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