When 8 a.m. arrived, I walked into my office, tap on the water and food bowls to remind him where they were and to eat and drink, then sat at my desk to start working. A few minutes later, I heard a thud. It was Zacky trying to get up. I went over to him. His poor back legs were tangled, so I quickly untangled them, wiggled them a bit to help relax him, and heard another thud. His head and shoulders had flopped onto the floor. I knew. I tried to fight it. But, I knew. I grabbed his front legs and shook them hoping he would respond and maybe the blood would flow better. Nothing. I pushed on his ribs as close to where his heart was as I could. I pushed and pushed. He made a sound and his mouth moved. I did some more pushing and one final breathe expelled. I knew those sounds and movements were likely just what was left inside his furry body, but I was praying my efforts would keep him alive. Finally, after crying loudly and begging him to move or wake up, I stopped. I screamed and cried while I tried to call my Superman. I couldn't reach him--stupid hospital walls block signals! I texted him. Finally, he called me back.
While I waited for Superman to take a cab home, I frantically called the emergency vet hospital. "My dog just died. I'm home alone and don't know what to do." They suggested I call another place thinking they might come pick him up for us. No answer. Crap! I called our regular vet. After a few minutes on hold then a call back, they said they were sending someone to help and pick him up. Thank you, God!
Then, I just sat there staring at Zacky, crying histerically, and waiting... alone.
It was in those moments that I knew just how much I not only loved him but had come to need and rely on him.
If you've followed my blog, then you know. It's been a tough year and a half for us.
First, our oldest dog, Shiner, died on February 29, 2012. He was just 3 months shy of 17, which was close to our original deal. He was supposed to live to be at least 17. That is what the vets in Austin had said was possible after he recovered from near death injuries inflicted by 2 deprived pitbulls. Right then, I whispered into his furry ears, 'You have to at least make it to 17. I can't bare to lose you any sooner.' When he turned 15, I told him 2 more years wouldn't be enough. 'New deal. You now must get to 20!' But, he slipped a disk in the fall of 2011 and needed prednisone to decrease the inflammation. Boy, did that help! It took a few months of weening down the Prednisone, which apparently caused his heart murmur and heart disease to progress. He had lived in stage 4 heart disease for 4 years. But, when his cough changed, I knew something was wrong. A few weeks of trying to get the right meds for him and trying to get him to eat were all for naught. He was too weak. I had been crying for weeks and begging God to let me keep him, even though I had been praying to God that if Shiner had to die in 2012 that it be before our big move across the country. Shiner never handled moving well. It would stress him out for at least 3 to 6 months--separation anxiety, destructive behavior, and daily vomiting. God wanted his furry friend with him per my prayers, so we had to do it. Worst, or hardest, decision to ever have to make!
Just two months later, we moved from Texas to Maryland. It was supposed to be exciting. I was eager to go so far north where I thought the summers would be much cooler and better for my health. On April 26th on the way to MD, my grandmother died. Seriously. I'm still in shock over the timing of it all. I couldn't believe it. I knew it would happen, but I always assumed I'd be there or at least be able to attend her funeral. I had been praying that God would take her quickly if her body started to fail her too much. He did that for me. A prayer answered. I wish I had been a bit more specific on when, especially since I know He listens.
May wasn't much better. We moved in, but I was still working every day. I was getting sicker and sicker and had less energy to help Superman do more unpacking and settling. So, the best thing for us was for me to get pneumonia. Oh, yes. What a treat that was for us! Yes, it involved a trip to see my "new" primary care provider, an X-ray, then a CT scan. We got a nice surprise a 4 p.m., right as the clinics are closing. "There's a mass on your lungs. I've already left the office but will call on Tuesday when I'm in the office, so I can look at the notes from the scans." We got to live with that gem over a long, Memorial weekend. It turns out, my provider either read the notes wrong or the radiologist wrote something wrong. We may never know. But, that was a scary weekend.
