Photo: George Burns
This is my situation: It's October 11, and this column is way past due—supposed to be on its way to the printer—can't wait another second, or the last page of the magazine is going to be blank for the first time in seven and a half years.
And I know nothing for sure. Every "for sure" I've known in recent months—about slowing down, taking it easier, enjoying "the view from here"—I've had to abandon because life keeps getting in the way.
I normally get up at 6 a.m. to work out. This morning, I was awakened at 5:55 by something wet at my feet. My 12-year-old cocker spaniel, Sophie, who's been living with only 20 percent of her kidney function for the past three years, had lost control of her bowels and kidneys and was flailing across the bed. Her head was crooked, her eyes darting rapidly, and she couldn't stand up. It looked to me like a stroke.
We've had many close calls with Sophie since 2004, when she was diagnosed with renal failure. Since then, she's had a cancerous tumor removed and undergone chemotherapy. Was bitten by a South African tick, which led to an abscess the size of my hand—and two major operations. Goes to the doctor for IV fluids at least twice a week and has lost 9 pounds.
So when she's flailing around and can't stand up, I know for sure this is the end.
Stedman and I rush to the veterinary hospital in silence, Sophie wrapped in a towel on my lap as I try to hold her still.
No tears, no talk. We both are, in our own ways, preparing for the inevitable. I call my assistant to see if we can delay the first show I'm scheduled to tape—in two hours. That show is with Jerry Seinfeld, who's going to talk about his new film, Bee Movie. Then Dr. Oz is doing a show about death with Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only a short time to live. There are two audiences full of people who've traveled from every corner of the United States for their first visit to The Oprah Show. And I have at least three e-mails from Gayle and now Amy Gross, O's editor-in-chief, saying my "What I Know" column is holding up the presses. I'm feeling a little stressed. And I know nothing.
The plan is actually to tape three shows today—one with Jerry, two with Oz—then get on a plane to Africa by 5 p.m. to choose the next class of seventh graders at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy. And return in three days.
I know nothing.
The vet's diagnosis: Sophie did not have a stroke. She has vestibular disease, an acute inner ear disorder that causes imbalance and strokelike symptoms. Sort of like vertigo in humans. By 3 o'clock she is standing again. As I write this, she's moving around freely, wagging her tail. Stedman and I now call her Lazarus!
My flight is delayed two hours due to bad weather in the East. But I still know nothing—especially about traditions, this month's theme. I never had any growing up, and the ones I once knew for sure I was going to create for myself, I never did.
This Christmas, I plan to be in a hula skirt on my favorite mountain in Hawaii, literally taking a hike. I love the ocean air and the scenery so much, maybe I'll make that a tradition. Or maybe I won't. Maybe instead I'll just take each moment, each day, as it comes.
I do know I won't be in this situation again. Because starting right now, I'm going to figure out what I know so I'll be ready for a fresh start next month. For sure.