Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Broken Rod in My Back

my sexy spine

i know how dramatic this sounds. i’ve seen enough dropped jaws when i’ve told friends that “my doctor said one of the rods in my back broke” to know i must follow it up immediately with, “but i’m OK. really.” and i am OK. really. 

there is no pain — most of the time. and the pain that i do feel some of the time is no different than the pain most people with bad backs have some of the time. in that sense, the broken rod in my back is a lackluster piece of metal, operating well below its full potential when considering how much damage it can do. the orthopedic surgeon i recently visited assured me that it could be much worse and that i should consider myself lucky. and i do.

i found out a few months ago during a checkup at the Cedars-Sinai Spine Center. i hadn’t had my backed checked in 10 years, which is dumb considering i had my spine fused 15 years ago and probably could have benefited from routine checkups. but orthopedic surgeons are like dentists to me: administrators of childhood pain that produced life-long scars who must be dodged for years with lofty excuses.

i had had scoliosis since puberty, and by the time i entered young adulthood, the curvature reached a 42-degree angle. the surgeon said i would need to correct it eventually, so three days after my 22nd birthday, he made a 13-inch incision down the center of my back to add titanium rods along my spine that would fuse with bone chips “shaved” off my pelvis.

i was in the hospital for five nights, hooked up to a morphine drip, in a back brace for months and had to undergo intense physical therapy to get mobile again. (read the full story here.) in short, it was hell and a half, the worst physical pain of my life that made me contemplate suicide for the only time in my life. just thinking about that pain now makes me want to vomit and pass out, like i did countless times back then.

fast forward to now and the three rods have become four. maybe three and a half, as the piece is less broken off and free-floating than it is bent and hanging. it never fused with my bone or back, leaving that area unsupported, which could become problematic for me down the road. doc said it didn’t snap violently (i would have felt that), but weakened gradually by years of normal activity. he likened it to breaking a paper clip by bending it repeatedly at a certain point until it eventually gives way.

i am officially part of the failed fusion crowd. the surgeon said it happens in about 10% of cases.

so my rod gave way. i don’t know when it happened, probably years ago. no, you can’t feel the broken rod with your hand so quit trying to lift my shirt and touch my back, sicko. however, i can feel the broken rod from time to time. it creates a crunching sensation when i move a certain way that feels like two bones grinding against each other. this is not particularly painful, nor is it pleasant, so i try to minimize its occurrence, but the truth is i feel it several times a week. 

on days when i’ve done a lot of heavy lifting, moving furniture or gardening, i feel a small circle of pain at the broken point of the rod, and when i saw the area on the X-ray, i could locate it easily on my back. i’ve felt this pain for years, but it never reached debilitating levels so i would do a few stretches and carry on.

and i must still carry on as this issue does not have an magic solution. initially, i wanted the rod reattached with an operation. i read about the minimally invasive surgical breakthroughs made since my butcher job 15 years ago and knew they could go in through the belly button with a microscope for a quick procedure that would require only one night in the hospital and a few weeks of recovery.

after i suggested it, the surgeon called me crazy in the nicest way possible and then told me i was the only patient who ever walked into his office asking for an operation. he held up the sheet i had to fill out before every appointment, the one measuring my pain level from a 1 to 10. he pointed to all the 1s, saying “it’s not an issue until it’s an issue.” then he pointed to the waiting room full of 10s, a throng of aching and mangled bodies who looked like they were pulled from a freeway pileup. they always made me uneasy with their walkers, canes and groans, as i springed past them effortlessly, feeling a little guilty but mostly lucky not to be them.

doc said that having a needless surgery could create new pains and problems so i better accept my good fortune and work on maintaining it. and after the (crazy expensive) CT scan that showed more than the standard X-ray, he said the surgery i might need would be like the first one, but far worse.

apparently, the last surgeon (now deceased) should have extended the rods all the way to my neck instead of stopping midway down my back, because the area where he stopped is developing arthritis due to the stress on those upper vertebrae to support the bottom half of my spine. so the best corrective surgery for me at this point would cut my entire back open, remove the old rods and insert new ones from neck to tailbone.

hearing him say it made me shaky and nauseous. not gonna happen again. no fucking way.

CT scan of my back. on the other side of where the rod ends, about midway up my spine, the vertebrae are a little lighter, indicating arthritis. 

with that, i took his prescription for physical therapy and order to “get fit and stay that way” to heart. i would need to lose weight and strengthen my core in an effort to stave away the arthritis and chronic pain that are my certain future. to that end, i joined a gym close to my work and did the unthinkable by actually going.

there, i learned how to use all these nifty core strengthening machines that made my back feel bionic. weirder still is that i actually enjoyed the visits and felt grouchy when i hadn’t exercised in a while. not that i’m close to becoming a gymrat or ms. fitness USA, but i’m happy to spend less time on my couch eating bon-bons and watching soap operas.

taken on my first day of physical therapy. my favorite part was heat packs and massages from the therapist, which helped me pretend i was in a spa instead of a gym.

