Hospital Weekend

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For side effects to chemo that are supposedly so rare, it was a shock to go through some of those side effects right after hearing a forum buddy go through literally the exact same thing.  But, here we are.  Well, here I am.  My baby’s not home yet.

Friday started out pretty normal except that R didn’t seem to want to go for a longer walk.  They say to ‘let the dog lead’ in how much exercise they get, but, frankly, I always find that a little hard to really judge.  R isn’t 100% clear on walks, especially because up until last month I was fighting to be the boss and now all of a sudden we’re getting to corners and I’m like ‘Which way do you want to go?’  The poor guy is probably confused.  I get to choose?, he’s probably wondering.  WTF?

Fair, dude.  Fair.

But I try to judge how enthusiastic he looks, how fast he moves, how often he wants to take breaks…  Friday’s walk was broken up by meeting a new neighbor, oh glorious joy, but then he still didn’t seem like he wanted to go for the long loop, so we hoofed back and just spent some quiet moments sitting in the backyard.

Those are actually starting to be my favorite moments of the day.  We’re not necessarily playing, just sitting back there enjoying the cool before the day heats up, the deep greens of the kudzu I really should be fighting off a few of our pine trees, the smells, the breeze, the storybook blue and white sky…

I try to sit there for five minutes and just feel how grateful I am for all the good things we’ve had.

Friday I ended up giving R a dang good scratch down for nearly an hour.  We were chatting and I was telling him how awesome he is and how great our life has been…  Later, I was really glad, if something really went wrong, that that was our last morning.

Life keeps teaching me that.  The last words I ever spoke to the biggest people I’ve lost in my life were always, “I love you.”  And I’ve always been insanely grateful for that.  No bad memories where my final interactions were a fight.  Always, “I love you.”

So I’m going to keep saying it a lot.  And making sure all my final R days involve lots of scratches and sunshine and play, just in case, just for when, it is the last day.

So.  Sorry.  Digression.

Friday started out fine.  He ate breakfast.  But by the time we were out on the stoop he seemed blasé about his bone.  Usually bones disappear at a rate that makes me nervous about my lack of dog CPR skills.  So that was weird.  But we had our favorite neighbor stop by and give treats, and R ate those so…

At this point I figured maybe he was just super tired from some high exercise days a couple of days before.  Maybe not feeling awesome.

I’m so grateful that I was being a lazy bum on Friday and I decided not to go out to my garage gym.   Pure luck, that.  Normally I head out around 4 and I’m not done and cleaned much before 7.  His regular vet would have been closed at that point.  I’m not sure I would have pushed to take him straight to emergency…

But, I was a bum, so I was giving R his dinner a little early and…

He didn’t want it.

He. did. not. want. dinner.

I have never seen R turn down food, ever, in our nearly ten years together.

I actually called his vet right away.

We got him in for an appointment before they closed.  He had a fever.  They ran bloodwork.  They suggested I call OSU emergency on the way home and insist on talking with someone on call to ask if I should be bringing R in.  Luckily our oncologist was actually the guy on call.  Eventually, given the fever temperature and the fact that he wasn’t eating, he said I probably should bring R down and put him in hospital.

They thought it would just be overnight.  Then two nights.  Now three.

But it seems like he has been improving over the weekend, so that’s good.  They got the fever down and they told me yesterday that his bone marrow is ‘on’ trying to make new white blood cells.  So now we’re just waiting for his blood cell count to be high enough to give him some kind of immune system again.

They think his white blood cell count bottomed out and he got some kind of secondary infection.  Could have been something already in his body that usually his immune system can handle just fine.  Nothing we did, or can change.  Which is reassuring in one sense, but frustrating in another, because that means there’s no way to prevent this happening again.

All in all I think it was the best of a bad scenario and I can always be grateful for the glass half full.  But it was still a weird, sad, quiet weekend.  R is my not-so-little shadow.  All weekend I kept defaulting to all the ways I have scheduled my life around him.  Don’t leave your food somewhere low – oh, doesn’t matter.  Thinking I should go on tiptoe to lean over the kitchen counter to see where he’s napping in the living room – oh, no, there’s no one there.  Not hearing his little collar tags jingling to follow me down the hallway to the bathroom…  Not having his warm, soft body curled up so toasty next to me in bed…  No one greeting me when I come through the door, out a room, around a corner, like I’ve been gone for ages and how great it is to see me…

In short, the house was very devoid of love this weekend.  Me slathering it all over R.  R with his endless capacity to exude it.

And that’s what the house is going to be like in the end, isn’t it?

I mean, that thought was impossible to escape.  This is the life that is coming for me.

