Yesterday I had to go back to that awful place.
Well, I guess it’s unfair to call the place itself awful… it’s just the things that have happened in my life around that place have been.
Let me take a step back.
In January 2001 I was at the movie theater with my then-boyfriend (not my now-husband, thank goodness) when I received a frantic call from my mom. Our 12-year-old dog, Cracker, had not been himself all day, and she and my dad had brought him to the vet. That vet had advised them to go immediately to the emergency veterinary hospital. And that’s when my mom called me.
I remember having to leave the movie theater in a hurry, and first having to drop my boyfriend’s sister and cousins off before we could rush to the hospital.
I don’t recall all the details of that day. I was distraught over my sick “brother” and I think in a bit of a state of shock. Cracker and his littermate Carmel were my first dogs ever, and the thought of losing one of them was almost too much to take. But we did lose Cracker that day. The vet told us that we could take him home and let him live uncomfortably for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, or we could put him to sleep there, to go in peace with all of us surrounding him. We chose the latter.
The next day we went back to the hospital to take Cracker’s body home with us. My dad had nearly broken his back digging a hole in our backyard, and we buried Cracker lovingly there, placing a rock and a squirrel statue above his resting place so we would always know where to find him.
(When my parents moved from that house 4 years later, they nervously told the new owners that our two dogs were buried in the yard – Carmel had passed away one year after Cracker, and my father had again dug a hole in order to place Carmel next to his brother. Luckily, the new owners were dog lovers and promised to honor our dogs’ resting places.)
After we lost Cracker so suddenly (even though he was almost 13, he had been very active up to that point), I had hoped to never have to go to that emergency vet hospital any time soon, if not never again. We luckily didn’t have to return there with Carmel. When it was his time to go (he was almost 14 and had basically lost his ability to use his hind legs), we had a vet come to our home to put him to sleep peacefully. Although it was incredibly heartbreaking for us, we knew he had gone at his time, and in a peaceful manner.
And then last June one of my worst nightmares came true – and it was back to that awful place.
I remember it as clear as day. I had been worried for a few of weeks that Bismarck didn’t seem like himself. I had brought him to the vet a couple of weeks before, but the tests came back normal. But that Friday morning, June 1st, I just knew something was wrong. I. just. knew.
I called the vet and was able to get Bismarck in that morning. Since my mom knew how nervous I was, she came with me. As the vet examined him, commented on how anemic he was, and asked if he had recently eaten any rat poison, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I knew there wasn’t a chance he had eaten rat poison. And I knew that whatever was wrong was serious.
After we waited about a half hour for Bismarck’s bloodwork results to come back, they showed that his white blood cell count was extremely low. The vet told us to go immediately to the emergency vet hospital. And from my experience with Cracker, I knew that wasn’t a good sign.
On the drive over, I called Steve at work and told him to meet us there right away. He quickly arranged to have his colleagues cover the rest of his classes, and he rushed to be with us. When he walked into that cold, sterile room my mom and I were sitting in with Bismarck, we locked eyes and tried to comfort each other. We tried to be strong for Bismarck, but what we had heard already just was not encouraging.
We had to leave Bismarck at the hospital that night, and having to leave there without our Big Boy, and thinking of him alone in his cage trying to be brave, was just too difficult. Steve and I stayed over my parents’ house that night since they live about 10 minutes from the hospital, just to be as close to Bismarck as possible. We took turns comforting each other that night.
If you followed our blog last summer, you already know that Bismarck fought and fought so bravely, but lost his battle with gastrointestinal lymphoma in 8 short weeks. I knew we did everything we could to help him. Chemo treatments, holistic vet visits, a new diet… I would have cut off my right arm if someone told me it would help him.
In those 8 weeks, Steve and I had to make many trips back to the emergency vet hospital, for Bismarck’s chemo treatments, to have them check out his swollen leg… and ultimately, on the night that we were told his cancer had spread and keeping him alive much longer wouldn’t be fair to him.
We wanted Bismarck to pass peacefully in our home, in our arms. So the vet gave us the phone numbers of a few people who we could call. I can’t even begin to describe how awful it was to walk out of that hospital with Bismarck, knowing it would be his last night on earth. How awful it was to have to call up the man who will come to your home the next day to put your dog to sleep. How awful it was to have to watch my dad (with Steve’s help this time) have to dig another hole, this time in my backyard, in which to lay my Big Boy to rest.
(This, by the way, is one of the reasons I get so bothered by people who insist on making light of those of us who consider our dogs our children. So if you’re one of those people, please ask yourself next time you want to say, “It’s not the same. You just don’t know”… What do I hope to gain from comments like these? Why do I feel the need to prove what constitutes being a mom? OK, stepping off soapbox now.)
I still don’t fully understand how, but we have made it through these past nine months since losing Bismarck. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, and talk to him. I he watches over all of us, and I know he sent Seth to us. He knew that Ryder needed a brother to play with and that mama and daddy needed a snuggle boy.
But back to that awful place known as the emergency vet hospital, which we had to return to yesterday.
For over a month now, Ryder has been limping on her right front leg a little. It’s an inconsistent and intermittent limp, one that will appear out of nowhere and then disappear. But she sometimes after she wakes up from a nap or after she runs after the ball a lot, we will notice the limp more.
Since our whole ordeal with Bismarck, I have become perhaps a bit overly cautious about everything. So I have brought her to three different vets, plus our holistic vet. No one could really give a clear answer, so we made an appointment with a surgeon for Ryder to get some X-rays done on her leg.
Of course, the place we had to go for this appointment yesterday was the emergency vet hospital.
I had not been back there with Steve since the night we took Bismarck home for the last time. We had to go back into one of those cold, sterile rooms to meet with the surgeon.
We explained to the tech who met with us before the surgeon came in that we try to cover all the bases because of what we went through with Bismarck. And that is when my strong, don’t-let-your-guard-down husband broke down, probably overcome with emotions that came to the surface just being back at that awful place.
When it was time for the surgeon to take Ryder back for her X-rays, Steve and I smiled in remembering how brave Bismarck always tried to be for us. He would get taken back to get his treatments, and we just knew he was trying to comfort us by putting on a brave face. He was just, simply, him.
Meanwhile, poor Ryder, our little baby girl, looked back at us like, “I can’t believe you two are behind this!”
After the X-rays were finished, we met with the surgeon, who told us he couldn’t find anything wrong. There is no more arthritis in her arm than is normal for a Labrador her age (she’s 6). Maybe it’s just a kind of “ache and pain” she has, like everyone gets as they get older.
When he brought Ryder back out to us, she was still a bit groggy from being put under anesthesia for the X-rays. And she was not happy with me or Steve.
We made sure Ryder got her rest yesterday, and even Seth left her alone and didn’t take any of her toys.
We are hoping that her leg just needs a little rest once in a while from all the running she does, chasing after tennis balls.
I really do not want to have to go back to that awful place any time soon.
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