Monday, October 23, 2017

The Presence of Absence; Why It's Not "Just A Dog"

It has been six days since I last took a picture of him.  That doesn't happen unless I am away, and then I usually have whoever is looking after him, take one and send it.  Right now I need peace and quiet, but everyone else thinks I need a babysitter.  As we are all well aware, there are "no words" during times like these, it's all awkward, and usually ends in tears.  Which is the point where I would then feel compelled to make you feel better about your consoling efforts by attempting to perk up.  I do not have the energy for that.  I do not need to be 'cheered up', and I do not want to fake being cheered up.  I do not have any extra energy to make you feel better. Because I feel like shit.  So allow me to go ahead and feel it.  By myself.


So let's dive right in as to why it has been six days and I don't actually feel like being around anyone, because here's my last 7 months.  No one wants to see a bunch of depressing 'my dog is dying' posts scrolling through their newsfeed (I know I wanted to focus on the furry face that made me smile, instead of the diagnosis, prognosis and clinical notes that made me cry).  A daily captioned picture of the big yellow boy doing something mundane felt better to me for that reason, plus it
didn't add to the already present negativity of self righteous, outraged political commentary that has also been going on for equally as long.

Starting Sometime in March...

The oncology tech said the CT scan was clear yesterday (but the doc was in another consult so could not answer questions until today on the phone).  He called my cell and started talking about the lesions on Axel's lungs and how they could be metastatic.  I was like, hang on a minute, your tech told me yesterday it was clear. Well, I guess they spoke too soon because the rad/path report people saw differently.  But the doctor didn't seem too concerned (about the diagnosis or the fact that there was a gross misrepresentation of the results given by an ancillary non-medically qualified person. And his treatment plan?  Wait 4-6 weeks and come back for another $1200 CT scan to see if things had grown (on the lungs and the leg).  Then "we" would know for sure.   Asked about starting chemo to at least be doing something, his response was "meh".  Yesterday I felt like there was at least something to work with, but now?  I'm just so angry and sad, and feel like there's no hope.   Why are they all saying wait?  So more money can be spent to put him under anesthesia again, for them to say, "yep, that's what it is", and then we've lost even more time.  Before, I was convinced that because he was a big barrel chested dog he was going to flip his stomach and that would be it. Never this.

I fall in love every time I look at him.  I leave in the morning and he sits out in the driveway and settles down, likes he's going to wait as long as it takes for me to come back.  In the evenings, he's either back in the driveway or on the front porch.  Waiting.  Then we go inside and lay down on the couch.  No need to wait anymore.

I am so tired of the techs being the primary point of contact.  I was still on the fence about surgery (amputation), but I felt like yesterday we had better odds with the lie.  Now we have truth and a treatment plan of "wait".  After a coming to Jesus with the oncologist, he is on board.  Talking after the chemo appointment he said they were all surprised with Axel in the back, how lively and energetic he was, not like their regular patients.  He said he could understand the push for not waiting.  Not sure if he means it or is just back pedaling, but at least he knows who he is dealing with now.

I'm doing everything I have control over.  I hate this.  I hate this because I feel like there's this big egg timer and the sand is running out like the Wizard of Oz.  I shift from panicking, to problem solving, to trying to be conscious of just 'being in the moment' and 'enjoying every moment' like everyone tells me.  But being consciously aware of enjoying being in the moment just reminds me that the moments are going to run out.  And then I get sad and cant enjoy them any more.  All of these people who have already been through it, they're on the other side of the wall and they're waving to me and offering encouragement and 'I know what you're going through', but I don't want to know these people.  I'm not on their side yet.  I don't want to think about being on their side.  I don't want it to be over.  I don't want him to be past tense.  I don't want him to be "the best dog I've ever had" the one I "measure all other dogs to".  I already know I can never replace him.

I am pissed off that people are asking; "So, do you think you'd get another yellow lab?"  Really?   Why would you say that?  Out loud.  To me.  Do you ask someone who just lost her husband when she's going to activate her Match profile?  But I get sad because I cant imagine not having a yellow dog in my life.  A big one.  But then he would always be "not Axel".  So instead I'd just become the crazy dog lady version of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations.  Sitting in my living room, not sweeping up any of the dog hair, surrounded by bags of stale and expired food, holding his collar in my hand.  People with addictions usually give up one thing and replace it with another.  People who lose a dog, get a puppy.

