I 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.
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