I remember the day I brought Maggie home like it was yesterday. I wasn’t even looking to add another dog at that point. It was a few weeks before Christmas and I didn’t want the inevitable headache of taking a puppy on a 1600-mile round trip drive. Then a friend at the office put up a “free puppies” sign. Mama had died giving birth and the large litter was eating the family out of house and home. It was a fire sale – everything must go – before they were dropped off at the shelter. Surely there wasn’t any harm in going to take a look. As I recall, people from our office ended up taking some if not all of that litter.
I came back after lunch that day with a sleepy chocolate lab snuggled down inside my coat. For the next almost 14 years, she was my shadow. Through the successes and failures of life, tens of thousands of road miles, changes of jobs, changes of houses, there she was with a wagging tail and a smile on her face. Maggie was one of the most consistently happy dogs I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.
For the last few years, though, Maggie was also a very sick dog. Sometimes it felt like we were keeping her together with bubblegum and bailing twine, but she was always game for another trip to the vet and eager to greet everyone there. As long as she was up for pressing on, there wasn’t a test or procedure I was unwilling to try or a specialist I wasn’t willing to meet. Over the last week, despite some new meds, I watched that old spark slowly fade away.
There’s more we could have done. The vet would have pumped her full of more meds if I’d have asked for them. It would have been so easy to go down the road of calling for extraordinary measures, but she deserved better. She deserved to meet the end walking in under her own power and while she still had some of the old nobility about her.
I couldn’t ask her to suffer so I didn’t have to – not after so long together, not when she’s done everything I’ve ever asked of her and so much more.
From start to finish Maggie was a very good girl – a once in a lifetime dog.
My life was incalculably better because she was part of it and is now the darker for her absence. I’m going to miss her terribly.
Good news: After almost three months of flailing around trying to sort out why a certain elderly chocolate lab is drinking approximately 87 gallons of water a day, we have a preliminary diagnosis and presumed way ahead. Her most recent culture came back from the boffins and they confirmed that she was dealing with a bladder infection (although that diagnosis doesn’t completely rule out needing to eventually reevaluate how we’re treating her for Cushing’s).
Bad news: According to the vet, the strain of bacteria we’re after is “extremely resistant” to almost all antibiotics.
So, in the finest tradition of every dog I’ve ever had, we’re tipping into the more exotic options because the common treatments just won’t do. The antibiotic the doc thinks she’ll respond to is no longer on the market – or at least not produced in quantity for human consumption. Apparently when used in humans it has a bit of an unfortunate side effect of screwing with our bone marrow. The vet encouragingly warned that I should “definitely wear rubber gloves when handling that stuff.” That’s comforting.
Since the drug we need isn’t mass produced, Maggie’s vet very helpfully called the prescription into a local compounding pharmacy so they can whip up the 84 pill, two-week course of treatment. As troubled a medical history as I saw living with a bulldog, this is the first time I’ve ever needed to hire our own pharmacy. You’ll forgive me if I still question the reason of people who like having new experiences. Like this, they often feel like opportunities I’d be perfectly happy to avoid.
I did talk to the pharmacy yesterday afternoon. They wisely wanted payment before they start mixing up whatever witches brew they’re working on. I suspect their business is one people appreciate up front, but blanch at patronizing when the bill comes due. Better for everyone this way.
I begrudge these animals nothing, but there are many days when I can’t help but consider how lucky we are in this household that there are no college funds to raise, daughters who will eventually want to get married, or anyone buying designer clothes.
I was talking with a friend of mine last night – and by talking, I mean keeping up a decade old text conversation – and mentioned if I ever write another book I’m pretty sure its title is going to be My Life with Dogs and Other Things that will Fucking Bankrupt You.
Here’s the backstory:
Maggie has had a fatty lipoma on her shoulder for the last five years. We’ve treated it as a cosmetic thing up to now, but it’s finally grown to the point where the medicos tell me it needs to come out – or at the very least be “de-bulked.” For the last year or so I’ve been rolling the dice in determining if we’d go to surgery or if an old dog with Cushing Syndrome would make it to the point where surgery was necessary. Doc tells me where at that point now. The good news is that means my girl is relatively healthy. The bad news is it means we’re putting her under the knife fairly soon.