Tico and i have also begun playing tennis regularly at our local court. despite its graffiti, i have affectionately renamed it “the country club,” calling Tico “Wellington” while we’re there and asking him to call me “Penelope.” he just rolls his eyes and runs me all over the court. we make sure to drink Perrier after.

in addition, i have been steadfast in my refusal of meat since February, helping to ensure that my diet consists mostly of fresh fish and veggies (and an occasional Twix bar). this has translated into a whopping 10 pounds of weight loss since the start of the year. normally, i would rejoice at this amount as i’ve been trying to lose “that final 10” since birth, but i’ve noticed that the 10 has turned into 20 – and probably 30 if i’m honest with myself, but let me keep the deception going a bit longer.

illustrations of some of my core conditioning exercises, courtesy of Tico

sadly, the weight has been coming off slooooowly, thanks to my aging metabolism and penchant for being lazy, but it will come off this time. having a medical imperative forces me take this seriously. i don’t want to become one of those aching, mangled bodies in my surgeon’s waiting room and i certainly don’t want a repeat of that first surgery.

but don’t worry, i won’t become one of those needy people who tracks her weight loss and food online or checks into the gym weekly on Facebook. nor will there be some big bikini reveal at the end of this, as i don’t know photoshop. what there will be is rather dull: a better diet, more exercise and, hopefully, a healthy back that i’ll be able to use well into old age. 

now if youll excuse me, i need to go do some situps.

Friday, March 28, 2014

This Year So Far

hello again, blog! sorry i’ve neglected you for so long. i’m not really sure why i did. it wasn’t intentional or conscious, more accidental and needlessly cruel. but i have thought about you often. on the running to do list i keep on the dry erase board on my fridge, you’ve remained a bullet point for weeks as they stretched into months. you’ve sat quietly and patiently, never once mocking me, as i’ve bypassed you in favor of other items like “buy car seat covers,” “research patio furniture” and “call insurance company.” none of those are as fun or creative as you, yet still you got back-burnered. well, no more. we are together at last, and i promise not to abandon you again.

i have missed the way you document my life for me so nicely, allowing me to flip back through older posts fondly, and some not so fondly, as i reminisce. there has been plenty going on this year and i regret not sharing those things with you earlier. but if you will allow me to now, i’d like to catch you up on things i’ve been doing without you, so that there may now be a record of them in you. and sorry again, beautiful blog. i hope you’ll accept this love letter to you and know that we are still BFFs, just like those two halves of a heart necklace we both share confirms. also, your hair looks great today.

the new car: i bought it last year when i got fed up with the old car giving me endless transmission problems. (we are not buying a Volkswagen ever again, blog.) the new car is roomy, though it eats gas like a thirsty little bitch despite having only a 4-cylinder engine. it’s a 2012 Toyota RAV4, by the way. drives great and i love it so far. i bought it used from Hertz Car Sales, so it had low mileage and great maintenance records. however, as this was an unexpected purchase, i didn’t have much money to put down, so the new car payments are hefty. the old jetta, which didn’t even make it to 100K miles, was sold to some used car lot for a pittance. as i was leaving that lot, the owner asked whether i wanted to take one final photo with the car, as many people do, and i waved him away while running out of the place. i’m sure he knows why by now.  

the holidays: they went exceptionally well (if you don’t count my frequent tears over spending them without my beloved Pinko for the first time). i spent Christmas at Tico’s twin sister’s house, where she erected a velcro bounce house in her yard for the guests and her own set of twins (she has 6-year-old fraternal boys). there, we bounced, drank, ate, laughed and passed the time in a lovely fashion. Tico gifted me a silver bracelet, which i’m wearing right now, and i gave him a GoPro Camera, which he used to take videos of Juice. new year’s eve was spent lying in bed in his arms instead of out on the town, which i guess is characteristic of people approaching 40. no complaints whatsoever. 

