Friday, February 5, 2010

Losing Molly

The last thing any dog owner wants to hear their vet tell them is that the test results weren't what they’d hoped for and the condition is irreversible. About two weeks after Molly, Mike, and I got home, Molly started throwing up. The first couple of times we didn’t think anything was wrong. Molly was a grazer and a muncher and from time to time, she would eat things that would make her sick. “Nothing serious,” we thought, but after she threw up for the fourth time in about nine days we decided to take her to the vet. “Better to be safe than sorry,” that was our motto. “It’s probably nothing, but better to be safe than sorry.”

At first, we didn’t think there was anything to worry about; Molly was eating, pooping, playing–she was her normal self. Things quickly changed. We got her test results a couple of days later and they showed elevated protein levels in her urine. Our veterinarian, Dr. Radakovich, an absolutely fantastic veterinarian and a wonderful human being, told us with protein levels that high we were probably looking at two possible scenarios. I’ll put this in laymen’s terms because I don’t remember exactly what he said, I just remember hoping, hoping, hoping it was scenario number one.

Scenario one was that Molly had acquired some sort of bacterial infection, perhaps something she ingested while playing in the creek. Scenario two was that we were looking at a much more serious problem: her kidneys. When Dr. R., as he’s affectionately known, uttered those words, it was all I could do not to fall apart. However, because Molly was a sensitive soul and picked-up on my emotions, I kept myself and my emotions under control. Dr. R. told us he wanted to run a few more tests to determine what we were up against.

During this time—about seven days or so—Molly’s health started to deteriorate quickly, and despite a bland diet, antibiotics, and other medicine, she continued to throw up. She was losing weight and her energy level was dropping. By the time the next round of test results came in, Molly was barely eating. The new test results confirmed our worst fear: it was her kidneys. Now we were left with the task of figuring what to do next. Again, I don’t remember exact conversations or what tests were run, but Dr. R. wanted to run one more test that would give him a better understanding of what we were dealing with and at the same time gave us the option of seeing a specialist. Before we left, Dr. R. told us he would contact the specialty group, send them Molly’s test results, and get their opinions.

At home things were much worse. Molly had pretty much stopped eating, but she was starving. She would go into the kitchen, scratch at the cabinets and cry. At this point we didn’t care what she ate—we just wanted her to eat and not throw it back up a few minutes later. We took her to McDonalds for hamburgers and ice-cream, we tried moist dog food, no-sugar-added applesauce, baby food, recipes from my Three Dog Bakery cookbook. Most of the time she would look at the food, sniff it and walk away; if she did eat something, she would immediately throw it up. The only thing she would—and could—eat was hotdogs. At least I can take some comfort in knowing that her last meal was a hotdog, her most favorite food in the whole wide world.

Also by this time, Molly had stopped having normal bowel movements. When she would go to the bathroom, instead of a “tootsie roll” popping out, a clear gel like substance oozed out. There was nothing left in her system to dispose of except secretions.

In addition to not eating and not going to the bathroom, Molly’s energy level was almost nonexistent. We would ask her if she wanted to go outside or go to the park. She would get up and go to the door, but as soon as we’d get outside she wouldn’t go anywhere. We had to carry her to the grass to potty. We carried her to the car. We carried her at the park. For so long Molly was a creature who loved to walk and now she was being carried everywhere. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been for Molly because it was breaking my heart.

The only place she walked to on her own was into the veterinarian’s office. I still don’t know what that meant. Was it her way of saying she’d had enough, or was it simply an adrenaline rush? Another question just occurred to me and sent a shiver down my spine and wave of guilt through my stomach: did she know this was the place to go to get well? Was she placing all her trust in us to make her better? I hope not, because that’s a realization I won’t be able to come to terms with. Ever.

When we met with Dr. R he informed us that we were most likely dealing with an irreversible kidney disease—one in which the immune system attacks the kidneys. In cases like Molly’s, the immune system is gearing up for a fight. It may be against cancer, arthritis, or any number of autoimmune diseases, but instead of attacking the disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks the kidneys. We decided to try and shut down Molly’s immune system to give her kidneys a chance to recover. This option had its own risk, without a functioning immune system, Molly was left defenseless against, well, everything. It was a risk we were willing to take.

The medicine did not work. Molly wasn’t eating; she wasn’t playing. She was only lying in the sun or next to us, sleeping. She started throwing up stomach bile. We knew this was no life for this wonderful and amazing creature. Putting Molly to sleep was the hardest decision Mike and I have ever made.

There is nothing worse than walking into your veterinarian’s office with your dog knowing you won’t be walking back out with her/him. I couldn’t bear the thought of watching Molly die, but I couldn’t leave her to die alone. So Mike and I did what thousands of dog owners before us have done, we held her until she fell limp in our arms. The heartache was almost unbearable. I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t breathe. She looked so peaceful, like she was sleeping. A tug-of-war immediately started in my mind: how could I have condemned her to death; I couldn’t continue to let her suffer. This tug-of-war continued for many months.

The only thing harder than staying with Molly was leaving Molly alone in that cold, sterile examination room. I have never been one who could stay very long after my dog died. I felt as though there was not enough air and that the walls were closing in on me. I stayed just long enough to tell Molly I was sorry and I loved her. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend all the emotions I was feeling as I left the vet’s office: guilt, anger, sadness, relief, fear, dread and I’m sure many more that didn’t even register.

After we left the vet’s office, Mike and I went home. When we walked into our apartment without Molly, it was more than I could stand. My arms slashed across my piano, hurling everything towards the wall. I’ve never had an out-of-body experience and I’m not sure that’s what that was, but all I remember was feeling like I needed to destroy something. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t stop myself. I smashed pictures and sent a lamp careening towards the other wall. I was hoping at the end of my outburst I would at least be exhausted. I wasn’t. I was left standing in the middle of a mess feeling numb. Later that night I felt a terrible pain in my arm. When I looked down I saw a huge bump and a nasty bruise that went from my wrist to my elbow. As I looked at my arm I wondered how long the evidence of my physical pain would last, and I hoped that by the time my bruise healed my heart would be healed too. No such luck; my emotional pain lasted much longer than my physical pain.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish we would have waited or made a different decision, but I know in my heart we did what was best for Molly, no matter the cost to us. However, even when I wrote these words, tears filled my eyes and I had to get up and go to the bathroom and cry. Four months had passed since Molly's death, but I felt more like I did a few weeks after her death. What I came to realize was lying underneath all of my heartache was not only sadness, but a lot of anger as well. What do you do with all of your anger when there’s no one to direct it towards? I couldn't be angry with Molly, Dr. R. did everything we asked of him, the Universe has no control over these things, and Mike and I weren't to blame either. My anger had nowhere to go but out my eyes. The way I was feeling, I thought I might just cry forever. I did my best to keep my anger from manifesting itself into rage; I knew no good would come from it.

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