June wasn't any better either. Just before a conference for work, my grandmother died. Yes, I still went to the conference and waited to find out when the funeral would be. Yes, the conference was in Texas, but my parents were already in California with the family there and my brother's family was more than 4 hours away. Ugh! Meanwhile, my symptoms were flaring. I just couldn't make it work knowing how much worse the stress would be on my body. I couldn't bare the thought of getting sick while in California and having to travel or wait to travel home to Maryland. That's a long flight and even longer when sick. I had to miss out on this grandma's funeral too. I was sad but a bit relieved because I was indeed getting worse.
I continued to worsen every day. By the end of July, I was having daily breakouts with hives by the thousands (or less than that because the smaller ones merged to make larger and giant ones). By July 26, my breakout became intense. More intense than ever before and the fever started. I should have gone to the ER that day or the next. I was tired of going to the ER. "Take this Benadryl and this steroid burst and follow up with your primary/allergy/rheumatology (whoever they happen to consult with on the phone about my condition) doctor. By day 4, I agreed to go to the ER. (Click here for more on this part of my story.) It was around this time that we also discovered that our basement had flooded either from the Derecho of June 29, or from a rain since then. The carpet and the lower walls were moldy and had to be replaced. Our boxes of things were wet. Superman had to handle that on top of dealing with me and school.
August finally brought us a break, sort of. Superman had finished his first summer session and finally had a few weeks off to rest. He certainly needed it! He did all the work during the moving. He studied day and night every day of the week from the first till the last day of class. He even had to study for finals while with me in the ER. This man may be super, but he really needed the break! By the end of August, we finally saw rheumatology at Johns Hopkins. We had been looking forward to that appointment. It came and went without any fanfare or anything new. But, when we got home, we had another surprise.
Zacky couldn't or wouldn't open his eyes. We rushed him to a vet we had taken him to once already to get established and update a few shots. Besides being creepy, that vet said it's probably an infection in his left eye and sent us home with an eye drop. We discovered a couple of days later when we took him to an ophthalmologist at the area emergency pet hospital that it was indeed not an infection but glaucoma. Had we realized and treated it when we first took him to the other vet, we could have saved his vision for a bit longer. We found out a few weeks later that Zacky's glaucoma was genetic. That meant something more. The ophthalmologist told us it would happen in his right eye within 6-12 months. We were a bit sad but figured since he still had one eye he could still look out my office window and watch the squirrels, bunnies, chipmunks and birds along the trail and fence by our house. He could still use the doggie door. Other than a daily eye drop in the left eye, it did not change his lifestyle. Therefore, we chose to go ahead and do a ciliary ablation, making him permanently blind in that eye.
September and October should have been kinder to us after all of this, right? Nope. Superman started having serious pains--in his abdomen, or so I thought. On several occasions, this diligent studier was not at his desk but doubled over on the floor for hours praying the pain would go away. "It's stress. I have not doubts but to ease your mind, I'll order a colonoscopy. I'm certain you do not have cancer."Of course, my Superman had to live with the pains for another month or two before he could get his turn on the rotisserie, a.k.a. the colonoscopy and endoscopy combo.
Ah, November! November meant my birthday, Thanksgiving and a date with a new friend at the theater. Woohoo! Except, the rotisserie day was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. We knew that was coming. We, mostly Superman, would just have to deal with that unpleasantness--the prepping and the actual rotisserie. When he finally emerged, it was all over and he would be fine. Neither of us expecting much more than a lazy afternoon when we got home. But, the doctor came out to talk to us. With Superman still quite drugged, he calmly announced, "You had some polyps we were able to remove without any problems. But, there is one tumor in there that has broken through the colon wall. It's cancer." Somehow, I was not numb; I was not hysterical; I was not calm. I was completely blank. A few lingering seconds of that and I at least had the thought to respond with, "Are you serious?" 'You idiot. No doctor is going to tell a patient they have cancer... as a joke,' I thought. "What does this mean? What do we do?" 'There ya go! There's the freakout your husband is due. There's a more proper response.' Yep. This is exactly what he needed. Cancer. Don't we all need a dose of cancer after months like we had?
Chemo and Radiation started in December for Superman. Therefore, we didn't expect much from December. He was able to visit with his family and enjoy Christmas. His dad returned to MD with us to help with driving Superman to radiation and chemo five days a week so I could continue to work and save up vacation days I'd need during and after his surgery scheduled for April 2.
