Kussmaul breathing

Magdalena Ball

The dog is snoring again.
She picks up the sound
early warning radar
pulsing through her body
in the kitchen doorway
as she struggles for oxygen.

Unlike her own harsh rasp
distorting the air around her
the animal makes
gentle, even sounds
with the occasional yip yip.

He might be chasing 
a rabbit in the Elysian Fields 
of his mind, such simple pleasures
don’t diminish her exaggerated sighs
the growing sense that for her
this is the beginning of the end. 

The sensation pervades her fingers 
as she stirs the pot, potatoes and carrots
tiny bits of meat for protein
her bones crumbling from within
her mind twisting around the fascia.

The scent is sweet,
sharp as she grabs hold
of the chair, holding tight
as if on a moving ship.
So many miles of travel
only to find herself 
back in that same dark space.

The dog looks up
his sad eyes mirroring 
something breaking in her
but not quite yet.

He knows what is coming. 

Magdalena Ball is a novelist, poet, reviewer and interviewer, and is Managing Editor of Compulsive Reader.  She has been widely published in literary journals, anthologies, and online, and is the author of several published books of poetry and fiction, including, most recently Unreliable Narratives (Girls on Key Press, 2019). A new book titled Density of Compact Bone, is forthcoming from Ginninderra Press in late 2021. 

Contextual essay: My great-grandmother, about whom I am researching and writing, died at the age of 54 (younger than I am now) from complications as a result of diabetes.  Her condition went untreated—she only found out she had diabetes when she stopped being able to see, not long before she died.  Kussmaul breathing is a type of hyperventilation that occurs when the body goes into acidosis, often associated with diabetes.  Dogs are said to be able to identify a diabetic attack due to the scent of ketones on the breath. In my great-grandmother’s case, her breathing would have become laboured as she struggled to push through the illness that was crippling her. I wanted to explore the idea that, in the non-linguistic intelligence dogs have, he knew that his owner was ill, and that the simple solidity of his presence would be comforting.

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