I cant get enough of him; looking at him, scratching his fuzzy head, smelling his corn chip fur.  And then I feel like such an idiot.  It's "just a dog", right?  But there are people who I haven't met yet, that will never get to meet him and fall in love with him.  They'll only get to hear my stories.  And that's not the same.  How will they really know?

It's funny, he does better when he's moving more.  Don't know why that surprises me.  It makes sense. Riding bikes around the back was a nice reminder of how he loves that stuff and that he can handle it. So I just need to let him.  Mum is totally on board.  During her visit last year she shooed him off the couch, now she props a pillow under his head and gets something for him to rest his feet on.

I'm hyperaware of every little change.  I was falling asleep last night and thought I should have one of those baby breathing monitors, so I can put it downstairs and hear him when I'm upstairs, in case something changes.  And then down the rabbit hole I go; what will I do without him?  Who will I be without him? My identity is so wrapped up in being his "person".

I'm worried that I'm going to run out of things he wants to eat, and then how will he sustain himself? He needs his pain pills, he needs his chemo, he needs his antibiotics.  If he wont take any food, then it's just going to be worse for him.  And already I feel the burden.  This is my life.  Worrying about him, the pills, the schedule, obsessing about if he's had enough water, has he eaten (enough of the right things), has he pooed (is it too runny, is he constipated)?  My day always began and ended with him anyway, but this is something else.  It's summer.  This is the time I'm never home (nor is he).  I feel like I cant leave home.  I don't want to.  It's exhausting.

So Axel is officially getting picky with his food.  One day one thing works, the next it doesn't.  I wish vets would tell you this stuff ahead of time instead of figuring out for myself after the fact.  Meal time makes me so anxious now, because all I'm concerned about is being able to get his pills down, and keeping him at some kind of calorie baseline.  I keep thinking I'll get good news or hope, but then it doesn't come.  When it seemed like he was a "Go" for the limb spare procedure at Tufts because the tumour was on his non-weight bearing bone I was on such a high.  That got taken away quickly with the whole, 'no lesions on the lungs, oh wait, take backsies, yes there are'.  And then I hear all these stories of other dogs who are still around or got way longer.

We have an appointment with the new oncologist on Wednesday.  I'm terrified because I know she's going to tell me his lungs are a mess now.  I feel like we are in this protracted death march.  I just want to be able to love him into health.  Like I have enough love for him that that can overpower anything bad. Except there's no positive or happy way out of this.  It's all bad and it's going to continue to get worse.  I'm not used to that.  I have these tiny flashes of 'should I just end it now and put us both out of our miserable, inevitable limbo'?  And of course I don't mean it. But what the hell are we doing here? Treading water until we are too tired and get swallowed up and eventually drown? You can't tread water forever.

You know what I think is going to make this transition even harder?  Yes, they are a part of your day from the moment you wake up, but when they're not well, it becomes even more.  The pills, the special foods, the monitoring, the vet appointments, all of that. What is going to fill that new time with him when it becomes a void?  I'm going to have so much more 'free time' that's not 'Axel time', and I don't know how I'm going to stand that.  I feel like I'm losing my Axel already.  I lost him when he couldn't go mountain biking as far, then when I couldn't take him for hikes, then when he stopped counter surfing and I didn't have to worry about leaving food out, then when he turned his head away from bacon.  I just can't believe that this is really, actually happening.  There are a lot of sick, older dogs around at the moment.  Now it feels like whose turn is it next?

I am obsessed with getting him to eat, it's becoming a distraction from everything else.  Like if I can get him to keep eating, that means he's still "ok".  I feel like I'm running an upscale nursing home.  So I obsess, I trawl the supermarket aisles looking for something that might be "the thing". Then it's prepping it, coaxing him to eat it.  I'm getting lost in it.  I feel the way I am feeding him is like a death row inmate, where every meal might be his last and I want it to be good.   So then I get his leftover steak tips and salmon.

