Stress (and a shout out for some TLC)

It was a rough weekend. Doo had the shits. It started to show a bit on Thursday and I had hoped it was a passing thing, but I woke on Saturday morning to discover that, well, let’s just say that my bedroom carpet badly needed cleaning and the downstairs wood floors needed scrubbing and the dog needed to have been let out like two hours earlier. Usually, I wake up when Doo hops off the bed. But I was dead tired from having stayed up late working on a website for a non-profit org that I volunteer for.

So, I shrugged into jeans and a sweatshirt and got down to cleaning. I didn’t first shower or eat or do anything that would give me time to bemoan the sorry task ahead of me. I just jumped in and did it, didn’t look at the clock, didn’t think about how big of a job it was, tried not to focus on how gross it was, just did one little spot after another and, a few hours later, I had some serious back pain and a seriously clean house.

After that, I had no energy for anything. Cleaning house really wears me out. My back just can’t handle the leaning and scrubbing. Usually, I try to do little bits at a time. But, every six months to a year, some deep cleaning is called for. That’s when I just hire someone. But I couldn’t in good conscious hire someone to clean the particular mess at hand, even if I could have found someone on such short notice. It was my problem to handle.

After that, Doo and I made it through Saturday night and most of Sunday with no more drama. He slept a LOT, as he often does now. And I tried not to feel sorry for myself but my back was fucked up and I was exhausted and, knowing that this kind of thing was probably only going to happen more as he aged, I was wondering if I could really handle both the physical and emotional turmoil of seeing my beloved best friend unravel further.

Hermes and I went out on Sunday night. For three hours. Only three. I had fenced Doo off in a little area in the house just in case he had another episdoe. (But since he had been stable all day, I figured he was on the mend enough for me to go out.) But no. No, no, no. I came home at 10 PM to the most digusting mess I’ve ever seen. Caging him had the virtue of limiting the mess to a particular area but had the unfortunate side effect of trampled, crusty mess created by a blind dog now caked in, well, you get the picture.

So, I spent another hour on my hands and knees scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing, and bathing, bathing, bathing. I didn’t have the fortitude for it, I didn’t have the energy, and my back certainly couldn’t afford it. But what could I have done?

So, I handled it and then called Hermes and cried hard about it for a while. Then, I tried to take Doo for a walk around the townhouse complex. But at night his dementia is more acute and his blindness is complete, and when he slipped out of his leash, I went to grab him (for fear that he would run, confused, in the wrong direction and I would lose him or he would hurt himself or get hit by a car). He totally freaked out at being grabbed and started just flailing about like he was in the grips of evil, as if his life depended on getting away from me. He even made motions to bite me. I can’t tell you how much it breaks my heart when he so scared and he doesn’t recognize me and is afraid of me.

Once we got back in the house, he calmed down. I took a half of a valium in hopes that it would help with the muscle pain. And I wrapped my cold, wet dog in a towel and tucked him under the covers with me so that I’d be sure to wake up if he moved to go outside. We both slept like the dead.

But it wasn’t Doo who woke up in the middle of the night. It was my gut, with a terrible pain. It felt like something was going to burst in there. I’ve felt this kind of pain a few times before (either from food poisoning or some other sort of abdominal upset) and almost every time, I’ve passed out from it. Passing out is one thing. Passing out and your muscles contracting so hard that you can’t breathe (which is what my body has done for all 5 or so times that it has happened in the last 10 years) is another. Passing out and seizing when you are single and no one is in shouting distance is pretty scary.

Fortunately, I know the signs now. So, I took my cell phone into the bathroom with me. But I hesitated in my drugged state, not really sure who to call, not wanting to embarrass myself, not wanting to bother anyone in the middle of the night. I could have called Hermes even though he’d have to drive 25 minutes to get to me. I could have called my housemate on her cellphone in the basement but she seems to be under major stress of her own and doesn’t have a lot of slack lately. For whatever reason, I didn’t call anyone. The valium made me so sleepy, it was actually hard to stay awake even though I was in pain. I was worried that if I didn’t pass out, I’d still fall asleep on the throne and fall off. Then I started to get the familiar waves of the nauseous, cold, clammy feeling. So, I put my head low and breathed deep and tried not to panic.

