November 26, 2014

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 11

my dying dogWe were just sitting on the deck together, and I was reminding Murphy of the very first time we were in that exact same position: back in October 1998, when she’d just come home to live with me. She was 11 weeks old, my introduction to Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

Today she is over 13-1/2, and dying from a splenic tumor.

Time is clearly on our minds these days.

Last week she was in crisis, having breathing difficulties because the tumor had apparently bled—it’s internal, hidden, silent except for her loud breathing. We learned that the bronchial infection we’d fought for two months was gone. What was left was what dying from a splenic tumor looks like.

She wasn’t in pain, was hungry and interested in life, and even the necessarily dispassionate vet was telling us she was a long way from dying. That was clear to see. I was grateful. I’d take what time we could both get, as long as it was time on her terms.

Good time. Time that was comfortable, that made her want to stay in her body. With me. With all of us.

As the bleeding ebbed and the fluid absorbed in the last few days, she began to breathe easier, and cheerfully greeted the babysitter who came to stay with her and Alki, her Cavalier brother, and Grace the Cat, so I could attend to business. A few hours away, that’s all, and only because staunch, experienced friends have generously come to help.

Friends who agree to come knowing that time might end on their watch. Brave people who’ve been there before with their own animals, and know what it’s like.

Time heals all wounds, they say. But not this one.

Today it was sunny and cold in Seattle, with a stiff wind that rarely leaves our beachside neighborhood. Then, just a few hours ago, the wind died down, I took Alki on a walk, and came home to sit on the deck with Murphy. We’d done that a few weeks ago, but she was too weak to sit up and peer out at the world. Instead, she curled in my lap and the warm sun soothed her old bones.

She was stronger today. Just like when she was a puppy, she stood with her hind legs on my leg and her front on the deck railing, watching people and dogs and cars go by.

That’s when I thought about how much time had gone by. Over 13 years.

She is deaf now, but she can see, and she’s generally alert and interested. She has her moments when time stands still, when she gazes off into the distance, when it’s very clear that time has taken its toll.

If that’s what time does.

It passes, and we wonder, where did it go? As we sat on the deck together in the cooling afternoon sun, I thought of all the things I could be doing: writing another article, cleaning house, updating my website, the things we do to live.

Ironic, that, because what we were doing together right then was living. On her terms. And mine.

What mattered? The time that was passing in those moments.

As I held Murphy tightly, giving her the security to lean into me for support so she could spy on the neighborhood, I closed my eyes to relish the feel of her warm body in my arms, the soft beating of her heart, the things that will be gone in a few short weeks.

Time ends bodies, true. Weeks from now this time will only be poignant memories.

As I held Murphy, I knew that I won’t regret the unwritten article, the dog hair bunnies all over the floor, an old date on my website.

I would only regret not holding her there on the deck on this sunny afternoon, for as long as she wanted to stare at the world.

So we sat there together as the afternoon cooled, until she was ready to come in.

Now I write the article, and all three of my multi-species family members snore beside me in my office, proof that the human-animal bond can be as ordinary as it is strange and wonderful.

Murphy breathes, the soft gentle snoring of old. This crisis has passed, for now. They say that the final one will come abruptly, some day. Some time. But this much I know.

Time is still with us.

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 10

my dying dogI say it and it doesn’t sink in: my dog is dying. Not just on that you’re born you go through crap (and good jokes) and you die bit, but the real life one none of us get to skip. In a few weeks, Murphy will be gone. She has a splenic tumor, and they think it’s cancer.

Which makes this Part 3 of a four part series on veterinarians, the human-animal bond, and how we got to where we are today.

In December 2011 we’d gone full circle, back to a vet we’d seen when Murphy was a puppy a dozen years ago. We’d left because one of the vets at the West Seattle Animal Hospital had known Murphy had a serious illness we needed to diagnose with ultrasound, which required a mobile radiologist who traveled to area clinics, so appointments were hard to get. The vet took the only available space for her own cat. And had the gall to tell me about it.

But recently I’d heard great things about the hospital’s owner and general director, Dr. Glenn Johnson. Like how good he is with old animals. How he’d helped neighbors through a lengthy final illness with their beloved old dog.

