Caution: Mom Hazards a Few Words

Twice, I have nearly rolled across the marble-top kitchen island, diving for the girls’ water dish in order to keep Lillian from lapping up tainted refreshment.  On several occasions I’ve slid like Lou Gehrig into home, catching Delilah’s drool with a paper towel before it turns the wood floor into a hazardous waste site.   At night I could be mistaken for a worm charmer, decked out in a headlamp, white plastic gloves, carrying plastic bags and a water bottle.

Canine chemotherapy isn’t nearly as glamorous as everyone says it is.

I decided to re-take control of my blog (I’ll return it as a DLOG as soon as I’m done here) to explain how some of this canine cancer stuff works. As Delilah’s bespectacled, dogged research showed, (see DLOG #1) canine lymphoma is pretty common. So, hopefully this will help someone.

Delilah flunked the cancer test about six weeks ago now. After talking with her veterinarian, who is not a drag-it-out sort of doctor, my husband Jon and I decided we’d give this pill form of chemo- Laverdia-  a try.  We started on a Monday, administering a pill every three days. Chemo days would be Mondays and Thursdays.

For three days following each pill, her saliva, urine and stools present a  hazard to children, other dogs and the pooh-picker-upper. That’s the reason for the crime-scene gloves. As an extra precaution I squirt water anywhere she leaves a trace. At night, the headlamp is so I can see all of the, well, circumstances of her pooh. And so I don’t step in my work. Lillian gets the run of the back yard. We walk Delilah out front. Sometimes, when we’re sure D is empty we supervise her in the back yard so she can frolic a bit and lay on “her” outdoor sofa.  Sundays, family day, are chemo free. Trickiest is the water bowl situation. Two bowls is just two bowls. I thought of labeling them with their names, but while they are pretty good typists, (see the DLOGS) it turns out they can’t read.  So I do a lot of bowl rinsing.

                                                  Delilah enjoying a little couch time

The manufacturers of Laverdia  say most dogs don’t become ill on the pill. D is apparently not “most dogs” as her whole dinner wound up on our bedroom floor around 1:30 in the morning that first Tuesday.  Thursday’s dose came back up around 10pm. The following Monday, Labor Day, I came home from a neighborhood party to check on her. She stood up and vomited bright, red blood.  Her eyes were weary. Her body, thinning. I tearily went back to the party to get Jon and we came home to spend what we thought was our last night with our girl.

I called the vet Tuesday morning expecting to schedule her final rest but was met with undaunted certainty. “This is not the end,” Tammy told me.  Dr. Pelura said I was to stop the chemo and do what I could to rest her stomach. “We’ll just call this a minor setback,” Tammy said.

So for two weeks I coaxed and tempted and tried various doggie delicious dishes that she might eat. At first she refused everything. Gradually a combination of chicken, pumpkin, a bit of regular dry dog food and most importantly, I think, chicken gravy seemed to do the trick. I also administer an occasional mini-pint of Ben and Jerry’s doggie ice cream. D gets most of the treats but I slip a little to her forlorn sister, making sure that healing one pup doesn’t cause obesity in the other.

The “other,” Lillian, has been, surprisingly, an exemplary sister.  She doesn’t (often) steal her sister’s special food. She is respectful of D’s space, while at the same time quietly hanging out with her in whatever cool, dark space D finds, most often our exercise room. (D always liked to do Doga.)  Lillian has sometimes embarrassingly, become more protective, barking at other dogs with slight aggression. She never did this before. And when we went to the park last Sunday D tired out so Jon walked her back to the car while I continued on with Lilly, who needed more exercise. Except it was nearly impossible to get her to run the other way. She just didn’t want to leave her ailing sister.  I thought all of this was my imagination. But Dr. P confirmed. “She know’s she’s sick,” he told me.  This. Tears me up.

                       Lilly keeping her sister company, whether she wants it or not

This past Monday after a sleepless night, I called the vet and got the thumbs up to re-start the chemo.  “If she vomits, we’re out,” I told Meghan at Dr. P’s office.  “I understand,” she said quietly.  Again, I slept with one eye open. But Delilah’s remained, peacefully closed. She had refused dinner, but snoozed well and gobbled her chicken-pumpkin-gravy breakfast in the morning. She’s spunkier this past week and the light is back in her eyes.

