Friday, April 21, 2006

The Elephant 

We thought we would have a lot more time to tiptoe around the elephant in the room, but this "elephant" turned out to be more of a bull in a china shop, if you'll pardon the clichés.

September 1st, I wrote this:
Remember, way back when I was employed and I mentioned I was in love with someone I worked with? Well, because Nick is an understanding and patient man, he's allowed me to bring this object of my affection into our home:

I love everything about this dog but his silly name: Snowball. retch.
He's a total goofball, who doesn't look much like a greyhound at all but has the tattoos anyway.

La Mesa hasn't changed its doglaws, and we are still renters, so he's "just" a foster, but he'll probably be with us for a long time, because he's not your "typical greyhound" that your "typical adopter" will be seeking (like Jasper) and I love love love him, so his leash may have to be pried from my snot&tear-stained-tissue-filled hand when the time comes.

Early Thursday morning we pet Snowball and told him how much we loved him and what a good brave dog he was while the vet pushed a sedative into his veins and then, a lethal dose of barbituates. He would have been nine years old next month, according to his ear tattoos.

The tumor on Tuesday, the 18th, a week after first appearing.

Last week, on the 11th, Tuesday afternoon, Snowball apparently pulled a muscle in his rear left leg playing in the yard. Usually I can rub out muscle pain, but this just seemed to get worse, and Wednesday he didn't want to put any pressure on it at all.

We called and got the nearest vet appointment for Friday afternoon. That evening I noticed a lump near his stifle (knee) about the size of a quarter and maybe raised a centimeter.

Thursday morning we called to see if they had a cancellation and we could get in sooner. They did, but by the time we saw the vet it was about the size of a half dollar and protruding a little more. She said, "This doesn't just happen over night," but it did. Radiographs were taken. Shadows looking like vapor at the swollen area meant that there were holes in the bone, most likely osteosarcoma. I asked about his treatment options and Dr. Lewis said that the cancer has almost always already metastasized by the time a tumor is discovered and most dogs don't live even a year after amputation, as little as two to three weeks..."Well, what's the next step, then?" I may have asked if there was a chance it could be anything else. It could be fungus, which would be treatable, relatively not a big deal. Blood was drawn and Nick and I crossed our fingers for fungus.

On the 18th, Tuesday morning, fungus was ruled out. Tuesday afternoon I spoke with the head of GAC: bottom line was that they wouldn't support amputation and chemo as options, not because of the money but because of the history they'd seen with other dogs in his situation. And because of Snowball's simply terrible balance with four legs, I didn't like the idea of amputation either but we at least wanted to speak with a vet face-to-face about all his treatment options objectively.

Wednesday morning I signed papers to adopt him so we could take more control over his treatment and get a second opinion. We have gone to Dr. White of Valley Veterinary in Murrieta before and trust him to be completely honest and objective about all options. Even if we were just going to hear the same things from him.

Wednesday afternoon, Nick and I were stealing some sleep when we awoke to the sound of Snowball screaming in pain. He was down in the yard and had apparently fallen. I couldn't find a break, but the leg with the tumor was clenched like a muscle spasm and the tumor was now about ten centimeters in diameter. Because of its size it almost seemed to have flattened out, but it was probably two centimeters tall.

Nick carried him upstairs and placed him on a dog bed. I gave him a Rimadyl for the pain. We hung out for a while and I left to mail an order. Nick says he tried to get up when I left and cried because he couldn't and had tried to get up too quickly.

Later he was able to get up more slowly and hopped six hops into the living room before collapsing and dragging himself the rest of the way. Usually, he would sleep at least sixteen out of every twenty-four hours, just like the whippets, but he just couldn't get to sleep, he was panting in pain and couldn't get comfortable.

We moved him from room to room so he could be with us and I kept giving him peanut butter kongs to distract him. I brought him dinner in bed with more Rimadyl and his appetite was still good. We gave him Tylenol PM (the ingredients are safe for dogs but the dosing is larger) hoping he could just go to sleep and be out of the pain for a while, long enough to take him up to Dr. White.

I fell asleep next to him in bed, waiting for him to fall asleep, listening to his panting. Around three-thirty in the morning, Nick woke me up and told me Snowball hadn't been to sleep at all. He was in pain, and we knew this was probably the first step in a descension of quality of life. If you've ever met Snowball you know what a great happy friendly doofus he is. Was.

He liked to shake stuffed toys and socks so vigorously they'd fly out of his mouth and hit the ceiling fan, land behind the tv set, on top of bookshelves--we would find toys in the most improbable places. He'd fling them and then pounce on them like a puppy and shake them like a terrier with a rat. He'd make happy grunting groaning noises when you rubbed his ears, especially knuckle rubs and when you scratched under his chin he'd stretch out his neck for you to get a full scratching stroke going. He loved back and butt scratches; he'd roll over and kick his legs up in the air in joyful ecstasy and he loved to play tug and growled and barked around the stuffie in his mouth like he really meant to rip your face/hand off but I could give him smooches on the snout while we tugged.