January was nothing but a lot of chemo and radiation and sleeping and side-effects. It was hard to watch him go through that and even harder to imagine what he must be feeling both physically and emotionally. I finally discovered tunnel vision and focused only on whatever I had to do at whatever moment I was in. Work. Focus from 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Collapse for a nap if allowed. Dinner. Walk and feed Zacky.
Like clockwork, Zacky's pressures spike in his right eye in early February. This time, we opted to try to save his vision in his right eye. That meant hundreds of dollars of eye drops in the hopes of saving his vision or some of it in that eye. 5 eye drops in his right eye 4 times daily, the 3 times daily for as long as he doesn't exhibit pain or pressure spikes and ophthalmology appointments every 3 weeks.
Can you guess what finally happened in early March? Take a wild guess.
Zacky's pressures spiked again in that right eye. The drops were no longer effective. We had to ablate that eye too. Could we really take his vision away from him completely? How happy would his life be if he couldn't look out my window anymore and bark at the critters? We had to do it. Somehow, we would manage. And, we did. He still played with his toys. He was still unsure about walking around much without us. The second we touched his new halter collar, he new he was safe and we would guide him where he needed to go.
The days before Superman's surgery, Zacky was following me around more than usual. I didn't think much of it. I figured he was scared of the vacuum since we were cleaning the house all day. Suddenly, his but exploded. There was so much pooh and stuff on the floor--that's why I say it exploded. Back to the emergency vet hospital we went! Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis. He had to stay overnight, and overnight, and overnight. Finally, we said just keep him one more night so I wouldn't have to worry about him while dealing with Jeff's surgery. Also, I wondered if that lump on Zacky's front left elbow was getting bigger. We had a number of fatty tumors removed for him. We didn't have time to worry about yet another one right then in addition to everything else. I'd wait until Superman was home from surgery to worry about it and so he could look and tell me if I was right about it growing or not. But, as things as been working for us so far, Superman was not home as quickly as we had hope. We were told 5-7 days. No, he ended up being in the hospital for 2 weeks. That was stressful. I couldn't sleep well at night. I couldn't stay away much during the day. I felt like a robot or zombie during those 2 weeks. But, when Superman was finally home and lucid, he noticed what I had been suspecting. Zacky's tumor was indeed growing and growing quickly.
In early May, I took Zacky in for an exam and assumed I'd be scheduling another surgery for him to have it removed. Well, it was worse. The vet was concerned it was growing into the bone. He sent us back to the emergency and vet hospital to have him examined there and consult with the surgeon. The surgeon's solution was to "amputate the entire leg. That ensures the greatest margin for removing the tumor and outlying cancer cells." Jeff and I had the same reaction. "Amputate? You want to amputate an arthritic, 11 year old dog's front leg? How could he possibly get around with only one good leg after that? No way! Not an option? His quality of life would be zero!" That meant we then had to meet with the oncology specialists, both radiation and chemotherapy oncology veterinarians. We settled on palliative radiation and chemo because we thought it could give us 6 - 12 more months with him. In my mind, that's what we needed. We needed Zacky to get us through Superman's treatments.
I needed him! I relied on him when Superman wasn't home or not feeling well. He was my comforter, my companion, my caretaker, my emotional stability.
The treatments started a few weeks later and the tumor had grown significantly in that time. But, after his 3rd week of treatment, I was thinking the tumor was shrinking. And, I noticed Zacky's limp was getting less and less. It was almost non-existant after his 4th treatment and for 3 weeks after that. Thank you, God, for that!
Last Sunday, Zacky got sick again and vomited. Superman brought him in on Monday to check it out. We were to get the blood results on Tuesday. But, they didn't matter by then.
It was in those moment alone with Zacky after he died that I truly realized how much I depended on him, how much he had changed since Shiner died, how old and gray he had gotten since then, and how much more I had grown to love and appreciate him through all of this. He kept us happy. He kept us sane, relatively speaking. He kept us feeling loved, wanted, and needed.
