…began last night when Scoop, after having been to the vet’s office in October and then again on Monday of this week, had trouble breathing. He seemed labored, tired and lethargic and his breaths were shallow. He whined and seemed to wince with the pain in his leg–the diagnosis for which so far has been arthritis. He’s 9 and a larger dog and it’s not uncommon.
But last night was a different story and I didn’t sleep as much as I would have liked. Today dawned and he was a bit better, so Sue watched him go through his paces. Dr. Locke, the vet called to give us the results of blood tests drawn on Monday–his platelet levels were down and this is an indicator, apparently, of internal bleeding. But from what? She wanted to see him again.
And I’m not insensitive, far from it. The dog is my friend, my companion and I love him like a family member. But I also know he’s a dog–and they’re not people. Since October, he’s cost us close to a thousand dollars. And I shouldn’t even be writing that, but it enters into the thinking, you know?
Still–off to the vet where Dr. Locke finds bruising or lesions on his left ear and on his gums. “It’s indicative of a clotting problem,” says she. “It can be caused by a number of things, but I think we need a chest x-ray to rule out fluid or blood in his lungs. If it’s present, we could be looking at a crisis,” she adds.
Oy. Dr. Locke kept him at the office for two hours and asked me to pick him up at 5:30 this evening. “I’ll know more, then.” I asked for the worst case scenario as my imagination can be far worse than any reality. “Let’s not go there, yet,” she said.
“No, I have to go there, Doc. I’m pretty bad at this stuff and I need to prepare myself a bit.”
“Well, if he has fluid or blood in his lungs, it’s life threatening, of course. And curing it isn’t easy, nor is it cheap. It’s a point at which you consider putting the animal down.”
“Oh. OK-I appreciate the honesty. I’ll be back at 5:30.”
“I’ll take chest x-rays and that will tell us immediately what we need to know and I’ll draw blood and by tomorrow, that’ll give us more information….”
I drove home for the two hours and waited–impatiently. We were scheduled to go out to dinner and that got bumped a bit and so, I sat in here–in the house, stared at the TV and waited. I told Peanut Scoop wasn’t feeling good and that it might not end well. I was straight-forward, didn’t hide anything. She’s tired after a full day of gymnastics yesterday and she wasn’t really processing much. But, I told her.
I went back to the vet’s office at 5:30 and the drive over, all of 5 or 6 minutes, seemed endless. I braced myself for what might happen–what might take place–what might I have to come home and tell the family. And I considered all of it: What if it’s the worst? What if nothing is wrong at all? What if it’s the unknown and we cannot figure it out? All of those thoughts took moments in my head and I sat in the waiting room mulling them over while visiting with the other patrons and their pets. A golden lab, Scoop’s age, with a skin condition. A golden retriever, 12 years old and in perfect health with the sweetest disposition in the world. A Chinese speaking mother and daughter with their large Akita who cried a great deal more than any dog I’ve seen and they tried to calm him in Chinese which, as it turns out, isn’t a language that sounds very calm–at least to me.
And then I was called to the back room where I stood alone for less than 30 seconds and Dr. Locke came in to show me Scoop’s x-rays. “His lungs are clear. His heart is normal. His insides look fine, so far.” Relief, a bit of joy. “But…”
There’s always something…
“Well, those bruises and splotches on his ear, in his gums. The platelet count and the limping–those aren’t the best signs. We’ve drawn blood for a really precise analysis called a coagulation count. It’ll help us determine if he’s able to clot blood or if he’s having any issues. There’s a lot of unknowns, now–and this will help clear some of that up.”
“I knew you’d ask that. Well, OK look. Scoop’s a big dog and he’s 9 years old. His complaints aren’t unusual and we see them a lot. If the blood test tomorrow comes back normal, then I think we’re out of the woods. But if there’s some more issues in it–then we may be looking at cancer. And honestly, in 95% of the cases where we get these non-specific symptoms where we cannot figure it out, but there’s pain and there’s blood counts that are off, that’s what’s going on.”
“We can do tests, but they’re expensive and in the end, the choices are the same as humans, chemo, surgery–all expensive choices.” I gathered that most people choose to simply let the dog live as long as they can, and then when the pain or the discomfort become too much, the dog is put down.
Scoop is 9. He followed me home on a walk one day while Sue and I lived in Ventura. He became mine after Sue demanded we keep him and I grew more and more attached to him. He lived–still lives–for taking walks, for hiking and for play. He likes a good sleep and he loves Snausages. He enjoys when all of us are home and he’s grown used to–and now enjoys–having Lucy, his cousin, come over and romp around the yard. She’s younger, of course, than he. But he’s kept up well with her. Until recently.
Tonight, after a roller coaster week in which his lethargy, his limp and his breathing caused us to assume the worst-then to be assuaged, then back to the worst and then back up again–and finally to accept a couple of radically different alternative outcomes, we’re wiped out. Sue’s been sick with an infection all week, I was ending the semester with my students while finishing up some articles and a client’s web page–and now, we’re trying to get a grip on Scoop. We won’t know any more until the blood tests come back and we pray for them to be normal-for Scoop to simply age with grace and live happily with us…
But we’ll take what we get–and we’ll thank God for the opportunity. Scoop’s life–and even his ill health–are reminders that all is temporary, all is finite and that in the end, we have to give over to God those things we cannot control.
And knowing that is a small comfort and a relief of some kind.