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.