I have now gone from completely underwhelmed to flat out angry with the assigned oncology tech. The first time I met her she noted he had lost however many pounds it was since his last appointment. She looked me dead in the eye and asked, "Are you doing anything about that?".  Nope. Just sitting here watching him starve.  So I just called their office earlier this week looking for guidance.  He's been having diarrhea and not eating much beyond dog treats despite being on an appetite stimulant.  I do realize that the treats are essentially junk food, which are probably contributing to the squirts.  The tech returned my call and immediately launched into a lecture about how those were very fatty and would give him pancreatitis. When I stated that this was pretty much all he was eating right now she told me that I then 'need to think about his quality of life'.  I really wanted to punch her through the phone and say, "guess what lady, he already has osteosarcoma, how about you help me figure out what to do instead of lecturing me about pancreatitis?"  Instead I started crying and hung up.

In an effort to make sure Axel doesn't get dehydrated I have made the decision to leave the toilet lid up.  Why he wants to drink out of them and not his water thing I don't know.  He likes bottled water too.  Oh well.  As long as he's drinking and there are no floaters I guess I can live with it.

Dropping my mum off made me sad.  This will be the last time she ever sees Axel.  It's just another one of those 'rubs' of reality.

Axel puked and had diarrhea in the car on the way down for his vet appointment.  When I went to pick him up from his bone infusion and x-rays the tech asked if the doctor had called and spoken to me yet.  Well, that can only mean more bad news.  I guess I'm back to the reality of thinking about this actually happening.  I've been pretending the last couple of months.  It's been nice.  The oncologist said there are microfractures now developing in the bone.  She did also say that I was not wrong or being neglectful if all he wanted to eat right now were treats, because bottom line, he needs to eat.  She prescribed something for the diarrhea and a different kind of appetite stimulant.  Even with the bad news, I felt better, I want to know that what I'm doing is helping, not harming him.   Until we go outside to load up.  That snotty, judgy tech was leaving for the day and getting into her car, which was parked in front of the building (that would be reserved for patient parking) next to me. I remember noticing that car when I was trying to clean up his puke and poo up, because the back window was plastered with very political bumper stickers expressing outrage at the current political administration.  She never spoke directly to me, but as she was climbing into her vehicle she muttered loudly that dog treats and raw hide were just junk food and candy.  How dare she?  After how much money has gone into that office's payroll, supplies inventory, student loans and general overhead during the last several months?  And honestly, it's less about the money and more about the effort, advocacy and time that has been expended to make sure that everything humanly possible is being done to keep Axel healthy, safe, comfortable and happy.  And yet this woman who has no advanced specialized training, education or letters after her name feels no qualms dispensing her opinion (both passively and otherwise), which is in direct conflict with that of the doctor.

I can't take enough pictures of him. Soon he won't be lying in the driveway waiting for me to come home.  I know I'm behaving like the only person in the world who loves their dog and is going through this.  I went to pick up some more meds at the vet today. There was a guy there picking up his dog's ashes.  Tick, tock, tick, tock.  Feels like the sand in my egg timer is closer to running out. Every day I wonder if today is going to be the day I come home and see something awful.  I don't want him to be in pain.  I plan my week thinking about what I'm doing and what I'll do for an alternative if I need to.  Then I think about the women who want to have a relationship with the person who delivers their baby.  I feel the same way about what's coming.  I don't want it to just be a stranger vet.  I guess I just want it to be someone who knows Axel.  Who's seen who he is and how special he is.  That he's not 'just another dog'.  I can't stand the thought of coming home and seeing some awful break knowing he's been in pain and wondering how long he's had to suffer.  Am I going to fall apart?  How exactly?  What will that look like?  I have some ideas, but I don't know until it happens.  I guess this is me trying to micromanage ahead of time so I can try and put stuff in place that will "help" but I don't know how it will help because I don't know how it's/I'm going to be.  It all sounds very histrionic for "just a pet".   But he's mine.  There's no pre-grieving where I can get all my sadness in the bank now and save myself some of that later.  It's still going to be and feel devastating and awful.  All these happy little fun daily dose posts.  They're all bullshit.  He's here now, and soon he'll be gone.  And I just have to get used to that.  Just like everyone else who's ever gone through it. I'm no more special and nor is he.

