Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It gets no easier

Ashen, a few weeks before his death,
watches me walk the rest of the dogs
Two weeks ago, I got up late, having overslept for my agility class. I would need to rush to get everyone taken care of and get to class on time. I walked Coal and Xita in the front yard, the terriers too. I  let Macha out, made sure the cats had food and water, then let everyone back in. Somewhere in there, I put on pants and socks and a a shirt. Throughout my bustling, Nike slept in, as she does now, occasionally raising an eyebrow in my direction as I rushed through the room.

Finally, it was time to take Nike out and walk Oda. I called Nike out of her bed and she lurched to her feet and stumbled. I figured she wasn't all the way awake--these things happen when you get a bit older and sleep so very hard. She trotted ahead of me toward the Bestower of Ice Bones (the refrigerator/freezer) and wiped out in front of it. The floor is slick, and she got ahead of herself at the thought of Ice Bones first thing in the morning.

But she stumbles again on the way through the TV room. Something isn't right.

I catch up to her and steady her with a hand on her shoulders and we make it through the back door and off the porch and she stumbles again, her feet flail at the air, as though she is trying walk on a floor that isn't there. She lifts her feet high and throws them out to her left and right. She falls again.

This isn't right. Nike is the dog that flew

Nike, 22", trialing for her Sch2, around 2002, 1 meter wall

Reader, I lost it.

Right then and there, I burst into tears and sank to the step of the back stoop and wailed like a child who has lost her favorite blankie

Suddenly, I was facing a future of an old Nike, a feeble Nike, or soon, no Nike. And no matter how long the brain had known, has planned and expected, the heart was betrayed and shocked and unwilling.

Frost (Sch2) and Thorn (SchH3, CDX) -- my first two GSDs

There was a day about 7 months before Thorn's death when I knew what the course of his death would be. I knew what would take him and that it would be a long road away from me. That day, too, I wailed. I lost Frost unexpectedly and quickly, over the course of 24 hours. I said goodbye to Ashen before I had expected to, but that morning of his death, I had had a vision of him dying in my yard, nose deep in the grass, like dozing off in the sun. Somehow, I miss him more now than I did then--before it was grief, I guess, now I just miss him.

I will always have a bit of Nike and a bit of Ashen and a bit of Frost in my life--through their children and grandchildren. Lynx's joy in, well, everything is straight down from Ash. Macha's intelligence contains teasers of both Frost and Nike. Watching Blaze and Nash (Ilya and Inigo) work last week, I felt like I was with Ash again and I knew them well from the many hours I spent training for schutzhund with both of their parents.
Nike and Ash together


That morning two weeks ago, I was devastated by her inability to walk--not so much because I thought something fatal had happened to her, but because something fatal would happen to her. I knew that the most likely problem was a disruption of her vestibular system, which governs her balance and orientation to the world, but she didn't have the characteristic nystagmus (side to side or up and down eye movement) that I'd always heard about. I knew that most dogs recover well from vestibular problems. But perhaps something neurological had happened or she had a tumor that had suddenly destroyed her physical control. Perhaps she was permanently disabled? Perhaps I would lose her today. (Or not.)

The sudden comprehension of that reality was more than  I could bear right then. Instead of getting easier to part with my old dogs, it seems to get harder and harder with every one. The path we are on is familiar and the familiarity makes it easier to tread, but no easier to bear.

I regained (most of) my composure that Tuesday and called the vet and made an appointment for her. It is vestibular disease. She started on anti-nausea meds right away and stayed on them for 3 days, although they sedated her, so she slept a lot. After a week, she'd only improved moderately, so she was xrayed from head to tail. She has a bad inner-ear infection and is on antibiotics and prednisone and pain meds. And the good news is that her skull is clear of tumors and her heart is strong and healthy and her abdomen has only the normal lumpy bits. She should be around for years to come.

This morning, with Nike, I pause and watch her for a few seconds before I call her name. She sleeps so still, so deeply now, I am not always sure she breathes. But when she wakes, her eyes are bright and comprehending and she moves toward the door with clear intent.

She wants an ice cube, now please!

Nike, Dec 2010


Country Girl said...

I'm on the same road and it's heartbreaking. *hugs*

Era said...

Hugs to both you and Nike. I can tell Nike is very lucky to have you taking care of her.

anissa_roy said...

I'm reading back through your blog, and this entry brought tears to my eyes. I feel you - oh, how I do.

I'll never forget the day we got Casper's hip dysplasia diagnosis. I knew he was not a dog who would tolerate crate rest and leash walking, nor was the surgery for both hips financially possible for me at the time. So when the vet showed me those xrays I knew the end was coming. I walked into the back and picked up my 95-lb boy, refusing the tech's assistance, (I'm a 5'2" woman, not terribly fit) and carried him to my car.

We kept him happy and mostly pain-free for about a year after that. Supplements, massage, pain meds, we did everything we could, knowing we were only buying time. And when the time came, I let him go, and went outside the clinic, and sat in my car wailing.

It doesn't get easier, but I wouldn't give up the joy just to avoid the pain. And old dogs who scare us (my 11 yr old Vixen gave us a fright earlier this year) can go on for a long, long time.

I'll raise a glass to old, ice-chomping dogs for you.