And that’s what Murphy is: old. Somehow she was 5, and then 13-1/2. I still wonder how that happened. Even now, as she rapidly declines, I am both thrilled that we had so long together, and appalled that it flew by so fast.

So, we left the practice in December 1999, because a crappy vet wouldn’t schedule an ultrasound, and we ended back there in December 2011, because they helped a neighbor’s old dog through her final days. 

How We Found the Tumor

I wasn’t looking for an ultrasound on Dec. 26, 2011. Murphy had coughed a bit on Christmas Day, something most people probably wouldn’t have thought twice about. She’d shown no sign of illness, but that morning, as we crawled out of bed preparing to celebrate her Cavalier brother’s 10th birthday, she coughed four times. Mild coughs. But I’m an intuitive, and I froze when I heard that cough as I felt something shift in me, something that felt like shock and loss. I turned to look at her in horror.

She coughed a few times that night and we called Monday morning to see Dr. Johnson.

I assumed it was her heart, that the mild heart disease she was diagnosed with in October had finally asserted itself. That’s what a cough can mean in the Cavalier world, in an old dog’s world.

But Dr. Johnson wasn’t convinced. He hadn’t seen her in years, and she didn’t have recent blood tests, so we ordered a round. The results showed an infection and a mild anemia. We put her on antibiotics.

Two days later Murphy was still occasionally coughing, and I wasn’t convinced we were on the right track. But I had work to do. My partner, Fallon, is a Citrine Lemurian Quartz—yes, he’s a crystal ball. We do intuitive consultations privately and at East West Bookshop in Seattle. I was scheduled to be in store that Wednesday afternoon. I hesitated. I didn’t have set appointments (sometimes people book, and you’re expected to be there, other times you’re there and they come in), but I thought about it and realized I had to go. Not just to keep my word, which is important enough, but because I suddenly knew that I would meet my most ‘significant’ client of the year between 12-2 that afternoon at East West. Not most important client, but the most significant. So I went.

At 1 p.m. I realized that I was the most significant client of the year. That Murphy had to have that x-ray that day. I called Dr. Johnson and insisted we do the x-ray that day. He worked us into the schedule.

I am a professional intuitive. I knew it was her heart.

The next morning Dr. Johnson phoned with the x-ray results. Apparently he’d seen it on the x-ray, but wanted the radiologist to confirm it. Murphy did have fluid in her lungs, which they couldn’t hear on exam. Everything else checked out fine: heart okay, kidneys, liver. But she also had an abdominal mass near her spleen, so they suspected she had cancer.

I am a professional intuitive. I knew it was her heart. How had I missed that?

Because I ‘knew’ what it was and didn’t look deeper. Because I assumed what it was and didn’t become my own client. I leaped for the obvious and I was wrong.

Stunned and grief stricken, I talked with Dr. Johnson, at once both horrified at what I was hearing and admiring a man who so calmly and compassionately told an unprepared owner that her beloved dog was dying. That took guts.

I picked up the radiologist report and felt my way through the holiday weekend (which included my 60th birthday and a celebration with friends, talk about not what I was expecting for a landmark birthday). I then met with Dr. Johnson, looked at the x-ray, and decided the best course of action was to order an ultrasound to better decide on a course of action.

Ironic, yes. Back to the clinic where a vet had refused an ultrasound for Murphy.

Splenic Tumors, Ultrasound, and … What?

All I really understood was that a splenic tumor was fatal: either it was cancer or it wasn’t, but if left alone, it would most likely not make any difference: death was a certain outcome. Either cancer or the natural process of a tumor growing and eventually rupturing would kill her. Unless we operated and removed the tumor. If it was actually a splenic tumor, which the ultrasound would confirm.

Time was important in the decision making process. You don’t have time when you might have a splenic tumor, because they rupture. I asked how soon the ultrasound could happen, since I knew that ultrasound services are provided by mobile vets. Within a week, he said.

The deal breaker: as a professional intuitive and Murphy’s human partner, I needed to be included in the ultrasound process. I wanted to be there so I could see the tumor for myself and talk to the radiologist about how I would treat the tumor with directed energy. There was no point to it otherwise.

Dr. Johnson hesitated, said he wasn’t sure if they would agree. My terms, I said.

