Mom here...I stink at suffering, have no doubt. A splinter. A headache. A flash of pain in any location. My first thoughts are always deny, deny, deny. No way, no how. Fingers in my ears…la, la, la. And then I remember Google, a place where I am reduced to a pile o’ mess knowing that I am dead within the week from any of the first three top hits. I will then proceed to tell every single soul in my path about every single detail of this dreaded fatal onslaught until my dear ol’ husband slaps me silly upside the head with his expert logic. Then I slink to the stash of pain relievers where I proceed to mentally negotiate with myself on the best choice…no dose, max dose, half dose, quarter dose, timing of dose, all the while fretting about things like potential allergic reactions to meds I have used my entire life. Then I resume my normal day with varying degrees of ‘what if Don is wrong’ thoughts alternating with ‘is my throat closing up’ thoughts running through my head until the next task takes me to safer mental territory & all is forgotten. Pathetic, I know.
My dog Phil. He is my polar suffering opposite. This is the big guy who went to every single vet appointment of his life with us wagging the tail rather than hyperventilating into oblivion in the waiting room where every other person, canine & feline present was his new best friend. Every shot, every squirt up the nose of that occasional vaccine was just a passing moment of non-issue between head-scratches & free biscuits from his adoring healthcare provider buddies. This poor, unenlightened fella came to us in full-blown, duck-trained maturity (story here). From that very first day he was blending himself into whatever family antics occurred with never a single complaint or whimper. He only conveyed his suffering on two occasions, the first being the curious incident of the drooping tail and the last, his football injury that took him out of serious ball play for his last few years.
The tail…one day the big guy awoke with a tail that stood properly a third of the way out and then oddly hung at a near-ninety degree angle. No real whimpers or yelps indicated suffering but he had a true hang-dog look for the better part of a week, & he skipped all romping in every form during that time too. At best he seemed confused and maybe even embarrassed by his new “look,” until I actually probed the droopy tail and he let out one of the few “yips” I ever heard from him. I took it as a cue to never, ever probe the droopy tail again, & he healed shortly thereafter, resuming his awesome lifestyle of eat/play/sleep ad nauseum with appropriate gusto.
The football injury…like any lab, he was always up for the chase of a good ball, or a grungy ball, or any thrown object, really. He was never one to simply run & retrieve…no, each fetch was a zero to sixty in 0.5 sec with an exotic turn-grab-slide affair - roll in grass optional - before a flourishing delivery full of slobber & ball. Like any casual observer could guess, his football injury involved a leg not cooperating with his signature turn-grab-slide in his, eh hem, twilight years. This too was an injury conveyed in the most stoic of terms…a steady limp-trot back to home base with the ball & a ready-stance for the next throw. Tough guy — when it comes to play he is all business. Three months of rest from retrieval — a lab’s biggest nightmare — did not yield optimal healing and the limp stayed. Never once, though, did he complain. Not once.
This January found us at his yearly vet appointment — really, his only vet appointments were those regular, yearly check ups. I was concerned that the leg that held the persistent, years-long limp looked a bit funny in the large muscle, sort of indented. There was no sign from him that anything was awry with it, but I did intend to mention it when asked if I had questions. I never made it to the questions part of the visit. Phil’s doc zeroed in immediately on that suspicious spot — osteogenic sarcoma. Every “but” in the world flashed through my mind…but he’s not *that* old, but he’s so healthy, but he has no indications of a problem. I’m no stranger to cancer diagnoses with those I love, and even though he is only my dog, the reaction really was the same — a clenched heart, a denying brain, a bargaining will. His vet was not optimistic and google agreed. At his age and given the statistics of the condition in dogs his age, there was every reason to believe he would live two weeks to a month at best. Folks, this was January! News flash to statistics and all those who live by them — there is always an outlier & my dog is one big ol’ outlier. Specifically, he is an outlier out lying in the sun. Right now. In June.
What has my big guy done these last five months? Lived life with his usual lab-gusto. Okay, so these days the definition of ‘gusto’ must be tailored to his day-to-day abilities, but trust me, whatever he can do, he does with a joie d’vive that makes me just a wee bit jealous. Every bowl of food, even the pathetic dog food minus a generous helping of awesome people food, is met with the most eager doggie-grin, perked eared, “yes, please!” Every bowl of water slurped up with splashes, level: water park. Every nap is the deep sleep of a college student post all-nighter. Every entrance into his presence is greeted with his ‘oh-my-gosh-where-have-you-been -all-my-life-you-most-amazing-human-ever’ happy face. This is the guy who can no longer walk more than a few feet at the very best, who really is dependent on us to decide where he naps, what his view is, how close he is to food and water. And what do I see as an unobserved observer? He settles into wherever he is. He looks around, catching scents on the wind, following birds or even tiny bugs in their movements through his sphere of existence. He rolls a bit, stretches, accommodates to the sun’s movement throughout the day. He drowses gently, then deeply. The world still moves around him as before. The squirrels still skitter through the yard. The waves lap on the shore of the bay. His thoughts no longer seem to dwell on the things he used to do and now cannot…chase those squirrels back to acceptable boundaries, sneak down the dock steps to wade in the water. His docile contentedness is infectious. I find myself grabbing a beach chair to be closer to ear-scratching level and settling into the sun with him. I know I will miss these slower days in the very near future when physiology wins out over his love of life. I only hope that I can take a lesson or two from how he handles every ball life is throwing him these days.
**Phil’s note: Yes, I did give mom permission to blog this. Whatever. She insisted. Blame my very long absence on her grad school antics & my creeping old age. Hey, we both became blog-lazy! And now that you know the last chapter of my story, please don't feel sorry for me. I would much rather you find the dog you love, any dog & give him an ear-scratch & a hug! Oh, and sit in the sun...take a nap too.