Dr. Clifton brought Reggie back into the exam room where I was reading the article they’d given me about how to decide when it’s time to let go.
“He is stable. I don’t think you need to worry about the weekend. I think his breathing is the same as it was on Thursday. He looks the same as he did on Thursday as far as his comfort level. He’s no worse. I think you can bring him in for another recheck, or you can choose a time, you can always call and cancel that morning if he’s not decompensating.”
I did not expect this at all. I felt a huge weight lift off of me, and my stomach settled down for the first time in 2 days – I stopped feeling that grabbing at my chest that made it hard to breathe. I hadn’t slept hardly at all the night before, dreading what she’d say this morning.
I didn’t expect this miracle at all.
She was giving me the green light to wait, if I wanted to.
We had an honest discussion – I was able to share how I felt while also being fair and logical. It was much different than Thursday when I could not keep from feeling the pain.
“He ate a whole can of salmon this morning with blueberries and last night he ate the whole can of tuna. He was wagging his tail and he’s slow, but he follows me around most of the time. He doesn’t get excited, exactly, when I have food or take out his leash, but he wags his tail and jumps off the couch to come get his food or to go in the car. When I ask if he wants to go “bye bye car” he gets up and comes to me. He’s walking around the house, and up and down the stairs. He can still jump on and off the bed, he’s slow, but he can get himself up and down without struggling. The diarrhea is the hardest part, for both of us…But I do not want to wait until he’s suffering.”
Dr. Clifton had told me on Thursday there was nothing they could do, but then she saw him today, and she’d changed her mind. I couldn’t believe it. I asked more and more questions.
“With our dog, Ginger, that we put to sleep four or five months ago, she was 18 and filled with cancer, and when it was time, my husband and I just knew. She couldn’t eat or get up and she looked up at us and we knew, she’s done. With him, he’s not doing that, he had a good day yesterday, most of the day, and he’s eating, he’s not breathing as easily as we want him to, but I don’t think you’re going to have to bring him to an emergency hospital tomorrow. You just need to get through to Monday when we open. But, if he stays stable like this, I think you can wait and see how he does. It’s faster now that it’s in the lungs but you can decide if you want to bring him in for a recheck early next week, we can do that, and then you can decide if you want to book at time, you can always call and cancel. It’s up to you, it’s your decision. We can check him once a week…”
I was so confused. In a good way, but maybe she didn’t mean it literally – to suggest that he could have enough time to come in once a week.
“Dr. Stoppe is here on Tuesday, I’m here on Wednesday, if you want another pair of eyes.”
“Yes, I’d like Dr. Stoppe to take a look at him, too,” I answered.
I told her I didn’t trust my judgment these days, and that I felt that my brain might be telling my eyes what I want to see, not what’s real.
Sometimes the closer you watch something, the harder it is to see what’s there.
“That’s what we’re here for to help you.”
Anna, the technician, who is so kind, and so sweet with Reggie (she was the same with Lizzie, she’s a natural), was with us – I was so glad. Before the doctor came in to see Reggie I showed her photos and videos from our trips this week.
“I do not want to wait until he’s in distress, so how do I know?”
“That’s the thing, sometimes we have dogs come in like this…” She huffs and puffs really hard. “But usually it’s a slower progression where it takes more effort for him to breathe.”
“Lizzie had a bronchial dilator, do you think it would help him breathe?”
“I don’t know, probably not. We could try it. His airways aren’t closed. The lungs have a space like a balloon that fill with air, and the cancer cells are taking up that space with tissue so there’s less room in that space in the balloon for him to take in that air.” (She said it differently, more scientifically than this, but this is my summary in my own words).
“We can try Theophyllin, do you have any more of Lizzie’s, or did you donate it all?”
“I donated all of Lizzie’s medicines.”
“Let me see if we have any.”
Reggie was hanging out on the floor of the room, his back moving up and down, much more relaxed than when we came in – that’s the other thing. He does not like coming here, and the thought of him having to come in, knowing where he was, conscious of where he was, and then putting him to sleep – I could not imagine doing that to him – I realize that’s just my guilt, but I hated the idea of him coming in that door, so conscious and alert and nervous, not knowing he would not be coming home with me, and his trusting me that he would.
She came back in with some Theophyllin that she’d found, for a few days, until I come back on Tuesday.
