Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Things Are Never So Bad That They Can’t Get Worse: Part IV

I am about to describe the worst 14 hours of my life.

When Espresso went into kidney failure, I began to say goodbye. I dealt with the idea of packing up her toys, sending them home to be stored. I’d have to look into how to donate her extra kibble, some dog beds. I looked into pet memorial ideas. Most of all, I knew every single flight out of Ithaca by heart so after I had to make that visit to the hospital, I could get my sobbing, puppy-less ass back to California as soon as possible.

I never, ever thought it could get worse than this.

For the last two days, I got my morning call around 8 am from Hope. I’d then get a call around 10-12 with results from her blood test. I’d get an evening call from Hope around 8 pm as she left her shift.

When I got a call at around 6:30 that Monday, a few hours after coming home from my visit with Espresso at Cornell, I nearly panicked.

No news, thats good news. News? Never good.

Hello its Dr. Got-it-Right. I’m calling because Espresso has worsened, she has fluid in her lungs.

My world as I knew it had ended.

She went on to explain how the inflammation from the bacteria or toxin were causing her veins to not hold the excess liquid being pumped through her body to keep her alive. The liquid had been slowly leaking into her stomach, around her kidneys, even into her chest cavity as I saw with the lumpy edema on her chest during my visit. However my remark on her breathing prompted a further look - radiology confirmed liquid had now made its way into her lungs. Why I heard her breath was because she was

breathing through liquid in her lungs.

She wasn’t drowning, but was laboring to breath. At any moment she could go into respiratory distress, she could drown in her own lungs. She would die panicked and scared. I only live 5 minutes away, but it likely wouldn’t be enough time to get over there to see her go. I wouldn’t want them keeping her here in pain and fear and unable to breath.


One of her liver values had improved Dr. Got-it-Right said. I had planned on having the come to jesus talk with you, but with the one improved value, I thought I’d give you the last option - a plasma transfusion.

There was one more option left. I could opt to a plasma transfusion. Plasma from a donor dog would not only potentially reduce the liquid leaking from her veins but provide the essential proteins that her struggling kidneys and livers were unable to make right now. It would potentially treat the immediate threat (the liquid) and help with the cure (treating the liver and kidneys).

I asked her about the risks of plasma, the risks of shock and allergic reaction. I asked about how labored was her breathing, how bad she was. How likely to die she was, was this just prolonging the inevitable.

Dr. Got-it-Right consoled me that she was a very sick little dog, without a lot of likelihood of recovery. Lettering her go now in a controlled manner where I could be there, was a very real option, one that would set her at peace.

So I had to choose. Extend the pain, increase the risks to take one last chance. Or let it all be controlled and planned and safe and as painless as possible for her.

In that moment, I took a deep breath and thought of my puppy.

She was dying, she was doped as to not be in pain. She had failing liver and kidneys and was so weak.

But she still had the strength to wag her tail when she saw me. She bumped her nose against my cheek.

When I looked at her, I did see fear and pain, but I didn’t see that look. That look of being so tired and saying “please let it stop.” I saw her normal stubborn self, I saw her looking to me to help, to understand, but not to end it. She had fight in her. She had wagged her tail.

Maybe I’m being very selfish, but I have to give her the one last chance, I said. Do the plasma, start the plasma now. I just...want to be there if it all does start going downhill. I can be there in 5 minutes, so please, if you think its even headed that way, just let me know so I can be there with her.

My voice started to crack. But if it does look like she’s in pain, suffering, don’t hold up just so I can be there. I trust your discretion to know what to do.

Okay, well start her on the plasma, Dr. Got-it-Right said. It takes about 4 to 5 hours, so she’ll be done around midnight. I’ll call you if anything starts to turn. Otherwise you’ll hear from us in the morning.

My voice was now 5 octaves higher. Thank you was all i could manage before needing to hang up. I had to turn to my mom and quickly blurt out before I broke down “She has fluid in her lungs.”

I would find out much later that Dr. Got-it-Right actually went to her senior who warned her that this dog was in all likelihood going to die. Now she had gone to him again, asked him what the options left were. All he had was what was already in front of me - plasma, or ending it. The two of them went by her kennel to see my puppy fight for her life. Apparently, even though she was yellow with a failing liver, had failing kidneys, and struggled to breath, she didn’t look like she was done. In fact, all things considered, she looked alert, with it. She didn’t have the look. She had fight in her. Dr. Got-it-Right had described her as “plucky” earlier that day. It was that character in her that kept us all fighting for her.

But I can’t stress enough right now, we all thought she was dead, before the lungs had hit. Now the tables had turned that her death would likely be unplanned, painful. But my dog was facing imminent death. All of internal medicine saw her death coming. I was beyond hope - there was no hope to be had at this point.

Knowing I had done everything possible for my baby puppy’s chance to live, i sunk into a living hell after hanging up with Dr. Got-it-Right.

