Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A DAY IN THE (END OF) THE LIFE OF "FRISCO"

We knew something was wrong when the greeting from one of our dogs was a mere stare.No butt-wag(our Australian Shepherd, "Frisco", had a docked tail when got her), no excitement, just a stare and a slow walk towards us. And she looked "swollen", was drinking LOTS of water... It was Sunday afternoon, and we called our veterinarian's office, and went in the very next morning(Monday).

Tests were run, but there were still lots of questions. We let our wonderful vets, Dr. Karolyn and Dr. Mike take her home, to keep an eye on her.

They thought there could be "blood in her abdomen", but had no explanation(yet).

The tests(including a needle-biopsy which revealed BLOOD in her abdomen on Monday night) on Tuesday revealed a need for "exploratory" surgery, which Dr. Mike explained could mean a tumor in the spleen(the area swollen), or a ruptured spleen.

We gave permission for surgery, and even went back over-- just to see her-- to see how she was doing, and we were delighted to see she looked much improved(less swollen, due to iv's flushing her system) from Monday, and felt confident she could withstand any surgery, and would thrive after having her spleen removed.We gave permission for surgery, and hoped.

Unfortunately, her spleen had "a tumor the size of a honeydew melon" as Dr. Mike(he is such a talented surgeon, that he has done a successful hip-replacement for a client's gerbil.Really.)put it.

"Frisco" also had numerous nodules spread throughout her body--liver, kidneys, intestines--apparently, a cancer of the spleen, which had spread quietly, with NO symptoms at all.The prognosis:

she MIGHT live up to six days, but the next three would be i-v's, intensive-care, with the possibilty of death by seizure, or blood-loss(she had lost almost 3/4 of all her blood, due to damage to her organs from the cancer--we saw her nearly WHITE gums).

There is virtually NO chance it was NOT cancer(and even if the numerous nodules were NOT cancer, they would still kill her--painfully-- by cutting off her organs, possibly causing more internal bleeding, and seizures, within days!).

I chose to see the surgery photos, and the removed tumor itself(I could not believe it could live inside a medium-sized dog! It was not sickening to see, but certainly, it was scary--and necessary-- for me, as I was still in denial about this, having had only a few hours to absorb all this information.)

We had to make a choice of euthanasia--ending her life, by use of a tube inserted, or letting her suffer, and see if she would get lucky and die quickly.

We had a "paw-print" made(her right paw), which this vet's office does as a kindness when a pet is near death.It is on a piece of ceramic, and needs to dry for a month, and then the "print" can be painted, if you wish...

We chose to euthanize her.But I did NOT want it done at the vet's.

It's not her favorite place, and it is not home...

I wanted her home, and said so.This meant taking our chances that she'd live until Dr. Mike could bring her to us(we went in-person to fetch her home, but he could not release her to us, as the possibility of a seizure or other cause of death was so great, it would've been dangerous/painful for her, and hurtful for us, as we would be unable to help her in any way).

So, he agreed to put her in his vehicle, and drive her over to our house before going to his own home(and imagine how tired he must have been, several surgeries all day, and now this. It would have been completely understandable if he'd said "no" to my request, but he said "yes.")
We would do this final act of care, together. He finished working at the animal hospital with his other furry patients, and arrived at our house at around 8:45 P.M....

I'd been petting "Louie"--
the Golden Retreiver we adopted from the Golden Retreiver Rescue, just about a year-and-a-half after we got "Frisco"(we wanted her to have a playmate--I think she wanted someone to "herd")--
telling him what a good boy he was, and preparing "Frisco" 's bed for her:
extra towels(practical, as there is "release" of all kinds(yuck-y kinds)in death, and extra towels would be comfy and cozy for her, too), laying out my silky-robe that I usually wear when I put her to bed every night, and sprinkling a bit of peppermint oil around, so the scent she loved would be there for her.

I brought the hand-puppet "santa-doggie" downstairs(it barks when you press it)and put it near her sofa(if you've been to our house, you know each dog has their "own" sofa, in the basement, to sleep on).

Hansoo and Dr. Mike carried "the Frisk" as we called her, downstairs.She was groggy from pain-medicine, but perked up a tiny bit when she saw us.

"Louie" greeted her, but seemed to sense something was wrong."Frisco" was adamant, as she usually is, that "Louie" not pester her.He kissed her face submissively, and left.

I put my silky-robe on, over my jeans and t-shirt.


She was in a large laundry-basket, which felt very circular to me, as when we bought her from a working farm in Lithia Springs, in May, 1997, she was 5 and a half-weeks old, and curled up in a laundry basket we'd brought with us.

I think Dr. Mike thought he & Hansoo would simply place the basket on the sofa, but I told them I wanted her to feel "...like she's just going to bed, to sleep, like always.This is her home."