I called the specialty pharmacy for a refill on his chemo pills.  He called me back and said he couldn't refill because the tech from the oncologist's office told him, “the owner knows Axel has to have more blood work before we can refill those”.  Do they remember this frigging owner?  Has this owner ever been negligent, done anything that has not been recommended, or tried to circumvent the situation? Do not throw ‘the owner knows’ BS at me. If I “knew” I would have done it.

My anxiety is ridiculous right now.  The last two nights I've barely slept and all I can think about is Axel.  I got in a panic because he was outside and I kept listening for him, then I worried that the rubbish bins are out there and what if bears or coyotes come because they are attracted to the food? It's rural enough.  He is alpha enough to try getting into it with another big animal, even being partially lame on one leg.

Parents say dogs are not like having children, correct, they are different.  However, neither infants or animals can verbally communicate, they rely on you to keep them safe, warm, fed and take care of their medical needs.  That is no different.   What I want to scream is, "what the hell do you know?" You've never had a dog.  Scratch that, you've never had an Axel.  You know about as much as what it's like to be me, as I you.  And if you looked a little harder, you'd see it really isn't all that far apart. They all depend on us to be their advocate.

Seeing him hobble makes me sick.  So it's good when he rests and sleeps, but then seeing him just sleep makes me sad.  Maybe he's bored with that.  He's been so used to going out on adventures.   Now he's relegated to lounging around the house like a god damn cat. His quality of life is just napping and needy cuddles from me.  That must be boring as hell.

Just sold my spare bike.  I can pay for Axel's radiation.  We drove down to Boston today.  The next four weeks he and I are taking a 6 hour road trip.  I like the radiation doc, she's cool.  She likes Axel, she said in life you should always eat the cake, she wants him to eat the cake, until he doesn't want to.

And now he's gone...

I don't want to vacuum, or clean, or wash away the fur tumbleweeds or any other evidence of his presence in my life.  I walk out the front door and there are big muddy paw prints on the porch.   I don't want to sit out there where we'd happy hour, or watch a thunderstorm roll in.  Or be on the back deck seeing him trot around sniffing and peeing on things.  I don't want to be at home, but when I am, I don't want to leave the bedroom.  Going downstairs means seeing all of our shared spaces.  At least in bed, the only things I have to deal with are my own memories.  Of course he snuggled on the bed, but the living happened in the rest of the house.  Coming home is the hardest, so I either don't want to leave the house, or I just want to leave and never come back.  Now coming back means not seeing the big yellow lump of fur and thumping tail before he hops up to greet me.   Right or wrong, healthy or not, he was an extension of my ego.  When I was out in public with him I felt proud.  He was my 'leash candy'.  People noticed, paid attention, paid compliments, wanted to love on him.  There is no other living thing in this world that I have ever quite so freely, repeatedly and unsolicitedly said the L word to. With him, I just couldn't say it enough.  And it's not like he even knew what it meant.  Maybe that's why?