There's a part of me that wishes we'd held on, because there's so much I miss about him and want more of but I know it would have been a series of adaptations to the pain, not the happy gamboling boy who made sure I knew when it was time to get up and feed and skipped and hopped around me and fell over (even before the cancer appeared he was graceless and clumsy, we were both in an almost constant state of tripping over each other) and walked up the back of my legs on the way to the food bin. It wasn't until nearly three in the afternoon that I realised I hadn't fed Tahoe and Belu breakfast. No Snowball to tell me to do it.

After we came back from the Emergency Vet, around five thirty in the morning, we fell into bed exhausted. I woke up around eleven and knew I should get up and shower but I didn't feel like it. I did anyway. I've never felt so empty or numb or bone-tired in my life, and then I'd be crying again with the acid grief filling up my throat and sinuses, even sourness to the tips of my ears, over something so stupid and small like all the white hairs of his all over the laundry I was loading into the washer. And it was silly because there I was sobbing in the laundry room when if he'd been alive I probably would have been yelling at him, "I'm right here, I'll be right up, STOP WHINING!" Because he couldn't see me when I was in the laundry room he always stood above on the deck and cried until I came back up. It was so irritating.

I just wanted to sit and not think. I just wanted to feel Snowball's fur in my hands again and smell his warm smell. The moments between the vet pushing the sedative and him completely relaxing and pain free and the lethal dose and needing to leave our dead dog behind were too short. If there's any "benefit" to cancer it's that you are supposed to have more time, but this thing came at us so unbelievably fast, the tumor grew impossibly quickly. We were supposed to have a lot more time.

Later that evening, Nick said the magic words, "six pack" and I said, "kitchen sponges" and we set off to procure our dual solutions to our pain.

We were gone for perhaps fifteen minutes.

When we returned he started handfeeding Tahoe and I was tossing kibble to Libélula when I saw a prescription bottle lying on the living room floor. I have to admit I pretty much panicked. I checked, and yes, it was the bottle that Snowball's Rimadyl had been in, perhaps fifteen chewable doses, that I'd stupidly left on the counter next to his thyroid medicine by the coffee maker. It was empty.

I called the Emergency Vets to see what we should do, what they would do--I wasn't even sure if I should really be panicking. They said they'd first induce vomiting and then "other courses of treatment." I fired up the ol' internet, and we poured an ounce of hydrogen peroxide down Belu's gullet to induce vomiting. She threw up bile, but no tablets and none of the dog food I'd just been tossing her. Guts of steel.
The internet offered no useful info about Rimadyl toxicity, just the standard cautions to keep the meds out of reach to avoid overdose. Yes, thanks.

I called the Animal Poison Control helpline and realised I was just wasting time, they would charge us $55 to tell us what we already knew: she had to go to the Emergency Vets.

So, for the second time that Thursday, we went. She'd had the pills in her for perhaps a half hour. They took her, induced more vomiting, gave her charcoal, drew blood for a baseline and set her up with intravenous fluids to help flush her kidneys. She has to be there three days. We get her out Sunday.

Her baseline was good, her second blood results are good. Apparently there can be a delayed reaction, so we aren't completely in the clear yet, but we're feeling relatively sunny about the whole thing. She owes us the equivalent of a ten year old light-duty pickup, but that will come out of her allowance.

We were almost 100% positive that Tahoe didn't get any Rimadyl--Belu never willingly shares any yummies with him, so even though we weren't there and didn't see, we didn't have him hospitalised as well. The stress of it would probably do him more harm; he is of a completely different nature than our Weasel. We did go to the vet though the next day (Friday) and did a blood panel, but it was a part of his necessary yearly physical anyway. We were told that if there was anything of concern they would call us, and so far, no news is good news.

So, we've gone from crammed feeling three dog household to just an empty messy shell with one depressed whippet.

Tomorrow Belu will be back though and that will help.
The hole Snowball has left is huge and while Belu has helped distract us, there's not much that can be done, we just have to wait for time to pass and the comfort of distance and human memory. I'm glad that we adopted him. We'd known that we would but we had thought it was going to be precipitated by us moving north, not this. I wish we could have had more than seven and a half months of silly Snowball time but I'm glad for what we had, and I'm thankful we'll have more Weasel-time and my mistake and her pigginess weren't fatal.

Some of my favorite pictures of Snowball, they've been posted before so they may look familiar.

with Jasper, former foster

goodbye bedshark. we miss you so much.


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