New York City: if i were less lazy, i would write an entire blog post about this, as the trip made many epic memories for me, but i’ll just relegate it to a bullet point for now. but yes, Tico and i conquered new york city in january and it was an obnoxiously, all capped AMAZING TRIP. we also spent a night in Newport, Rhode Island, at my dear friend’s John John’s house, who we passed most of the time with while in the city as well. we made new friends, walked through central park, hit up interesting tourist and local spots, stayed up late every night, ate and drank way too much, and even got caught in one of this winter’s wild snowstorms that cancelled our flight and gave us an extra day to explore the city.  

one of my proudest moments: though i stopped short of faking an orgasm in a restaurant (my parents didn’t raise no beast!), Tico and i did re-create the When Harry Met Sally scene at the famous Katz’s Delicatessan. then we went down the street to the famous Russ & Daughters for bagels, lox, cream cheese and herring. we also had Lombardi’s pizza and visited the Ghostbusters Firehouse. i came back to LA with an extra five pounds and a renewed love for New York, where i would love to live — if i made millions of dollars.

Russian River: after New York drained our bank accounts and energy, Tico and i headed to russian river in february for a long weekend of sitting around and not doing much. we stayed at my friend Sharon’s cabin, who joined us for two nights, and spent our days visiting antique shops in town and Armstrong Woods National Reserve, which has a 1,400-year-old tree. with a recharged battery, i returned home and quickly planned another trip back to the wood for later in the year. i cannot get enough of those redwoods. they are majestic.

me hugging a tree like the (secret) dirty hippie i am: moving to Russian River has become one of my many escapist fantasies, and i’ve begun thinking i should buy a vacation home there like my friend has. during the drive back to LA, this daydream played out in my head like a perfect movie, not of the romantic comedy variety ‘cus those all suck, but more like some sleeper hit with wine tasting and Tuscan suns or something. anyway, i even became obsessed with scouring real estate listings on, squealing in delight each time a cheap fixer appeared on the market. then i got a letter from the city about my own cheap fixer and the daydream quickly dissipated into the familiar breathy sighs of first-world problems. 

three weeks later: this is the current state of my concrete back yard. apparently, my next-door neighbor called the LA department of building and safety, whom i have a sordid history with, and complained about a few things affecting our property line — things that were grandfathered in with the house and that the numerous inspectors who visited my house in past few years never once mentioned to me. but now i had to fix them. so i’m fixing them and trying to be all zen about it though the truth is i want to [redacted in case i actually do go postal one day] to my neighbor. as this is my first visit to the high road, i can report back that it is a humorless and lonely place. there will be a longer blog post about the repairs coming shortly. in the meantime, i'm taking many deep, breathy sighs.

the year ahead: oh, right, it’s almost april already (sorry again, blog). yet i’m still in the throes of figuring out the rest of the year, as i have a few things i’d like to see happen. so i consulted the lava lamp at my work cubicle, which doubles as a fortune-telling apparatus, to see what’s in store for my charmed life. 
  • hawaii! this is booked already and just the thought of it brings me to my happy place. i’m going with the flight attendant friends i went to Italy with two summers ago (hooray for buddy passes) and staying at my parents’ time share, so it promises to be a very cheap trip. this is the only type of trip i can take because... 
  • money: after the double whammy of unexpected car purchase + home repairs, i am firmly in the broke boat. i need to get out, and i will get out, if for no other reason than to purchase my dream vacation home among the redwoods. so i’ve begun to hustle accordingly. i’m looking at renting out the garage i never use while also selling the items sitting idly in the garage to make space for someone else's car/boxes. i would make a joke about selling my body, too, but i think i would need to pay for someone to use that. insert another joke about getting old and wrinkly.
    • food: i stopped eating meat so my tacos lately are veggie only. (good thing potatoes are a vegetable.) i went meatless in february and my body has thanked me with rapid weight loss, easy digestion and no more food comas. i’m still eating fish, cheese and eggs so i haven’t lost my mind completely and if a restaurant dish i want has some meat included via chicken stock or clam chowder with bacon (note: clam chowder should have bacon), i’ll eat it without reservations. this is a very fluid pescatarianism and there could be momentary lapses should i find myself in a high-quality steakhouse. so maybe it’s more meat reduction than absolute meatlessness. whatever you call it, my body feels better than before so i’m sticking with it.
    • everything else: despite the urging of well-intentioned friends, i don’t see a new dog in my future this year. i could be wrong, of course, and catch sight of a puppy that makes me feel the familiar pinch of cupids arrow again, but as of today, i’m not ready. i also don’t see any sweeping changes with Tico and me this year. we’re doing great, approaching the year mark and still keep separate residences despite spending most of our free time together. i love him whole-heartedly, want him to remain in my life and have been feeling very good about where things are, which is why every pregnancy and marriage innuendo i’ve heard has been replied to with an eye roll as they imply that something is lacking. rest assured, it’s not. things are super. he is great. i am lucky. we are happy. sincerely. 

      awwww, the shmooptie pooptie cuteness! hearts, rainbows, unicorns! 

      ok, enough of that. back to work, turkeys.