I’m going to try this for a couple of days, while increasing his other medication for pain and stress management. She suggested that would be the best thing to do and what she would want for herself if she had cancer.
“You can take him somewhere else this weekend. It’s beautiful out.”
It was like night and day. I would not call it a miracle, per se, he is not going to get better. It’s not like it was with Lizzie at the 11th hour last March where I will have 7 more months with him, but if I could have even 7 more days…it would be worth it, for many reasons.
One more day…one more day to take him somewhere beautiful.
I heard that exact phrase, word for word, twice today – it left a pang in my chest, and it was bittersweet.
The first time, a lady and her husband were walking down from the falls and saw Reggie in poop position on the paved trail.
“He’s not pooping. He’s straining. He has colon cancer.”
“Oh,” she said, “You’re a good dog mom.”
Today was the first time I told strangers the truth – just like that.
The second time, Reggie and I were in the Higher Ground Coffee Shop in Helen, GA, where I was grabbing a small latte for the drive back home. In the parking lot, I’d asked a nice lady if there was a place where I could bring Reggie to eat if he stayed in his stroller. (We ended up at an outdoor patio, where I’d been once before, many years ago – it was easier). As it turned out the lady who had suggested a couple of indoor restaurants worked in Higher Ground Coffee and she asked if we’d found a place for my baby and me to eat. She then said, “I hope people have been showing you Helen hospitality.”
“I ate outside with him. Is it okay if he’s in here with me? He’s my service animal. He isn’t well. He has cancer.”
It just came out – again.
“You’re a good dog mom,” she said.
And there it was – again. The bittersweet feeling came again, too.
“I hope people have been showing you our Helen hospitality,” she repeated.
I smiled and nodded.
“Come back and see us again, okay?” she told me.
It was an easy drive to Anna Ruby Falls – about an hour and 40 minutes – according to the GPS. I knew it had a steep paved trail (my friend had told me about it) and there was the option to explore the lake and trails by the Unicoi lodge instead, but I had my heart set on the falls – and – I knew it would be easier to have Reggie in the stroller – just in case he was not feeling up to walking as much as he had on Monday at Tallulah Gorge (How lucky to have been able to take him on two trips this week. Albeit it was an unusual indulgence on my part – but I will have no regrets, ever. It was worth every moment with him.
Anna Ruby Falls Visitors Center is the starting point for the 0.4 mile walk up to the top of the falls. The river is called Smith Creek. The paved trail extends all the way up, bordered on one side by mountainous terrain, and on the other side by the rushing river with the sound of the rapids and the view of the white foam tumbling over the rocks downstream.
It was breathtaking.
It was a difficult climb, with Reggie in the stroller and me pushing at a slow pace, stopping often to rest, and trying to be mindful of my back and neck – but I was determined.
There were several patches of black ice, which was the biggest challenge. I almost slipped once, but thankfully, it was just a close call. There were not many people visiting the falls today – not too many people on the trail, which made it easier to take our sweet time up the narrow path. I stopped to take photos of Reggie looking out at the river. He seemed to be drawn to the sound of the water – or maybe it was the view, but given that dogs have superhuman hearing abilities, I think it was more the sounds of the moving water. He was bundled up in blankets and I put his thicker raincoat on him this time instead of the long brown one (the raincoat was once Toby’s).
He was quiet and thoughtful, and I kept him in the stroller the entire walk uphill except for one or two flat spots – one where he walked among the leaves to go to the bathroom and the other to take in the view of the falls as we walked higher.
When we neared the top, I left the stroller at the bottom of the steps and helped Reggie walk up the short stairway to the top viewing deck. The falls were raging with strength and the sound filled the air with a thunderous glory. There was a spray near the farthest end of the deck, close to the bottom two waterfalls. We stayed away from that end so that Reggie would not get wet. When a large family joined us on the deck, I asked them to take a few photos of us. There were two little girls who were fascinated with Reggie and giggled, as they spun and danced around on the deck, watching, but not coming up to him, as Reggie and I shared a snack of cashew butter and apples.
Reggie and I stayed up at the top of the deck for 2 hours today. At first we had our snack, and then I sat for a while with him in my lap. I was alone for a long time -or what seemed like a long time – before any new people came up to the deck, after the family who had taken our photos left. When I was by myself, I began to think and I lowered my head to smell Reggie’s fur. I thought to myself, I could stay like this forever just sniffing your fur.