I could barely breath, barley speak. I oscillated between quiet moments of practical planning and reflection - I packed my carry on down to the toiletries bag to go home. I reflected on what I would do with her ashes. What toys I wanted to save. How I never got to take her to the beach the last time she was home - she hates the cold ocean water but loves the sand and chasing sand flies I smiled and told my mom.

Other times, I merely sobbed saying “I want my puppy. I want my puppy.”

Because really, all I wanted in the world at that moment was for my puppy to be healthy and happy and home.

I doubt anyone reading this would really question why I felt like a part of me was dying when this was only a dog. Anyone I call my friend is someone who understands how animals touch your heart and add such joy and happiness to our lives.

But right now in my life, Espresso was as vital to my life as my own beating heart.

I was already struggling with the move to New York. I thrive on the familiar, stability. I am able to be the outgoing, vivacious

personality most people know me for when I have created a safe place of comfort in my home, with friends, people I love. I don’t make friends easily to be honest. I have trouble making that next step that brings people from acquaintances to friends. In New York, I feared the Friday nights I’d be alone without knowing anyone, really having no friend to my name in thousands of miles, pining for friends I couldn’t be with.

I managed to finally reconcile my worst fears about moving to New York - that I would be alone, friendless, single for my entire time here - by knowing I had Espresso. Espresso was my source of comfort, familiarity. She was home. I always joked the two luxuries I brought with me were my dog and my wine - the two of which could pretty much get me through any situation.

I realized I never had felt lonely even on those nights in Davis I spent alone in studio because I had Espresso. You aren’t home alone on a Friday night when you have the dog. You are home with your dog enjoying alone time. When you have a dog to go home to, its like you are choosing to be alone, choosing to take solace in your furry friend.

Without a dog, I’d have to face being friendless, dateless, completely alone in a town I didn’t know and honestly have realized I don’t like all that much. I’d have to face the fact I lost my security blanket, my furry family, my feeling of home. The only source of comfort I had left out here. I’d be left with certain freedoms true - I could visit the city whenever, stay out late. But those things pale in the comparison that the joy and love Espresso adds to my life.

I have raised Espresso since she was 8 weeks old, 3 lbs, and literally fit into one hand. She has seen me through the worst and best of times. Part of my identity has become being a dog owner - I write this blog, my friends know me and Espresso as a pair. Everyone always joked my significant other was Espresso. My last guy once made some slight at Espresso, to which I snipped “Hey, she has been around for a long time before you and will be here a long time after - don’t knock the dog.” She is a critical, defining, part of my life.

The death of any pet is devastating. The loss of a friend, companion, that loss of love that I think only animals can give.

The loss of a soul. But the loss of Espresso would be so much more than that to me at this point in my life.

Losing her would be losing part of myself.

I couldn’t sleep that night, I couldn’t even lay down in my bed. I wanted to go wait in the parking lot at the vet school since the waiting room was impossible (one of the many disadvantages of a large veterinary hospital) but realized that sitting in the car would be worse than sitting on my couch, and likely not to make much of a difference if she were in that critical of a condition.

I lay on the loveseat which is next to the door. I left my shoes ready, my purse packed with the essential paperwork, keys. I left my phone charging, on highest volume, all sleep modes off, and always in my sight. I brought to the bathroom with me, to the kitchen which is not even 5 paces from the loveseat. I changed into sweats and a tee, comfortable clothes that I could dash into the hospital in.

All night, I clung to a very special toy of Espressos. There have been several generations of this squirrel toy - its a favorite of my little monster - but this is baby squirrel. One of her very first toys, its worn thin from her biting and squeaking and digging and attacking. She loves it. All night, I clung to it. I also would allow myself to briefly hold onto a special brown fuzzy blanket I originally had bought for my couch but Espresso had claimed - for the last nights I had been sleeping with it instead of my baby puppy, but now I cherished it, carefully folding it and only letting myself touch it after I had showered. It smelled like her, and I’d never be able to restore that puppy smell.

My mom camped out on the blow up mattress on the living room floor next to me. When I’d be crying and saying “I want my puppy” she’d just touch my hand or stroke my hair. She knew I just was going to feel the worst pain of my life until I heard something from the vet.

During an episode of Buffy - the DVDs of choice for background noise because I couldn’t stand the silence - a phone rang on the show. My heart leaped out of my chest, my stomach tightened so tightly I almost vomited on the spot, the adrenaline surged through my veins. And that was after only a second of panic and the quick realization it was not my phone.

Around midnight, my stomach tightened and cramped so badly I started taking TUMS by the fistful. I forced myself to be drinking water and forced a banana down so I wouldn’t have to think of food or dehydration...later...but my stomach made me pay dearly for these attempts and I was in dire physical pain to accompany my emotional distress for the next few hours.