      Tuesday, January 07, 2014

      One-Hit Wonders: October, November & December 2013 terms inexplicably pulling up this blog... (sorry so super late!)
      • remember what is the time for the tree millas
      • filet mignon flickr 
      • her big beer belly
      • landmark forum,plants in the audeince
      • ode to voting
      • unm lobo statue 
      • necromance melrose interview
      • newseum gorbachev pen
      • backsplash from scraps
      • milla below deck 
      • when talking about races is it milla or miller seconds
      • benny hill "goodnight father of one"

      Tuesday, December 24, 2013

      The Grief

      in the two weeks since Pinko left my life, i’m sad to say i haven’t dreamed about her once. i keep wanting to and asking her to visit me, but she hasn’t yet. maybe that’s because i’m sleeping poorly and there hasn’t been many solid stretches of time when dreams can happen. i’m hoping both these things will change soon, because i’m chronically tired from the lack of sleep and chronically sad from missing her.

      i get that she is not coming back. there is no “magical thinking” happening where i’ve saved her things with the expectation that she will need them when she returns home. wherever home is for her now, it’s no longer with me. accepting this has made the grief more manageable. i don’t come home expecting to see her sweet face, despite thinking about her all day long. of course, the house is hollower without her. of course, my life is, too.

      but once i made my way through the initial devastation — when i cried until i ran out of tears and drank until i felt numb — the dull, familiar ache of heartbreak settled in. i realize it will dissipate with time, as all my other heartaches have, flaring up intermittently when triggered. sometimes, it’s by my memories of her, like how she had one floppy and one upright ear and how she would put her face on the edge of the bed to greet me every morning. other times, it’s the realization that i’ll never see that face or hear her howl again. 

      a few friends suggested i get another dog right away. i know this is good advice and there will certainly be more dogs in my future, but a new dog can’t fill the void of wanting my old dog back. i need to heal first and prepare myself to appreciate a new dog’s unique personality and idiosyncrasies instead of searching for one that reminds me of Pinko.

      at least i have Juice. this is another refrain i’ve heard, and it rings exceptionally true. i couldn’t imagine walking into or living in a dogless house, now or ever. i need to see a tail wagging daily and have access to a furry face i can nuzzle. it’s good for my mental and spiritual health. Juice has delivered, though she’s less affectionate than Pinko was, so i find myself following Juice around the house and trying to coax her into giving me love and attention, as Pinko used to with me.  

      if there is any bright side to this, it’s that i now have more opportunities to connect with Juice — and in many ways reconnect. Pinko’s rough origins made her slightly needy and insecure, while Juice has known no other life than the one she’s been living with me since she was six weeks old. rightly or wrongly, i gave Pinko more attention, sometimes at the expense of Juice, who has become more solitary over the years. but now, Juice has begun falling asleep with her head across my lap more, something she used to do regularly as a puppy.

      i keep wondering what she is thinking through all this. i worry that she is lonely and bored without Pinko. i know i shouldn’t project my human sensibilities onto her, but there have been several times when we’ve locked eyes for a good while and i recognize a certain sadness in her, the same one that lives in me now. after these moments, i’ll always kiss her head and whisper, “i miss her, too.”

      i know Juice understands that Pinko is gone. she stayed in the room with me and smelled Pinko’s still body when it was over. sometimes, Juice smells whatever remains of Pinko’s scent on my clothes and begins wagging her tail and pawing at me. she also seems far more interested in her dog toys, which Pinko routinely stole out of Juice’s mouth, but they are now carried around the house and brought onto the couch to snuggle with.

      then there is Tico and his grief. in the days following Pinko’s death, he painted the basement, planted much of the front yard, vacuumed and washed my car, built a shelf for the hallway closet and reorganized the spare bedroom and bathroom cupboards — all while i sat on the couch, drinking, crying and looking at old photographs. i guess this sums up the difference between how men and women grieve. thankfully, he also slowed down plenty to offer his comfortable arms when i needed them most, cushioning this journey for me immensely.

      i’m also indebted to my friends and family, whom i’m convinced are the most amazing people in the world. from them, i received money for vet bills, condolence cards, flower and food deliveries, a spa certificate, and several personal messages of love and support. i take none of it for granted and vow to absorb these inspirational lessons in friendship and pay them forward.

      and even though i’m brokenhearted and going into the holidays with a member of my family missing, i still consider myself lucky for the many remaining blessings in my life — and for the six years i had with a cuddly creature that howled in my ear, warmed my side, brightened my world and grew my heart with her limitless love. i would do it all over again.

      Merry Christmas, everyone.