Fortunately, it passed. (Forgive the pun.) And I didn’t lose consciousness. But, still, the episode was unnerving. It has been a couple of years since I’ve passed out. Trust me, it royally sucks. Usually, I need to sleep for a day or so afterwards, it has such an effect on my body. (Although my seizures aren’t epileptic, they share their exhausting nature in common.) I don’t fancy it ever happening again if for no other reason than I don’t want my body getting into the habit. So, I said a little prayer of gratitude that I was spared last night. I went back to bed and slept hard until 8 AM (when the second, what-are-you-still-doing-in-bed alarm went off).

But back to Doo … this morning I took him to the vet. He has a bacterial overgrowth, which is totally curable. But in light of the big decisions I’m faced with about my life at the moment (regarding my career and my upcoming travel plans) and how stressful it is getting to be to care for him in his blindness, deafness, incontinence, the incredible mess he makes when he eats because he can’t see his food or get a hold of it easily, the seeping warts that sometimes bleed on the bedspread, the weekly baths because he gets so oily and stinky now, his constant pacing the house when he’s not sleeping like the dead, and his odd nighttime dementia freak-out episodes, and the inevitability of his demise and when/if I should take some responsibility for shortening that has all been weighing heavily on my mind–in light of all that, I asked my vet a big question.

The vet that we saw this morning was his old vet that has known him for many years and still gets to visit him when I take my cat in to him once or twice a year. (Doo’s regular vet where he gets acupuncture wasn’t open.) The vet commented that Doo didn’t seem to have that bright-eyed enthusiasm that used to charm everyone and that his age was showing. I’ve really been feeling that too, in particular, the loss of connection between us because we can’t make eye contact anymore, because he so quickly gets dirty that makes it hard for me to really enjoy cuddling with him, and because he has a hard time calming down enough to cuddle when he’s not sleeping. And, so, unsuccessfully fighting back the tears, I asked him how long he thinks that Doo has to live. I told him I needed an honest answer so that I could make good decisions. The vet was really sweet about it and very empathetic. He took a blood sample and so we’ll know more tomorrow but his best guess from the exam today was 6 to 8 months.

I’ve been crying all morning. I’ve known it’s coming, but having something concrete in mind really facilitates the grieving and the processing of the decisions to be made. In particular, I’m asking myself what kinds of sacrifices I want to make in order to give him and me a few more months together. I talked about this with my therapist in our last session. She is a long time dog lover who has had to say goodbye to her beloved friends too. And she tried to get me to bring myself into the equation, to see that whatever arrangement Doo and I have has to work for both of us, and that, as humans, we took on responsibility for seeing to a dignified ending of our pets’ lives when we domesticated them and made them completely dependent on us. (It was her idea for me to ask the vet how much longer he think Doo has got.) It’s hard for me to not see ending an animal’s life because it’s not working for me as selfish. After all, Doo has give me so much.

Those of you who know me well know that my dogs have pretty much saved my life and kept me going when I was much more fragile than I am today. And Doo has been my devoted best friend for 16 1/2 years and seen me through all sorts of embarrassing episodes and hard times. I really hate to think about life without him. He is so precious to me.


9 thoughts on “Stress (and a shout out for some TLC)

  1. Oh, this is so very hard. I’m so sorry.

    My best friend is a vet, and she has helped Heidekins through this moment with 2 of her dogs. And basically what she’s said is that if you listen, they will tell you what they want. Doo may need you to release him, and he may go on his own. Certainly I saw that happen with Moondog, literally a day after Heidekins talked with BestVet and realized that he was hanging on because she didn’t want him to go. Or Doo may be asking for your help. I don’t know. But I do believe he’ll tell you.

    I do know it’s really hard. I still remember the heartbreak of having to put my dog down when I was in college. We’d had him since I was 4 — I can remember getting him, but not not having him, y’know? I am so sorry you’re having to go through this grief. I’m here if you need someone.

  2. I’m going to be blunt.

    I know this is hard, but don’t be selfish. Doo has given you 16 wonderful years and now it’s time for him to go. He’s not living any more, he’s just existing.

    Do what your heart is telling you is right for him.

    And after your heart has had time to heal, go to the humane society and find a new companion who wants and needs a home and your love.

    No other dog will ever be a substitute for Doo, but like me, you’re a dog person and you know their power to comfort, calm, and heal.

    If you want my company for any of this, for a ride to the vet, or a shoulder to cry on, please, please give me a call.


    • Re: I’m going to be blunt.