He called me that afternoon. The radiologist would be available in two days, if I could bring Murphy within a two-hour window. He’d agreed to me being present during the exam. Terms met. Deal.

In less than 48 hours Murphy and I were at the West Seattle Animal Hospital when Dr. Lee Yannik and his assistant rushed in. Dr. Johnson joined us as Dr. Yannik performed the ultrasound.

Despite her age, Murphy was in great shape. Some bladder irritation, which we knew. Liver and kidneys fine. And definitely a tumor on her spleen.

They couldn’t do a needle biopsy, which they sometimes do on tumors, because they were pretty sure it was cancer, and didn’t want cells to escape from the tumor and spread throughout her body. Agreed.

Dr. Yannik was upbeat. “I found a tumor like this in my sister’s 12-year-old dog in April,” he said. “We found it like this, looking for something else.” They removed the spleen and the dog was still doing fine in January.

“With surgery and chemo?” I asked.

Yep, that’s what it sounded like.

Dr. Yannik was clear. They can’t diagnose the type of tumor it was without removing the spleen. Sometimes they look benign even when they remove them, and then pathology proves otherwise. He was pretty sure it was cancer, based on how it presented (beware of the word ‘cavitated,’ not a good thing).

They got Murphy up off the table and she went trotting down the hall to explore things, Dr. Johnson in her wake, urging me to talk with Dr. Yannik. When they returned, Dr. Yannik put Murphy back up on the table to quickly check her heart to see if her early heart disease was an issue. No.

While he discussed it, I asked about the possibility that the tumor was a result of her underlying platelet disorder: idiopathic asymptomatic thrombocytopenia. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels can inherit this strange disorder, which results in cancer in other dogs and in humans, yet seemingly has no effect on the Cavaliers. I think differently. I think the disorder causes immune system dysfunction, and the reason Murphy had a healthy long life was because I worked really hard to give her one, and she did, too.

I asked, “If the spleen filters platelets, and Murphy was born with macroplatelets, so they’re not the right size, what if that confused the spleen and the tumor is actually the spleen compensating all her life, for over 13 years now? If so, then removing the tumor could actually kill her.”

Drs. Yannik and Johnson looked at each other, then at me. I’m not sure if they thought I was insane or if no one had ever considered this. By the dumbfounded looks and the ‘Ah-ha’ I saw on Yannik’s face, I realized that it was an intriguing theory but totally worthless, because they’d never know what the tumor was unless they removed it, and clearly if anybody else had thought what I was thinking, no one had ever investigated it and published their results.

I also emphasized that I was an intuitive, and I wanted to know how to direct energy at it. Either Dr. Yannik was prepared for me or he had a pretty good poker face or it wasn’t the first time he’d met an intuitive. Whatever, I asked about directing a beam of light at the tumor and burning it. No, he promptly said. Burning it wouldn’t work, and he had a good reason why, I just can’t remember now. But it made me glad I asked.

He advocated surgery.

Dr. Johnson spoke up, disagreeing. He didn’t think Murphy was well enough currently for surgery, and because she was older, he thought the decision was more complicated.

Interesting.

I had to admire Dr. Yannik’s zeal for his profession. I realized that he had seen her x-ray, strongly suspected cancer, and made a special trip to West Seattle that day to do Murphy’s ultrasound.

He was on a mission to save an old dog’s life. An old dog he’d never met. Because it wasn’t just his job. It was his passion.

And Dr. Johnson was advocating for his new patient. It wasn’t as clear cut to him.

I thanked Dr. Yannik and then discussed it with Dr. Johnson. Because of Murphy’s age, he said it had to be my call. If she were younger, yes, they would advocate the surgery, but any surgery on an old dog was complicated, and a very old dog with arthritis and an underlying platelet disorder and developing heart disease was a risk. Murphy could die during surgery, or suffer a protracted recovery.

And if it was cancer, she would die anyway, because that was just how it worked.

So what did I get out of the ultrasound?

Confidence that I had come back to a vet and a veterinary hospital that was interested in doing the best for my aging dog. A vet who had taken a lot of time to talk with me about her condition, arrange for an ultrasound, be present through the ultrasound, discuss it afterwards—and, in a money-oriented culture, not charge me for it.