      Friday, December 13, 2013

      Pinko/Cheddar (2007-2013)

      my favorite photo of her

      when i first began drafting this blog post several days ago, the first sentence read, “a week ago, i thought this post would be an obituary.” after considering whether it would have been better if she went right away instead of lasting that extra week — a week that kept her alive needlessly, in pain and in vain — i’m certain that right away would have been better.

      of course, i have the gift of hindsight and the scourge of jewish guilt that makes me think that everything i’ve done i could do better if given another chance, but reality is a merciless beast and my reality is that my dog is dead and the well-meaning chorus of “you did everything you could for her” rings hollow for me and will never remove the feeling i have inside that i didn’t.

      i don’t say this to evoke sympathy or soothing words, just to state a fact that i would have done many things differently. i realize that none of it matters now. i realize that she’s gone and i’m tormenting myself with options i no longer have. i suppose it’s part of the grieving process and i will get through it. but still, there remains a secret hope that we all get one do-over in life. i would choose the past week as mine. 

      at four months 

      like the cliche, i never saw it coming. when my little Pinko (whom i call Cheddar nowadays) started walking funny on Thanksgiving, i assumed it was just a sprained muscle that would resolve itself in time, like it has in the past. so i continued on with the long weekend, visiting with friends who were in town and enjoying a daytrip with Tico to the Salton Sea. in other words, i stayed out of the house most of the weekend and didn’t notice that my dog’s health was in a freefall.

      this was my ultimate mistake because by sunday night, Pinko stopped eating and seemed feverish and weak. by monday morning, when i took her to the vet, her nose had begun bleeding. the vet put her on an IV, took chest x-rays and drew her blood, which showed that all her organs were failing and producing enzymes to shut her body down for an imminent death. her temperature registered at 105.8 degrees (106 is fatal in dogs). she also had blood in her lungs.

      with no time to waste, he sent me over to Animal Specialty Group in Glendale, a referral-only hospital staffed 24/7 with animal oncologists, internists and surgeons. more x-rays were taken there and ultimately an ultrasound that couldn’t locate a tumor in her body, ruling out the possibility of cancer. instead, she was diagnosed with thrombocytopenia, a blood disease that causes one’s body to attack its own platelets as though they were pathogens. at intake, Pinko tests showed 11,000 platelets (150,000-300,000 is normal), and she was bleeding internally.     

      after i hastily signed some paperwork, she was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit and given a drug used for chemotherapy that tells her bone marrow to begin reproducing new platelets, a high dose of the steroid prednizone to shut down her body’s immune response so it would stop killing her platelets, and antibiotics to fight off any developing pneumonia or other infection she might catch because of her newly compromised immune system.

      that day was a fast-moving blur and i know i didn’t ask all the right questions or understand all the details, but there are a few things i will always remember about it, such as watching my dog’s legs buckle from weakness on the slope in my front yard, almost causing her to slide downhill until i caught her; the sensation i had when she expelled a mighty sneeze that covered my face and white shirt in her blood; and the way Tico wiped the tears off my face after i cried hysterically on his shoulder once we left the hospital.

      right before i left her at the hospital

      the emotion that best characterizes that day for me was bewilderment. not that there is some ideal time for all of that to happen, but the surprise and urgency of events left me in a fog that had me wondering if the day actually took place. surely, i would wake up at any moment. surely, i would open the door of my house after leaving my dog in the hospital and find her waiting there for me with a wagging tail.

      but as reality set in, the vodka flowed and tears blurred my vision, the only thing i could do was wait for news with a heart full of hope. i talked to the vet twice a day and visited her at the hospital every night after work. and every night, she would walk over to me with a wagging tail, collapse against my body and fall asleep with her head in my lap while i petted her through rubber gloves and cried.

      hospital blues

      most days, she looked horrid, her half-dead eyes barely registering the life happening all around her. she shook constantly and gagged often for no reason. one night, she burrowed her head under my arm and scratched at my pants when it was time to part, making for an extra difficult goodbye. that was the same night she had a seizure and i ran out crying from the ramen shop where Tico and i were having dinner after leaving the hospital.

      the nightly scene

      every day seemed to bring both good news and setbacks. she had more energy but her stool was bloody. the platelet count was still too low (14,000 two days after intake) but the pneumonia cleared up. i never knew how optimistic to feel from one day to the next, so i did the best i could to quell my anxiety, calm my pounding heart and reduce the grinding of my teeth. sometimes, my best amounted to very little food and sleep. other times, i got very zen about it and resigned myself to dealing with news as it came instead of fretting over the fact that i couldn’t control the news. (but mostly, i didn’t eat or sleep.)