She gets another dose tomorrow.

Today, I am hopeful. The knot that’s been in my stomach for the past six weeks is loosening. Perhaps our little family will stay intact for a while longer.

The girls will keep in touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Promises

Families gnaw on pizza crusts. Heavy doors slam visitors in with their loved ones, while smokers head out for sustenance.  Teenagers throw fastballs in the common room. Their forced, irreverent laughs bounce off floral upholstery. Hospice nurses move about, mission- focused. They are lenient with those who are grieving.

Lillian and I stop short in the foyer as we hit the din. The end, the fast- moving part of dying, is sucking up the serenity that normally lies like a fog over the Mandarin House.  It seems tonight, there is more than one patient calling it quits.

Lilly, who normally wags her way around Hospice of the Chesapeake, lets out a single, puzzled “woof.”

A staffer looks up, frowning.

“You have to go outside.”

“Of course,” I answer, sinking at the notion.  Woofing is not allowed.

Cricket whirrs past us, looking up but barely meeting my gaze.  “It’s just so busy tonight,” she says softly.

She whips her tiny frame into the office. As we turn to go, a familiar, dark- haired woman comes quickly around the corner, looking past me. “He’s gone,” she says, beating us to the porch.

We join her, because this was where we have to go.

“Would you like us to sit with you for a moment?” I ask.

“No.  My husband just died.”  And then I remember.  I’d seen them, two weeks before. He’d been doing well, fully dressed, sitting up and ready to go home.   I also remember he’d enjoyed visiting with Lillian, but the woman didn’t like dogs.  Feeling helpless, I move on to my car, Lilly jumping in the back.  I walk back in, wondering if there was something I can do. Cricket passes me again, this time grabbing me in a brief, tight hug.  “Thank you.” She says slowly, so I’d hear. Then she moved on.

I’d done exactly nothing.

Sometimes you can just feel the good.

I met Cricket early on in our visits.  It was a much quieter night, and Lilly and I visited mostly with her and the other nurses. She told me she used to be a post-op nurse for joint replacement and spine surgery patients. Born in Incheon, South Korea, she was adopted by Caucasian parents when she was three months old and raised in Middle River Maryland. And she told me about Barney McLovin’, her Great Dane.

He was a Blue Mantle Merle and weighed 179 pounds. “I could walk with him at midnight through the mall parking lot. No one would bother us.  He stayed right next to me- I didn’t even use a leash.”  Not that a leash would have helped. Barney clearly more than doubled her weight.  She showed me pictures. His big, spotted, debonair face charmed the Facebookery.

“He died when he was only four and a half years old,” she told me through tears. “We tried everything to save him.”

She scratched Lillian’s neck. Be the Barney, I think.

I also noticed on Cricket’s Facebook page, a man in a wheelchair. She tells me that’s her husband, Dean.

Cricket believes God brought her to Hospice because she was going to need some practice at losing people.  Her elderly parents were beginning to fail.  There was Barney.  Her best friends are between 50 and 70 years old.

And there is Dean.

It happened when he was young, one summer day in 1983.  He was swimming with his brother and dove into shallow water.  He’d done the same thing the day before but the tide had gone out.  He’s been a paraplegic ever since.

They met online.  He is 20 years her senior.

“I just fell in love with his eyes,” she told me.

I just cannot get my head around all the caretaking.   

They’ve been thinking of getting a Ridgeback. Lillian knows and flaunts herself whenever she sees Cricket.  I tempt her with pictures of Lilly and Delilah together. But she says they’re waiting, because of her parents’ declining health.

And then suddenly her father died.  He was okay that morning. He died that night.

I asked if she was right – if Hospice had helped prepare her to lose someone close.

