Friday, January 30, 2009

Otie's Last Stand

He is gone. Our hearts are broken.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Forsake Me Not When My Strength Faileth

Otis is still ticking. Since Inauguration Day - the day I had scheduled an appointment to let him go - he has been thriving, eating like a horse, drinking water, walking about in measured steps, even managing the stairs I was carrying him up and down when he needed to relieve himself. 

The tumor obviously has a life of its own. Without warning, it decides when it is time to act up. When it does, it debilitates him as though he has been shot with a tranquilizer gun. He can't move. The two times when his tumor has reared its nastiest head have come over two day periods when Dr. Judkins has been out of the office. Had they been days when he was in, Otis wouldn't be here right now.

It seems the recovery time of an angry tumor is about three days.  His body swells up with fluids due to the histamines shooting off. He loses his appetite for a spell, then, slowly he accepts certain foods I hide benadryl in. The benadryl combats the histamines and swelling, but makes him extremely sleepy. I don't think he's been in too much pain to this point, it's more his dignity that I'm keeping my eye on. When I last spoke to Dr. J we agreed it was time. But the morning of Inauguration Day Otis looked at me with plenty of dignity in his eyes. I immediately knew it wasn't time. 

Sadly, the tumor won't stop growing. It's enormous, and it's obviously pressing on his bladder because he needs to go out to pee just about every half hour. The steroids make him thirsty, too, I believe. So it's this funny little routine of drinking water, walking around the house for a bit, then to the door, then back in for a little more water. The irony is that he's never been much of a water drinking dog and now that his bladder is being smooshed he can't drink enough of it!

As I feared before, I think the tumor is going to grow too large for him to maneuver around. He's already high-centering on it when he goes up and down stairs. It may not be the cancer that gets him, but the size of the tumor itself. Dr. J and I were saying that if we could just replace the back half of his body the front half could go on for years. That's what's so damn heartbreaking. His eyes and ears still have vitality and life. 

That said, the next time the histamines start firing I'm going to have to let him go. The tumor is too big to allow for another recovery process, for when he recovers, the tumor will be that much larger and meaner. As it is, I wake up everyday wondering if it will be his last. As the day goes by, I'm learning to appreciate the moment more and more. I scratch behind his ear a little more often. I find more patience with his pacing around while the baby is sleeping, although I have to get a little stern with him when he continually attempts to bust through her bedroom door. You see, he likes to lay on her heater. And every time the furnace turns on he heads right for it. He can't hear me say 'no' so I have to run after him before he barges in and wakes her. So, yes, it's possible to still get upset with your dying dog. But hey, you got to take advantage of the minutes when the baby is down. 

Here's a couple snaps of Otis. The first is from his early days. I'd say he was about four. The second is from last Monday, the day before Inauguration Day. He looks pretty spent, but he improved throughout the week. I wish he could start aging backwards like Benjamin Button. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Otis Loves Obama

I woke up today thinking change. Even had a scheduled appointment for Otis. But the way he looked at me this morning told me today was not the right day. Perhaps he felt the energy of the day at hand. It had to be something, because he was a world away from yesterday and the day before. He walked down the stairs on his own. He ate heartily. He even rolled over on his back to give it a scratch. In short, on this day of dignity, he still had his. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Time Is The Least Thing We Have Of."

Ernest Hemingway said that. And right now, it's never been so true.

I found Otis on the floor at the foot of Sam's bed this morning. It was early and Sam was still asleep. Otis looked up at me as if to say, "What, you expected me to stay in the kitchen all night?" I was happy to see him. And I felt bad for leaving him in the kitchen.

Olav the cat set him free in the night when he bulldosed his way through a door that doesn't latch properly. (It's an old house and I'm a lazy, ungifted handyman.) Anyway, Sam muttered from under his blanket, "He tried to climb up but he couldn't make it." I guess Sam must have been too tired to help him.

So he made it through the night and now he's made it through another day. He's also managing to keep down some left over mac and cheese that I'm hiding his steroids and the benadryl in. The benadryl's side effect is sleepiness, which I feel is a good thing for Otis now because his tumor has grown too large for his leg to maneuver around. So in one sense, the benadryl is acting as a type of morphine drip, if you will.

