Over the holidays, my dog Lucy got very, very sick. After seeming oddly uninterested in food for a few days, on Christmas Eve she threw up everything– food, treats, water– all over the house. We put her on a fast for 36 hours, and she seemed better. By the Monday after Christmas she was eating (mostly) normally. Then on Tuesday morning all hell broke loose again and I took her to the vet. After waiting for a couple hours, they took Lucy in the back for some tests and when the vet came back into the waiting room, without Lucy, he informed me that he thought her liver was failing. Yes, failing, even though she’s only 5 or 6 years old.
In a state approaching shock, I signed ICU admission forms, paid a big pile of dollars for bloodwork, intravenous fluids, hospital care, and an ultrasound exam, and left Lucy there without having seen her one more time. It felt awful to leave her there like that. But I also understood that my asking to see her wouldn’t help anyone except maybe me.
Later that night, the vet called back with bad news. It looked like Lucy’s gall bladder was leaking into her abdominal area, which meant that her bile (dog bile has a ph of 9.5, I read somewhere online!) was basically eating her alive. Suddenly Matt & I realized that we might not see our dog again. I felt bad, then, for yelling at Lucy when we waited at the vet–she was (unsurprisingly) antsy and freaked out, surrounded by all her antsy and freaked out compadres. The vet recommended that we take her to a surgeon to get an MRI (which would require about two more big piles of dollars) and said he thought surgery was likely to be necessary in order to save her.
Hard as it was, we decided not to opt for this route. The gall bladder surgery, which was going to cost $5-7k (in addition to the $2k MRI) had a 25-30% mortality rate, and even if she survived, it was likely that Lucy would have to stay on a highly restrictive diet for the rest of her life. It just didn’t seem worth it given the fact that the one thing this dog lives for is food. The vet said that he’d try some antibiotics, then, in the off chance that the gall bladder/liver malfunction was being caused by an infection.
Amazingly, the antibiotics worked. Lucy was much better the next day, and was able to come home on New Year’s. The vet sent her home with a medicine cabinet full of pills, which we’re gradually working through. He also sent her home with a lot less fur. Because of the ultrasound and the IV, they had to shave part of her leg as well as her entire underbelly. Luckily, Lucy is not a vain dog, and so did not seem to suffer much from this humiliating denuding.
Then came the Polar Vortex. (I really hate that moniker, but it seems to convey a level of hyperbolic foreboding that seems appropriate in this case.)
Having lived in Minnesota, I often smile at what Marylanders think is cold. 25 degrees? Bah! That would almost be shorts weather in Minneapolis. 10 degrees? That’s what you call delightfully crisp. You’re only really talking cold when it gets below zero. But then, I also learned, in Minnesota, the value of dressing properly for the weather. Rule #1 is, cover any exposed skin.
Suddenly, I had a dog whose entire belly (the region, it is probably unnecessary to remind you, that contains the liver and gall bladder, the sources of Lucy’s malaise) was now exposed. My physician sister-in-law who, admittedly, hails from the cold-averse country of Southern California, confirmed my worry that temperatures in the lower teens might be dangerous for a dog in recovery from a serious illness. So what to do? Ah yes, of course! Get one of those silly dog coats I swore I’d never make a dog wear! Unfortunately, none of them actually covered the parts that my dog needed covered.
Meanwhile, we were also gearing up for a 10-day trip — yes, a vacation!– which meant that I needed to come up with a solution within 2 days. Rather than continue to shop, I decided that after my recent bag-making binge, I was ready to tackle a piece of custom-tailored, belly-protecting canine outerwear.
I cut up an old pillowcase and draped it over Lucy, who clearly had no desire to play mannequin and seemed completely uninterested in getting a new coat. Then I pieced together parts of an old sweater I’d thrifted last fall and felted (wool is warm).
I was really surprised at the shape that emerged. It bore little resemblance to the preliminary sketches I’d made before draping my model with the pillowcase.
It sort of looks like a crossing-guard vest– for the Elephant Man:
But it actually fits!
Lucy doesn’t like it a whole lot, but she will actually wear it.
This morning, we left Lucy in the care of our very capable 20-something neighbor. I’m a little worried that she’ll have a sudden downturn while we’re gone, but we can’t let our pets run our lives entirely, right? (Though this may be a vain hope. Here’s a great piece by David Dudley, an acquaintance who’s married to my colleague and friend Sondra Guttman, on this very subject. It appeared recently in the AARP magazine, which he edits. It will make you cry.)
And so I am now blogging from some 30,000 feet in the air (who ever thought we’d have in-flight wifi? Amazing). Here’s where we’re headed:
We’ll be stopping in LA for a couple of days to see family, including my aunt & uncle, cousins & second cousins and cousins of cousins, and my 92-year-old grandmother. Hoping to write some poems during this break. I brought my watercolors. And tennis racquets. Who knows– maybe I’ll read a book that has nothing to do with comics. More soon!