March 4, 2011
More than a dog
It’s been a rough, rough couple of days.
I spend a lot of time feeling tired these days – had been thinking of writing about it, and then someone puts it into words in a way you never quite could so it’s just as easy to share theirs – but this past couple of days has been different. A different kind of exhaustion.
I’ve written in the past about how much my dog Cali means to me (and my dear friend Jackie has written so beautifully about the importance of dogs). Elias and I adopted her the year we got married, and she has been through it all with me. After he died, she suddenly seemed old to me. I became terrified of her dying and that I wouldn’t be able to handle it – so irrational ‘new widow me’ contemplated giving her to Elias’ uncle . . . I know, it makes no sense because how would giving her away be any better – but in that time of intense grief it did.
Anyhow – this past few days that fear has been staring me in the face.
On Tuesday night she wasn’t herself – earlier in the day she had tweaked her leg and scratched her face outside, so she was limping a bit, and just seemed in some discomfort. As she’s a bit of a spaz and manages to give herself minor injuries here and there I didn’t think too much of it – but I was a little concerned and wanted to keep an eye on things. On Wed morning I contemplated taking her to the vet as, though the limp had improved, there seemed to be other issues – but I still wasn’t sure it was too serious (tried googling some of her symptoms) and I figured I’d wait it out and see how she did over the next 24hrs. A few times I found myself sitting beside her with one hand on her shoulder and one hand rubbing her head and just looking at her sleeping face – not unlike what I would do with Elias when he would finally fall asleep after a difficult headache episode. But, by Wed night I could tell that it was getting to be something serious, so I called the vet first thing the next morning – deeply regretting that I had not just done so the day before.
By the time I was able to get her in, she didn’t even want to walk and I had to carry her to the car. Because of the timing of the appointment, she had to ride along with me to pick up the girls and their friends from school and drop them at the friends’ house so I could take her on my own to the appointment. I was doing ‘ok’ with it all, until I got to the vet. I lifted her out of the car and tried to get her on her feet to walk in, but she just lay right down in the parking lot and didn’t want to move.
I still managed to hoist her 55lb body up and carry her in, fighting off the tears. I lay her on the table, and before he could even come in and look at her the tears started. It was not good and I was furious with myself for not acting sooner. It just went downhill so fast.
The visit was a bit of a blur, but there was a question – before even discussing what it could be or what could be done – of how much I was willing to pay. Through tears I blurted out about how much the dog is loved, and how my husband died not two years ago and how I want to do what I can but am not in the position to pay thousands of dollars, but I need her, and so on.
It seemed she had been hit by some terrible infection that was sending her body into shock. We started an iv of antibiotics and fluids, among other things, but I was also advised to prepare myself for the worst. Which, of course meant preparing the girls too. It was so difficult to leave her there.
The next 24hrs were an up and down roller-coaster (as if I haven’t had enough of that damn thing in the past couple years…). A range of possibilities, a range of tests they want to do, and an ever increasing bill to go along with it. At the end of the day Thursday, we were going to wait to see how the antibiotics helped and decide in the morning what further tests would be needed – I didn’t see how it could be more than an infection, but the vet believed that there had to be an underlying cause (which makes some sense too, as she had to get it somehow I suppose). And of course, cancer was suggested a couple of times.
This morning I called first thing, and the nurse indicated she seemed ‘brighter’ and was able to get on her feet with some support. An hour later, however, the vet said since that time she was still ‘flat’ and hadn’t improved, and he was extremely concerned about her low platelet count. He suggested dexamethazone. I just about dropped the phone.
Elias had to take that drug. He HATED that drug.
More phone calls back and forth. More blur. More decisions to make about x-rays and ultrasounds, blood tests, the dexamethazone. More money. More and more tears. Even with the expensive tests and treatment she may not make it. Could I handle taking care of another loved one with cancer? How do you decide? I asked about taking her home to administer the antibiotics but I was reminded that she is a ‘very sick dog’ and that it may be hard to get her to take them. By just after noon I was hit with an impossible decision. The vet office closes at 5pm for the weekend. For her to be looked after, she would have to be transferred to the animal hospital, which would run about $550/day. It was about then they also suggested ‘compassionate euthanization’ (I think they called it).
I was not about to make a decision on my dog’s life based on them closing at 5, and knowing the bills were already adding up, I didn’t know how I could pay another $1100 when they said her chances were slim to none. The words ‘grave’ and ‘dire’ were used repeatedly. After a few frantic, teary phone calls to some wonderful friends, I decided that I couldn’t make that call, and was going to bring her home. In my heart I knew I had to have her at home. If she needed help or if it looked like she needed to be put down I would take her to the animal hospital myself (though this also came at the risk of me having to forego E’s birthday party on Sunday, and having to find someone to help out at the store on Saturday).
When I called the vet back around 2pm, he was extremely receptive to the idea, and even noted that in the past couple of hours Cali had perked up a fair bit. Her fever had come down and he even felt encouraged about her making it through the weekend with me at home, but with a reminder that the situation is still ‘dire’. They pumped up her fluids and antibiotics (she still hadn’t had anything to eat or drink) and packed up an array of pills for me to administer and a time sheet of when to give them all (another haunting reminder of my last months with Elias – though dexa was not on the list). When they brought her out, both the vet and the nurse were pretty surprised to see how much she perked up – she waked under her own strength to me and had a wag in her tail.
When we got home she drank for about 5mins straight. I recently found about 5 leftover bottles of a vitamin supplement that Elias took which is also commonly used for pets, so I added some of that to her water. She is by no means ‘out of the woods’. She can’t seem to put any weight on her back left leg. She has notably lost weight and strength. She’s still not interested in food (though she did at least give it a lick last time), but now she is sleeping peacefully beside me.
I have no idea what the next 48hrs will bring, but I’m hopeful that the antibiotics will be all that was needed. Only time will tell. My main concern is that she seems comfortable, and that she knows just how loved she is by all three of us. That she feels the love.
The other interesting things about the past couple of days – I have found myself incredibly thankful for the kindness of strangers, and the uncanny timing of the universe . . . for the last month that Elias was alive, we were staying at his parents home so he could get daily treatment with the naturopath. During this time he had a few really bad headache episodes, and a couple of these times I had to take him to the hospital. One of Elias’ aunts works there, and one of her colleagues had heard our story, and I guess saw us one of the times we went in, though I’d never actually met him.
The other funny thing was – yesterday as E was picked up from the store for ballet, the clouds got ominously dark and it started snowing like crazy a few minutes before she left. As my friend picked her up it was still coming down. About 15mins later I left work to go and wait for her class to finish. As C and I got in the car the snow had just stopped and the sky was brightening. Just as we came up to the dance studio, I noticed a faint rainbow.
And, finally – I spoke with a spiritual medium last year who said that Elias would communicate with me through electricity, and more specifically lights. When we got home yesterday, I turned on the light above the dining room table and it came on, but then popped and burnt out. Same thing happened this morning with one of the lights above the bathroom mirror. Of course lightbulbs have a tendency to burn out, but I have to say it gave me pause….. I don’t know that it was Elias trying to let me know that she would be ok here, or that he would look after her ‘there’ (wherever ‘there’ is), but a part of me felt at least a little comfort, as if he was letting me know he was watching over us.