Friday, May 9, 2014


we spent a lot of time together, she and i. it was obvious that she was always going to be overshadowed by the big guy, he and i came along at the same time. she was already house trained and through the puppy years when i met her. but she followed me around anyway. sat butt to butt on drop cloth while i painted trim when we first moved. sometimes on my feet while i was sitting on the toilet. on the rare occasion i crawled into bed because of a headache, or something sad and upsetting had happened, i would hear a clackety clack of toenails on hardwood, and she would hop up on the bed and back her butt up into my leg and just sit there quietly and wait, whatever it was, out with me.
as i write this, i realize that i am still wearing the same pyjamas; when she was in my arms, running out to the car at 1am. trembling, drooling- not her. we were both scared.
the duvet is still covered with her fur, there are little piles of it that have collected in the corners of the room. the cleaning lady is coming tomorrow- soon they will be gone. no more sharp hairs to get lodged in the sole of my foot, no need for tweezers.
people 'check up' on you, 'check in'. they want to know how you're doing, how today went, if you're managing. the ones who haven't lost a pet yet, don't. they can't "go there", i get it. i didn't either. the answer should be "better", "today was a better day", "i'm doing better than yesterday". but it's not...better. it's a 'process', i get that too. i've acquired a new lexicon; 'rainbow bridge'. it's not for the people, 'who cant go there'. they don't need to.
it's a day made up of small things- it's always the small things. quiet meal times; dropping food on the floor that now stays there, waiting to be picked up by me; automatically leaving the bedroom door cracked for middle of the night 'diabetes bladder' breaks. things i don't think of until they happen, without her. then i notice her absence. and what her presence was.
i have broken up with my routine. i don't want to go home; to a quieter house. no welcoming committee circling the car and demanding to be fed before i can even turn off the engine. i have no interest in sitting on 'my chair', it was never just mine. i don't want to go to bed, because there's no one trying to beat me up the stairs. when i take a shower, there's no little blur shuffling around on the other side of the frosted door, making a nest in the dirty clothes pile, waiting.
i want to move. to be; not in the same house, same bed, same couch, same front door. change the location, solve the problem. i know how to do that.
i took her to all of her vet appointments. the routine ones and the 'scary' ones. she and i made a lot of road trips together. down to new hampshire, curled up on my lap to see the surgeon who was going to make her see again, after developing the cataracts. after developing diabetes. 45 miles an hour during a major snowstorm in january for blood transfusions, and another specialist. but like the diabetes, that became stable too. of course it did. this was a dog who, when she went to the park, joined the 'over 25lb' side. despite re-direction from all of the other owners. when their dogs took an interest, she 're-directed' them too.
before her surgery, when her eyes were so bad that she couldn't see a tennis ball, we used cat toys with little bells. she followed the sound. she still got to fetch. after the surgery she was back to chasing flies.
i had a dream this morning, a bad one. it woke me up with images of intruders wielding butcher knives. i get it; anxiety. i couldn't go back to sleep, maybe there were sounds outside. how would i know? the little burglar alarm wasn't there to go off and warn me now.
my eyes sting, my nose is raw and my throat is sore from choking back everything else.
i miss her. i want her back so much. i want to rebound on another rat terrier the way i did with boyfriends in my 20's. and i know i cant.

Monday, August 5, 2013

getting to know you

riding a new trail is an awful lot like going on a first date. minus the agony of what to wear-- and it's also probably best not to sport an oversized sanitary napkin in your shorts, at least until reaching the 'i can eat spaghetti bolognese/lobster in front of you' comfort level. obviously, there is always a risk that what you are confronted with is going to be an overwhelming flop; too tight, too twisty, scary thin bridges over stagnant ponds, or a penchant for white, cotton turtlenecks... all of which makes it incredibly hard not to keep going back to what is familiar; every root, rock garden and worn log jump are imprinted on your wheel. sort of like hooking up with an ex. how wonderfully reassuring then, when your first time on unfamiliar trail, is chock full of smiles, stomach lurches and the odd bruise.

Friday, September 21, 2012

it's the icing on the cake

directions: make sure that you are alone-- all house guests, children, domestic partners and/or pets who may be in heat should be on the other side of a locked door. note; you might feel dirtier doing this by yourself, but that's your own non-secular stuff and far too weighty to fit on a packaging label. squeeze yourself a massive amount of "butt'r"-- the same thinking that also uses half a roll of toilet paper to fashion a protective poo shield between your fingers and what you really don't want to touch. do this next part quickly, you are not trying to ration out the miserly serving of cream cheese that franchised coffee shops give you to cover a bagel. what you defer in technique can always be adequately covered by volume. remember; it's a teriyaki marinade going on in your chamois, and the only thing worse than dried out chicken is a dessicated hoo-ha.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

