I’d like to do Saturday over. I’d like to not fret about a $40 remnant rug ruined by a frantic dog. I’d like to quit bitching for the two hours it took me to mop dried dog poop off the hard-wood floors. Instead, I’d like to sit with her a little longer, kiss her face and say again and again how much I love her, remind her that she is such a sweet girl.
Chelsea was up and around most of Saturday, stayed pretty much out of my way while I cleaned up her mess, but DW and I noticed that she wouldn’t take any food or water.
“Her stomach must really be bugging her, ” we both thought.
By early Saturday evening, Chelsea layed down in our mud room and there she stayed. Each of us took turns sitting with her, petting her head, kissing her nose. There was no whimpering or noises indicating she was in pain, but when DW would try to get her to stand, her back legs would tremble and she would sink to the ground.
“It has to be her back flaring up again, ” DW insisted Sunday morning, “If only we could get her to eat, I could increase her Prednisone and she would feel so much better.” (See Dog Days for more information.)
We got her to eat some scrambled eggs Sunday, but still no water. Chelsea hadn’t gone to the bathroom since the explosion Saturday. She hadn’t moved all day. A few times in the afternoon DW carried her outside to enjoy some fresh air and watch the kids playing in the neighborhood. I was entertaining some girlfriends on Monday afternoon for lunch, so food preparations needed to get started by Sunday evening. The smell of fresh boiled chicken floated throughout the kitchen. I was making my mom’s amazing vinaigrette chicken salad and peachy orange mousse. As I started shredding chicken, I just kept an eye on my sweet girl. Her white-haired muzzle stood out starkly against a dark brown throw rug.
“How about some chicken, ” I asked carrying over a small dish of freshly cooked meat. Her eyes just looked up at me, pleading. Not one bite was eaten.
It was almost midnight before I finally called it a day. I locked doors, turned out lights and gave one more kiss.
“Goodnight Sweet Chelsea Girl,” I said. She’ll be better in the morning, I thought.
Monday morning was no different. The girls and I fell into our school routine: lunches, breakfast, backpacks. But DW hadn’t left yet. It is unusual for him to still be at the house past 6:30am. He sat in one of our reading chairs in the family area.
“Maybe we should call the vet,” he mumbled, “Soon.”
There was a sadness in his voice that was unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
“Absolutely. I’m sure they could just give her a steroid injection like we did last time and she’ll be good as new,” I responded.
The vet was able to see her at 9am, right after the kids were off to school. At first DW insisted that he didn’t need me to go with him, that I should stay and get ready for my luncheon. He would call me if they weren’t going to give her steroids. I was really angry at first – why shouldn’t I go? I wouldn’t stay home if one of the children were going to the doctor. This was no different. I fumed a bit, assured him that cancelling lunch made the most sense, but he wouldn’t budge.
However, minutes before he was ready to leave he said, “Aren’t you ready to go? I’m leaving now.”
I wanted so much to yell at him, call him crazy – didn’t he just tell me not to come? But instead, I ran upstairs, threw on some clothes and headed out the door.
The vet was very patient. She checked the charts, listened while we droned on and on about Chelsea’s re-occurring back problems and how she just needed a steroid shot. Dr. W started to feel around and confirmed that there was tenderness on her spine, but then she asked, “How long has her belly been this swollen?”
DW and I just looked at each other. Swollen? She hadn’t been up for almost two days, we hadn’t noticed anything. Dr. W decided to run a full blood panel and some preliminary ultra sounds before providing steroid injections. DW and I sat in the examining room. We didn’t say too much, he played games on his phone while I texted my friends to cancel lunch. By now it was 11am – we had been at the vet for two hours already. Dr. W came back quietly, sat down and opened her chart.
“We think there is a mass on her spleen, ” she started, “and her red-blood count is only at 17%. We also tapped her belly and found blood. I don’t think her back is the problem.”
She talked about surgery options, non-surgery options and possible causes but over all she wasn’t very firm on the diagnosis.
DW took my shaking hand. Tears started streaming down my flushed cheeks.
“Well, who do we see now then?” I asked.
Dr. W told us we could take her to a veterinary emergency hospital about 30 minutes away and get a more extensive ultra-sound taken, see what they recommended. If there wasn’t really a mass, or if they thought it was her back, then they could give steroid injections. Otherwise, they were certainly the best place for surgery. Dr. W wasn’t shy in telling us the costs involved with each of these options as well, and again reminded us of our final option.
DW was silent for a few minutes. I think he was waiting for me to decide – waiting for my predictable emotionally driven response because he didn’t want to listen to reason at that moment either.
“Call the hospital and let them know we are coming then.” I said.
The silence in the car was deafening. It was the slowest I had every seen DW drive and by now it was almost one o’clock in the afternoon.
The hospital staff was waiting for us with faxed chart information. Everyone was very somber and kind. Barely thirty minutes went by and the vet already had the ultra-sound tests completed. She was extremely curt and frank.
“There is a very large tumor on her spleen that has ruptured. She has a lot of internal bleeding and…”
This was way too much information. Please, just stop talking, I thought.
“Wait a minute,” I blurted out. “We brought her in today because her back is flaring up. Our vet said there was a possibility that you could just give her steroids and we could go home.”
The doctor’s demeanor softened a little. “It’s not her back, ” she stated. “She is dying as we speak.”
The cancer was aggressive and could not be treated. We were all out of options except to make arrangements with our home vet, get the kids and say our goodbyes. The hospital staff wheeled Chelsea out on a gurney to the car. She still had not said a word. The doctor reminded us that Golden Retrievers are not complainers. It wasn’t surprising that she had done her best to not make us uncomfortable in her discomfort.
By the time we got both the girls from school and arrived at our home clinic, it was 4pm. The Hare was doing her best to be keep her composure. She kept looking to Dad as an example of how she should respond. He was calm, serious, non-emotional. The Tortoise and I on the other hand were in tears. We both wear our emotions on our shirt-sleeve. It was not containable. I am extremely thankful to the veterinarian staff and to our vet for really guiding my children through this process. There was no way I could begin to explain to them how this was going to take place. I barely understood myself.
We all sat in a private family room. There was a couch and a chair, but I chose to sit on the floor with Chelsea. The girls huddled with dad on the couch; all three of them placed a hand on Chelsea’s back. She was surrounded by her family. The first injection sedated her, brought her to a near twilight sleep. I kissed her and whispered loving notions in her ears. She began to sleep and then in just a few minutes the second injection took her from us forever. I heard unfamiliar sobbing and looked up. DW’s face was drowning, his deep blue eyes over flowing with grief. The Hare was also now crying in deep waves.
I don’t know how long we sat there – a while. Each of us petting her and talking to her even though we knew she couldn’t hear us any longer. As soon as we got home, DW rolled up her carpet and put-away her bowls. I wanted him to just sit for a minute, leave it all right where it was because I wasn’t ready to put anything away. But I know that each of us has to grieve in our own way, so I just sat with the girls on the couch. Till this point I had cried in a socially acceptable manner. But I knew I couldn’t contain it much longer and excused myself to “my place” – the shower. It was there that I could finally allow my heart to fully release, uninhibited.
It was a quiet evening. We ate in shifts and curled up in my bed to watch DVR’d episodes of Chopped from the Food Network. But at bedtime, both of the girls wanted their daddy to lay down with them.
I cleaned the kitchen, looked around for something that wasn’t there, locked the doors, turned out lights and whispered one last time,
” Goodnight Sweet Chelsea Girl.”