Saturday, August 30, 2008
The Will to Live
I didn’t expect that my weekend would start out so dramatically. We were planning to be very low-key and do projects around the house and the yard. As I was about to go buy dog food yesterday afternoon, I realized that our 13-year old dog, Pepper, hadn’t moved from my husband’s office all day. She has very bad arthritis and a heart murmur and digestive track problems and takes thyroid medicine. We usually have to help her stand up and negotiate her way around. In short, she’s fading. She hadn’t eaten her breakfast and was stretched out limp as a dishrag. I had a hard time getting her to wake up and when I tried to lift her up, Pepper’s legs kept giving out and wouldn’t support her. She couldn’t walk.
It was four o’clock on Friday, starting a long holiday weekend, and I knew that I better talk to a vet right away. I called a large-animal doctor who makes house calls and is a friend of my neighbors. He was on a farm call several towns away, but his answering service paged him. After he didn’t return my call in a half hour, I called our regular vet. I knew I couldn’t get Pepper there in time before they closed. It turned out that only a new vet was at the hospital, but she was able to speak to me. She said that worst case was that the problem might be with Pepper’s spleen. It might be enlarged, have a tumor or might even rupture. She also looked at the dog’s record and suggested that I give her a Pepcid in case her stomach was upset. She pointed out that it was about to rain and maybe this was just a severe arthritic reaction. We decided that we should bring Pepper in first thing at 8 am, and my husband offered to stay downstairs and sleep on the couch next to her in the living room. The other vet phoned back and when I explained the situation, told me that he was on-call all week-end. If I had an emergency, he would come help us. Throughout the evening, Pepper couldn’t stand on her own or walk and continued to refuse to eat.
So, anxious, but feeling better that there was some kind of a plan, I fell asleep. I woke at 4:30 am and went downstairs to see how Pepper was doing. My husband groggily told me that she had thrown up twice. Then, he fell back to sleep. I sat on the floor with my dog and wondered if this was the end. I didn’t know if she could even make it to the vet’s office and if she would come back from there. I decided to talk to Pepper. I told her that we loved her so much, but if she was in pain she needed to let me know, and it was okay for her to go. We didn’t want her to suffer. I said that she needed to tell me what to do. I stayed with her and had a cup of coffee while she listlessly leaned on my leg. No response. Finally, it was time to feed the horses.
I started crying when I put the hay in Silk’s stall. I explained to Silk what was happening and stood with my arms around her neck. Suddenly, in my head, I heard, “Pepper loves you so much that she doesn’t want to leave you.” I was startled by that, but I knew in my bones that it was true. I woke up my husband since it was time to go to the vet. After he drank a cup of coffee, I started the hard conversation about at what point would we know that it was time to put Pepper to sleep. I knew it was really important that we both agree on the decision and that he is very deeply attached to our dog. I didn’t want to be in the waiting room at the vet’s office trying to discuss what to do. Pepper was within ear-shot, still sprawled out motionless on the floor. Then, it was time to go.
We helped her up, and suddenly, she walked to the back door, went out in the yard and pooped and peed like she always does. Then, she came back into the house and ate a bowl of food and drank a lot of water. I couldn’t believe it. I called the vet to say that we weren’t going to come and that I would bring Pepper in on Tuesday if she seemed to be in any distress. The vet consoled me that if something was wrong with her spleen, she would be getting worse, not better.
I hung up and remembered a previous time, when Pepper was younger and had the second operation on her back legs. They had to put pins in her legs because she popped her kneecaps. They had a hard time waking her up from the anesthetic, and then, for several days, she refused to eat. Our vet told me that he was afraid that she had lost the will to live. That day, one of my daughter’s little friends who was terrified of dogs came over to visit. I carried Pepper out to the patio, with a huge cast on her leg, and the girls made get well cards and petted her. By the time the little girl left, she was hugging our dog and begging her mother to let her get one. Immediately afterwards, Pepper began to eat again and was on the road to recovery.
So, I wonder, did Silk communicate to Pepper this morning? Twice since I’ve owned my horse, I’ve witnessed her pull back from death’s door and have always believed it was because she felt the strength of my love. I took another trip to the barn after Pepper’s miraculous change and thanked Silk for her help. I know that this is a day-to-day delicate balance for our dog, and my husband and I are both so grateful that she’s still with us right now.
I’ve been marveling at how I was actually able after all to relax and do the projects that I planned to do this afternoon. Checking my email, I found this poem from someone:
What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.
What you can live
will make plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.
From “What to Remember When Waking” by David Whyte