Thursday, June 28, 2007

Missing my dog

If you're just coming in now, for this whole story, I recommend you search on the tag "A dog's life," scroll down, and start with the oldest one that comes up. Or just click here and follow the links at the end of each post. Go ahead. It won't take you that long. When you wind up back here you'll know where I'm coming from.

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This picture was taken down in Maryland at my parents' weekend house on the weekend before Labor Day of last year. Ilsa, my Diva Dog, was 6 weeks shy of 11 years old. Z. was one week shy of 18 months. 20 minutes after this shot was taken, Ilsa was lying behind me when someone--my mother, I think--asked "what's wrong with Ilsa?" I turned to see her legs were rigid and twitching, her tongue was lolling out, and holding her made no difference at all. Some part of me told another part of me, "this is what a seizure looks like." If you are up to speed on Rhymes with Javelin backstory, you will know that Z. had agonal breathing shortly after birth, was resuscitated and placed on a ventilator for a few hours, and the cause of her collapse was misdiagnosed as seizure. (There, now didn't I type that calmly?) This meant she was in the hospital for a week, and I was emotionally destroyed, and that's actually not putting it too strongly.

Faced with Ilsa's seizure, a part of me froze and another part of me switched into doing what needed to be done. Her brain had failed; during the seizure she was somewhere I couldn't reach her. When she came out of it she went into the house as though she was searching for the cool tiles of the bathroom, sheltering from the lightning in her head, but she went to the wrong side of the house and couldn't find it. I led her back to the tiles, I petted her and gave her all of my attention for the first time since Z.'s birth.

It was the first of several seizures that would reveal the brain tumor that was one of the myriad things that, all unknown to us, had been converging all summer to shut her down that weekend.

Not slowly but suddenly, her body stopped working.

She had been slowing down all summer, but not dramatically. And her last week was a fine one. The mouseyball reappeared for the first time in months, and she was thrilled to be reunited with it. I also inadvertently fulfilled one of her most cherished fantasies by putting up the dog gate while she was by herself in the kitchen and leaving the house for a few hours. Uncle Donor came for a visit that week, and of course we took the dogs with us down to Maryland, perhaps Ilsa's favorite place on the planet. She roamed around with all the other dogs and spent a blissed out afternoon lying under the hammock while my mother patted her. If we'd known how sick she was, she might not have had any of that.

When Ilsa started seizing, we had to find a hospital. In Southern Maryland on a Sunday. The nearest one was a 45-minute highway drive away. A. stayed with Z. and my father, while I held Ilsa in the backseat of my mother's car. When we got her out of the car, as we were pulling open the door, she sank down against me and onto the pavement as though she were melting. Seizing again. The techs came out with a rolling stainless steel cart to bring her back to the examining room and we sat down to wait and wait. I flashed back to the previous time Ilsa had been hospitalized, after a pit bull attacked her--the two waiting rooms are not distinct in my memory. I lost track of the hours. We talked to a vet who was worried about her hydration. He had no explanation for the seizures. As we knew from Z.'s hospitalization, too many things can cause them. Eventually, we had to leave her overnight.

They wanted her to go 24 hours without seizing, but she kept having them so in the end we settled for twelve.

We spent the extra day in Washington, going to the Natural History museum and riding the carousel just so the day wouldn't be all about tragedy. A. and Z. went home in our car, and I borrowed my mother's to drive the 40 minutes back to the animal hospital. I collected Ilsa, who was dazed and suddenly very frail looking, and collected a syringe of valium and two of saline that I would be able to inject into the port they left in her ankle just in case she seized on the trip up.

We stopped once so I could get a sandwich and give her a chance to pee, but after I lifted her out of the car all she wanted to do was lie down. I lifted her back in again. The ride was fast, but still over four hours. As the hours went on, she whimpered and whimpered and whined. God help me, I was impatient with her. I thought she needed to pee, since she hadn't taken the chance when we stopped, but actually she was dying.

I didn't take her home but directly to Penn, the same hospital where I dragged Smartest Dog's lifeless body, the same hospital where Hunter Dog was finally diagnosed with lupus at 11 months. I have, in short, a long history of going into hysterics at this hospital.

They took Ilsa straight from the back seat of the car into emergency. They told me that they didn't think she would have survived the twenty minute ride from there to my house. They found more things wrong than I knew could be wrong with a living organism. She had a tumor in her brain. Her spleen and guts and heart and lungs were all shutting down. Her blood pressure needed to be artificially maintained for her to survive the tests.

They kept her alive til the end of the next day, Tuesday, long enough for us to all come down to the hospital to say goodbye. The impossibly young doctor who was taking care of her was an Aussie owner, and in her way she seemed as upset as we were. A. and Z. said goodbye and left the room, and I held her and kept my hand over her heart and felt her heart beating until it faded away.

She was a good dog.

Coda: Remembering


Lo said...

Oh this is so heartbreaking to read.

My favorite memory of Ilsa is when Hunter Dog decided to get in bed with me...and Ilsa stood by the bed with dignity, thrusting her head forward to demand petting, but refusing to break the rules so audaciously. Her posture made me suspect Hunter Dog was doing something wrong.

What made you decide to use her real name?

Magpie said...

Poor doggie. I think I'm getting sentimental in my old age; I'm on the verge of tears here at my desk. Sweet post.

S. said...

Lo, I remember that transgression!

I actually wrote the (single) first draft of all four posts using her real name, then switched to her blogname when I split them up, edited and expanded them. When I came to switching it for this one it just felt wrong. I always knew I'd be using that photo, and it just seemed like for her death she could have the dignity of being fully in front of the curtain.

Magpie, thanks. I've been working on these all week and haven't been able to touch this one without bawling.

Julia said...

That's a great picture, and Ilsa sounds like a great dog. I am sorry your time with her was shorter than you hoped for and ended so abruptly.
I imagine that picture is up somewhere in the house?

S. said...

You know, I have hardly any digital pictures that are even printed out, let alone on display. Something about my lingering Luddite, I guess. We do keep a picture of Ilsa eating a BIG stick on our fridge, but it's from when she was much younger. That one is in a baggie b/c Z. would carry it around for hours during the days after Ilsa died--which marked Z.'s discovery of photographs.

E. said...

I'm in tears. I miss Ilsa. She was my first dog-friend--the one who taught me how to be friends with dogs. I love and miss her a great deal.

Scrivener said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. This is a really touching post.