And then, with no one there, and the mesmerizing waterfalls with the sound of their power before me, like a calling from God, I began to cry. I lowered my head on top of Reggie’s body and the tears came. It may have been the release of all the pent-up grief, the anger at losing so much – so many – of those I love most, or the anxiety at what is coming tomorrow, and in the next few days, and in the next month. I did not think about the significance of today, I did not let myself think about the decade that has passed, and what it means to me, what it could have been today, no, I thought only about Reggie.
But the suppression of the rest fed into the tears that came because they could, because no one was watching, and in that fortress of natural beauty that I had risen to behold – I felt close to God, close to Earth, close to everything pure and beautiful.
The tears stopped before the next couple came. Many couples came off and on after that – some older, some younger, some girlfriends, some co-ed friends, two men with dogs – that made Reggie break his silence really fast.
As people came up to the deck, they smiled at Reggie – as people tend to do – who could resist smiling at that face with those big pointy ears. I wanted to give Reggie an experience he’d remember today – if dogs do remember these things, I’m not sure, they may not. I picked him up and held him, leaning his body forward on the fence, from the middle of the deck, where he could smell the water, hear the river falling down over the rocks, two merging into one, and see it – see everything. He did not stir, or struggle, or shake – he peacefully watched. We watched together.
And in those moments, I felt peace.
After a couple hours up on the deck, Reggie did start to shiver, and as hard as it was to leave Anna Ruby Falls (I gravitated toward them – I’m a water baby), I did not want to take any chances of Reggie becoming uncomfortable – or worse. His breathing was not as slow and easy as it had been on Monday (though it was better than it is inside at home – it still seems like being outside in crisp, fresh air helps him, even if it’s just a little bit).
I picked him up and carried him down the steps, just in case, but since the downhill would be easier for him to walk, I let him walk the whole way down on his own, and pushed the empty stroller (safer too with gravity).
I remembered to look out for the black ice, and there was no danger or close calls on the way down. We encountered the older couple whom I mentioned at the beginning of the post, and a few other walkers on their way up, but walking back took a very short time, compared to the walk up the hill. In fact, Reggie did not need to stop at all and he kept a steady pace, his gait quick, but not fast, the entire 0.4 miles.
I know I can’t allow myself to hope that it is a sign he is okay, but rather, I am grateful that he still can walk like that at all, and that he seemed to enjoy the freedom of navigating the trail without a care in the world.
(I’m waiting for more photos to upload. Barnes and Noble WiFi is slow and Reggie is with me, in the stroller, and as always, many people have come by to tell me how cute he is and how sweet he looks. I will miss bringing him here very much).
When we reached the visitors center I realized there was another short, paved and flat trail by the creek across from the parked cars. I put Reggie back in the stroller and we walked along the path all the way to the end. We stopped and watched the water for a short while, and then made our way back to the car.
The Unicoi Lodge and nearby lake was not far, and I was curious, so we drove over that way. I looked around the lodge for a few minutes and then headed to the lakefront, but didn’t take Reggie out – we headed to Helen instead (it was about 3) and I knew we would need to leave by 4 to get back home well before dark.
Reggie had never been to Helen before, and the one time I’d been myself, it was Labor Day weekend and very crowded so it was strange to see so few visitors there. Many stores were closed. Reggie sat up and watched people walk by and surveyed the Bavarian style village as we walked down the sidewalks. He was slightly interested in the bratwurst and sauerkraut I ate for my late lunch, but not much.
He is being brave for me. It’s true. I can tell. And at the same time, most of the time, he seems happy, but what do I know? I love him so much, and he loves me so much, when he looks at me, maybe he’s just happy to be near me.
What a gift that is. It’s the best gift I could have asked for.
I do think the vet was wrong about one thing yesterday: it did make him happy to be out on the trail and in the fresh air, and I could tell he was enjoying watching the river and the waterfalls and listening to the sound of that water pounding down the mountain against the rocks. I know this because I can tell the difference in his energy and his alertness and his comfort level, then and now. Even in the car, he went to sleep for the entire return trip, probably from being so tired. But it was a peaceful sleep, or at least, I think it was.
I hope it was.
Anna Ruby Falls will always be a memory of that one last day with him. An ending on two fronts: of my life with Audie, and of my life with the family he brought me: Reggie and Lizzie.
