August 16th is St Rocco’s day, and as I was born then, that is what my Italian parents called me. Among other things he is patron saint of bachelors, which did not bode well. My parents had a restaurant and as a student, I often helped out. Despite the potential to meet girls here, no young lady caught and held, my eye…
Working long hours as a junior doctor and studying, is difficult. When time allows, I get on my bike and go off into the countryside to de-stress. The combination of physical exertion, speed and breathtaking views is always a good way to restore my spirits.
However, on this particular day I was not feeling well at all. Having been sent home from work three days ago for succumbing to infection myself, I had spent a couple of days in bed, with medication, and tried to rest as much as possible. My strep throat was bad enough to bring me out in hives and by the third day I was still itching and uncomfortable. So, this morning I went out for a gentle ride in the fresh air, to cool down my body and cheer myself up a little.
It was a fine sunny day. Once out of town, I made for a wooded area not far away. Cycling through dappled trees along a leaf strewn path was both soothing and diverting. I saw squirrels, a fox, and small deer running into a distant meadow. Rich birdsong accompanied me in my isolation, as I took in the beauty of the day.
Suddenly, I felt my front wheel dip and twist and then I was flying through the air, pitched headlong into a large bush, which fortunately broke my fall but left me winded and confused. As I tried to sit up, an agonising pain pulled at my thigh. I had strained a muscle as well as ripping my jeans in the offending area. Brilliant – now I was half exposed! I lay back, caught my breath and considered. What if my wheel was badly buckled and I couldn’t ride? I was several miles from home and in no fit state to carry my bike. What was the betting there was no telephone signal here either?
Just then, a russet coloured retriever came lolloping through the foliage and sniffed at me in excitement, before starting to lick me as I tried to fend him off. I pushed him off my face, so he licked my thigh through the hole in my jeans. I shooed him away again. He ran off, as I tried gingerly to sit up, without aggravating my painful thigh. Then, he was back – this time with a boxed sandwich in his mouth, which he dropped at my feet with an air of accomplishment. He sat in front of me waiting, tail wagging. I picked it up – mozzarella, basil and cherry tomatoes in flatbread. Hmm, but where did it come from?
I heard a woman’s voice calling for ‘Harvey’. The dog cocked his head but ignored her. Shortly after the branches parted and a face with deep brown eyes and short blonde hair peeped into my leafy enclosure. She took in my disheveled state, skin blotches and all, and a dazzling smile lit up her face.
“Harvey, there you are – and what have you found? “
Needless to say, she took pity on me. Having helped me up, we stumbled along to her nearby car and she took both me and my damaged cycle, home. My noisy antics had attracted the senses of Harvey on their walk, so he came along and inadvertently introduced us. I will always be grateful to that dog…
St Rocco was famous for helping to cure the sick in times of plague, (with the sign of the cross) in C14 Rome . When he himself succumbed to infection he was cast out. He hid in a forest where he found shelter. A dog found him and saved his life by licking the open sores on his leg and then by bringing him bread. When the retriever’s owner found him, he was saved and gained an acolyte until he recovered. He died in prison after being thought a spy in his home area of Montpellier in France, for refusing to declare his name. He is the patron saint of dogs and often portrayed as a pilgrim.