Monday, May 23, 2011


Max was breathing funny today when BJ came home for lunch.  We talked about it a bit, and gave her a pain pill.  Since we had an appointment at Purdue scheduled for this coming Wednesday (for her leg surgery) and since I knew they wouldn't be able to operate if she was sick, and since it's a lot cheaper to find out she's sick at our usual vet than it is at Purdue, I called to get her an appointment.

I knew it was bad when I took her outside to get her in the car, and when I said, "You wanna go for a ride, girl?" she just laid down in the grass.

Somehow I got all 3 kids and the dog into the car and to the vet.  On the way I reached back to pat her and tell her it was ok.

We got to the vet and I got her inside, but when I checked her in she laid down and she wouldn't get up.  "I'm not sure I'll be able to get her back there by myself," I told them.  They called back for someone to come help.

We got her to walk to the exam room, we even got her to stand on the scale, sweet girl.  They took us back.  The vet tech was very concerned, but she wouldn't guess at what was wrong.  I fussed at the kids to be quiet.  The vet came in.

I knew it was bad from the look on Dr. Miller's face.

Dr. Miller was the same vet we saw when we first brought Max to them as a puppy.  She had just seen Max a month ago.  She could tell that something was really wrong.

She checked, and Max's gums were almost white, indicating severe blood loss.  Since she obviously wasn't bleeding on the outside, that meant it was internal.  She was panting, doing that "abdominal breathing," and she was so weak.  They had to bring a gurney in to take her back for an x-ray. 

I knew it was bad when they brought the kids cookies and juice, and asked me if I wanted coffee.  In 11 years, they'd never done that before.

The x-ray showed a tumor on her spleen.  Dr. Miller said it was life threatening.  She said she could die tonight.   The tumor was bleeding into her abdominal cavity.  She said there was a 75% chance that it was malignant, and a 25% chance that it was benign.  Purdue could do surgery to remove her spleen, and it might be ok.

I asked, "What if we just take her home and let nature take its course?" and she said, compassionately but firmly, "She'll die.  She'll die in front of your kids.  You don't want that."  I asked her what she would do if Max belonged to her, and she said she'd consider euthanasia. 

I called my dad to come get the kids, and BJ to meet me at the vet.  I wasn't making any decisions alone. 

BJ arrived and Dr. Miller explained it to him.  He wanted to do the surgery.  I told him he was crazy.  It would be at least $5000.  He didn't care.  She had a 25% chance at being ok.  I told him that I wasn't going to try to talk him out of it, because I didn't want him to blame me.  We agreed to take Max to Purdue.  They had to wheel her to the car on a gurney.  She was too weak to walk.

Dad took the girls, BJ took the dog, I took the baby.  We got to Purdue in record time.  They brought a gurney out to get her.  I can't tell you how strange it was that our strong girl, who used to run so fast, couldn't walk.  She didn't like it either.

They took her in the emergency entrance and we went into the waiting room.  A tech came and got our history.

I knew it was bad when they gave us a private waiting room.

We waited for about an hour while they did an ultrasound.  Not only was the cancer on her spleen, it had metastasized to her chest, somewhere, and she was bleeding into her chest cavity, too.  Her lungs had collapsed.  Even with the surgery, they said, we were looking at 3 months at most.

We didn't want her to die alone on an operating table.  We didn't want her to spend her last days sick and in pain.  She was too good a dog to let her suffer.  They took us to the grieving room.  They brought her to us.  They brought a student to hold Jack in the hall.  We waited.

Edited to add - I forgot something important.  As they brought her in, even though she was having trouble breathing, even though she was weak, even though she was dying, when she saw us Max wagged her tail.  

I can't describe what it was like to say goodbye to her.  She was still panting and obviously uncomfortable.  We cried into her fur and we told her how lucky we were that she was ours.  We remembered a few of our favorite stories about her.  We thanked her for taking such good care of us, of our kids.  We told her that we would make it stop hurting.

"Go home, Max.  We'll meet you at home," I said.

We told them we were ready.  Well, I opened the door and they said, "Are you ready?" and I sobbed, "No," but they came in anyway.  It was quick.  She didn't suffer. 

We held her and loved her through it, and now she's gone.  And the house is so empty and so quiet.

Telling the kids broke my heart.  When I told Mary Grace that we let the vet give Max "a chemical" to help her die, she said, "How could you DO that?"  I said, "It was so hard, it was the hardest thing, but it was the right thing to do.  We didn't want Max to suffer.  Are you angry with me?"  "No, Mommy, I'm not angry, but I'm trying to understand," she said.  She's so mature.  She's decided that in addition to growing up and owning the Princess Cafe, she's going to cure cancer.  You know, in her free time.  I looked her right in the eye and said, "You can do anything, and I think that would be wonderful."

BJ has a business trip tomorrow and Wednesday, and I don't know what's sadder - that he has to go and try to pretend his heart isn't breaking and be "professional," or that I have to stay here in this quiet, empty house and try to calmly field the endless barrage of death questions from the kids (again, for the second time in a year.  "Is kitty still died?"  "Yes, Claire, kitty is still died.")

When we got home, my eyes automatically went to the spot in the window where she always looked out, waiting for us, and I broke down again.  I gathered up all her stuff, just so I wouldn't keep tripping over it, but it upset BJ so I stopped.

We're lucky that it happened fast and she didn't have a long, drawn out illness with lots of suffering.  We're lucky that I was able to get her and the kids to the vet before she lost the ability to walk.  We're lucky that she didn't die at home alone.  We're lucky that she didn't die while we were gone this past weekend.  We're lucky that we could even afford to consider a $5000 surgery.  We're lucky to live close to a place that could do such a surgery, if it had been a humane option.  We're lucky that we got to spend the last 11 years with her.  We're lucky that we got to give her a loving, dignified passage into the next world.

She was just the best dog.  Smart, gentle, loyal, protective - everything a dog should be, and more.  She was such a good friend.

Go home, Max.  We'll meet you there.  Go on home.

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