I know what she is going to tell me in the morning when I bring him in, looking at him now. He is managing, but he is breathing harder than he should be, laying down in a stroller inside a bookstore that he loves, with me sitting next to him. Strange – how he was more like himself today, slower and quieter, but in his element outside, walking, listening, contemplating, sniffing.
I am grateful I can remember him like that. Not once, but twice, this week – I can remember him just like that.
“When we look at a chest Xray, we should see all black. His picture is white – filled with white cotton balls. Does it look much worse than the picture I saw last week? Not really. But he’s taking shallow, rapid breaths. We know he’s not going to get better. He’s going to continue to get worse. The chronic diarrhea and the chronic weight loss he can live with, it’s the breathing that’s most acute that I worry about. We don’t want him to get to the point where he’s suffering and we’re not going to let him suffocate. I can’t make the decision for you, but you need to start looking at your calendar and thinking about what’s best for him. He’s not comfortable. He’s trying to be brave for you. But his quality of life is not what it should be…”
I was ready all day for this…all week for this…and yet, when I was sitting listening, with Reggie on the table, smiling at me, I could not stop the tears. I don’t know how many times I apologized (a lot) for crying and having a difficult time making a decision. She was waiting for my answer. I felt my head spinning. I couldn’t process it.
“You don’t have to decide today. We don’t have to do anything today, but I can’t decide for you when it’s time.”
We went back and forth about options for me, and left it with one more re-evaluation, soon, and here I am taking a chance to have a full day with him, to take him on another road trip – tomorrow of all days, it means so much to me to do that.
I could go back and forth about which day, which time, and where – but it comes down to one thing, I have to let go.
I told her that I thought I was ready, it was more clear with Toby, with Lizzie…I described how he still is eating a lot. “Give him a cheeseburger,” she said. “Take him out and spend time with him so you can say goodbye, but if he is having trouble breathing, it won’t matter if he loves car rides or going on trips, if he’s having trouble breathing, he won’t care about eating or being outside…”
Earlier today, I was walking Reggie in Epps Shopping Center again, waiting for the car, again, and he was tired. We sat in Jittery Joe’s, and he looked so tired as I pet him and kissed him. I didn’t have time to take him home so I took the chance to take him to the chiropractor with me. On the way, he climbed into my lap while I was driving and began to whimper. I pulled off the freeway into Logan’s parking lot so he could go – made it this time – and when we arrived at the doctor’s office, the ladies in the front kept him company, petting him and loving on him in his stroller. They said he was so peaceful.
Based on the vet’s assessment, which I promised myself I’d listen to and use to guide me, he’s peaceful largely because he’s tired and breathing is more difficult for him. Like she said, it’s only going to get worse. He’s not going to get better.
Peaceful – how tired he must be. He does not sleep at night. I hear him rustling around every half hour or so on the trash bags. He has to go every half hour or so lately – he can’t help it, and he doesn’t sleep on the bed because he can’t get rest – it keeps him awake. When I’m awake, he tries to signal me by crying out, so I know. Like the vet said, he can go on like that for a while, but the lungs are getting worse. If only we’d caught it sooner…
My friend, Sharon, and I have been texting back and forth about directions to Anna Ruby Falls in Unicoi State Park. “Is the weather supposed to be nice tomorrow?” I’d asked the vet. “Has it been nice at all the past couple weeks?” she asked sarcastically.
I smiled. I knew what she meant. And my body hurts everywhere, from the cold, from the stress, from the cleaning, who knows.
My other tire is low ( I really do not like this particular tire store and I had to really hold my tongue this week) but I’m crossing my fingers it’s nothing, no more nails, I hope. This may be my last chance.
My stomach is in knots. It has been for 24 hours. I’ve felt sick to my stomach, I canceled a bunch of things I would normally have done -not being in a frame of mind to think about anything else but him.
“I don’t know how to let him go,” I said, amid tears. “I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t know how how to do this…”
I don’t remember what I said, exactly, but I know what I was feeling: I don’t know how to live without this dog. I’ve been through this three times, once already in the past 3 months, and I have had my mind resolved for over a month, especially this past week, and then, I couldn’t do it. I just could not do it. I could not set a date.
I walked out in a fog, quiet, and asked a stranger to take our photo. I take a lot of photos of him lately.