auntie pantie's speech

we are here today, with friends and family to celebrate darci alice fedorowicz. she is only 10 and a half months old, but she already has a history. she is a dunnage, a barnes, a hobson, a hood, a mason and a stefaniuk. darci has been born into an extraordinary family; one who served their countries during world war two; of survivors who lived through the bombing of three homes during the london blitz; of immigrants who started new and better lives for themselves learning languages, finding jobs and raising the next generation. a family of entrepeneurs and small business owners, hard working people who also knew how to enjoy the freedom they had struggled for. as she grows up, darci will hear stories about a great grandfather who was a competitive bareknuckle boxer in the 1930's, and another who was an accomplished pianist and small dance band leader up until his death. a great grandmother who left iceland on a military ship with her new husband and 1,000 british servicemen, and a great grandfather who escaped from siberia as a teenager and joined the parachute regiment of the free polish brigade. to look at her, you might think you are also looking at james or alison at that same age. and it is abundantly clear, that the apple will probably not even fall off the tree, darci; your parents will show you how to be patient, kind and tolerant of others, but also how to identify the present perfect tense, cure a salt beef and appreciate a good pinot grigio, they will provide a home to root you in, but they will also show you how to explore and travel the world- but only from a first class seat. your grandparents (both near and far away) are here to dote on you, sing to you, teach you how to play the piano, love the outdoors, to tell your incisor from your canine, a petunia from a pansy and develop the art of navigating every department store on oxford street in a single afternoon. your aunts and uncles (again just a short drive or boarding pass away) are here to inspire you to take risks, move across the globe and try something different.. they will instill in you the rules of football and in particular the merits of arsenal. they will show you how to put together a killer outfit for any occasion, win at scrabble, and develop an appreciation for lavatorial humour. they all await your visit. darci, we are all gathered here today to commit ourselves to loving and supporting you. may you always be active; socially, physically, spiritually and intellectually. whether you choose to run marathons, run for office, run a company or run up your air miles. welcome to your family darci!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Crappy.Dental.Assistant., C.D.A.

there are many things on my bucket list, oddly enough staring up people's nostrils while bits of their teeth fly into mine isn't one of them.

i have been moonlighting as a dental assistant (the non-certified kind) for the last three weeks, a blip on the CV really, it wouldn't even qualify as a "special skill"- unlike 'injecting insulin into an agitated rat terrier twice a day'- and i have found that it's a bit like making chicken stir fry; i can manage it, and it's o.k., but there's nothing that spectacular about my performance.

granted, as an assistant you do get an aerial, front row seat to exciting procedures like extractions, so it comes in handy that osha requires face masks, because there is no poker face happening once a tooth has been drilled open for air. the gross stuff aside, my own personal anxiety comes with the responsibility of spit sucker management; are they going to choke and drown if i let things pool too much, or are they going to choke and gag if i go in for a sweep? and how much pooling is too much pooling? how deep do i sweep? it's a lot of pressure, and i don't want them to hate me, they could bite my finger.

it's also a bit like being back in french class, except instead of conjugating verbs, there is a whole new lexical set to remember- quickly. because dentistry has an extensive collection of 'pokey things', all with very arbitrary monikers; "please pass the plastic instrument" (except that it's actually made of metal and looks pretty much like every other one of the double sided pokers in the cassette). dental schools may have been teaching it their way for years, but as far as i'm concerned the drill bits* are now; 'christmas tree', 'matchstick', 'microphone', and 'arrowhead'.

~ "pass me the diamond burr".

~ "is that the one that looks like a terra cotta plant pot or the latte mug with no handle?"

it's not all bad, i've learned a lot; hot tooth shards smell like corn chips; young women need to be vigilant about examining their chin and upper lip areas for hair; there is nothing worse than a roving tongue; i would much rather wear my pyjamas to bed, than get up and wear them to work. and ultimately, any job description that involves cleaning up after other people's messes and "vacuuming" is something that i've had a lot of practice with.

* burrs.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

the panacea for a probing is a 40 minute spin class

col·pos·co·py [kol-pos-kuh-pee] noun. it sounds so much friendlier in the medical lexicon than "pap smear with fondue fork".

i've had one of these done before; i know what to expect.

"oh, your blood pressure is slightly high today, i wonder if you're just anxious about the procedure...?"

[well, maybe if you had a cocktail and some peanuts on that metal trolley over there, oh wait, no, just long swabs, and a bunch of steel skewers in sanitized packaging, how about i lie back here on this sanitary napkin throw pillow and just relax].

if hasidic jews can fornicate through a 200 thread count sheet, then i honestly don't understand why, in this day and age, we can't have a more puritan approach to the pap.

and why do we need another person in the room?

"are you her back up? will you be sitting on me in case i decide to jump up and run?"


"no, she's here to pass me things."

and before the good doctor could even wax lyrical about the weather/holiday plans/my inconsequentially tipped uterus i steered the conversation to something far more comfortable; "so, do you have many people fart in your face when you do one of these?"

bless her, she started laughing into my crotch, "20 minutes ago, actually. occasionally, even with a little something solid".

i was told to come back in four months for a follow up probe. i'm bringing the fart machine next time.