I don’t mean to be melodramatic.  I actually think I’ve dealt pretty well with the fact that that’s coming.  I cried myself out of tears the first two weeks or so and for the most part I’m just grateful for the extra time we’ve gotten.  And, in a weird way, it is part of my love, this sadness that is beneath it all now.  If I wasn’t sad, it would mean I didn’t love you.  To experience the sad is to experience another facet of how I love you.  And I want to experience all the ways I love you.

Not to be all plebeian, but it’s actually a movie quote I keep thinking about.  Shadowlands is a film about C.S. Lewis losing his wife.  She says at one point, “The pain then is part of the happiness now.”  It is.  I accept that and know that it is all part of what it is to be lucky enough to love someone.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

I admit, I cried a bit again, before I took R in Friday.  And I have missed him this weekend.  I anxiety cleaned the house again and did a bunch of out-of-house chores I probably won’t want to do for a few days when he’s back.  But mostly I felt how there will be an emptiness when he’s gone, constant little reminders that something is missing.  I’ve felt it with people before, but never with something that is pretty much a dependent, a child, a creature I care for and whose care has scheduled my life for so many years…

I had to think back.  The only time I have lived as an independent adult without R was eight months before graduate school.  I can hardly remember what an empty apartment felt like.

That is going to be pretty much a brand new experience.

I suppose he taught me to love in a new way.  Only proper he’d also introduce me to a new kind of loss.

They thought he’d probably come home today.  Fingers crossed.


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Four Weeks Post Op

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Honestly, it’s been long enough since the operation now that I had to think about how long it had been.  Four weeks didn’t come to mind right away.  It’s strange how something that was so massive, so recently, is already so faded in memory.  It’s always that way though, at least for me.  I adjust to new circumstances quite quickly.  I’ve always admired that R does too, but never more than now.  This was a massive transition, especially for him, and he has just rolled with it.

I guess it’s been a pretty big transition for both of us, but we do have a lot of practice with those.  We’ve moved seven times together.  New jobs, new friends, new states, new parks and trails and dog neighbors (nice, and not so nice).  And maybe all of that was practice.

Since surgery our life here looks pretty different.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to move the mattress back off the floor in the living room.  I guess it’s a weird positive to COVID that because no one is coming over to my house these days, I don’t have to worry about how weird that looks.  I just…  R was never allowed to sleep in my bed with me.  That was the only piece of furniture I kept.  On very rare occasion we would have extra special lazy Sundays where I’d invite him up for a late morning cuddle and then books and coffee, curled up in the blankets.  It was a treat, for both of us.  So he’s really enjoyed all of a sudden being invited up every night.  And I don’t want to take any joy from him in his final months.  And…

He won’t be here to feel him next to me all that much longer.  I’m constantly torn between trying to enjoy every moment, and being so conscious of the fact that I’m trying so dang hard to really enjoy every moment.  I’m petting his ears and trying to memorize how soft they are.  I’m kissing his head, his shoulder, his little chest patch of white fur and trying to memorize how he smells.  I’m letting him curl up tight against my side every night and trying to memorize what it’s like to have his warm furry body there, his chest expanding and contracting beneath my arm.  I’m trying to memorize how it feels that he loves me and I love him and…

I’ll have to love him all alone soon.

So I don’t want to give up the bed either.  It’s more memories to hoard.

But, so, that’s pretty different.  We’re still living in the living room.  And now our walks are half our old loop, at best.  And I keep catching myself just catching a glimpse of R out of the corner of my eye and knee-jerk worrying that he’s limping.  No, no.  He’s not limping.

But… that’s it.  This big transition, and some of it is still ongoing, but other than those things, R especially…

He still grins in the morning.  Still wiggled his butt today, waiting for ‘Grandpa’ to wake up and walk down the hallway.  Yesterday he. was. thrilled. to play with our guest in the backyard.  He’s R again, if a much quieter version.  A much shorter duration version.

So the surgery is fading into memory and we’re just living this new reality.

If it weren’t for the constant feeling of a clock counting down in the background, I’d be perfectly happy with this new normal, really.

Well, that and the fact that R is a bed hog and I’m a pushover.  Twice now I’ve found myself perpendicular, curled up to fit onto the shorter length of the bed while R stretches out right in the freakin’ middle.

Furry butt.

 

Three Weeks Post-Op

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So we’re a little more than three weeks post op at this point, and today was the first day I felt like I had my dog back, at least a little.  R is pretty much weaned off his gabapentin at this point.  We take an NSAID at night, but that’s it for pain meds.  Which probably helps with him being a bit more himself.  And, also, that he’s just continuing to heal.  The past few days he’s started lying on his incision from time to time.  So that’s probably just hurting less too.