      my rock. he came to the hospital with me every night.

      five nights after Animal Specialty Group admitted Pinko to its ICU, i received word that the platelet count was at 56,000, a number that exceeded everyone’s expectations and caused an eruption of joy with requisite happy dance in my kitchen. with that, she was released to convalesce at home with a bag full of medicine, detailed instructions on monitoring her eating and stool, and appointments for future visits when her platelets would be tested.

      her first night back home

      she was at home for three nights, also a fast-moving blur of hope and despair. she refused all food, even her favorite ones, and the force-feedings through a syringe felt like abuse, especially after the trauma she had endured. her backside was leaky, causing me to line the furniture with puppy pads as she had frequent accidents.

      the first day at home, i could do nothing but cry my eyes out. i think i began the grieving process then with the instinctive knowledge that there would be no bouncing back from this and that my dog was already gone. i asked Tico to handle all the syringe feedings that day while i sat on the couch, overwhelmed by helplessness and in tears, apologizing. 

      all the meds that i’m convinced did more to harm than help her. after i called the hospital complaining that her body was not handling them well, they told me to stop giving her half. i was incensed i wasn’t advised of this option before.

      she had to take 15 pills a day — an immune-suppressant steroid, anti-vomiting drugs, appetite stimulants, antibiotics and antacid — all of which she resisted, creating another struggle. her skin smelled of chemicals, and she spent most of the day shivering, drooling, droopy-eyed and immobile in a zombie-like state, a shell of her former self, looking as though she would pass out at any moment, though never actually falling asleep because the medication made her wired. she didn’t howl or bark once and her tail never wagged.

      one of the few good moments at home as a reunited pack. as expected, Juice was an incredible support to both me and Pinko through this ordeal, staying by her sister’s side through the difficult nights and feedings and often licking tears off my face. 

      the second day at home started better, with a visit from my mom, before taking a nosedive when the baby food i fed Pinko at lunch, thinking she would like it more (which she seemed to), came back up. i saw blood in her vomit. after that, she had trouble getting comfortable and seemed weaker than before, so i laid down next to her, stroked her ears and kissed her face, while Tico called the hospital for advice. i apologized for feeding her the baby food and asked her what i should do. i listened to her breathing, which sounded labored. i worried she had blood in her lungs again and was becoming dehydrated.

      that night was her last on earth.

      glad my mom got to see her a final time.

      i spent that last night lying awake in bed, grappling with the thought of ending a life i loved so dearly. i didn’t think i could do it. i considered taking her back to the hospital, but was worried about the bill, which was already over $5,500 (all on my credit card). i told myself that i could make more money in my life but i could never make another Pinko and the expense would be worth it if i had a healthy dog at the end of this.

      at 5 am, after staying up all night with my stomach and heart in a knot, i meditated and asked for guidance. my maternal grandma came to me, as she has many times before in moments of crisis, and said only one word: rest. i fell asleep for two hours and awoke understanding what the day would bring. i went to Pinko and kissed her face. she looked as though she had been awake all night. she put her head on my arm and sighed, her eyes exhausted and resigned. i told her to hang on, that we were almost there.

      Juice held vigil next to her sister all day and night. this is the last photo of the two of them together.

      an hour later, Tico and i were dropping her off at the hospital so she could get her medicine and nutrients from an IV. i told them to give her something for the pain and call me after they ran their tests. they told me they wanted to keep her in the ICU another two nights. i told them one at the most and then began calling around for a holistic vet. i went home and laid on the floor next to Juice, asking the universe to make it very clear for me: either make this manageable and i’ll manage it, or make it impossible and i’ll do the impossible.

      the vet called back in the afternoon and gave me every diagnosis imaginable — diabetes, hepatitis, anemia, pancreatitis, liver failure, GI tears and blood in the intestines. she suggested more medication, a blood transfusion and a feeding tube. i thought about calling her a cunt for never suggesting euthanasia, but instead handed the phone off to Tico so i could regain my composure. once i did, i told her to get the shot ready. i would be there in under an hour. i had no doubts anymore.

      at six months, with the love of her life.

      i want to state now that i don’t see my dogs as my actual children, despite referring to them often as “my furry babies.” i imagine that once i’m a mother (which i very much hope to be), i will feel differently about my child than i do about my dog. more to the point, there is an understanding when a pet is adopted that the pet will never outlast us and that we’ll one day have to make that decision we refuse to entertain until circumstances force us. i knew that day was coming, but given that Juice is 11 (almost twice Pinko’s age) and has begun having issues with her bladder, i never considered that day would come for Pinko first. not even once.

      she was a deep thinker.