I knew I had to take him to Barnes and Noble – and roll him around the store in the stroller, not looking for anything, or at anything, in particular, just to be there. People smiled. They know him. They absolutely know him. Some of the others, other patrons, just smiled at him, “Awww, what a cute dog. How old is he?”
“Almost 13,” I answered, barely above a whisper.
Only the girl at the register whom I’ve talked to many times got the true answer. “He has cancer, I have to put him to sleep soon.”
“Aww,” she replied in her usual quiet tone, “I had to do that last year. There’s this place that has beautiful urns, that’s what we did with Pepper. They have a cemetery, too.”
“Do you mean the Memory Garden?”
“My dog Toby is there.”
I should call him sometime this weekend and ask how much notice he will need or I will have to let the vet use their people, like they did for Lizzie, since there was no time.
“If he goes into distress and you have to take him to the emergency, you’ll have to do it in the hospital,” she warned me, nicely, but firmly…I went through this over and over when Lizzie was declining in the fall.
It suddenly feels like deja vu.
Reggie is under the table, his back is rising up and down, fast. He is breathing quickly.
My breath has been catching in my chest, choking me. My stomach is being held hostage by fists clenching, wringing like hands squeezing water out of a wet dishrag over and over again.
“It’s only hard in the mornings,” I told her, “because he has to go every half hour in the night.” It keeps me awake, sometimes, but mostly I wake up half-asleep and vaguely hear him moving. I try to figure out if he’s made it to the tile. I can hear his toenails if he does. Sometimes I just hear the swishing of the plastic bags – if he moves them around enough, they don’t work. Then, the mornings are harder. But when that part is over, the rest of the day, I just watch over him and try to catch him if I can, if he catches himself in time.
“At this point, we’ve given him everything we can, all you can do is nurse him, like you have been.”
“Would the acupuncture help, with the pain and anxiety at least?”
“I don’t think so.” She shakes her head.
I haven’t seen Dr. Clifton in 2 weeks, but she says she’ll ask Dr. Stoppe for me, just in case. They are double booked tomorrow, she tells me, but they have all 3 doctors there. She can put me on the schedule at 4.
I sit there and think. For several seconds, maybe longer. She’s waiting.
“I’m going to put you on the schedule at 4. You can always call and cancel.”
I finally answer. “Not tomorrow, if he’s okay. It’ s my 10th anniversary of meeting Audie. It’s a hard day for me, I was hoping it wouldn’t have to be tomorrow – this is just the worst time. I think that’s why I’m having such a hard time letting him go…I’m sorry…”
I kept saying it. “I’m embarrassed,” I told her.
I wasn’t sure what to make of her reaction except that she must go through this with so many people and she has to remain stoic and non-emotional, but she did tell me it’s hard on her too after treating an animal for years, it hurts them, too. But they have to think of what’s best for the animals…
We all do. They’re counting on us to do that.
We’re in the bookstore and he alternates between snuggling with his head buried in the blanket against the front of the stroller, hidden behind the mesh, and sitting up and looking around, people watching. He loves the store. He knows it now. It’s one of his places. One of his happy places.
He ate all his dinner, every bit, and took his pain medicines. But I can hear the sound, the huffing.
Earlier he was on the purple cushion, and I thought about him not being there again. I had to stop.
When I came home from the counselor today (I could not bring him because of the accident he had there a couple months ago), he was laying by the door.
Lately, he is always laying by the door when I come home.
When I open the door, he sits up quietly and wags his tail.
But he is tired. He can climb up the stairs but he often doesn’t. He sits at the landing and waits.
This house will consume me with a void, I can feel it already, closing in, just at the thought of coming home to no one. No one. I never, ever thought that would happen. Not in this house, of all places.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or if we will make it to Anna Ruby, or any other park. It was my goal to try. I am dreading tomorrow, January 25th – 10 years – Damn me and my dates. I wish I didn’t have this uncanny memory for dates…just once, tomorrow, I’d like to forget.
He is sitting up at my feet now. He is salivating – they gave him fluids, I wonder if he’s nauseated. He does this a lot lately.
What will I do when I sit at this table and write and he’s not sitting at my feet?
What will I do when he is not waiting for me by the door?
What will it be like walking into Barnes and Noble without him in the stroller?
What will it be like without him sitting next to me in the car?
