It's December 2012, just a few days ago Crystal turned 14 years old. I was present at her birth. Her mother (Tia) was a Jack-Russell owned by our neighbors, and her father was a rouge Husky who's name remains a mystery. As a budding zoologist, I was invited for the birth of Tia's unexpected progeny. Crystal, the last of seven pups to emerge, fitted neatly in the palm of my hand. It was destined that her and I be side by side from that day till this. During this time she has played my chaperone as I fell in and out of love, she nursed my broken heart, she kept me warm through nights as I slogged through my studies, and in many other subtle and gentle ways she ushered me into adulthood. Now she rests at my feet, quietly waiting for our next adventure as I write this.
Having a Jack-Russell for a Mother and a Husky for a father, she resembles an African Black Back Jackal, so much so that as a young Zoology major I fooled a guard at an Eastern Cape Nature Reserve that she was a Black-backed Jackal that I was rehabilitating into the wild as part of my research. We succeeded, with Crystal having full access to the Reserve that proudly stated at the entrance "No-Dogs-Allowed!" Although Crystal and I have a deep and profound understanding of each other, she still retains a certain elusive and mysterious quality, as if she really is a wild jackal roaming territories I could not even imagine.
In February 2005 I experienced a very peculiar incident that changed my perception of her (and of me) forever. As a recent Environmental Science graduate working for three months in Southern India, with my close friend Taryn, I was forced to leave Crystal with friends in South Africa. Although I missed her terribly I felt confident she was in the safest hands. Taryn and I were stationed in a small vanilla/rice/beetle-nut farming community outside the town of Sirsi in Karnataka province, in the highlands of the Western Ghat Mountains. At a farmer's homestead I was fascinated by the bio-gas chamber that fueled his home with cooking gas. The system ran entirely on the methane produced by cow manure. So fascinated was I by this technology, that I got really involved in the whole process of producing gas, and learned everything I could. I even stuck my head inside the smelly chamber to see the inner workings of the system.
That evening in the wonderfully fragrant, make shift bedroom that Taryn and I shared in the farmer's vanilla-pod store room, I noticed I was short of breath. Half an hour later, I began to suffer from a sharp pain in my left lung. That night I tossed and turned as my fever began to amplify. Each breath became more and more painful and I soon thought that I might not be able to breathe at all. Moments later I fell deep into a lucid repetitive fever dream. In the dream I stood in a foreign pink-lit landscape, my dream-self looked around trying to make sense of this strange scarlet substance beneath my feet. After some time I realized that I was standing on my lungs which stretched out into venous meadows, and arterial pastures. The pink-fleshy hills running off into the horizon were criss-crossed with purple veins, and pulsated nervously. Each step I took on my lungs was painful and I hobbled for what seemed for several kilometers, dragging myself across this disturbing world trying to find a way out. After some time I realized that there was no way out, I began to think I must be dying.
My thoughts immediately focused on Crystal, who would look after her? How would she cope without me? How would I cope without her? Later I learned that all Taryn could decipher from my fevered mumblings was Crystal's name, while I tossed and turned in obvious agony. Just then in the lung-landscape I noticed something moving out the corner of my eye. I turned to see Crystal moving across my lungs. She gracefully tip-toed over the sensitive skin, without so much as a pinch. I envied her lightness of touch, and called out to her, hobbling towards her as she ran out of sight over a hill. Each step was a painful trial as my toes splayed between nerves and veins. At the top of the hill I looked down to a massive turquoise lake. At the waters edge I saw crystal, she looked back at me and then slowly waded into the water and began to swim. I followed her and entered the cool water. She swam deeper and deeper into the lake. And as my my entire body was submerged by the cooling waters, I felt my temperature cool, I continued to swim in her direction.
I woke to the frightened eyes of Taryn, "Dyl!? Are you okay? Can you hear me?" I tried to speak, but all that came out was a painful wheezing sound. We were on a bus, headed to the closest hospital which was three hours away. Unable to breathe and unable to adequately speak, I just closed my eyes, and fell into a strange trance, although in much pain, I was serenely peaceful. The doctor at the Sirsi hospital diagnosed me with a Histoplasmosis infection of my left lung. A rare fungal infection of the lungs, caused by fungal spores that grow in the warm damp environment of fermented animal feces. Once an insufferable ailment of guano cave miners in the early 1900s. They treated me with antihistamines, and several other drugs.
While in hospital I discovered from our friends who were taking care of Crystal back in South Africa, that on the very same day I became ill, Crystal began to wheeze and was short of breath. After they consulted Crystal's vet, they were shocked to find that she too was diagnosed with a respiratory infection of her left lung. As my condition improved, so did hers, and after few days we both completely recovered.
We were thousands of kilometers apart, but were united in our healing. I am, as is Taryn, my family and Crystal's baby sitters, still not sure what to make of this strange phenomenon. What I do know is that in the dream she led me to that body of water that somehow dropped my dangerously high temperature, and she miraculously took on my sickness from South Africa, while I lay suffering in India. I will never really know what my miracle Jackal really did that day, but whenever I feel alone, or when my day gets particularly rough, I just look at her sleeping at my feet and treasure the fact that I am alive, and that I have her to keep my heart beating in more ways than one.