      but still, love is love, and the nature of my love is protective. through this ordeal, i wanted only to shield Pinko from pain above all else, even at the expense of her recovery. every instinct in my body told me to toss aside the pills that were making her sick, to stop with the demoralizing force feedings and to find another, perhaps more natural approach. yet i did none of these things and instead marched toward a false promised land that filled us both with anguish, hers more excruciating. these are regrets i will need time to process, along with my grief. i’ve made promises to Juice that i won’t repeat these mistakes.

      she was a cuddler.

      the last few moments with her were far more beautiful than i thought they would be. i brought Juice along so she could understand what was happening and find her own closure. when the two of them saw each other, they touched noses briefly but purposefully in what i took to be their final goodbye. Juice then sat by Pinko’s side while i sat on the floor and brought Pinko’s head and chest across my lap.

      me & my pinko
      her first time in the snow.

      i talked to her for a few minutes, praising her for brightening my life in infinite ways for six years. i thanked her for being a difficult dog initially so i could learn about unconditional love. i apologized for extending her life that extra week, asked her to forgive me for yelling at her when she misbehaved and said i hoped she could reincarnate as a future dog of mine, to be adopted at an undetermined time, so i could see her again. i also told her that i put her name tag on my keyring and would keep her collar in my purse.

      then i went through the list of all the things i loved about her — how she howled when she wanted attention, herded me toward the dog treats, sat on me when she didn’t want me to leave, jumped on me so she could stretch her back, pushed my legs apart so she could sit between them while i stood, and ran ahead during our hikes, though not too far, before running back to jump on her sister’s head. she was a funny dog, both sassy and sweet, equal parts fire and sugar, sometimes needy and always loving. i told her i hoped her sister and i gave her as much love as she gave us.

      she had soulful eyes.

      then i put my hand over Pinko’s heart so i could feel its final beat, leaned back into Tico’s arms, told the vet we were ready, and let my tears roll off my face and onto hers so she could take some of me with her. less than a minute later, i felt her heart and breathing stop. i kept petting her tan fur until her body began getting cold. then i kissed her still face goodbye and told her i would miss her every day for the rest of my life. she passed on Tuesday, December 10, around 4:45pm. she was a month shy of her 7th birthday.

      goodbye, sweet girl. you live in my heart now.

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      please consider making a donation to help with the vet bill (roughly $6,600): Help for Pinko’s Medical Bills 

      Saturday, November 23, 2013

      My First Half-Marathon

      i suppose the title implies that there will be others and i assume this much is true, though i still can’t seem to click on any Sign Up buttons just yet. my fingers always navigate away from the webpage before it can happen, likely encouraged by the lingering pain in my foot, the soreness of my shins and tightness in my hips that my body still feels almost a week after the fact. i guess this is what “muscle memory” is all about. but let’s go back to the beginning.

      Vegas, baby.

      my cousin, Gitella, and i had been talking about a girlie getaway for ages, finally solidifying plans this past spring to meet in Las Vegas for a weekend. i’m not sure how the Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas Half Marathon made its way into our plan, which was, in her words, “to get away from men and children,” but it did. i agreed to it because i wanted to get into better shape, and a half-marathon seemed just the push off the couch i needed. so we signed up and started training.

      about an hour before the horror show began.

      well, her training started and (smartly) consisted of completing a few other half marathons in addition to the full Portland marathon. my “training” consisted of weekend hikes at my local trail with my dogs and intermittent jogging, but mostly walking, around the Rose Bowl. at no point in my training did i complete the full 13.1 miles involved in a half-marathon. the greatest distance i ever traveled at one time was eight miles and that was only once, with a handful of six-mile walks also completed.

      view from the hotel room makes it look like i’m in Paris — if Paris had obese Americans eating at buffets in every hotel.

      casual friday on the Strip

      let the record reflect that i really hate Las Vegas. everything about the place reeks of unhinged gluttony and douchebaggery to me. the hotels are overpriced, gaudy and smoky, and the visitors seem hell-bent on creating a “whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” secret they can recount among their friends and future offspring to prove they had a crazy youth, when the reality is closer to a visit that produced more empty pockets and hangovers than wild tales (with the occasional side of VD). 

      nothing like a saturday night in Las Vegas to remind me why i never visit.

      trash-talking aside and included, it had been roughly 13 years since my last visit to Las Vegas, a long enough time to ease my hatred and make another trip palpable. more importantly, the half-marathon (and also full marathon scheduled for the same day) took place on the Las Vegas strip at night, a huge draw for my non-morning person self who didn’t want a 7am start time.

      seen on T-shirts at the local fitness expo, where we picked up our runners’ packets and stuffed our pockets full of Power Bar samples. 