      Thanks. I really appreciate your directness. I struggle with it because there are moments in every day that he still seems to be into life. He is excited when I come through the door. When we are out for a short daytime walk, he gets a little bounce in his step when he knows he’s almost home. He still seems to like sniffing bushes and piles of other dogs’ turds (although with a bit less engrossment). He looks forward to dog treats. And, of course, he is so attached to me. (And I to him.)

      So, it’s hard for me to not think that ending his life would be robbing him of something he deserves.

      The vet called this morning with his blood work. He said that, on the whole, Doo’s body is doing well and might very well hold out for another year. But what concerned him most was not what was in the blood work, but the constant pacing the house, the dementia, and the lack of engagement and enthusiasm (which could only partly be explained by feeling under the weather with the intestinal thing). It seemed to him that this decline has sped up since the vet last saw Doo. And I acknowledged that I’ve noticed the same thing since the fall.

      I’m really struggling with finding the strength for this.

  3. First of all, I’m so sorry. This sounds so hard and I am in awe of how you’re handling it. You are handling it so much better than I could, I think.

    I agree with Di – Doo will let you know when it’s time, if you listen. Listen to your heart. I know it’s hard, but you’ll know when it’s time.

    You still have my number? Always feel free to call if you need to talk. I’m up til 10 or 11 my time.

  4. You have my deepest sympathies. As always, I am struck by your courage and compassion in facing these hard questions and realities. I know that you will respond to the situation with loving wisdom and respect. Sending you lots of love and strength.

  5. You have already received some wise advice and comfort. I don’t have any words that will make the situation any easier, but I just wanted you to know that I am sorry that you are facing such a painful dilemma. I’m also confident that you will find the way through this and the strength your will need. *hugs*

  6. I don’t have any words that will assuage what you are feeling and are about to go through. I don’t look forward to when I have to go through this either. However, it’s inevitable. As they say, Life is terminal. On to the other subject in your post. Don’t ever feel like you can’t call. While I am in L-town, it’s really not that far away. And, it’s really not that big of a deal. I know from my years of living alone that it sucks when your body breaks down on you, and feeling like you are truly all alone. Which of course is the silliest thing ever,.. because you my friend are anything but all alone. So umm,. don’t forget that.

  7. I am so sorry you have to go through this. If anyone ever needed proof of the existence unconditional love, you and Doo are it.

    Remember that everything Doo has done for you, you have done for him. You have taken wonderful care of him, loved him, cleaned up his messes and rewarded his good deeds… He has enjoyed a long, happy, loving life, thanks to you. Whatever decisions you make in the remainder of his life, out of compassion for both of you, he’ll understand and love you through.

    I think banana’s right… Love Doo and yourself as much as you can, listen to him and to yourself. We’re all here for you.

  8. You already know that antibiotics to clear up the bacterial overgrowth can aggravate the poop problems. Just in case you aren’t thinking clearly, remember the probiotics. Enough with the practical.

    About six years ago, I knew my best friend Kodi was on her way out. She was a yellow lab and had gone from full of life to kind of out-of-it. In the wee hours one morning, I found her on the kitchen floor, paddling like a turtle, unable to stand and barely able to move. I called a friend to sit with the kids and took her to an emergency vet. We decided to go ahead and put her to sleep. They said it would take only a few seconds.

    I held her for over a minute before she lost conciousness. I felt guilty for a while, thinking she had not been ready to go. But when I talked to my father (an M.D.) about it, he said her heart was barely beating and that’s why the drug didn’t circulate into her system for so very long. Still, it is a muscle relaxant. Our beloved animals don’t have any fear of death, and this causes them no pain.

    I think Doo has stopped having good days, even though he still has good moments, and it’s hard to give up even a few of those.

    I’m reminded of a line in “Gods and Monsters”. Ian McKlellan (probably spelled wrong) as James Whale advises something along the lines of making sure your brain is the last organ to fail you. I know animals don’t have the fears and judgments and self-pity that humans do about becoming senile and being a burden. Still I wonder at what point you are no longer prolonging life, but merely postponing death. Will you be saying good-bye to your friend or, realistically have you already done that? I’ve heard Alzheimer’s referred to as ‘death on the installment plan.’ It’s hard not to project my feelings about that fate onto Doo Dog.

    What do you believe about death? Is it really the worst thing that could happen? Is Doo still working through karma from other lives and it’s not your place to release him from that? Are you wondering if you’re just being lazy about not wanting to compromise your body and your time to deal with his needs? I know in my gut that that’s not what’s happening, but what you know is all that matters.

    I know that he has your gratitude. When you think of the best gift you can give him, I’m sure that you will.

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