Confidence in the people the vet referred business to: Lee Yannik is an excellent, thorough radiologist, well-respected, and clearly in tune with the human-animal bond. He essentially made saving an old dog an emergency, kind of the white knight in hospital scrubs. I imagine he’s disappointed I chose a different course of action. He shouldn’t be. He gave us room to make a clear choice.

And so did Dr. Johnson.

It was clear from our discussion that I needed more information. If we did the surgery it had to be done in a specialty clinic because Murphy would be in intensive care for a few days, and that assumed everything went well.

And I knew most splenic tumors presented themselves in a crisis, so families are caught off guard for life-ending prognoses. The best course seemed to be to take the information that Dr. Yannik offered us and find a veterinary surgeon who saw a lot of these tumors. What was their experience? What could they add to the mix?

Turns out Dr. Johnson could help with that, too.

In Part 4 of the vet series: the surgeon and the holistic vet.

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

Bald Eagles: Neighborhood Shares

Driving home this afternoon I had to smile: a bald eagle soared overhead, ignoring the crow flying up its tailpipe, so to speak. I appreciated both the snooty “you can’t get me” that the eagles have apparently patented and the “never say never” attitude of our neighborhood crows.

Yes, this isn’t a picture of a crow chasing an eagle, but you get the idea. Yes, it’s cold all year here on our Seattle beach, but every day is wonderful.

Here are more eagle pictures from neighborhood photographer Gary R. Jones. Remember they are © 2012 Gary R. Jones. They are here at Bridging the Paradigms because he loves eagles and photography and wants to share. Please respect his copyright.

Take a good look at this one! Talk about fishing for your dinner!

 

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 9

my dying dogYes, my beloved Murphy is dying.

I have to say, it’s weird.

I am no stranger to death. I lost my brother when I was only 9, and he was 14. The losses cascaded over the years: friends, family, animals.

Each death affects us differently. Of course, there’s the manner of death. Sudden unexpected death just happens to you. Obviously, the dead person doesn’t have a choice, but you always do—you have a choice of how to deal with it.

Shock, grief, anger, disbelief … these are the usual things. First things. The ones that are okay to talk about, because they are socially acceptable, respectable, respectful.

Don’t have to mention those things. You’ve most likely said them at one time or another.

It’s the things we don’t mention that define us and, perhaps, our true relationship with the deceased. Those things range from, “I never liked her that much anyway,” to “Thank goodness it isn’t me,” to “Driving drunk will kill you, what was he thinking?”

These are the things we just have to let go of. They mean we’re human. That we understand death happens and we’re glad we avoided it—for now. The things we’re expected to shut up about, because they don’t matter anyway and just make us look bad.

Yes, they’re normal and they may make us look bad, but they may also make us feel bad. Still, we have to let them go. Are they petty things? Mean? Sentimental? Acknowledge them and move on.

It’s when death is prolonged that the things we’re thinking add up. That’s when the crazies can occur.

I remember when my dad was dying. He had been miserable for two years, crippled by rheumatoid arthritis and severe heart disease. He wanted to die and yet ‘want’ wasn’t enough, because his soul just couldn’t let go of his body.

I cherished the time I had with him, even though I, too, wanted him out as quickly and painlessly as possible.

I came home from Scotland with a bottle of Scotch, something my dad taught me to appreciate. By then he was in a hospital bed at home. We opened the bottle and I poured a shot for both of us. Yes, he was on morphine. Yes, we knew what we were doing. We toasted each other and drank.

My mom walked into the room, saw the Scotch, and said, “Are you trying to kill him?”

Dad and I looked at each other, at her, and back at each other. We smiled. Mom stomped out. Yep, we were hoping. For us, it would have been perfect. Of course, it wasn’t that easy.

Those are the days I thought a lot about euthanasia. About helping out somebody who wanted to die. I didn’t, mostly because I didn’t know how to, and because I knew society would call me a murderer and put me in jail. But I thought about it. They danced around giving him enough morphine to dull the pain. They let him linger. And when it got bad enough that he was in hospice, and into his last days, then I could help him.

I honored his wishes and turned away services. It was hard, but it was what he wanted. A long-time pharmacist with a strong medical background (he would have been a doctor except he went off to serve in World War II and came home damaged), he knew exactly what he was doing when he signed the form that allowed him to die. I knew what I was doing when I honored it.

