brought any paper with me and in seconds my arms were covered in blood. Since it was early there were few people around, but a woman exited from her house and saw what a mess we were in.
“Can you bring us paper?” I said desperately.
The woman stared at us, then backed into her house and shut the door.
I kept Savanah’s snout in the air. Blood ran down my arm and dripped off my elbow. After five minutes there was no sign of the blood slowing down. If the cabbie decided to arrive early and saw us there was no way he’d take us to Arica. If somehow he did drive us the hundred and twenty-five dollar fare would undoubtably be tripled at the risk of Savannah covering the interior in blood.
The woman I thought hid from us came back outside with a pitiful amount of toilet paper. I put it to Savannah’s nose and it was soaked through.
“Is she your dog?” the woman asked, standing over us with a dull expression.
“It’s too dry here for dogs.”
“Is there a spigot around?”
The woman shrugged. “I don’t know. I only have cats.”
After twenty minutes Savannah’s nosebleed halted. It had been her worst incident since getting caught in the desert.
Savannah and I were both a mess. Savannah she’d just finished gorging on zebra and I appeared to have just finished open-heart surgery. We’d been on a patch of grass though, so other than our appearance and a faint smell of iron there wasn’t much evidence of the onslaught.
The taxi would be arriving within thirty minutes.
We hurried down the street until finding a spigot. I doused Savannah so she was soaked and clean. Then I wiped off my arms and thanked the good lord that I’d kept most of the blood off my shirt.
When the taxi arrived Savannah and I were waiting for it out front of the hotel with the cart. Pozo Almonte was still quiet, there weren’t any stores open and no one other than us was on the street. The cabbie’s name was Juan. Juan was middle-age with a few wind-blown hairs on his head. He was a friendly guy and immediately comfortable to be around.
I took the wheels and handle off my cart, then together Juan and I hauled it into the backseat. I dropped my backpack in then lifted Savannah and sat up front with her.
A few minutes before Juan pulled up I gave Savannah three drops of tranquilizer. All in all she was better than she had been two days before, but four hours was a long time. I was constantly envisioning a lone dust particle finding its way to Savannah’s nose and causing her to sneeze, reopening the tenuously closed hemorrhage, splattering blood across the window, across the dash, across Juan’s right arm, then ultimately leading to Juan kicking us out right there in the desert.
I prayed our risk was mitigated sufficiently by leaving early and dosing Savannah with the tranquilizer.
The sun crept over the one story buildings and we were under way. Juan had Cumbia playing, a style of music featuring guitars and Caribbean drums.
“She’ll sit with you just like that?” Juan asked.
“She knows we’re traveling. She’ll wait until we stop.”
Juan nodded. “There aren’t a lot of taxis that will take dogs.”
“The buses don’t take them. It’s difficult to find a ride with her here.”
“Do taxis in the U.S. accept dogs?”
“Most of them, definitely more so than in South America.”
“I used to not accept dogs. Years ago a dog bit me from the backseat right on the cheek.” Juan snapped at his cheek with his hand then looked at me and widened his eyes. Then he shrugged. “But now I look at the dog, and more importantly I look at the owner. I look them in the eye and think, how is this person? How is this dog? Sometimes I won’t give them a ride. Sometimes I do.”
I thought that fairly reasonable policy on Juan’s part, dogs seem to take on their owner’s personality.
“I appreciate you taking us all the way to Arica,” I said. “I don’t know what I would have done if we didn’t find a ride.”
Juan tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. He smiled, obviously pleased with his generosity. Savannah shuffled until settling in a position where she was curled up with her snout snuck between my bicep and ribcage.
Other than a handful of valleys the ride was through desert. After an hour we passed the spot where Savannah’s nosebleed first started. It was far more desolate than it felt. Looking in every direction there was nothing but sand and the thin ribbon of asphalt running through it.
I reached forward and turned up the air-conditioning. Not only was the sun hitting my face, but having Savannah on my lap was making me warm.
We only needed to make it three more hours.
“Why are you returning to Arica?” asked Juan.
“I need to get her to a veterinarian, she’s sick. She’s been having blood from her nose.” I didn’t know how to say nosebleed in Spanish.
Juan seemed unfazed by the news.