She said he was battling cancer but died suddenly of a heart attack.  So while she was somewhat unprepared for the moment, she’d had important conversations with him – like about taking care of her mom if he died. She told him to not be afraid of dying – Hospice taught her that death is “a new amazing journey into incomprehensible peace.”  She said, “God promised to never forsake us and bringing me to Hospice was His way of keeping His promise.”

But the way I see it, The Big Guy isn’t just keeping his promise to Cricket. He’s keeping his promise through Cricket- to her dad. And to Dean. And to Hospice. And to Lillian, and Delilah and me.

 

Cricket with her dad and husband.

Cricket, Dad and Dean

Taking a Swipe

Tinder

Yesterday, I reached the end of Tinder.

I logged on and the orange circular ripples which graphically emanate from your photo (Are those supposed to be pheromones?) smacked into no one.  It’s not that they didn’t attract anyone. It’s that no one was there.  I know this because once my aura stopped out-putting, my phone told me, “There’s no one new near you.”

I needed an app to tell me that.

Tinder is- I’m told- a “hook-up” dating app but my single friend, Tina, who uses it and who talked me into the daring download, has met one or two nice people to date, rather than escort.  It works like sonar, dredging up faces from the depths of God knows where, and puts them onto your phone. It tells you how far away they are, in miles, from you.  It does not provide an ETA nor does it scan for wives and girlfriends.  If you do not like the face, you swipe left. If you do like the face you swipe right. If the person you swiped handsome has also swiped you pretty then your phone makes a noise (Do not do this in a theater.) and a fancy “match” graphic appears.  “It’s like you won at the slot machine!” says Tina. But no money comes out.

Once, in a frenzied series of left swipes, I got a glance at a kind and cute face (he was probably holding a dog) but my hand failed my brain. I am now “matched” with a fat, hairy 61- year- old in a hot tub. There is no un-swiping, or de-swiping. I showed The Tinder to my friend, Jon. I made the mistake of letting go of my phone. Now I am matched with a man-and his geese. I said geese.

I have a girlfriend who is currently incarcerated.  I wrote and told her about Tinder. Even she thinks it’s preposterous and she’s doing time.

Generally, I have not had good luck on dating sites. One very charming fellow I met on “Zoosk” wound up in jail. Another, a doctor, told me I was too smart for him. Yet another CIA type canceled three dates in a row. Not willing to be whisked away on a flight to Syria, I canceled the fourth.

I’m not sure if I need an IT department, or help with my personal grooming.

I am aware my lack of Tinder loving care makes me sound like an old lady and I am an old lady for this particular genre.  I have tried “Our Time” upon which I am a spring chicken and therefore, practically consumable by the over-seventy crowd.   I tried E-Harmony and after answering two hours- worth of  what-color-is-your-parachute questions, it chugged away for a moment before finally admitting, there simply was no match for me.  Like most of my electronics, I am incompatible.

Tinder is clearly for a hipper crowd than mine.  I need more than a swooshing slide-by to peak my interest.  And clearly the depth of my charm is simply not fathomable online.  Tinder, I left-swipe thee and all that you emanate. It’s not you, it’s me. Wait, no, it’s you.  But I hope we can remain friends.

The “No” Room

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“Laugh Louder”

Huh. This was today’s message in the little flip book my friend, Jenn, gave to me. The book has one positive encouragement written per page, so it sits on my window sill above the kitchen sink and each morning I flip it. Today’s suggestion seemed off.

Well, it’s just a book.

I settled into my days’ work: looking for work. Unemployment is a full time job.

I sent off a proposal I’d been working on all week. There were more emails and unanswered queries. Soon it was time for Lillian, Delilah and my daily “off-leash.” Today we went to the little beach in our neighborhood where we ran into our neighbors and their very well-behaved dog, Sampson, who was on his leash.

Maybe it’s a form of dog bullying. Lillian and Delilah set about demonstrating their comparable freedom.

“Lillian DROP IT.”

Chew.

“Lilly DROP THAT!”

Defiant head toss. More chewing.

I’d identified the object as a small turtle carcass.

“LLLLILLIANNNNN DRRRROP IT!”

Swallow.

UK.