Do I miss him? Every day.

Did I do the right thing? Absolutely, because it was his choice.

It was the last loving thing I could do for him.

Now my beloved dog is dying, and I think strange thoughts.

How much food do I buy to cook for her? If I get another can of sardines will it make her laugh and gobble it up?

What business events do I cancel to be home with her? How long is this going to last?

If I hold her tight in my lap will she live?

How does she want to die? Is this really necessary, the whole death and dying thing? Why can’t we just skip that part?

Sure, she’s having breathing issues and sleeps a lot, but does that mean I should kill her?

Can spring come early so we can sit out on the deck together and just enjoy ourselves?

Can I get her to play with her ragged dinosaur toy?

Do Alki and Grace the Cat care? Does anybody care?

Should I be hysterical or just sad? Should I be happy she’s comfortable, even though I’m not so much?

Can I be there when she needs me?

As all these thoughts drift through my weary brain, I know that some of them make no sense, because death doesn’t make sense. Endings don’t make sense.

We live through it anyway. Weird whimsical sad thoughts pop in. We acknowledge them and let them go. They remind us that someone we love is facing their last choice, and that we care.

That sometimes we wish we didn’t care.

Well, no, not true. If I didn’t care I would never have loved this magnificent being in a dog body. The beautiful girl I’m losing.

Never would have happened.

There is one thing worse than death: the ‘never would have happened.’ At the end of it all I can say that I understand my true relationship with this wonderful dog.

We love each other.

That isn’t weird at all.

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 8

my dying dogNow at the end of Murphy’s life I write again about veterinarians. This is Part 2 of four parts. See Entry 6 for the first article.

Murphy is my beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She’s 13-1/2. And she’s dying.

I got at least 10 years longer with her than I expected. She had a lot of health issues early on, mostly bad vets, vaccinations, some odd things and many that are just the stuff of an exuberant, fun-filled life.

Somehow Murphy got old, and now she’s dying. They say splenic tumor but they’re wrong. It’s advancing old age complicated by bronchitis. The thing we went in for, before they found the tumor in December. Not quite two months ago.

Back to vets.

I won’t say anything about Murphy’s first vet, except that he’s the reason she had so many illnesses for the first two years of her life. Obviously, I figured that out and switched vets much earlier than that, but it took a long time to work through Murphy’s problems. She and I suffered through that. The damned vet didn’t.

Our second stop was the West Seattle Animal Hospital, where we met Dr. Glenn P. Johnson, medical director. It was a combination of frustration with our first vet—who couldn’t bother to see us when destructo puppy chewed up a used inhaler for migraine medicine—and a back injury that took us there.

But in the rotation of vets we didn’t see Dr. Johnson again. We saw another vet there, and Murphy had an infection that we couldn’t figure out. We suspected something like stump pyometra, an infection that spayed dogs can get. I wanted to do an ultrasound to pinpoint the problem. The vet told me that the mobile radiologist had one opening—and the vet was taking it for her own cat.

I understand the emotion and situation, but, really, when honesty is crass and unprofessional it really isn’t the best policy. It was clear I couldn’t trust the vet and I left that clinic and embarked on a tiring search for a great vet, which included alternative care and a host of things that helped Murphy get well. And so did I. But that’s another story.

Last year my neighbors were dealing with their own dying dog, an aging girl they wanted as long as possible. They, too, had tried various vets, who told them that the dog was very old and who didn’t support them in their choice of daily subcutaneous fluids to support her.

Again we see the paternalism that is rampant in our culture, particularly in the veterinary community. Ironically, they’ve caught up with the technology used in human care, but still cling to the ‘doctor knows best’ mentality that a lot of human doctors are finding isn’t respectful—and costs them money because people will just find someone who will listen and work with them.

Vets aren’t yet desperate enough to be human in their practices, so we’re left with the ones who are naturally that way and respect choice.

How We Got Back to A Former Vet

So when my neighbors heartily recommended Dr. Johnson—for his empathy, his patience with aging animals, and his skill—I decided that he was someone to check out.

And then Murphy coughed on Christmas Day, on her Cavalier brother’s tenth birthday, and I knew she needed to see someone the next day.