Zacky, you see, spent most of his life with Shiner being the alpha dog. All Zacky ever wanted was attention. All he ever wanted was love. Shiner must have gotten in the way of that. He must not have liked sharing the attention. Even though he was good boy then too, our attention was divided. It was quite unevenly divided in Shiner's last 6 months.
When Zacky became the only dog, he mellowed. He was getting all the attention from us. He was often the center of our conversations at the dinner table, in the living room, and especially at bed time.
For us, it was more than that. In big ways and small ones, our life had been built around Zacky's needs.
When we were searching for a house, we wanted certain things in a home to accommodate our furry baby and friend. We had to have a yard for him--not a big one, but one for him to sun in and do his business. We had to have a layout where my office and the kitchen and living rooms were all on one floor. The fewer stairs for our big, fat, old, arthritic dog, the better. We needed stairs with carpeting and carpet at the top so he could grip to pull himself up that last step.
Superman bought a new backdoor so he could cut out a spot for a doggie door. Then, he built a small porch so the step out of the doggie door would not be too steep for Zacky.
We didn't buy a coffee table for the living room because our blind doggie might hurt himself on it. Plus, he liked being close to us. A coffee table would get in the way of that.
Zacky still has a bed in my office and a giant one in our bedroom. He has his own blanket too. He has a box overflowing with toys. He has a sporty, weatherproof, winter jacket and a warm, felt, pimp coat (thanks to his grandma). He has a bag of treats in my nightstand and a jar of them in my office. There's a wide gate in my office to keep him from falling down the two steps into the living room. (It's pushed aside a bit from when I was trying to get him into the living room Tuesday morning. His food and water are still in their bowls from that morning. The ramp he used Monday to get in and out of my SUV still sits in its place in the back my Tahoe.
We spent a small fortune on and for our furry baby in a little more than a year. We'd have spent more too if Zacky lived any longer.
My day with Zacky went like this:
- Get out of bed and into the shower without waking him. If he woke up, he'd bump into the doors, furniture or the stair railings or get stuck in a corner.
- Grab his harness, tell him good morning, cheer him along as he got up and walked down the stairs.
- Fill his water bowl. Fill his food bowl and put pills into some peanut butter and roll it around in his food so he'd eat it and some food too.
- Walk him.
- Congratulate him on finding his way out the door and down the steps with little instruction from me. Do the same on the way back. (We truly were amazed that he knew his way around and would goose step when he was close to a step--even before we signaled him to step up or down.)
- I'd work and look over at him sitting in my office by the stairs. I'd talk to him from my desk.
- When a UPS/FedEx/mailman/solicitor came to the door, he would bark for me. 'Good boy, Zacky!' If I actually opened the door to someone I didn't know, Zacky and I would go to the door together. The person on the other side would always, always step back.
- When Jeff or I would come home from an errand or day out, Zacky always greeted us at the door with a toy. He even did it after going blind. He stopped doing it every time in the last few months. He couldn't always remember where his toys were.
- When my workday ended, I would grab Zacky's harness for another trip outside.
- Then, he and I would rest in the living room on the sofa. Sometimes, he would nap with me. Sometimes, he napped without me. Haha!
- He would then move with me to the kitchen threshold where he was supposed to stay while we prepared and ate dinner. But, he would slow inch his way along the wall till he was close enough for us to notice him. "Zacky, what are you doing?" one of us would ask. He'd drop his head and slink over to us. How could we possibly be upset with him! "Zacky, out of the kitchen." That was his command to go back to the kitchen threshold and he would.
- His dinner was much like his breakfast with pills hidden in peanut butter rolled up in dog food.
- Another walk always followed dinner.
- I think his second favorite time of day was when we would all go into the living room together to talk and watch tv and give belly rubs or armpit rubs (he always liked to be rubbed there).
- At some point between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m., one of us would announce, "I'm going to bed." Or, "I'm going upstairs." Without us touching his harness, Zacky would jump up and head to the steps. Before he went blind, he would go all the way upstairs without us after hearing those words. Even after he went blind, he did not always need us to show him the way. He would wag that big fluffy tail the entire way with every step and labored breathe. This was his favorite part of the day! He loved getting to sleep upstairs with us. He was never allowed upstairs when we lived in Texas until after Shiner died. That privilege he appreciated and loved! He did not love the eye drops at bed time. But, if that was part of sleeping upstairs, he would endure whatever necessary.
