Wednesday, October 27, 2010

But His Tail's Wagging!

Monday I had an incredibly frustrating experience at the vet. Mac had his first appointment with the chiropractor, and it just didn't go well. As though these things can be chronicled with lists, I keep telling people that Mac is on narcotics, steroids and anti-inflammatories, and that he's gone to the chiropractor, had (m)acupuncture, acupressure, and aqua pressure. As if listing these things in my dry way will somehow make them more humorous, less real, more tolerable. As if the amount of refills we go through a week, the maneuvers I'm learning so that he can't get the pills out of the peanut butter (and trust me, Mac is about the easiest dog I've ever had to pill), are all hum-drum.

I guess they are hum-drum- getting old is part of life. If I were the zen person that I keep telling myself I am, I could accept this the way that I am doing a decent job of doing until my weekly vet appointment comes around. Every Monday when I get to the point of the vet saying "oh, this gets better" and I find myself arguing that Mac is NOT in fact getting better, I lose it. I don't like crying, and I don't like crying in public, and I don't like the way the vets and front desk staff look at me, blankly- the same way I probably look at people who are bawling in an incoherent way, saying things like "he is not allowed to die." That makes total sense to me, and not a whole lot of sense to many other people.

The chiropractor was horrible. I think it probably actually really helped Mac, because he's still in his two-days-after-vet-visit-relatively-pain-free mode, but she made me feel like shit. Like I was giving up on him. She hadn't read his chart, didn't know his name, asked me repeatedly how he injured himself, including if he slept wrong. I'm pretty sure I haven't slept with both eyes shut since then, to ensure that Mac sleeps "right." I'm not sure what sleeping "right" is, since this is a dog with no nerve endings. It reminds me of that second time Mac and I crossed the country in the Volvo, with my mom- the car was packed to overflowing, and Mom and I thoughtfully created a seat for him, but the other two spots in the backseat were jammed full. I'm not sure Mac sat in "his" seat once. He sat on top of the stuff in the other seats, sometimes with his head dangling down into "his" seat, sometimes upside down. I wish I had remembered this when the chiropractor asked me. Well, actually, lady, about 8.5 years ago, Mac did this weird sleeping thing for 8 straight days. I'm pretty sure that was it!

She was so impressed at what a happy dog Mac was at the vet. Mac is always happy at the vet, and that day, he didn't look very happy. He was panting and his eyes were very wide. I could see that he was stressed, agitated, and even painful. Mac almost never pants- this has started with the pain. When she touched him, maybe 5 times, he rotated himself away from her fingers in a subtle avoidance move. In "normal" dogs, again, I'm sure she would have thought, oh, it's a little tender. But this was Mac. The fact that he was painful only 3 hours after his pain meds, when he's normally clear, killed me.

And then she told me that he was doing great, because he was wagging his tail. Mac's tail never stops wagging. I don't know how to describe it without hyperbole because his tail IS hyperbole. And it was going and going like that in the vet's office. She said "most dogs with lumbar sacral can't wag their tails." Two days before, I saw Mac's tail tucked for the first time in 8+ years. I tried to articulate this to her, and she said "but it's wagging now!" No, that wasn't the point. The point is that this isn't getting better. Sure, you could call Monday a good day, or you could see it as I saw it, Mac's owner, keeper, partner. He wasn't having a good day, he was having a mediocre day. He was fighting- his tail was wagging- and he was in pain.

I know my dog. I love my dog probably more than I've ever loved anything before, and it's easy to say more than I'll ever love anything else, but I can't know if that's true. This is awful. Eventually, if this doesn't get better, like the vets keep telling me it will, I will have to make an awful choice. I know it's their job to keep telling me not to let go. But it's also their job to respect my understanding of my dog. To know that I'm not looking for the worst. That the last thing I want to do is give up on my monkey, the monkey who can sleep in a 3" space with his head hanging upside down, who has already made it through more than 8 years with me with such an awesome attitude that he has never tucked that tail. I'm not giving up. I owe it to buggy not to give up, and not to let him suffer.


Luisa said...

Oh, man. Hugs to you, very gentle hug to Mac. My heart aches for you both.

When the end came for my old pit bull/AmBull, one of our vets seemed [without saying a word] to be mildly disappointed that I hadn't kept my good boy alive for a few more months. [He just needs more drugs! and yadda yadda. Or so I interpreted the vet's unhappy look.]

The vet saw a dog that was strong and brave and stoic, a dog that ate his meals and could walk around without too much apparent difficulty. But I'd known this dog for twelve years -- since he was small enough to hold in one hand. His pain threshold had always been simply off the charts. And now -- now his poor old spine was so bad that he would scream whenever one of my other dogs bumped into him. Whenever I bumped into him. I knew my good boy better than anyone. I knew what kind of pain it would take to make him scream. I was the one he sought out when the pain was worst, and oy, the heartache that comes with that. Vets don't know those things. They do, but they don't really.

You wrote: "I don't like crying, and I don't like crying in public, and I don't like the way the vets and front desk staff look at me, blankly- the same way I probably look at people who are bawling in an incoherent way, saying things like "he is not allowed to die." That makes total sense to me, and not a whole lot of sense to many other people." It makes total sense to me, since that's pretty much what happens every time I take my old girl Bounce to the vet these days. [I'm grappling with the idea that "she has to live forever" may, in reality, mean she'll only be with me for two or three more years. There are no words for how much I love Bounce.]

Take care, you two. [Luisa sends SoCal mojo to Mac]

Sarah said...

Ah crap, L, this made me cry. I didn't realize things were so bad with Mac. Lots of hugs to you.

Anonymous said...

i'm sorry...i know how you feel and how it feels to watch someone you love be brave and stoic and not let the pain get in the way...

Anonymous said...

So sorry about your Mac. Tough choices coming, to be sure; but they are your choices, and no one has the right to second-guess them.

Even the best doctor is not as well-informed about the state of the patient as the patient's proxy. And that's what you are. You know Mac more intimately than any vet ever could, know more about his gifts and his limitations. You know when he's had enough, and when he's hurting, and you must not hesitate to gently but firmly remind your vet of that fact.

Be strong. I will pray for you both.
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