Going to our long-time favorite vet was out of the question: it takes a whole day just getting there and back, and we just needed vet care closer to home. I called the next morning and asked for Dr. Johnson. We saw him that day.

I liked him the minute he walked through the door. I appreciated his concern and thoroughness, his matter-of-fact approach. I choked back a laugh as I realized he had matured since we’d last seen him and realized that Murphy and I had, too: it had, after all, been 12 years.

After a thorough exam he suggested blood work to diagnose an infection. While I disliked spending the money, I had to appreciate the perspective of someone who hadn’t seen us in years and who wanted to be thorough. It made sense. When the tests were in we quickly put Murphy on antibiotics.

What Happened When It Got Complicated

Dr. Johnsons hesitated on the heart medication, didn’t think her heart was the issue.

But Murphy had been diagnosed with heart disease in October, kind of late for a Cavalier. Coughing was a symptom that she might need medication, so I was uneasy. I got it into my head that we needed a chest x-ray to prescribe heart medication.

Now I work was a professional intuitive, so I’m clearly open to information from outside sources. I became convinced that we needed a chest x-ray for her heart and that’s as deep as I went into it (a lesson in listening as closely for ourselves as we do for our clients). When Dr. Johnson called me back Wednesday afternoon after we’d missed each other several times, he promptly agreed. Not only did we do the x-ray a few hours later, but he carefully re-examined Murphy and heard the cough, which he hadn’t heard on our first visit.

“Is that the cough?” he asked, nodding at my confirmation. “It sounds bronchial,” he said, but he couldn’t hear any fluid in her airway. He picked her up, had her x-rayed, and then walked us out.

I was impressed, but the next few days turned me into a confirmed believer. It started with an early morning phone call, in which he carefully reviewed the radiologist’s overnight report on Murphy’s chest x-ray. A bit of fluid in the lungs, confirming bronchial issues, but no heart issues. However, Murphy had an abdominal mass, what they suspected was a splenic tumor, possibly cancer.

That meant Murphy was dying unless we operated on her, and maybe anyway. I was stunned. Part of me couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Another part honestly felt compassion for a man whose job involved delivering bad news, especially unexpected bad news. And admiration for how well he was doing it.

He was kind and thorough. I picked up the report that afternoon, so I could read it and understand it. The following week he met with me to look at the x-ray and discuss treatment options. He spent a half hour with me. Didn’t charge me. I ended up deciding we needed an ultrasound to get more information. To figure out what to do. That will be Part 3 of my four part series on vets.

The Bottom Line

Dr. Johnson took the time to treat Murphy and me. Both of us. He was thorough, honest, compassionate. Realistic. He balanced the cost of potential surgery against Murphy’s current illness and age. He didn’t urge surgery. He said to evaluate it based on her current condition, that it had to be my call. That was respectful. He has since seen Alki, my other Cavalier, and Grace the Cat. Same thorough care.

We are full circle at our house. We are back to a vet we saw when Murphy was a puppy. As it turned out, we didn’t have to go far from home: the clinic is 10 minutes away. We just went a long way in between: on a search for a vet who would offer support, advice, and expert knowledge balanced with consideration for the family bond between people and their animals.

A vet who would help us explore our choices, and be wise enough to support them. No bullying about what they wanted you to do.

What else can you ask?

Sure, it’s a whole lot easier for a vet to just tell you what to do, so you don’t have to second guess yourself about making the wrong decision. Yes, we make wrong decisions all the time. That’s human. Thank goodness, though, we’re not adding the paternal ‘do what I say’ toxic attitude.

We’re doing the right thing: exploring our options, choosing what works for Murphy, for me, for our family. I’m grateful we have a vet we can count on.

Next time: the radiologist. And the alternative vet.

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz

 

When Neighbors are Creatives: and Share Bald Eagles

Seattle has bonuses. Some of them are bald eagles.

In our Seattle neighborhood we cherish our bald eagles. Some of us are old enough to remember when they just weren’t around. The youngest of us take them for granted.

And some of our neighbors are skilled photographers who freely share their love of bald eagles and photography with all of us.

Gary R. Jones is one of those people. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are some recent bald eagle photos he shared with me.

They are copyrighted: © 2012 Gary R. Jones. Please enjoy them and respect them.