Delilah wagged her on.

Lillian then bounded across the street, into a yard, and began peering into the front windows, taunting what sounded like one of those small, hairy dogs inside.

“Lilly come.”

She ran to the rear window.

“Lillian! COME.”

It felt like shotgun territory.

“LILLIIAAAAN COHUUUM!!” I pleaded, following her, armed only with cheese.

I was not laughing louder. I was yelling louder.

Sampson was nonplussed. If Delilah had pom-poms, she’d have been shaking them. I’m pretty sure she mouthed the words, “You go girl.”

Lillian skipped back out to the front yard and bounded toward the beach where her sister was now swimming. Delilah then rolled in the sand. Lilly pounced her approval.

I finally herded my naughty, dirty crew into the car and we headed home for baths, and perhaps a swig of Listerine. It was Hospice night and I worried that Lillian was in much too brazen a mood to visit.

Clean and dry we arrived at Hospice and I clutched Lilly’s leash. Earlier, on the phone, my mother had advised that I give her a “good talkin’ to.”

“Alright young lady,” I started…

She sat, angelic and wide-eyed. Then I walked. And she walked alongside. Like a ballerina. She knew it was time to stop screwing around. Well, mostly. She greeted the chaplain with a nose-up-the-skirt. The back of her skirt. Luckily, dog is occasionally this chaplain’s co-pilot.

“Room number one will definitely want to see her,” said the nurse. “And room four will too. They like dogs. Room two is a no.”

We chatted for a while in room one with a woman who used to have a Boston Terrier, and another woman in four, who’d owned every sort of dog ever bred. Lilly was oooh’d and aaaah’d over like a pageant dog. She kissed and cajoled and – well- she just really enjoyed herself. She is beginning to love this work as much as I do, I thought.

We were wrapping things up when I heard singing, just one woman’s voice. I looked into the “no” room and saw the chaplain singing hymns to a woman in bed. The sick woman’s husband sat, entranced. His wife was slipping away.

“There’s a dog,” he said.

“Would you like to see Lillian?” the chaplain asked.

We went in, stepping gingerly. We may not have “drop it” down entirely, but we do understand “no.” At least my part of us does.

The woman’s eyes were closed. Lilly nosed her knuckles. The woman, who’d been unresponsive, moved her hand around as if to pet her. I marveled at the power of the pooch.

“Do you like dogs?” I asked the husband.

“I LOVE dogs!” he rather yelled. He was hard of hearing. Lilly went in for a full frontal face cleaning. He began to giggle. She crawled up his lap and loved on his whole head. The man threw his head back, howling with laughter. She put her paws on his shoulders. He leaned back in his chair and guffawed.

His daughter walked into the room, smiled at us, and put her hand on her mother’s head.

“Did you make my daddy happy?” she called to Lilly.

Her daddy was still laughing. Louder.

In Like a Lion…

I wonder when my dogs will just get sick of me. In exasperation, they will throw their front paws up in the air, tie up little knapsacks full of treats and toys and stomp out the front door. They will do this because over the past few weeks I have become a doter. I may quite possibly have become – ready? Co-dependent.

I lotion their dry winter skin. I move furniture so they might comfortably lie where the sun throws patterns on the floor. I talk with them about politics and religion. I frequently kiss them all over their heads. I meddle.

Three weeks ago I lost my job. Abruptly.

Sometimes they are the only people I speak with all day.

Our routine has taken a hairpin turn. Oh, I still get up at some ungodly hour – it’s genetic. But now instead of shooing them downstairs before I rush out to the gym, I grab my laptop. This is their cue to stretch, abandon their beds for mine and re-curl, one at my feet and one at my side. I find it reduces my heat bill.

I shoot resumes about the Internet for a spell before then heading to the gym, then home to shower and move my laptop to the couch. Often, the girls and I exchange glances. I get a cold nose. They get an ear scratch. There are periodic cuddle breaks. Nearly every afternoon we have some sort of leash-less adventure. We discuss presidential candidates, (Their favorite is Rand Paw- clearly a name recognition thing.) and the relative nutritional value of deer pooh. We ponder relationships. Occasionally they ask why I’m always wearing sweatpants. Lilly rolls on her back and I scratch her belly. Delilah puts her head on the keyboard and I let her. I get tired of using it anyway.

