Surgeon Lucy Peterman loses her husband, unborn child, and her perfect life in a car accident. Six months later and back at work, she tells everyone she is fine. But, in Ann Garvin’s “The Dog Year,” Peterman is stealing anything in the hospital that can be slipped into her pockets. That’s no big deal, right? She more or less knows why she’s doing it and it’s not like she’s selling Band-Aids on the black market to make a profit. Who could it hurt?
Peterman is one of those doctors that is loved by her patients. She goes the extra mile to protect their dignity before they undergo the knife, a rarity in most hospitals where impersonal interactions are the norm. Because of this, the hospital staff ignores her thefts until they impact inventory. When records, witnesses, and cameras confirm that much more is missing than the odd bandage or two, Peterman is told to get help or lose her job. Returning the stolen supplies would be a good start, but she can’t bring herself to admit that she needs help, not even when it turns out that an entire room in her house is filled to the walls with the evidence.
The hospital administrator orders her to see a therapist who in turn, sends her to a local Twelve Step program. AA is not the answer for everyone and when Peterman is sent there, she knows it’s not going to work. She avoids the meetings, at first because she’s in denial, but later because it’s not a good fit.
“The Dog Year” is a moving portrayal of grief and its aftermath, exploring the raw emotions that can paralyze our hearts and bring us to our knees. While many of us might turn to coping mechanisms that can be hidden from the outside world – screaming behind closed doors or drinking to excess – we all do something to help ourselves get through the reality of being left behind. Faith helps some, social connections help others, but I have never met anyone that could go it entirely alone. And yet, that’s what Peterman tries to do.
Garvin provides a strong group of supporting characters that show sympathy for Lucy Peterman, grieve with her, and best of all, point out truths in the face of her re-creating the facts. The brother realistically enables her bad behavior until he can’t take it anymore, a high school acquaintance cuts her slack and stands by her when Peterman’s thefts become more public, and a convincingly written anorexic has no sympathy for this woman that leads a privileged life. There are assorted quirky souls that add depth and texture to this beautifully written story. Even the dog in “The Dog Year,” tugs at our hearts, plays a pivotal role, and brings people together in unexpected ways. There are astonishing discoveries and changes as Peterman begins to deal with her new reality – quite satisfying in a hopeful way.
There are so many things to love about “The Dog Year.” I cried, I laughed – it made me remember my own times of grief in softer ways. After a while, life does go on, even if we’re not ready for it. We just need to “Choose to find a way.”
Despite the serious nature of the topics, the book has many laugh-out-loud moments. Peterman has a wild, sometimes crude, sense of humor and much of that humor is directed at herself. She can be snarky, and sometimes mean, and oh, so very spot-on with some of the jokes. There are also many moments of tenderness toward the people in her life, something she finds hard to feel for herself.
Through Lucy Peterman’s character, Garvin makes several important points. Addiction takes over lives at weak moments in different ways. And while there are commonalities in addictions, if we want our loved ones to heal, there has to be a more conscious effort to match the treatment to the person and the addiction. “The Dog Year” bravely shouts that from the rooftops.
Having spent her life in medicine, Ann Garvin brings a great deal of insight to “The Dog Year” about how hospitals and the health care world works. She is also crazy about dogs and it shows.
Please visit www.anngarvin.net for more information.