In August 2009 my beloved mother was diagnosed with Ovarian cancer. And I remember coming home from that horrible appointment with that horrible doctor (Alrightythen! We have Cancer! How are we feeling today!) and going into some type of manic-cleaning rampage.
I swept, mopped and dusted. Took out the trash, polished figurines, rearranged knick-knacks, changed the linen, pulled weeds. Only later, after reading books about grief, did I learn that this type of reaction is typical. It's the subconscious desire to restore order in a life that has suddenly been turned upside down.
After euthanizing my sweet Lucy on Tuesday, I found myself again going through similar motions. Only this time I realized what I was doing. Throughout my home there were too many painful reminders of the dog that was no longer there, so I started cleaning. And cleaning.
I washed and stored Lucy's ceramic food and water bowls with the cute blue paw-print decorations. I took off the Fosters & Smith sofa-saver cover and the multiple blankets I'd added underneath as extra protection. I removed the Fosters & Smith bed scarf that she would lie on while resting her head on my chest as we slept, and put away the spare doggie-pillow that she used on nights when she didn't hog my bed. I collected her squeaky toys, the ones that Elvis doesn't like, to give to a neighbor's dog. I swept and vacuumed, white dog hair flying everywhere.
In the backyard, I removed several pots and artifacts that had been strategically placed to keep my naughty girl from digging holes. I took a bucket of bleach-water and scoured the yard, removing all traces of the toxic diarrhea that her disease-ridden body had spewed during her final hours. I scrubbed, hosed and sanitized.
Hours later, I was done. The house smelled like lavender, floors shone and tabletops sparkled. Rooms were now airy and spacious without the second set of beds, bowls, blankets and toys. There was no evidence of the many accommodations I had made when Lucy joined me and Elvis in my tiny townhouse after my mother died. The house was immaculate, order restored.
And I cried. Missing the chaos, missing the dog hair, missing the mess. Missing my little girl.
"Save your money," Stu Homer told me. As the founder of Golden State Greyhound Adoption, he's almost as knowledgeable about dogs as a veterinarian. Over the past 15+ years, with over 1,000 adoptions under his belt, he's certainly seen everything from corns to Cancer.
"If it's a liver infection, you'll know in a few weeks when the antibiotics start working," he advised when I told him about Lucy's recent diagnosis. "Don't bother with X-rays or a biopsy because if it's anything else, it will be terminal and there will be nothing you can do."
Harsh, but true.
I couldn't stand not knowing though. And so today I took my sweet Lucy to see Dr. Arnott for a liver ultrasound and biopsy. Turned out he couldn't do the biopsy. The ultrasound showed a liver so shrunken and hardened, a biopsy was impossible. Without any symptoms whatsoever, my happy, spirited, mischevious little girl had been ill for at least six months.
"She has end-stage hepatitis," Dr. Arnott told me. "It's just a matter of time. I'm so sorry."
And once again, the tears are flowing in my household; for what was and what is about to be.
"Grace under pressure" is a quality I've always admired in people who face adversity. Somehow, they manage to rise above their difficulties and become even kinder and better human beings.
I am not one of those people.
I fold like an umbrella in a hurricane. I get angry, confused, bewildered and stressed. Especially stressed. Last night my sweet Lucy, diagnosed with liver disease just two days ago, vomited black bile and has been having massive diarrhea. She's not eating or playing with her toys, and I am sick. Sick with sadness, sick with fear, sick with stress.
Which might explain why I snapped at that woman near the park this morning. I was taking Lucy and Elvis on a very slow, brief outing when this young woman, walking her dog, came barrelling down the sidewalk behind me. When my dogs turned around and started barking at hers, I saw that she wasn't about to slow down. So, I pulled Lucy and Elvis across the bushes and we waited on the street so the woman could pass. And pass she did, with nary a word of thanks. God help me, the words came out before I could stop myself.
"You're welcome," I said.
Ah, then she found her voice. "Why should I thank you?" she turned around and snapped. "You're the one with the vicious dogs!"
"And you're the one without any manners," I snapped back. "Just because you own an animal doesn't mean you have to behave like one."
Off we went. After a few foul exchanges, I finally crossed the street because at that heated moment, I felt capable of acting like an animal myself-a rabid wolverine to be exact--and biting her damn head off.
Really, folks, this is not me. And I suspect this may not be her either. As I resumed my walk, now crying, from across the street I observed her making a U-turn and returning home. Clearly upset, she never made it to the park to use the Ball Launcher she had intended to play with her dog.
I hope I see this woman again. I want to apologize and explain why I snapped at her. She has no idea what's going on in my life and--concurrently--I have no idea what's going on in hers. She could have lost her job the day before, fought with her husband minutes earlier, or hey, maybe she's just the animal I accused her of being.
If she rejects my apology, fine. At least I'll have tried. My best friend Pam likes to say that we can't let other people dictate how we behave, and she's right.
It may not be a shining example of grace under pressure, but I'm trying here folks, really. The best that I can.
My mom was fond of saying that when you wake up in the morning, you just never know how your day will end. And not in a "whoohoo, I just won the lottery" kind of way. She was a bit of a pessimist, my mom.
But she was right. Just consider the events of this week.
Sunday morning I enjoyed a wonderful, invigorating 6.5 mile hike with a good friend. I later learned that at a barbecue that evening, she had a near-death experience when she choked on a piece of steak that defied all Heimlich maneuvers. She swears she's still here today only because a higher power stepped in and told her "it wasn't her time yet." I believe her.
On Wednesday, my sister and I indulged in a lazy, relaxing hot summer day at the beach (see evidence in previous post) that felt like a slice of pure childhood. Just hours later, on our way home, we found ourselves stranded with a flat tire on the three-inch shoulder of a blind curve on a crazy-ass, winding, narrow two-lane highway known for speeding and accidents. That sweaty, balding, overweight tow-truck driver never looked so good.
However, today's situation may not turn out so well.
Yesterday afternoon I took my greyhound, Lucy, to the vet. She hasn't been eating lately, which I attributed to our heatwave, but just to be safe I made an appointment. Really though, I wasn't worried; she's always been a picky eater and the 90+ degree heat has killed even MY appetite.
It wasn't the heat.
Blood work revealed a serious, life-threatening liver disease. What, we don't know. If it's an infection, the antibiotics she started today may buy her time. If it's anything else--Cirrhosis, Cancer, Hepatitis--it will only be a matter of time.
I am sick. Sick.
Lucy holds a special place in my heart because she was my mother's dog. When Mom passed away in 2009, I never thought twice about adopting Lucy, even though my townhouse HOA only permits one dog per home and I already had my other greyhound, Elvis. If busted, I would sell my home and move if I had to. Relinquishing LucyBelle, as I call her, simply wasn't an option.
And it still isn't. Only this time I may have no say in the matter.