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The Graphic Reality

April 3, 2012

It all started with a “senior” visit to a new veterinarian almost two weeks ago. It had been 21 months since Zolton’s last visit to a doctor. He had been seen for years–every six months–for every little thing. In fact, I was an alarmist. I did everything I was supposed to do and then some….But then my husband’s business hit an extremely rough patch. Almost everything he created since graduating from business school was lost. Yup, we were one of those families, having been blessed with much, (through very hard work on my husband’s part), that lost almost everything material in the debt crisis. He’s a real estate developer and the losses were huge. We hung in there–continue to do so–but the emotional toll that consumed my poor husband, me and his children has been daunting (not to mention all the employees he had to let go). I’m not complaining here; we had way more than anyone needed, however, the fallout has not been pretty. My husband’s colleagues in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago were committing suicide by the day. What I’m trying to do is paint the picture for you–justify how hard it was for me to take care of 4 furry family members to the obsessed degree that I had been doing. I had to remain the cheerleader of this pack (a position I didn’t love in high school, much less at this stage of the game).

Back to Zolt….I tend to digress….

As a puppy, he was diagnosed with Lyme’s disease which apparently damaged his kidneys. We treated the Lyme’s and checked his blood and his urine constantly. I sent away for a special diet to keep the kidney disease from progressing….this was a low protein diet seriously augmented with table scraps of filet mignon, salmon, chicken,…. You name it; Zolt ate it. We laugh when we remember a party I was having out at my pool….a platter of all sorts of special cheeses among other delectables which was there one minute….and COMPLETELY gone the next. Zolt could clean off any plate with a turn of the head.

As he aged, the kidney disease caused high blood pressure. We treated him for this and continue to do so with medication. Most significant, in the odyssey  that has been Zolton’s life, about six years ago, a very scary thing happened when we noticed he wasn’t acting right. It turned out that all assessments pointed to an abdominal tumor. He was down 15 pounds from his normal, overweight-self so we ran some tests and found an “abdominal tumor the size of a walnut,” the internist informed; the prognosis was bleak and our very slim hope was in the surgery they were to perform to remove it. I was told not to get my hopes up and to remain close to the phone for an intra-op call the surgeon would be making to let me decide if I wanted to put him down while under anesthesia, if the outlook was what they thought it would be.

This is when I discovered I really had a “thing” with my hands. Certainly not my power but a power, nonetheless. This is a very, very long story, which I might get back to at a later date. Too long for this late hour. I’m trying to get to the dog’s diagnosis…….I KNOW. I go off on tangents but I have ADD (and am a nervous wreck) so please forgive me but I’m trying to impart the miracle that was this dog’s entire life.

I had laid (or is it lain? I never can remember) my hands on my baby in the ER the night before his surgery. (I had already seen some miracles that occurred after I had laid/lain hands on people I was asked to touch in the past) so I figured I had nothing to lose. I am a Christian (again, after a journey through other religions and philosophies but I’m not a proselytizer, so fear not) and I believe in the gifts of the Spirit however I didn’t think I was blessed with any.  I also put a prayer request on my church’s prayer chain. I continued to pray and I focused my energy, God’s energy and His grace, into my hands and tried to get some sleep. The next day, I waited by the phone–shaking–trying to brace myself for the bad news we all were expecting. The doctor told me that he would phone me around noon. It was 12:30, then 1, then 1:30 and the phone rang. I couldn’t believe my ears. The doctor called to tell me that I was “blessed, sister.” It was only a cyst–a one in a million shot that this mass was a cyst not a tumor–and we beat the odds!! No one at the veterinary hospital had ever seen anything like it. It started out as a hard, walnut shaped tumor and was a golf ball size cyst when they operated. I don’t know…….you tell me. I’m open to any explanation but I’m particularly drawn to one of God’s mercy and grace.

So this dog has had a hell of a ride. Oh, yeah, when he was really small, maybe a year old, he got hit by a truck, as he barreled through the electric fence that surrounds my property. We have quite a lot of property and the fence actually went all the way around our entire periphery in our hopes in keeping him safe. It turned out to be a huge waste of time and money because it never, ever worked with Zolton. If he wanted out, he bulldozed through the electrical current only to be stymied in how to make his return. He came home limping that morning and I could tell he was bleeding internally. They weren’t sure if he would make it….but he did, to our good fortune, once again.