      incredible dinner with the most tender filet mignon cooked medium rare to perfection.

      we went to CraftSteak, the restaurant of famed Top Chef head judge Tom Collichio. the service was impeccable, wine amazing and portions giant. we left with stuffed bellies and several to-go containers after enjoying a night of girl talk and giggles. then we fell onto the hotel bed with pants unbuttoned and complaints about how much we overate. it was an incredible dinner, to be sure, the type you want to have on a Saturday night in Las Vegas, but probably not the type you want to have the night before a half-marathon.

      the point in the weekend when i should have said, “how about we just go drinking instead?”

      this will surely sound stupid but i’ll put it out there anyway: completing a half-marathon was a lot harder than i thought it would be. it’s not that i thought it would be effortless, but i did think that having two working legs would be enough to get me to the finish line. in theory, this proved true. but in practice, i grimaced through every mile and felt every step.

      some of the colorful characters who raced alongside us.

      in my “training,” my shins always hurt the first mile, and in this half-marathon, they decided to nearly cripple me during the first three miles, rendering me wobbly-legged, expletive-laden and slightly panic-stricken, as i worried i would have to bow out of the race during mile two. if only i had done my research and discovered a miraculous product known as a shin support, which runners often use since shin splitting is a common issue.

      another T-shirt from the fitness expo that sums up what i was feeling throughout most of the half-marathon.

      after i (heroically) Pushed Through the Pain of the first three miles, my left foot went numb, which was a blessing as that meant i no longer had to deal with the shin issue. naturally, i decided to start running because, at that point, i figured i was already tampering with my body’s wellbeing so why not just go for total annihilation?

      the running was intermittent but helped us make up for lost time, taking our initial and pathetic 20 minutes/mile average to a slightly less pathetic 18 minutes/mile. clearly, my Cousin the Marathoner could have smoked me during this race but kindly stayed near my side offering encouraging words aimed at moving me the hell along.

      Elvis greeted us at mile six with offers of a quickie wedding. i think we disappointed him when we told him we were cousins.

      at mile seven, i ate some Power Bar booster thingy that tasted like apple sauce, hoping it would help me combat the nausea that seemed to intensify after every sip of Gatorade and water i took from nearby well wishers. (it didn’t.) instead, i enjoyed renewed energy likely due to a placebo effect. by mile ten, the energy had worn off, leaving me newly tired, still queasy and suddenly mute.

      almost to the promised land.

      though counter-intuitive, the last mile zoomed by. at that point, we had been making our way back toward the busiest and most lit up part of the strip, where crowds cheered us along, speakers blasted songs like “Bust a Move” (which now holds a new meaning for me) and the finish line was in plain sight. i felt a light-headedness bordering on delirium and let out a howl that sounded very much like a dying donkey when i crossed that finish line.

      only in Vegas: medals modeled after poker chips.

      four hours were given to complete the half-marathon (full marathoners got five hours), otherwise some shuttle of shame was said to drive by and pluck you off the path. i’m happy to report that Gitella and i made it in 3 hours and 56 minutes. {crowd applause} this averages to 18 minutes per mile. i realize that seasoned runners can complete a mile in a third of that time. whatever. 

      the finishers area held a multitude of free treats that are commonly found at the end of such races, i learned, such as chocolate milk (oddly refreshing), apples and bananas, six packs of bagels, pretzels for nausea, bottles of gatorade and space blankets. we loaded up as much as we could carry and started the slow hobble back to our hotel room, where i proceeded to drop to the carpet to stretch my spasming muscles through gritted teeth. at that point, i felt a blend of pain, pride, foolishness and euphoria. (but mostly pain.)

      thanks, Vegas. (sorta) 

      i assured Gitella that i wouldn’t need to eat after the half-marathon, given my continued nausea and the bewildered state of my body that rendered a normal activity such as eating too complicated to imagine. she chuckled briefly before excusing herself for a half-hour — a time when i took a hot shower, put on my pajamas and collapsed onto the bed — and returned with pizza and ice cream, which we devoured quickly.

      lying in bed afterwards, i’ll confess that whatever sense of accomplishment i felt was not overwhelming enough to offset the pain in my body. i probably could have spent my life never knowing what it felt like to complete a half-marathon and died just as happily (or sadly, depending on how things go).

      a week later, i’m not sure my sentiments have changed. i keep telling myself i’ll do another one, one i actually train for so it won’t hurt as bad during and after, yet i still can’t manage to click that Sign Up button. maybe i need a few more weeks to help me forget because, right now, everything about it sounds like a masochistic idea. in the meantime, i’ll fit my workouts in between trips from the couch to the refrigerator.