Tomorrow I plan to call Dr. J but I don't believe he'll be in. One, it's a holiday. And two, I don't think he works on Mondays. If he is in, I will need to take that most difficult drive. I have thought about doing it at home but something is telling home is not the right place right now. I kind of want to avoid the weight of the sadness and grief the final act would bring. There is already enough of it as it is. And I don't want our final vision of him to be the one where I put him down where he's always got up. 

If tomorrow is not the day, then it will be Tuesday - Inauguration Day. The day of change. Only this change will be a lot harder to swallow.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

When Do You Know It's Time?

Otie's POV


For a house with plenty of rooms and comfort to be found, I tend to spend most of my time sitting where I am right now - on a trendy old French bistro style barstool at the counter in my kitchen. But right now I'm sitting here so that Otis can see me. He's bedridden. We're to the point where I have to carry him outside to relieve himself. He woke us up night before last needing to get outside immediately. I picked him up and scurried down the stairs and out the door just in time for him to vomit. Morning came around and he managed to swallow a few offerings, one of which I'd hidden 2mls of Neoplasene, which is the med that is supposed to combat the ever-growing tumor. He threw up immediately. I called Dr. J who asked me some questions then told me to stop giving him the Neoplasene. Otis was panting and any movement was too great an effort. Dr. J told me to try to get him to swallow two benadryls, which would help fight the histamines that were shooting out of the tumor and making him miserable. 

I hid two benadryl in two pieces of salami, but Otis refused to take it. That alone should indicate how dire the situation is. I left them on the floor by his bowl in hopes that he would manage to get it down. In the meantime, I took trips carrying Otis in and out. He's pretty good at letting me know when he's going to puke. He kind of licks his chops like he's got peanut butter on the roof of his mouth. As soon as I hear the smacking, I run to him as fast as I can to pick him up and get him out. There is risk involved, of course. He could throw up on my feet or legs or hands, but that's nothing compared to trying to get it out of a shag carpet or sisal rug, the latter of which he doused later in the day. I thought it might have been because he ate the salami, but I soon found out that wasn't the case. That's because Huckle the cat was foaming at the mouth. Then she threw up! The evidence was plain to see. The house was suddenly a scene right out of Stand By Me when they held the pie eating contest that turned into a barf-o-rama. 

I felt bad, but I decided to keep Otis in the kitchen over night. If he needed to get sick, he would have plenty of floor to do it on. And better to clean the marmoleum kitchen floor than any other. Part of me, I'm sad to admit, was hoping that he would slip away peacefully in the night. I'm sorry, but I just don't want to make that heartbreaking ride to the vet. 

I came down in the middle of the night and sat with him for a spell, just to let him know I was there for him. His breathing wasn't labored. He seemed at peace. I told him he's been the best dog anybody could ever hope for. Then I went back to bed.

I returned in the morning to find he hadn't changed position, but his eyes were wide open and he looked happy to see me. He just couldn't move. I fixed breakfast while he stayed put. I made some bacon, which would be the true test, the way I figured it. If he refused bacon, then this would be the day. But he ate it. I hid some benadryl in some cheese and he swallowed that up. Then I put his steroids in a fried egg and he accepted that as well. About two hours later he made it to his feet and limped to the front door. There was a chill in the air, but the sun was out and I think it must have felt good to him. He stood motionless on the porch for about ten minutes before I picked him up and took him down the stairs to the grass where he properly relieved himself.

I took him back up to the porch where he stood for a good long while. I went inside and grabbed my camera for what I figured would be Otis' final photo shoot. He's had so very many throughout his life. I wouldn't be surprised if he were the most photographed dog on earth. In fact, the story of his entire life can be told through photographs. And what a life it has been.

God damn. God damn. That's all you can really say. This part is unbelievably difficult. I'm not talking about cleaning vomit or tending to his every move or feeding him hand to mouth. I'm talking about knowing when it is time. His eyes this morning didn't tell me he was ready, but I look at the aggression of the tumor, and his sudden incapacity to even move and I feel like I am doing him an injustice by waiting too long. Is he in pain? Is he dejected? Ashamed? Does he know what's happening? Two days ago he carried his trademark ball in his mouth. Yesterday and today he wouldn't think of it. The tumor has become so large. They say you can start can start to see the cancer when it gets real bad. I think can see the cancer now. It's black. It's what you imagine cancer to look like. 