How will I never be able to pick him up in my arms and hold him and kiss him again?
When I look at photos of Lizzie, and Toby, I try to imagine what it used to feel like to hold them. The memories start to fade after a while, at least, the memories of what their fur felt like, exactly. And what it smelled like.
Too many paw prints. No more paws.
My room will be filled with photos and paw prints…
I just want paws.
“You’ll grieve, and you’ll get another baby. You need to have one, ” Dr. Clifton said today.
“I can’t. I can’t afford another dog. And I take having a dog very seriously, it takes time to train them…”
I don’t know why I said that, when I said that to her.
“There are rescues filled with dogs that need homes,” she said, “you need to have a dog with you.”
I knew what she meant. She knows the black phantom surrounding me like a wraith I can’t chase away – I can imagine, seeing me with Reggie, seeing me with Lizzie – they can’t imagine how I could not have one.
Seeing everyone at Hope Animal Medical Center has been another lifeline the past several months. I have had to say goodbye to others, not by choice, because life changed – I know if I had another dog, I would not need to, or have to, say goodbye to Hope, but that’s not a reason to get a dog. It’s not that simple. Can I even come by to say hello?
When Lizzie died, I meant to make a framed photograph for them as a gift. I went looking for one but did not do it…not yet.
I guess now, it’s better I waited.
I can make them a framed photograph of the two: Reggie and Lizzie.
Reggie and Lizzie. My God. I can’t believe they are both going to be gone.
Reggie and Lizzie.
I don’t even remember my life without them anymore.
And what will happen to the girl with the dog in a stroller? First it was Lizzie, then it was Reggie.
I’ll just be the girl, the one who used to bring her dogs in the stroller.
That doesn’t matter.
What matters is everyone is gone…my family – one by one by one – this year 2018-19, they’re gone.
“Reggwood. Lizzie Bear. Tob-er,” he used to call out. And then I started doing it, too.
I think this is what true aloneness must feel like.
Except I hear him breathing, moving against the carpet under me.
For a little while longer, a few more days, he’s still here.
Thank you to everyone who has texted and emailed and asked about Reggie today. I don’t have any news today. It was a quiet day – he went to Jittery Joe’s with me, as you can see, and to Oconee Wellness for my weekly B12 shot (Michelle and Ashley looooooove Reggie and pet him for a while, plus some head kisses), and for most of the day he rested either on the purple cushion or in his favorite spot on the red couch.
Tomorrow I’m taking him to see Dr. Clifton for an exam and evaluation – and I hope some clarity for me.
He ate canned chicken for breakfast and canned tuna and blueberries for dinner.
On the way to my appointment this morning, I had to pull over on Epps Bridge Parkway to let him out, but he didn’t quite make it, or I should say I didn’t – in time – but at least I know the warning sign now.
Last night, he didn’t sleep, or if he did, not much.
He’s having a hard time with his symptoms, and he’s definitely showing signs that the cancer is in his lungs but he’s also got the signs that he’s not ready (I think): peeing, pooping (too much of that), eating and drinking water and responding to love and affection.
That’s what makes this so hard. I don’t want to wait until he’s suffering, and I can’t bear to let him go too soon.
Hoping for clarity, or at least a temporary direction, at Hope.
(Okay, maybe that was an update – just not much new).
It’s cold again today (though not as cold as yesterday) and Reggie is all bundled up again in a blanket with the neck warmer, his chin propped up on the front edge of the stroller, looking around at people in Dunkin’ Donuts. We’re waiting for the car to be fixed – there was a nail in the right rear tire – luckily we made it safely to Tallulah Gorge Park and back yesterday ( I wasn’t worried). We’ve been to two different stores today to find the right matching tire, and Reggie has been very quiet.
For the first time, I had my own “code brown,” as Pet Supplies Plus calls it, on the floor in the back. While we were driving from Watkinsville Tires Plus to Epps Bridge Tires Plus (in search of the elusive tire they did not have in stock at the first place), Reggie started barking and crying in the front seat – he jumped up on the console, facing backward, then down to the floor in the back (the stroller was on the back seat) and started pacing on the floor. I knew what that meant, we’ve been through it before, but we’ve always made it home in time.
This time, we did not make it in time. Sigh.
At least when he went, he went on magazines and Trader Joe’s grocery bags, mostly. And…on my umbrella, sigh, but that I was able to clean up.
