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Anything Can Happen at Any Time

The future is unpredictable so instead of worrying, think of it as an adventure.

“Anything can happen at any time” is a comment made by one of my favorite Buddhist teachers—Joseph Goldstein. In my book, How to Be Sick, I say this about my reaction to it:

Initially, I thought, “Yeah, tell me something I don’t know. But when I didn’t recover my health, I began to deeply contemplate the meaning of “anything can happen at any time”—like getting sick and not getting better, like having to give up my profession, like rarely being able to leave the house.

Tony Bernhard, used with permission
Source: Tony Bernhard, used with permission
Tony Bernhard, used with permission
Source: Tony Bernhard, used with permission

A few weeks ago, Joseph’s words were driven home to me. It was early on a Sunday morning and my new puppy Scout had just turned five months old. I was lying on the bed, putting the finishing touches on a piece I recently posted about the pros and cons of getting a puppy if you’re chronically ill. Suddenly, from the living room, Scout began screaming in pain with an intensity I’ve never heard before. My husband and I rushed to her. He knelt down to try and determine what was wrong, but she kept crying out in pain. Then we noticed that she wasn’t putting any weight on her right leg and that every time my husband touched it near the elbow, the volume of her cries increased.

We put her in the car and drove to the University of California, Davis Vet Hospital. They took x-rays and found a large fracture of the humerus at the joint where it attaches to the elbow. By “large,” I mean that when we looked at the x-rays, we could see almost a quarter inch between the two halves of the bone. This required surgical repair, not a cast. We were told it would be performed on Monday. So at 11 a.m. on Sunday, we left our puppy at the vet hospital, after being assured they’d keep her on pain medication. We had no choice but to go home and wait.

On Monday at 6:00 p.m., the orthopedic surgeon called to report that the surgery had gone well, even though she’d had to insert in a pin and a screw. She said we’d be able to take Scout home the next day. I was relieved.

Three hours later, as I was getting ready for bed, the surgeon called back. She told me that she’d just had a call from a technician in the recovery area. Scout had broken her humerus again, this time above the break that had been repaired. The technician told her that he had just finished tending to Scout and had left the immediate vicinity of her cage when she began crying in pain. The surgeon’s best guess was that Scout had somehow gotten her leg stuck in the bars of the cage but was too groggy from the anesthetic to get free without injuring herself. We’ll never know for sure what happened.

And so, on Tuesday, instead of Scout coming home, she was operated on again. The second break was worse than the first. In her call to me that evening, the surgeon told me that it took five hours to repair. It was a complex procedure, partly because she had to be careful not to damage any of the many nerves that were in the area of the break. She inserted two plates, a pin, and a bunch of screws.

Tony Bernhard, used with permission
Source: Tony Bernhard, used with permission

And so, my little pup has a lot of hardware in her right leg. Check out the x-ray on the left. The surgeon called it “a very tough case.” After seeing the x-rays, our regular vet said, “That’s an understatement.”

We didn’t bring Scout home until Thursday. It was hard on me; I’ve bonded so strongly with her, partly because I’m home all the time and partly because shortly after she came to live with us, my husband was out of town for almost three weeks.

Scout came home to a different life than the one she’d grown used to—and different from the one I’d grown used to with her. She has to be confined to a small area. For me, it’s meant that instead of sitting outside and watching her run around the yard, or lying on a makeshift bed on the living room floor and throwing a ball for her to fetch, I have to find ways to keep her content in a small area.

Tony Bernhard, used with permission
Source: Tony Bernhard, used with permission

For the first four weeks, that area was 4’ by 5.’ We’re now in the second four week period and she’s still tethered—just to a slightly larger area. I also have to be sure she doesn’t play with our adult hound dog (her “pre-break” favorite thing to do). We were instructed: no running, no stairs, no playing with other dogs. Not until the bones heal, which can take 8-10 weeks.

We don’t even know how she sustained the original injury. Our best guess is that she was coming in the house from the backyard and brushed against a suitcase on her left. It started to fall over, which caused her to leap to the right where she careened into a piano leg that has a nasty (to me now) design in the form of a pointed decorative knob.

If you read my earlier piece where I mentioned that one of the downsides of getting a pet was the expense, you can add several thousand to my calculations. It would have been another $5,000, but the vet hospital didn’t charge us for the costs associated with the second break since it happened in its facility.

The first two days that Scout was gone, even before she broke the second bone, I began worrying about how I'd handle her rehabilitation once she came home. Given my illness, could I adequately care for a puppy who had to be confined for at least two months? Could I be sure she wouldn’t re-injure herself? “Won’t she be miserable?” I fretted.

My husband kept reminding me that this worrying was fruitless because we had no idea what kind of post-op instructions we’d be given or what condition Scout would be in when she came home. He said that using my precious little energy to spin these stressful scenarios was only making an unfortunate situation worse for me.

I should have known this! I’ve written many times about the suffering we inflict on ourselves with this kind of stressful ruminating. I often call it “storytelling suffering.” We spin stories about an imagined future and then believe them without question. I was taking a simple fact, “Scout broke her leg and will have to be kept quiet for several weeks,” and was spinning it into a series of worst-case scenarios, from “She’ll step wrong and re-break it,” to “She’s going to be so unhappy,” to “My nap and rest schedule will be completely disrupted.” With my husband’s wise advice in mind, I began to work on treating these worries as simply arising and passing thoughts that I need not take seriously and that I need not believe.

As I was doing this, suddenly something magical happened. Into my head popped this thought: “Scout is my adventure.” Indeed this is why we got a puppy—to mix up my life a bit and to bring something new to it since I’m home almost all the time, often by myself.

That thought, “Scout is my adventure,” changed my perspective. I stopped fighting what had happened and stopped the stressful storytelling about her homecoming. Instead, I put what energy I had into getting the house ready for her return. Most of the time, I was able to replace the worrying with relief and gratitude that we live in a town with one of the best veterinary hospitals in the world.

Tony Bernhard, used with permission
Source: Tony Bernhard, used with permission

How has “Adventures with Scout” been going since she came home? It’s not been easy and it’s made being chronically ill more of a challenge than ever, but one thing is for sure: the difficulties I’ve encountered haven’t been the ones I’d been mocking up in those stressful stories. All that worrying I was engaged in did, indeed, turn out to be wasted energy and served only to make an unpleasant experience worse for me.

In fact, one of the biggest challenges has turned out to be something that had never even occurred to me: the difficulty of sitting for long periods in waiting rooms at Scout’s multiple post-operative appointments. I’m used to only having to endure this at my own doctor’s appointments! Now I find myself in a scene right out of my book How to Be Sick—inventing ways to turn a waiting room chair into something that resembles a bed.

Yes anything can happen at any time. Here’s what I’ve learned from this experience about the best way to handle life’s uncertainty:

  • acknowledge that you’re not sure how things will unfold for you and that this can make you feel mightily uncomfortable at times;
  • don’t assume the worst;
  • remind yourself to take one day at a time; and
  • don’t make yourself miserable by spinning stressful scenarios about a future you can’t predict anyway.

Gotta go. Scout needs checking out. After all, anything can happen at anytime…

© 2014 Toni Bernhard. Thank you for reading my work. I'm the author of three books:

How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers (Second Edition) 2018

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide (2015)

How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow (2013)

All of my books are available in audio format from Amazon,, and iTunes.

Visit for more information and buying options.

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Here’s the link to my earlier piece: “Puppy Pitfalls: Are Pets and Chronic Illness a Good Match?

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