- Our days ended with Zacky falling asleep on his bed or blanket snoring. That sweet, silly sound always made us smile no matter how bad our day might have been.
Such a long post and I am just now getting to my point, the title of this post.
What I Learned From Our Dog, Zack
- Being happy is wonderful. I can be happy no matter the circumstances. It's all about my attitude, efforts, and what we focus on.
- Love doesn't have to be complicated. I can love someone or something as much as I want. I do not have to love less because someone else said I should or because someone hurt me. I can love people and pets no matter how they come into my life and appreciate their good qualities daily.
- My body doesn't have to be perfect, or even healthy, for me to be happy or to love.
- Being with those I love or who make me happy is worth every effort in my body and mind. And, letting those people and pets know how I love them and how happy they make me is also worth every effort in my body and mind.
- Hugs and kisses really do make things better. Superman and I called the transfer or release of oxytocin from petting, hugging, or kissing Zacky "getting our furry-mones." In other words, we wanted the feel good hormones for us and for him! So, we would make the exchange by loving on him.
- I learned that Superman thinks my behavior and love for Zacky means I will be a great mom to whatever or whomever we have as children.
- I learned that my Superman is, was, and will be a great dad as well.
- I learned that depending on someone else is important.
- I learned that being needed is important.
- Greeting people and animals with enthusiasm, and a toy in the mouth, is a sure way to make them feel welcome, happy to be in my presence, and memorable.
- Being sweet is better than being mean or indifferent.
Most importantly, my Superman and I talked about Zacky's death and heaven. It had been a question in my mind since my first pet died. "Do dogs/cats/horses go to heave?" I can remember my parents disagreeing on that. I can remember asking various pastors, youth leader and other figureheads at church and getting differing opinions. It seemed to me that Christians know that Christian people will go to heaven (because they've recognized that Jesus was indeed the son of God, he did indeed live his life perfectly in spite temptations, trials and abuse). But, Christians don't seem to have that same faith of heaven for our pets or any animals. My niece, shortly after Jeff and I talked about this, sent me the following text.
"I am so sorry about Zacky. He will always have a place in our hearts.... I love y'all so much! He will be so happy with the 'Big Bone in the Sky'.... Doggies have to go to heaven--it is perfect!"
Heaven is perfect. And, perfection means these lovely creatures God placed in our lives that we have loved will be there with us in Heaven one day. God is perfect. His love is perfect. And, His heaven is filled with all the perfect beings (people and creatures who no longer sin, without bodies that no longer yearn for food, money or temptations) whom He has created.
|Zacky, Our Baby, Our Friend, Our Soulmate|
|This is Superman's favorite photos of Zacky. I sent this to Superman while he was in Afghanistan.|
|I caught my co-worker sleeping on the job. Fortunately, that IS his job!|
|The day before his first treatments for cancer|
|Day 1 of radiation and chemo|
|I wish I could be so comfortable when I sleep!|
|Zacky looks sweet and happy even though this is when he was first completely blind.|
|Napping & waiting for me to stop working|
|Ooo! Aaarrrooo! Squirrels!|
|This is his "I'm so exhausted" face.|
|He really did love toys.|
|Zacky's tail is a bit blurry because it was wagging so much. Dad's home!|
|Zacky found his best friend who would pet him constantly.|
|This was Zacky when I had gotten so sick last July.|
|Oh, we will miss this sweet face! Here, he was ready to go to bed but we hadn't yet said the magic words.|
|This is Zacky behind bars--well, behind the gate blocking him from the steps in the living room.|
|We have many "fake" dogs in the house. He always laid next to them, including the one upstairs.|
|Summer 2012--Looking quite handsome but getting gray fast.|
|Helping put our Ikea bed together--so easy even a dog can do it!|
|He did this a lot. I think it's when he wanted some sunshine but didn't want to commit to the Texas heat!|
|This is how he would greet people.|
|Zacky poses with the logo he inspired for my freelance work, fatdog creatives.|