When I hear myself calling out to Reggie as I drive on Mars Hill Road (“It’s okay, Reggie, we’re almost home. We’re almost there. Hang on, Reggie.”) or in this case Epps Bridge Parkway (“We’re almost there, Reggie. You can make it, don’t worry. We’ll be there in a minute.”), as we kept hitting all red lights, it reminded me of how my mom used to try to reassure me “we were almost home” when I was little and I got carsick. (I often didn’t make it home in time, if you know what I mean). So, to all of you mothers out there – and I wish I were one – I know I would have been an amazing mother – I feel your pain when your kid gets carsick, or has to go to the bathroom, and there is no easy or safe place to pull over – I’ve been living it lately. Except for today I got lucky – you moms, like mine, whose kid does not make it home before they throw up all over the car, not as lucky – and I sympathize.
The mechanic at Epps Bridge who came out to the car was understanding, thank goodness, since now there is a smell, albeit not too bad, in the car. Sigh. I told him Reggie has colon cancer and he had an accident in the car. He was very kind and said, “I’ve been there.”
Thank goodness most people are very nice – especially in the south.
This morning, Reggie was back to where he was before the trip – no worse, but not better, and I felt myself longing to go back to yesterday. Dr. Stoppe had called me while we were on our road trip to ask how Reggie was doing and to offer support as I try to gauge how to make this awful decision, and most importantly, when to make it. We talked this morning and she told me if it would make me feel better to bring him in later this week to re-evaluate, that she’d be happy to do so. She said she didn’t have a clear medical explanation as to why he felt so much better up there and now, back in the house, his breathing sounds raspy again, and he’s lost his energy, and his pep – again. His breathing also sounds like it’s getting shallow, again, as he is resting in the stroller beside me now.
I suppose the most important thing she told me is that given where the cancer is spreading, Reggie will probably be the one to “tell” me when it’s time.
I don’t want to go through this again – not now – am I allowed to just say that? I don’t want to do this – I don’t want to make this decision again – I just made it 3 months ago with Lizzie, and I have not recovered from that. I don’t know how to recover from losing my last dog – right now, at this time, the most difficult time in my life to date. Reggie and Lizzie have been my beacon, my lighthouse, my buoy, my rock, my source.
Reggie was supposed to be around for a few more years, not a few more months – how could this happen?
Stupid question. I know.
James, our technician the past 3 years from American Pest Control, is scheduled to come by today. I better tell him – I better tell him he will not see Reggie when he comes back in March to start mosquito treatment. Ugh. James is a dog and cat person himself, and he was so empathetic when I told him Lizzie had passed. I remember that day when I didn’t even have to say the words and he knew she was gone. You can tell looking into someone’s eyes how they feel – usually. I dread telling him today, but I’d rather give him the chance to say goodbye to Reggie.
I can still see both dogs, Lizzie and Reggie, following him around the house, right at his ankles, every time he’s come to treat for bugs. Those are the little things that pull at my heartstrings – so many little moments I can recall just like it.
It’s hard to keep going like this. This morning it took me almost an hour to clean up after Reggie – he had a bad night. And I cried, for a couple minutes, like I often do in the morning, while he’s downstairs and he can’t see me. Some days I cry for 10 minutes. It is hard to wake up and face it first thing in the morning every day, and I sometimes wonder how long I can keep doing this, and then I go downstairs and see Reggie again, and that’s it – I have my answer. As long as I have to.
“I can do this,” I tell myself as I’m filling bowls with soap and hot water and grabbing paper towels and Equalizer pet odor spray. “Keep going. Don’t give up – not until he tells you it’s time to give up – and until the vet tells you it’s time.”
Looking down at him right now (he’s panting, that’s the sign he has to go), it does not feel like it’s time, but this is confusing. I told Dr. Stoppe, and others at Hope – I feel confused. I don’t know how to be objective, especially not about Reggie. I have told my friends they will find the strength when it’s time. It doesn’t feel that way right now, the way I feel, especially after yesterday, I’m terrified of letting him go too soon, which is absurd given his cancer is metastasizing.
But I’m serious when I say – every single day he is with me, is one more day I do not have to be without him, and that means everything.
