I woke at seven a.m., two hours later than intended, with a hangover from wine imbibed too late into the night as I waited for my seventeen-year-old son to come home.
I got up slowly and started drinking fluids. Out the window, the wind riffled the waters of San Francisco Bay as I made a large iced coffee with soymilk and a packet of Splenda (down from two packets in the same volume last week.) My head was pounding and my sinuses squeaked me their gentle reminder that red wine provokes allergies, that I must find something better to do to wile away the hours waiting up for my son to make it home on time for curfew.
I went back up the stairs to my bed to stare out the window at the scullers heading back from their early morning row.
The front door opened and soon, the sound of my grand dog Tacoma could be heard bounding up the stairs as she arrived to spend the day, part of our preparation for her second “tour” with us as our oldest boy is shipping out to Kuwait for six months starting in mid-July.
Tacoma is a creature of habit. She bounds the stairs three at a time, runs a quick circuit through the open space of the living room and hallway, arriving at the kitchen, where she inspects the dog dishes and sniffs the floor for leftovers.
I sipped my coffee, feet outstretched, as I planned on how to redeem a day already gone wrong.
Asleep on the floor in her dog bed beside me was Bootsie, my beautiful old black, white, and tan boxer mix. She is fifteen and each moment with her is a true blessing. Next to her, Dobbie, my uppity French bulldog snorted and looked indignant as he heard the clatter of Tacoma’s ID tag as she scoured the dishes. He seemed to be wondering if he’d mistakenly left something behind for her to eat, but before he could chase her away, she bolted up the stairs and landed lightly on my bed without a formal invitation.
Eyeing her, I noticed her nails looked long.
In fact, as I checked each dog, it seemed everyone needed a nail trim. I called my vet to see if they had any appointments left.
My phone buzzed as I placed the call. A friend texted me to let me know good news: the college of my son’s choice has changed its policy and decided to accept recommendation letters for the first time. I told my son the good news and he laughed, “I must have been a saint in a past life because I’m so l-u-c-k-y,” he claimed.
He left the house, dragging his drum kit with him to meet friends for a jam session as I headed with the three dogs to the vet, loading them in the car by rank from oldest to youngest.
The routine visit started as a chaos of three dogs going three different directions. I am their alpha and they listened as I vibed them to calm. They settled into place lounging on the cool linoleum floor of the exam room until it was their turn for a trim, all except Bootsie who stood. I sensed the pain in her uncertain gait.
When Dr. Peters came in, I asked about pain medication. She did a quick physical exam, homing in on the abdomen, feeling Bootsie’s organs with a practiced skill. She looked up at me with grave eyes and said,
“She has a large mass above her liver or spleen.”
The mass was new, something that wasn’t there at Bootsie’s last physical.
Three months ago.
Things moved quickly from there.
My first instinct was to gather my dogs and run away, hot-foot it away from the bad news I knew was coming.
“Her gums are pale and show that she’s anemic. We should test her and make sure she isn’t already bleeding out.”
I looked confused.
“Because if the tumor has ruptured, she could be bleeding out.”
I sucked in my breath.
An X-ray revealed the mass is located near the liver and spleen. Further blood work indicated that all her liver function tests were normal, suggesting the tumor is on the spleen. It can be removed and prognosis for recovery was good. Dr. Peters just wanted to wait for the results of a lab panel to see if surgery was among the options.
We waited for twenty minutes, long enough for me to pull Bootsie’s silky ears in a sort of milking motion. She loves this and it’s been our comfort ritual for many a years.
I thought to myself, “Please don’t let it be anything immediate.” My husband has a significant birthday in two days and Father’s Day is on the weekend. The whole family will be together. This would be a terrible time for BAD news.
Dr. Peters returned. She quietly informed me that the labwork showed that Bootsie’s kidneys are failing. She was kind but direct even as she told me the ugly truth.
“If it were my dog, I wouldn’t do surgery,” she said, pointing out that the process to remove the tumor would exacerbate the kidney issue.
She suggested a pain medication and we discussed what endpoints would look like.
Bootsie was officially ordered to live out her days as a couch potato. Any vigorous activity could burst the tumor.
And I am shocked and sad, but also grateful, grateful because it could have been so much worse.
I patted her back gingerly as I paid for medications and loaded all three dogs in the car for the short drive home.
Bootsie loved the cheese and Tramadol quesadilla I made for her and settled in for another nap, her stuffed pig beside her as is her habit. In days of yore, she would grab the pig in her teeth and shake it at dinnertime, a gesture that said, “I could hunt and kill wild beasts for you, so you should feed me.” I think her pig hunting days may be done.
It’s now 6:53 p.m. on June 15th and I have every reason to be depressed. I’m afraid to go and fetch groceries in case my dog dies while I’m gone, but if I don’t go, I can’t buy her the jars of beef baby food she so prizes now that her appetite is diminished from nausea. While there, I could grab another bottle of wine and drown my sorrows, but I won’t.
As crummy a day as it has been in some ways, I got to take Bootsie home and can consciously, intentionally enjoy her last days, however many she gets.
And I’m taking advantage of tools that work for me when building a new habit, such as:
- Writing this down and making myself accountable to the audience of people who read my blog.
- Engaging in a habit I’ve built by writing daily since January 1, 2014, piggybacking a new habit (exercise) and reinforcing the existing habit.
- Anticipating the possible risks in going to the store (dog could die, I could buy wine) and opting to take the risk (after communing with Bootsie for awhile, after I locate my swim things so that I WILL exercise when I get home.)
So, even though this may seem like a bad day to start a habit, I’m doing it, adding the exercise habit to my daily regimen.
And I’m doing it today because I am so keenly aware that life is short…
…that time waits for no dog…
…that there will never be a perfect time to form a new habit.