Today was a great day.  We walked our favorite ‘short loop’ in our neighborhood.  It’s probably a little less than a half mile.  I wasn’t sure about it because once you get out, you know, you have to get back.  But I had R’s sling and, really, if my boy needed it, I’d find a way to carry his 60lbs back.  (I’ve always told R he’s lucky his owner is young and fit.  As a pup he pulled me right off my feet a few times and I kept telling him how lucky he was he didn’t break my hip or something, with antics like that.)  So we did the loop.  We have to stop and take breaks on our walks, but I don’t mind.  Frankly, when he’s hopping along it seems like it’s actually easier for him to get some momentum going and go at a good clip.  Like, I’m almost jogging to keep up.  So stopping every once in a while suits me alright.  And –

It’s an opportunity to kneel on the sidewalk for a minute and scratch his bum and kiss his ears and make his little tail wag and…  That’s never wasted time.  I think those memories, kneeling next to him under the big old trees in our neighborhood, sky and dappled green and sunlight…  Those are going to be memories I’m glad I have.

And I’m just glad that he seems glad again.  I got to see his puppy grin a dozen times today.  He grins, I grin.  Good day.

We also played our first round of ‘soccer’ since surgery this afternoon.  For some reason R doesn’t seem to get the same joy out of fetch these days, so I broke out our old soccer ball.  Yep.  He still loves that.  He was hopping around, tail wagging, at a full run, getting that ball and shaking the hell out of it and seemed to be totally delighted as I chased him around the yard.  I pretend to ‘catch’ him and then he slips through my grasp and escapes with that darn ball, and I have to chase him all over again.  He always seems so proud of himself, trotting along with his prize.

He makes me laugh.

And then, and then

We played a rousing few rounds of tug tonight after dinner.

I’m going to have to consider if I need to bump his food back up a quarter cup again if we keep up this new exercise regimen.  I had it about 1/2-2/3rds cup down while we were pretty much on bed rest.  But today was a day.  Today we actually moved a little.  Today we had some fun.  Might need a few extra crunchies to go with.

I’m so relieved and so thankful that it seems like this big, scary surgery did buy us at least one more good day, right?  Like, I got that day today.  I’m hoping we get another few months of those days, but I was so worried we weren’t going to get any, that the end of R’s life was going to be healing from surgery.  Today, now, I know there was at least one good day.  To me, at least, it’s now officially worth it.  To have gotten today.

Hope R feels the same.

I think so.  If anything, R is more cuddly post-surgery than he was pre-surgery, I think.  Part of me wonders if that’s anxiety or something.  Like, he can sense he’s more vulnerable with three limbs than four and there’s some instinctive need for assurance and staying closer to ‘the pack’ given that…  But then that doesn’t explain how he just wants to stare up at me while I pet his ears and scratch his little cheeks.

So I’m going to take it as affection and choose to believe R’s happy to be here too.

Week Two Post-Op

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We played our first game of fetch since surgery today.  It made me both very happy and a little sad.  R could really only do one gentle run at a time, and then he had to take a rest in between each.  But he was so happy when he trotted back with the ball each time and I made a huge fuss over him.  So that part was awesome.

It’s just such a change from the dog that was my dog for so many years, you know?  There is no denying his looming mortality with reminders like that.  For nine years before this R was my go, go, go beast.  As a puppy he used to break through the ice in the creek by our hour to go swimming and then hike back for an hour through snow as tall as he was with icicles hanging from his belly.  As an older puppy I literally only saw him really tired ONCE, and it was after a truly full day of swimming and running off leash through the woods.  Up until just a few weeks ago we were playing full-run fetch for a solid hour most mornings.  We used to rank his mid-air catches on a scale of 1-10.  We’d usually have at least one or two standout catches, leaping into the air and turning 180 degrees or something.

Now it’s five fetches.  Gentle throws.  Resting for a second when we get the ball.  And then lying down for a longer rest each time we bring it back.

All of a sudden, in literally a matter of weeks, R got very old.

That part hurts.

We had a similar good-bad day yesterday.  We got our stitches out, which was wonderful.  I asked the vet in about twelve different ways if R was allowed to do this, or that, or that, or this other thing and I was told: Yes, whatever he wants.  So that was great.  We also got our first chemo out of the way and so far so good on that.  (Though I’m braced for the weekend.  I understand nasty side effects wouldn’t show up for a few days.  So.  Pending.)

But we did have a few new mets on lung x-rays.  The first one hasn’t grown any bigger, which is good.  But there were a few newcomers, which is bad.

All in all though, I knew we had lung mets already.  I’ve always been a brace-for-the-worst kinda person, or at least as long as I can really remember, so I was preparing myself for the vet to come out and tell me the lungs were just exploded with mets in three weeks.  So, then two doesn’t sound so bad.