It’s time to go pick up the car now, we just got the call, and I’m glad we did this today, in case I’m able to take Reggie to Unicoi State Park on Friday, which would be amazing, if he can make it. He’s looking out the window at Dunkin’ Donuts at the cars going by (false alarm on the #2 I guess). He’s always happier when he’s not at home – there’s something going on with the house, or something, I told Dr. Stoppe – he feels much worse at home.
Dr. Stoppe said we just have to wait and see – I was sure I was going to let him go this week – and now – I don’t know.
As I’m walking the sidewalk in front of the stores of Epps Bridge shopping center, on the way back to pick up the car, I can see Reggie’s reflection in the window – he’s sitting upright, he is smiling, and his eyes are open, looking around – as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
He is one tough little dog.
(Continuing from earlier today)
James took it much better than I expected, which I’m glad about – maybe, a lot has happened in his life, too, since October. Sometimes that numbs a person – not to the point of losing all feeling, but more like a state of resignation. I feel that way sometimes – you kind of have to reach that point, at least now and then, in order to cope with multiple losses or grief will consume you to the point you can’t find your way out to go on living.
I knew James had arrived because Reggie started barking and lo and behold, the truck was in the driveway and James was at the door in a winter cap, gloves, and a thick black turtleneck with “American Pest Control” sewn into the collar. I warned James when I opened the door, “You might want to put on something to protect your shoes, it’s a minefield in here. I am having trouble keeping up with him.”
(James already knew that Reggie was sick with something gastric from all of his service visits to the house the past year and a half).
James pulled some booties out of the truck and came in to spray. I said, “There’s something I should tell you. Reggie has cancer and it’s spread to his lungs.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, in that voice of resignation I understood so well myself (I’ve used it a lot lately).
“I wanted you to know because he probably won’t be here when you come back in March to start the mosquito service and I thought you’d want to say goodbye to him.”
James pet Reggie and this time, as James went from room to room, window to window, door to door, Reggie did not follow – this was literally the first time. In October, when James was last here, Reggie had indeed followed close behind him every step of the way. Today he stayed by the glass door for almost the entire 20 minutes, until he appeared on one of the bottom steps and waited, watching, until James came over to him, and I picked him up so James could say goodbye.
I put Reggie in the car as we left James to spray the outside of the house and drove him to East Athens for my Tuesday chronic illness support group. Only one other group member came today, along with our facilitator and the intern, and I hoped that Reggie would make it to the next one so that more of the members could say goodbye to him – I used to bring Lizzie, and they were happy when I started bringing Reggie in the stroller – dogs are great therapy for anyone who needs comfort. I told them about what was going on – the fact that the tumors were found in his lungs – and they told me they were sad to hear this, but glad he had come with me – all bundled up in his blankets and sleeping through most of the meeting. (Shortly before it was time to go he sat up and started paying attention, panting, but smiling. He didn’t cry so I wasn’t sure what prompted his sudden change in behavior).
A few weeks ago, Dr. Clifton told me that it was hard to say how much time Reggie has – it’s dependent on a few things. One was to keep from losing too much weight and to keep eating and drinking. The other was to watch the blood – if it was just spotty, then he was stable, but if he lost a lot of blood, then it was a sign he was getting worse.
I came in a few minutes ago (having left Reggie alone for a couple hours to meet a friend) and there was a lot of blood on the floor…I haven’t tried to feed him yet (I will as I finish this post)…but the blood is a bad sign, one of the bad signs that Dr. Clifton told me to look out for. I don’t know if it means anything (or if it means everything), but he’s breathing very fast, even though he’s just laying by my feet right now…
Cancer: what is it and where does it come from? Why does this happen? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know someone who has it, or has had it. I lost my grandmother to breast cancer when I was 7 years old, and I was devastated. Why does it even exist?
I bet many, if not all of you, have asked yourselves this question. For a person you love…or maybe a dog, or cat, like mine. I’m sure there isn’t a single one of us who does not hate cancer for what it’s taken away from us, for whom it’s taken away from us.
Reggie…why does cancer have to steal you from me, from all of us who love you, way too soon. Way too soon…
Okay. Enough. He’s outside now, going to the bathroom, and when he comes in, it’s time to eat, to stuff all this down, to be his parent, to think of him, and not myself.
To keep going, and going, for as long as he’ll let me keep up the hope.
There are many grants for cancer research in dogs, and for cancer treatment of dogs.