And as if on cue, she tried to stand up, and looked over the edge of the basket, at her sofa, trying to step out of the basket, and into the bed she's slept in for the past several years. They scooped her up, placed her on her sofa, and I sqeaked the santa-doggie-puppet whereupon she perked her ears up, and then began to close her eyes. I tried once more. This time, no reaction. She tried to doze off. Hansoo placed her favorite tennis ball next to her mouth, and she did that "Frisco" smile, lips curled up, sheepish grin....


"Louie" went outside to do his "business", as I asked Dr. Mike if I could lower the lights("Of course--do what you need to do.I went to one client's house, and they had candles burning everywhere;it felt like a seance."

That was a nice moment of levity, which I dearly needed)

I said:

"Please don't laugh, but I sing to her at night--lullabies--

He replied he wouldn't, and I began:"Rock-a-bye, Frisco, in the treetops, when the wind blows, the Frisco will rock..."." and I stroked her warm, very wavy brown and white fur, told her what a good dog she is, how grateful I am to have her, how she taught me how to love, how to give more."

I saw Dr. Mike insert something "Oh? Are you starting?" "No, it's just a saline flush.."

"Oh."

I asked Hansoo to come pet her, touch her "..last chance.."

He sobbed, but sighed, and said "We love you Frisk, you're a good girl."

Her eyes were half-closed. She was falling asleep as I sang to her. Her eyes closed. Dr. Mike inserted the sodium pentathol(I think that's the correct concoction) and she passed very quickly(less than 20 seconds, or so it seemed.)

Dr. Mike stayed near me. It struck me that we were both kneeling at Frisco's feet. She was a kind of dog-altar, I think.

Dr. Mike wandered off for a moment, for Hansoo & I to hold her.

We had thoughtfully decided to put "Louie" outside. He was walking around, occasionally watching through the glass doors.


I thanked her for being a big part of my life, for nearly 11 years.

I asked Dr. Mike how I could have her eyes shut "all the way".He told me "After rigor, in about one hour.Just hold her lids closed for about one minute.That should do it."

I thanked him for "giving us a gift."

"I think you gave a gift.", he said.

I started to cry, but didn't. I didn't cry.


"Frisco" passed at 9:11 P.M. tonight, and we wrapped her in towels, and she's still warm. I dislike the "antiseptic-ness" of modern-day-death-dealing, and so I had already explained to Dr. Mike that I'd spend a bit of time with her after her death.(my Mom, when I told her on the phone what I had planned for tonight, warned "...that's kind of creepy.." but I responded, confidentally, "Well, everyone grieves in different ways. I want to hold her, after she's gone, too. I want to know she's gone."

Rather defensively, I added, "I'm not crazy."

I visited her three times, and I'm glad I could.

Compare it to a "viewing" for humans--which is often necessary for what we weakly term 'closure', and you'll get the idea.

She's still warm, and she is becoming rigid, stiff, no longer my dog.A shell of her former self.


"Louie", who sniffed her, kissed her face with his pink tongue, and then scampered outside with me, was next to me, in the dark, as I gazed up at the moon. A half-moon, like half-closed eyes, somewhere between this world, and the next.


I love you "Frisco". Good girl. And goodbye. Thanks for loving us.




6 comments:

Dan said...

Lisa,

I'm very sorry for your sudden loss of Frisco. It was only a few weeks ago that I was chipping the tennis ball with her and she seemed fine. If you could see her now, I'll bet she's probably retrieving tennis balls for Bitsy Grant.

Collin said...

Very sad to read this, Lisa. I'm glad you and Hansoo were able to bring her home. Thinking of you both.

rl said...

Lisa,

Frisco was very lucky to have you and Hansoo there as she slipped away. I was very touched by your love and compassion for Frisco. And your vet...amazingly understanding and kind.

Agreeing to euthanize Frisco was truly an act of kindness.

I hope when it's time for me to go, I'll have someone as compassionate and kind as you there to put me out of my misery. "Youth in Asia" is the way to go!

Take care.

Lisa Allender said...

Thank you all for your kind words
Danny--I got a smile from that!
Coll-- thank you for your kind understanding.
Rosa--I asked Dr. Mike when we were still at his office,"How much would it take, to have her for another year, or six months?"
His answer "Lisa, you're in the 'bargaining stage' of grief--there's no amount of money; there's simply nothing I can do--I can't remove her intestines, her kidneys, her liver--it's everywhere.I'm so sorry."
I thank you for seeing it's something we had to do.Our vet, Dr. Mike is indeed wonderful.


I've received several comforting e-mails, too.
I can't get over how much I hurt.And I feel a bit guilty, as there are so many others--hurt children, victims of war, abused animals, who seem to not have tears shed for them....
I guess one little life doesn't change the world, but Frisco changed MY world.

Poet with a Day Job said...

Lisa,

I am so, so sorry about your pup! But you did a very very hard thing, and it was a gift, like the vet said, to Frisco. Hang in there - so glad your other dog was there to keep you company...I find the way animals grieve to be a nice juxtaposition to the way some people do.

Hang in there!

Lisa Allender said...

Thank you, PWADJ!
I needed that!
Peace, kid, Peace.