It’s not perfect, but it could have been a lot worse.

That’s, I guess, how I’ve ended up feeling about this whole situation.  I wish R didn’t have cancer.  I wish he’d pass away one night very peacefully in his sleep at fifteen with no real health problems.  (And, if we’re being really honest, that some other member of my household might find him and gently break the news to me.)  Or, really, I wish he’d just never die.  Let’s go for that option in our dream scenario.

But cancer has weirdly given me a head’s up that I really need to savor these last months.  I was already starting to do a little of that.  R was coming up on 10 anyway, so I had started giving myself little rules like whenever he comes up to me, no matter what, I take two minutes and pet him and tell him I love him.  Or, every night, he gets a really good right-before-bed body massage while I recount how we met and some of my favorite memories over the years.  I was already doing that.  But now I know I should take an extra thirty seconds every time he gives me puppy eyes and just kiss his little ears one more time.  And I should cherish snuggles like they’re freakin’ bitcoin.  And I should try to memorize what it feels like to sleep at night with his little buddy curled up against my chest.

And the COVID lockdown… It’s weirdly given me more time with him too.  Lots of suck in that scenario, obviously, but how wonderful is it that I’m working from home right now.  In a normal world I’d be in the office all day, every day, wondering how many hours I was losing with him that I couldn’t get back.

And just…

I’ve gotten almost ten years with R.  Ten years where he’s kept me company in seven houses spanning thousands of miles and no doubt bottomless pits of loneliness if he hadn’t been there.  We’ve gotten to love each other for nearly a decade.  R has taught me a lot about how to love another living creature again, about patience, about gentleness, about animals and how much life and personality there are in those eyes.  He’s shown me new facets to my world.

I’m so grateful, after all is said and done, to have gotten so much joy.

How blessed have we been, really?

The end isn’t something any of us can avoid.  I’ll die one day too.  All we can do is get as much joy as possible from whatever life we have.  And R and I have gotten a lot, I think.

So.

I’m hoping we still have months together and R can play fetch many more times.

But, regardless…

It’s not perfect, but it could have been a whole lot worse.

We’re going to count ourselves lucky.

Day Nine Post-Op

We’re doing so well that I guess I’m left to worry about the little things, the odd things, the could-be-a-sign-of-doom-or-could-be-absolutely-nothing things.

I’m quite good at that, actually.

So far the things are: eye goop, coughing, licking his front legs.  Also just relentless dog depression.  The coughing was only short bouts two days a few days ago, so I’m hopeful that was just poor air quality or allergies or something.  We’re in a bit of a unique situation in that we were pretty sure R did have a little lung met when we took his leg off.  Caused some debate at that point, but there was a 1/100 chance the little dot wasn’t a lung met, and even if it was he might live months longer and did I want him possibly living those months in constant fear of breaking that leg?  Well, no.  So we took the leg, no knowing how long we had left.  Hence, coughing is scary.  Eye goop I’ve weirdly heard can also be a lung met thing?  So, of course, I assume immediately that’s that too.  But we’re gonna keep hoping that’s allergies too.  Then the leg licking.  Assume he’s got horrible front leg pain and we’ll be hobbling by the end of the month.  Or, you know, allergies again.  (I may or may not be such a little neurotic worrier that I made them x-ray his front legs before we did surgery just to make sure he wasn’t one of the like 5% of weirdos that has bone tumors in other limbs as well.)

The doggie depression just won’t quit.  I try to give him a little more freedom and entertainment every day, but then it’s also another day has passed without what he really wants…  So I think we’re always just breaking even.  Today we tried food in the snuffle, chews hidden under blankets, purple rhino ‘tug’ (but I really only ‘tug’ long enough to shake his head a few times and let him have it if he actually starts to pull), squeaky squirrels hidden in my hoodie, and a walk all the way to the corner and back (including ACROSS THE STREET).  Still not enough.  Still no love.  No love for Momma. Poor Momma.  She’s gonna be as depressed as R by the end of this.

Four more days until [for the love of all that is good in the world, PLEASE] stitches come out.  Will also be our first chemo potentially.  We’ll see how that goes.  COVID time is indeed weird and I think it makes the vet way more stressful for R than otherwise.  He knows I’m going to leave him and walk out the door.  He basically tries to claw up my body to make sure I can’t go.  I feel terrible.  I know some people choose not to do chemo because of that stress to the pup (and it WILL be stressful for R) but I figure it’s four stressful visits balanced against maybe many more months of fetch and sunshine.  Hope R agrees with that tradeoff.

Hope R agrees with all these tradeoffs.