I watched my phone constantly. Instead of depression, my body started sinking into panic. My heart would start racing randomly. It essentially a full blown panic attack once every hour or so.

In between panic and sobbing, I would try to ignore the stomach pain and imagine my puppy.

I can imagine every single square centimeter of her little body. I would imagine running my hands down her little nose, touching the little white spot she has between her eyes, the small pointy patch of skin that has less hair on it at the tops of her ears and the velvety smooth flaps below. I could feel her little broad chest bones covered in short hair, I could touch each individual pad of her paws and how it feels where her nails join her pads. I could feel her skin folds and her vertebra and ribcage, I could see her scar from her spay and the little dimple she has above her tail on her but. I know every inch of the little dog and I mentally went over every single inch, petting her and loving every single inch.

If you have never heard of quantum entanglement, this non-physicist would describe it as two quantum particles reacting faster than the speed of light - when something was done to one, the other reacts instantaneously. Wiki more professionally describes “When a measurement is made and it causes one member of such a pair to take on a definite value (e.g., clockwise spin), the other member of this entangled pair will at any subsequent time be found to have taken the complementary value (e.g., counterclockwise spin). Thus, there is a correlation between the results of measurements performed on entangled pairs, and this occurs even though the entangled pair may have been separated by arbitrarily large distances.”

I am no physicist, no mathematician, I have the barest grasp of quantum theory that pretty much ends at the cat in the box...but quantum entanglement sure sounds like love to me.

Two things so tied they react to each other even at great distance? I don’t know how the universe works, let alone love, but I have a strong belief that there is some cosmic energy balance. I don’t believe in a divine, but I do think we can try and influence the energy around us even if we don’t understand it. That is why I begged everyone for their prayers, thoughts, hopes, well wishes for Espresso. All that love being felt for her, all that energy being sent her way, I want to believe it can only help my baby. I want to believe that love entangles us all, and that my entangled love for my little monster would let her feel how much I loved her.

So even though it almost pained me, knowing she had tubes in her nose and neck and was dying and struggling to breathe, I thought of Espresso as much as I could. I sent my love, I sent my caresses, I sent my thoughts.

I slept for about 30, 40 minutes around 4 am, then again around 5 am. I remember sitting on the loveseat, slowly seeing darkness become a pale blue.

I never got a call. She had survived the night. My worst nightmare of having to rush to the hospital while she couldn’t breathe was over. At least now her death could be calm, quiet, peaceful, planned and with me present. She could go in my arms. That one solace granted me some peace. My baby would be go peacefully. I was able to get up and function.

That morning I took my mom to the airport around 8. We had thought about extending the flight longer but we wanted to save the money for the vet bills than fees to change the flight and really, I wanted to be alone with Espresso at the end. She has always been my dog and its been just the two of us for almost half her life, it would be just the two of us at the end.

I knew saying goodbye at the airport would be hard, but...not like this, my Mom’s voice trailed off.

I know. Not like this.

We hugged for what felt like forever and no time at all, and said goodbye.

I drove in the truck taking the most convoluted way possible back - I get lost easily when I’m stressed. I was driving by the back way to the hospital when I realized the orchards were right across from the vet hospital. As a grad student, we can get away with parking at the orchards (shhhhh don’t tell) when campus parking, even the vet center, is otherwise carefully watched and regulated. When you charge over $800 for a permit and need to win a lottery to even be granted one, parking is a big deal. So I pulled the truck into the orchard parking lot and sat. I know some grad students wondered what I was doing. I had my backup story - that I was checking on the buffer crop for the organic vineyard block for my professor - at the ready in case anyone bothered me, but no one did. I just sat, staring at the building across the street that held my baby. That held the future of my happiness in New York.

I began to plan out how my day would go. I would get Hope’s call about how she was resting comfortably, doing the same. Dr. Got-it-Right would call sometime after explaining how given her worsening kidneys, liver, her trouble breathing, it was time to end it. I would go in wearing my same clothes I spent all night in so I smelled very strongly - Espresso was drugged and I wanted her to know for sure it was me, be surrounded by my scent. I’d bring a blanket from home for her to be in so I could bring it back, so she’d have a bit of home for the end. I’d bring a few toys. I’d say my goodbyes, the I love yous, and cuddle her body until it went cold. I knew every flight out of Ithaca so afterwards I’d just go home and book the next one available back to Sacramento where I’d stay with my friends who had supported me through this whole thing. There I’d grieve and have friends to make sure I took care of myself. I’d fly back right before classes where I’d deal with what to do with her belongings, pick up her ashes, and how I’d begin my lonely life in New York.

The call came around 8:40. I would never be ready for this call, I’d never be ready to let go of my baby Espresso, but I was ready as I’d ever be. I took a deep breath, and picked up the phone.

Things are never so bad that they can’t get worse.

I just never realized that things are never so bad that they can’t get better either.

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