The hours went by and as they did the heat increased. The air-conditioning was set as cold as possible but whatever heat the sun sent down was captured inside the cab. The cool air pumping out of the vents was little more than a few stones attempting to slow a river. The temperature climbed inside the car as the sun climbed further into the sky. Heat wavered on the asphalt and as cars rode through it the heat swirled mystically like barely-visible smoke.
When we were half way to Arica we had to stop where the road was under construction. I remembered walking up the road, it was an assent from a valley floor to the desert plateau. The road up was being widened to four lanes. Most of the road was torn apart, only a small section was paved and that section was closed to the cars. Every half an hour the workers let all the cars from the bottom drive up or all the cars from the top drive down.
“They close the road from twelve to three,” Juan said. “It’s a good thing we left early.”
Juan was picking his nose with his thumb.
“They close the road for lunch?” I asked.
Juan pinched something on the edge of his nostril and winced. “Dynamite,” he said. “They set off explosions at noon to make room for the new road then spend the rest of the time cleaning it up so cars can pass again.”
I thought back to when I’d been climbing the road. I’d seen a CAT boring narrow holes in the mountain face but didn’t think as to why that might be.
Waiting had me worried. The heat was being somewhat shed as we drove and the wind blew over the car, now though the sun was simply beating down on us. I opened the door to let in the breeze since Juan had turned off the car. Savannah climbed down in front of the seat and curled up. It was shaded and cooler down there.
After a good while the trucks in front started moving. A group of guys playing soccer stopped when one of them flicked the ball from his foot to his hands, then they all ran to their car. I was outside stretching my legs and Juan yelled to me. “Let’s go!”
I jumped in with Juan and we started our descent.
The remainder of the car ride passed uneventfully. Somehow Savannah had made it.
Juan pulled in front of a vet and said he’d wait for us. I had an Airbnb booked so Savannah could get a proper rest once I figured out what was wrong with her.
Out of the cab Savannah was still so doped up that she could barely walk. She slipped twice trying to climb the ramp into the vet.
I put in my name, filled out some paperwork, then was in with the doctor t twenty minutes later. I told the doctor what had happened and he recommended some tests.
“I believe it’s ehrlichiosis. If it is ehrlichiosis she has and she’s showing early symptoms then she’ll be okay, there’s medication that will work. If she’s had the infection for a long time the medicine may not be effective. We’ll test her blood and have the results in twenty minutes.”
Savannah’s blood was drawn. We waited twenty minutes in the reception. The doctor poked his head out of his office and gave me the thumbs up.
I heaved a sigh of relief. “Let’s go,” I said to Sav.
We got into the office and the doctor held up the results. “So it looks like she has ehrlichiosis.”
I looked at the doc perplexed and angry. I wanted to ask why the hell he’d smiled and given me the thumbs up, but I didn’t know how to say, “thumbs up,” in Spanish.
Instead, with a block of ice in my gut, I asked, “So what does this mean?”
He pointed to a chart. “It means her red blood cells and platelets are nearly zero. Her blood isn’t coagulating because she doesn’t have any platelets. The good thing is this is treatable. She’s in the the early stages. She probably contracted the infection a month ago from a tick somewhere in Perú.”
“But I’ve been using Frontline.”
“The tick only needs to latch for a few hours and in south Perú the infection is very common. Don’t worry though, there’s medicine.” The vet scrawled out four medications, three of them were vitamins and minerals to get Savannah’s platelets back to normal, and the fourth was an antibiotic. A few minutes later I bought a month supply of everything.
“In a week she should be able to do anything she was doing before, but the infection won’t be fully eradicated for a month. She should be feeling better in a few days.”
I left the vet with a bag of medicines and Juan took us to our Airbnb.
The next day Savannah slept twelve hours and didn’t eat a thing. I stayed in the room with her all day, leaving only to get food or water.
For two more days Savannah bled. She bled on the walls and on the floors but amazingly the Airbnb host told me not to worry about it. “Paint’s cheap,” he said.
In the morning I’d give Savannah three drinks of vitamins and minerals. Twice a day she’d receive her antibiotic pills I covered in peanut butter.
A week later she was out running on the beach.
Among the sand a palm tree was circled by grass. We were out midday and it was hot in the sun. I sat on the grass with my back against the tree. People skated along the walkway, behind us surfers wove atop the modest waves. Savannah sat beside me like a guard dog, tracing the passing figures with her eyes. After a bit she relaxed and laid down. She rested her head on my lap. I leaned my head on the palm tree and closed my eyes.