Cut to present day….ten days ago. Normal vet visit. New vet (long story). Down 15 pounds again!  Color looks good but she doesn’t like the weight loss. I rationalize: I was away skiing for 10 days. My caregivers fed him dog food, with no supplementary table food. He doesn’t like dog food. He thinks he’s a person. “Nah,” the vet says, “it’s more than that. I think it’s huge; and I think it is something that I can’t fix. Plus he seems down, she tells me; she can barely excite him enough to play a bit. Let me take a few X-rays and blood.” Xrays looked surprisingly normal…maybe a little bit of inflammation in the liver but not unusual for his age. We’ll wait for the blood and have a much better idea. She’s guessing it is the liver.  He’s doing something weird with his head, too, which indicates liver as well, she informs me. I never noticed anything with the head and I’m a psychologist, by training.  She said she thought if the kidney disease was going to do him in it would likely would have done so years ago. We will wait for the blood.

I go to Boston for the weekend to see one of my best friends with whom I’m writing a book. The vet calls Friday night to say the calcium and amylase are high and high calcium usually indicates a problem–usually cancer–but the liver enzymes and kidney numbers are surprisingly good. I continue to do my self-talk thing (….well he eats a hell of a lot of cheese thanks to my husband who ignores the “special” diet  I have tried to impose for 10 years….maybe that’s it). Last Thursday, I go to Malvern (Philadelphia area) for an ultrasound with one of the best internists from the University of Pennsylvania.  I take my elderly mother since my husband has a meeting he can’t miss. I’m not feeling very well at this point. I know she’s right. Something big is going on. Plus he looks so damn sad all the time. But then again, he always had a sort of impish, subdued look (not too smiley, but very, very sweet expressions always).

Probably because it worked for him. He was a “chick” magnet, I was told, however being a chick, I didn’t really need him to be that for me. Yet, truthfully, he was a human magnate. Everyone loved him. People told me that they loved him more than their own dog. Let’s just face it: he was and is special.

So the damn doctor comes in after the ultrasound to tell me that they found a tumor in the anal gland, the likely point of origin, and in the lymph nodes in the pelvic region. There might be something we could do but he wanted to take some more pictures to see all the organs and what the complete picture is.

Well,….and I assume you are all sitting down………………………..there are many tumors in the liver, in the adrenal glands (some up to 3 cm), in the lungs and possibly in the brain. Now there is really nothing we can do but palliative care. I can’t breathe. I shuffle out to pay my bill gasping for air. My mother is trying to keep Zolt from visiting all the other big dogs and small cats while I try to see to write the check.  We get in the car. My girlfriend from Austin calls the second I get in the car and starts crying with me. I can’t talk; I need to feed my baby. He had fasted for 18 hours for this ultrasound and he is hungry. He was always hungry. Right on through the McDonald’s drive thru I go. Quality of life, I’m told. Give him whatever the hell he wants. Love him. I order three plain cheese burgers. Two days before, he scarfed them down before I left the parking lot. Today, barely a bite. Why? Not because he has lost his appetite yet, but, rather, because he is watching me crying hysterically. Always the kind, sensitive soul, loving me with his big, beautiful heart.

And now I feel guilty. With all the financial and emotional drama around this house could I have caught this earlier?? Could I have caught it at a point when the cancer was localized and we could have operated? How do I grieve on top of the grief that I’m experiencing after just losing my father? How do I pretend everything is OK? My husband told me to stop the hysterics when I’m around him because his last days with us should be happy. He knows when we are sad and it makes him sad. “Don’t cry around the dog,” he chides. But hasn’t Zolt been aware of this evil disease ravaging his handsome body for months now? Hasn’t it been bringing him down? He knows something isn’t right inside his tummy and lungs and maybe even in his brain. How couldn’t he? Most of his organs are diseased. 30% of his liver is cancerous. I’m just sick over this. How did I miss this? How did I allow this to progress to this degree? I’ve always been vigilant and kind and caring to him and my three cats and my son and my husband (most of the time). The kidneys, possibly because of the excellent kidney-formula food he withstood for years, are the only organs that don’t seem to have the tumors. So that worked. But how did he get this? How? Why? How long? When do we do it? We want a loving doctor to come to the house. I’m not taking him to a sterile hospital to say goodbye. He can be in his bed; my bed. Anywhere he damn well wants to be. The cats can circle around (mixed research on this) and we can all say goodbye. It’s just going to suck.

It is an aggressive disease and it can take him down in an instant. I don’t want him alone EVER anymore. I paint all day on Tuesdays so today he is going to my husband’s office where he gets lots of love and attention from an awful lot of people. This weekend, Easter weekend, we are taking him to our summer house on the Chesapeake Bay–a place he loves more than anywhere else in the world. We will do whatever we can for him to make his last days comfortable and to let him know he is loved as much as any other member of this family. As a Christian, I know we all are subjected to pain and suffering as we share in a piece of what Jesus Christ endured on the Cross. But we also get to share in the Blessing that is Easter. The resurrection of the dead. I believe we will all be together again…….one day soon…….on the other side of the veil.


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  1. Amen, Melissa. My heart goes out to you and your family…

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