I don't want my dog to have to live like this, but I also don't want to let him go too soon. It's a horrible catch-22. There are so many catch-22s with cancer. In this case, removing the tumor is not an option. So you're only option is to fight the good fight, which you know cannot be won. All you can really do is slow it down as much as possible. So you fight it with things called neoplasene, but he hates the taste of neoplasene and tends to reject any food you attempt to mask it with. All the while the tumor slowly grows. Eventually it shoots off histamines that make him sick. Then, any neoplasene you manage to get down, he reacts to by throwing up. Then he loses his appetite all together and the tumor grows even faster because you can't combat it with the neoplasene.  

The tumor is not quite to the point where it's rendering Otis motionless, but it's very close. I have a feeling that it's going to be the size of the tumor makes my decision in the end. It may not be the cancer that kills him, but the size of the tumor that makes him unable to move. So, as was this case this morning, his eyes may be happy to see me tomorrow, but his body could betray him. 

I hope that an angel comes and takes him away tonight. I hope he closes his eyes and drifts away. I would be ok with that.

Here are some of the pictures and a couple videos I took of Otis these past few days. There's a sadness to them, for sure, but I've documented his entire journey so I need to include these as part of his story. Eventually you will see the entire journey from beginning to end. I'm sorry if these are hard to look at.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Utter Otis

I'm starting to get a bit concerned. As you can see from the photo, the tumor is continuing to grow. With surgery not being an option, how long can a tumor grow before something needs to be done? This is heartbreaking stuff. Stairs are suddenly an adventure for the guy as the tumor gets in the way of his ascent and descent. And when he lays down he lays all cattywompous because it's obviously in his way. Or he is forced to lie on his right side only. But he likes to sleep on his belly. Other than the protruding nature of it, Otis is in pretty decent spirits. He's been carrying his ball in his mouth again and he's back to pinching the construction workers lunches at the end of the block on a daily basis. Today I heard one of them shouting at him to get out of something - most likely a bologna sandwich. The drugs are making Otis hungrier than normal, and he's already always been abnormally hungry. Hence the weight gain on top of the tumor itself. Tomorrow I will pay a visit to Dr. J for some refills on herbs and I will ask if surgery is something we should consider. I fear that going in and messing with the tumor could be the death of him, but we'll see what the good doctor has to say about it. If the tumor continues at this pace, I don't see what other option there is. Grrr...

This was Otis walking toward daylight this afternoon. I wanted to get a shot where you could see his miniature cow-like feature.

And then followed Olav, who before Otis got sick had absolutely zero interest in the old dog. Now he shadows him everywhere he goes. He even follows us on our walks. It's quite beautiful and makes you absolutely accept the cat without condition, which for this cat is saying A LOT!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Revenant

Otis is still pluggin' along. He even chased his tail today! The tumor is still growing, and unfortunately is beginning to look like an utter on a cow. Yeah, not too aesthetically pleasing. And I'm sure it doesn't help when it comes to catching his tail.

Here is my favorite poem on the subject of the dog. I keep it on my wall and read it often. Sometimes I hear Otis' voice when I read it.

The Revenant - Billy Collins

I am the dog you put to sleep,
as you like to call the needle of oblivion,
come back to tell you this simple thing:
I never liked you--not one bit.

When I licked your face,
I thought of biting off your nose.
When I watched you toweling yourself dry,
I wanted to leap and unman you with a snap.

I resented the way you moved,
your lack of animal grace,
the way you would sit in a chair to eat,
a napkin on your lap, knife in your hand.

I would have run away,
but I was too weak, a trick you taught me
while I was learning to sit and heel,
and--greatest of insults--shake hands without a hand.

I admit the sight of the leash
would excite me
but only because it meant I was about
to smell things you had never touched.

You do not want to believe this,
but I have no reason to lie.
I hated the car, the rubber toys,
disliked your friends and, worse, your relatives.

The jingling of my tags drove me mad.
You always scratched me in the wrong place.
All I ever wanted from you
was food and fresh water in my metal bowls.

While you slept, I watched you breathe
as the moon rose in the sky.
It took all of my strength
not to raise my head and howl.

Now I am free of the collar,
the yellow raincoat, monogrammed sweater,
the absurdity of your lawn,
and that is all you need to know about this place

except what you already supposed
and are glad it did not happen sooner--

that everyone here can read and write,
the dogs in poetry, the cats and the others in prose.