I talked to Maggie’s vet last night. Given her age and the general presentation of Cushing, I was prepared to hear that the results of her bloodwork were all over the map. They weren’t. Everything was basically where it should be for a dog whose disease is well controlled. So, small mercies there. In trying to decide how to approach the lipoma on her neck/shoulder, we also did a series of chest x-rays – mostly a due diligence to see if benign had become something more problematic or infiltrated her chest wall. The pictures show that it hasn’t.
The only minor pre-surgical issue we have was a slight presence of bacteria in her urine. It could easily be something that was introduced during the collection process, but in an abundance of caution prior to putting a decent incision into my girl, we’re starting a course of antibiotics to make sure all is clear before she heads in for surgery.
The doc did give me the option of taking Maggie in for an MRI – which would give a far more detailed view of the mass than simple, old fashioned x-rays. If I thought we were looking at something more involved than removing a large, but reasonably simple lipoma, I’d have probably given it more consideration, even knowing it would end up being a $2,000+ bill. I appreciate that this vet walks me through all available options, but doesn’t attempt to push in the direction of the more expensive tests. Even as he was discussing the MRI, he was clear that level of diagnostic testing was probably overkill in Maggie’s case.
I’m working with the scheduler to get a time for surgery and Maggie is getting an extra ration of cheese to hide her enormous antibiotic capsule. All that’s left to do now is wait and see how it goes. I’m sure that won’t cause any gnashing to teeth because I’m well known for my patience and low key approach to animal care.
Over the years I’d grown so accustomed to having one sick dog and one well that last month I even noted my budget had gone wonky from the unusual lack of vet bills. You’d think by now I’d know better than to open my electronic mouth and temp drawing the wrath of whatever from high atop the thing. If you thought that, of course, you would be wrong. My mouth has been, is, and seems likely to continue to be my worst enemy.
After a few incidents and observations over the last week or two, what I seem to have now is just one sick dog. Not falling over, edge of the mortal coil sick, but sufficiently sick that we’ve already run two diagnostic panels in as many days and scheduled the next – which promises to be an all day affair for my sweet brown dog later this week.
It’s one of those times when I’m ill served by having a professional and personal bent towards research and analysis – particularly as there’s absolutely nothing I can do about the situation until we strike on a test that does something more than confirm some of the possibilities. Just now we’re tracking it as potentially a kidney issue or a liver issue or the wildcard diagnosis of Cushings disease.
I’m told by those in a position to know such things that all of these are treatable – at least in the sense that it’s often possible to slow down the degenerative processes involved. Time, however, is a remorseless bitch and treatable does not mean “curative.” That at some point everything that’s alive will eventually be not alive is pretty much just one of the rules of nature. Even the best care simply prolongs the inevitable for all of us.
Maggie isn’t in pain. She’s her normal, happy labrador self. That’s something. Personally I’ll feel better when we have an enemy I can fight on her behalf, but for now I’m trying to be calm and contented in giving her endless chin rubs and maximum attention.
Maggie and Winston are two of the great joys of my life. With a few exceptions they’ve been around longer than most of the people I know and frankly I’d rather spend time hanging out with them than most two legged critters. For all the medical bills, late night trips to emergency vets, special foods, and number of times I’ve nearly killed myself stepping barefoot on a toy or pile of sick in the middle of the night, I can’t imagine a time when there won’t be dogs in my home.
With as much affection and regard as I hold for these noble animals, it’s helpful to be reminded from time to time that while dogs can give us the impression of being surprisingly smart and adaptive, they can also be incredibly stupid creatures. Take for instance, my Maggie – the sweetest, most gently disposed Labrador God ever put on this green earth. Since she was a puppy she’s had an innate ability to almost predict my thoughts – which way I’m going to turn, what room I’m headed to, or when dinner is about to be served. This morning, though, I woke up to find she has chewed through my comforter at some point in the night and somehow managed to get her head stuck in the resulting hole. I wish I had the wherewithal at 5AM to snap a picture because it was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever actually seen in person… a 50 pound lab wearing what amounted to a queen sized barber’s cape with a tell-tale look of guilt on her fuzzy little face.
This can only mean at some point in the early hours of the morning, the thought that this was a good idea when through her baseball sized brain. Apparently she’s not as good at independent decision-making as I’d been giving her credit for being. Instead, it just makes me wonder what else she’s up to while I’m catching a few hours of shuteye. Then again, it’s probably one of those things I’m better off not knowing.