Bridging the Paradigms isn’t the best showcase for photos. It is, however, a place where community is respected and appreciated, where good businesses and people are promoted.

Enjoy.

My Dog Is Dying: The Real Life Crappy Choice Diary, Entry 7

my dying dogThey avoid you, the people you know: friends, family, the medical professionals. They can’t help it. The “C” word is in the air.

They just plain look at you differently when there’s cancer in the family. Even if they only think there is. Because they know it means death.

I noticed it the first time when I stopped in at the animal hospital to pick up a report on Murphy’s x-ray. I had first taken her in because she was coughing, and several days later I demanded an x-ray. I thought she needed heart medication. It was bronchitis.

And a tumor on her spleen. Pretty much a death sentence.

So the first time I took her in, it was friendly, happy, open. Murphy is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and at the time didn’t really look her age, a grand almost 13-1/2. She wins fans just because she’s gorgeous, but her charming, curious personality wins more.

Then the vet called with the radiology report.

Later that day, I stopped in to pick up the report. I wanted to hold it in my hand and try to make sense out of getting my dog on antibiotics for an infection and ending up with a terminal diagnosis. For something I didn’t even know was there.

The receptionist looked up with a smile when I walked in. Then her face changed and she looked away.

She flinched.

When other people hear the news, same thing happens.

They flinch.

They don’t mean to. It just happens. Even when it’s their job to give you the really bad news—that someone you love is dying.

They flinch.

I know some cultures—and here I’m thinking of my Japanese friends—who refuse to acknowledge death with the dying person. Instead, the family steps in, handles all the care, including putting the person into a nursing facility, and they never tell the person what’s going on.

The dying people are just expected to know. I guess in their culture, silence means death. So they do know.

I think that’s completely wrong, and I’ll never stop saying it.

My Japanese friends say, “But we wouldn’t want to know.”

But you do know, because you’re clearly failing and no one is talking to you about it. So you can’t talk. You’re left to face the fear, and the end, with distant politeness.

My personal experience says that’s cruel.

I was 9 the day my parents told me that my brother “had gone to heaven.” It took a minute for it to register. I knew he was sick, I didn’t know he was dying. Granted, they didn’t have a lot of time with leukemia back then, but everyone else knew he was dying.

If I’d known, I would have had a chance to say goodbye.

He would have had a chance to say goodbye.

No, they never told him. But I remember the last time I saw him, and the look in his eye as he reached out to hold my hand.

They never told him, but he knew. I am still haunted by what I think he felt: fear, loneliness, grief, anger, confusion. Abandoned.

And now to Murphy. Granted, she’s a dog. However, I believe in the equality of all life, whatever it is. So in my multi-species family the human-animal bond means that my animals are family members.

They are not pets. They are living beings, amazing souls who have the freedom to choose their life’s path. Equals.

They have a right to know what’s happening: from where I’m going when I leave them at home to what’s happening to their bodies.

They have a right to choose their course.

Murphy has chosen hers, and, forced to make my own choice about her condition, I did. We are united. No surgery. Quality time.

We see the world through a different lens now. We see it with our eyes and hearts open, knowing Murphy’s time is limited. It’s heartbreaking and exhilarating: we know what’s coming, and we can share it. But it’s still death.

We’re pretty sure, at our house, that it’s old age that will get to Murphy faster than the tumor. In just the last month the bronchial issues have slowed her down, she’s tired, she’s sway-backed with the tell-tale old dog ribs. Time was at a standstill for a bit, like the ocean receding before the tsunami.

But the tsunami always comes ashore. Ours is almost here. We can see it.

To some cultures, dying is a silent process.

To ours, the patchwork American culture, dying is at least a bit more respectful. The dying usually know. They get to choose. Sometimes.

Murphy got to choose.

But Americans still flinch.

It’s time in our culture to stop flinching. To stop ignoring the inevitable. To embrace death as the place where you leave one life and go on to another.

We need to acknowledge it. Yes, it’s awkward. It’s painful. It’s an ugly reminder that we are all going to die.

It’s life.

Death is what happens. Community can make it something else: a time to celebrate a life, to say goodbye, to cherish the ones leaving and the ones left behind.

Community means you don’t flinch.

Where is ours?

© 2012 Robyn M Fritz