There are occasional networking events. I think they are relieved that I am going out. In clothes that don’t have a drawstring.

We are adjoined at our uneven hips, communicating with our eyes, anticipating each other’s movements. We are three little beers left hanging in a plastic six pack holder.

I have not shed one tear over the loss of my job, but there have been some borne of simple anxiety. A few times I’ve let myself go to the darkest place: What if I can no longer take care of them? What if I had to turn them over to people who could afford them? That’s the crying part. That’s the heaving, sobbing pooh-storm. It upsets them. So I stop. And I feel ashamed that I cried about my dogs when most of my co-workers, who landed on the curb along -side me, have children. A few have children on the way. Some have children in college.

These are the dog days of March. In like a lion. Out like a Ridgeback chasing a lion. It will go quickly and we’ll be back on our paws in no time.

Meantime, I’ll dote. I’ll dog whisper and they’ll ignore me. I’ll put vitamins in their food and trim their nails and be their stay-at-home mom. They are brilliant company. I am annoying. We are a family.

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Morning work session

Crossed Wires

“Moe, I’m breaking up with you,” I announced in front of all the disgruntled owners in the Jeep service department waiting room.

“You can’t.”

“Yes I can. And I am.”

“Let’s talk about this.” He dangled my keys by the paper service tag.

We’d been seeing each other regularly. Our relationship was purely automotive.

It began after a particularly treacherous puppy school episode. Lillian, Delilah and I attended on alternating dog days. Mondays, I took Lilly in while Delilah napped or barked at squirrels or did algebra in the car. Tuesday Delilah and I attended class while Lilly stayed in the car, pondering her uncertain future.

One pleasant summer Tuesday evening I was leaning in to the back of the Jeep, returning Lilah to her sister, when I felt something clunk me in the head. I looked up to see a clump of wires hanging from the top of the rear door. I followed the wires to where they disappeared behind the door molding which had been separated, apparently by Lilly, from the metal. Aghast, I slammed the hatch down quickly before any of the mommies and daddies of well- behaved dogs could see that mine had just remodeled the Jeep’s interior and yanked out my brake lights. I drove home slowly, trying to be inconspicuous, and, of course, duct taped the wires back behind the molding. Duct tape being a puppy delicacy, it wasn’t long before the tape was swallowed and my rear windshield wiper hung, useless, on the glass.

I explained this all on the phone to Moe.

“Puppies? Right. Bring it in,” he mono-toned. He’d heard everything. He believed nothing.

Until he saw.

“How BIG are these PUPPIES??” he yelled when he saw the door carcass.

“They may be tall for their age…”

And that’s how Moe and I met.

It took some time and a few traffic citations before the proper electrical harness could be located and installed. But there was another problem. My wonderful fully retractable roof was stuck, more or less open. Moe and the greasy nailed guys took several swipes at it but in the end admitted it couldn’t be fixed but could be replaced for $3000.00.

“Whatdjer DOGS stick their heads up through it?” Moe asked.

“My girls had nothing to do with this. Jeep should buy me a new roof, or offer me a deal on a new car.”

Moe introduced me to the “good” salesperson, who eventually offered me about half what my well- ventilated and broken- in automobile was worth on a trade.

“Hey, “Good” Salesperson, my Jeep is worth twice that.”

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“Uh, yes, but there’s a problem with the roof,” “Good” Sales person answered. I internalized the fact that Moe’s version of good = gargantuan breasts. Those, she had.

Lillian, Delilah and I are still traveling about half-topless. When it rains very hard water pours out from behind the lights over the dash which keeps dog hair from accumulating. I do not have to crack the windows for them while they wait for me in the car. The “wet car” smell has replaced the “wet dog” smell.
Moe and I remain estranged. However, like divorcing parents, we still have the puppified Jeep between us, ‘til its death do we part.