Sunday, May 19. Kaylee’s last set of photos. I just so happened to snap a few quick pics - just three! - when I spotted her lying, calm and peaceful, in the dog bed. I think I was at my desk, writing a book review. Wasting time with trivialities, as humans so often do.
Monday proved a rough day. Kaylee showed more interested in food, but less control over her hind legs. Her stool was loose on accounta her liquid diet, and it got all over her rear end as Shane tried to hold her steady outside. She seemed terribly unhappy with her current situation. The vet advised us that, whatever was going on with her legs, it might take a few weeks of rehabilitation (or, paradoxically, rest) to heal. She was on antidepressants - both to help with her affect and stimulate her appetite - but we hadn’t seen much change in either as of yet. We began to discuss the e-word. Not as an imminent possibility, but as something to consider in the days and weeks ahead. How would we know when it was time?
And then Kaylee, bless her too-big heart, told us. A rough day turned into an even-rougher night. Kaylee, always prone to shaking (it’s a breed thing, I’ve been told), couldn’t stop; shaking turned into trembles and ticks. Neither of us got much rest that night, as I tried to soothe her to sleep.
Some time in the wee hours of Tuesday, May 21st, Kaylee suffered a stroke, or aneurism, or perhaps a blood clot (one unlikely but possible cause of trouble walking) traveled to her brain. She slipped into a coma. I became aware of it at first light. Once I could actually see one of her more violent shaking spells, I knew immediately that she was seizing. (Shadow suffered seizures on a monthly basis for most of her life, so I knew what they looked like.) My baby girl was no longer there; what made Kaylee Kaylee had slipped away unnoticed during the night.
After waiting 45 minutes for the at-home euthanasia vet to return our call - office hours didn’t commence for another 15 minutes - we decided to rush her to the ER instead. If given a choice, I prefer for my kids to die at home, in familiar surrounding and surrounded by loved ones. But as far as I was concerned, Kaylee was already dead, her sweet, silly, awesome little mind having departed hours before, as her equally silly little body lay nestled in my arms. And I couldn’t bear to watch her vessel - part canine, part seal, part Dandie - suffer any longer.
Kaylee’s heart stopped beating at 9AM CST on May 21st. In the end, I was glad that we made the trip to Blue Pearl. The staff was understanding and compassionate; they carefully cleaned her body for us, removing all hints of the hated feeding tube; laid her out in a coffin-like cardboard box, all peaceful and serene; and, in one last unexpected act of kindness, even preserved her pawprints, in both ink and clay. I’ll treasure these, always.
“Aye,” Roland said, “but first we should see what Mordred had for gunna—there may be something useful there—and bury our friend. Will’ee help me see Oy into the ground, Patrick?”
Patrick was willing, and the burial didn’t take long; the body was far smaller than the heart it had held. By midmorning they had begun to cover the last few miles on the long road which led to the Dark Tower.
Saturday afternoon was spent sunbathing on a blanket outside. Well, Kaylee started out on the blanket - then she went and plopped down in the grass a short distance away, in order to put some distance between her and her arch-nemesis, Mags. I read a bit - STUNG, meh - but, had I known that this was one of our last days together, I would have snuggled Kaylee 24/7 instead.
My heart is heavy with many regrets concerning Kaylee’s last few weeks on this earth. Chief among them: not treating her last four days as though they were her last. I thought we had more time; that was the whole point of the feeding tube, was it not?
On Monday, I took a much-needed walk - my exercise routine long since neglected - and then spent an hour picking up debris scattered in our yard by a recent storm. Not 24 hours later, Kaylee was dead. So much time, wasted. If only I had known. I should have known.
While we relied on the feeding tube to keep her nourished through the rest of her life, Kaylee slowly showed more interest in food. She started off licking mashed veggies from my fingertip, and slowly graduated to eating a small serving of food right out of the bowl.
On the downside, the weakness/lack of coordination in her back leg worsened and appeared to spread to the left one, too. By the end she needed help walking; Shane held onto her sides to help support her and keep hear steady and, in an ill-fated move, we tried using a yoga strap, hooked under her belly, as a support. Great until the pressure made her throw up a meal she’d just “eaten.”
The day after surgery, Kaylee did remarkably well. She was up and about in the yard and, though she didn’t show a whole lot of interest in food, I did have to intercept her many efforts to nibble on grass. Her back leg was still problematic, though not terribly so.
I spent some time chasing her around the yard, taking pictures. She was not amused.
At the time of her discharge, the vet brought up the possibility of “installing” an esophageal feeding tube in Kaylee’s neck in the event that we couldn’t get her to eat and drink voluntarily. At the time I recoiled in disgust: how barbaric! I know it’s not exactly the same - you can’t reason with a dog the way you would a human - but force feeding is considered a form of torture amongst h. sapiens.
And yet: not 24 hours and just two arduous meals later, I quickly reversed course. Kaylee refused to eat or drink on her own, and forcing food and water down her throat with a syringe was messy, time consuming, and - worst of all - quickly turning Kaylee against me. I feared that she truly would hate me after a few days of this. Plus there was her medication - so much medication! - to worry about.
Part of me feared that her refusal to eat was Kaylee’s way of letting go - asking me to let her die. But she’s always had weird behavioral issues with food, and this time around they manifested well before she got sick - or showed outward signs of sickness, anyway. Though her kidneys weren’t functioning optimally, they were at what the vet called "livable levels"; as long as Kaylee stayed fed and hydrated, she could enjoy a comfortable life for weeks or even months. As long as there was a chance, we had to take it - right?
And so, late Thursday afternoon, we took Kaylee BACK to the ER to have a feeding tube put in. The operation was short - just an hour - and we were home in time for dinner. Baby food, in the neck. Yum!
(On the way to the hospital, Kaylee refused to lay next to me, on the little bed I made up for us. Instead she crammed herself as far back in the van as she could go, nestling up and using a bag of totes for a pillow. She was most definitely NOT HAPPY with her humans.)
While Kaylee rested, I made her some fresh “baby food” - mashed sweet potatoes and carrots. Turns out she never ate them - she ended up going on a special k/d kidney diet the next day. Peedee enjoyed them with his soaked kibble instead. He had most of his teeth removed right before Ralphie fell ill, and was cheated out of the sympathy to which he was rightfully entitled.
(Check out my awesome Wegmans apron. I have a Domestic Terrorist one, but it’s too nice to ruin with wear!)
By Wednesday Kaylee’s kidney values still hadn’t changed any, so the vet recommended that we take her home and see if she improved in a more comfortable and familiar environment. The most important thing was to get her eating and drinking again. (Unfortunately, she also stopped drinking while in the hospital, possibly because she was kept hydrated intravenously. That or she was just being stubborn, aka Kaylee.)
Though I was nervous - terrified, really - that I’d fail, I was so, so happy to have my baby girl back home. Up until this point, things hadn’t progressed as well as I hoped - but Kaylee also hadn’t declined as Ralphie had, the way I feared she would.
Kaylee was tired and still a little miffed at me, but also quite obviously relieved to be leaving THAT PLACE.
Third row down: 5/15/13 - Going Home
En route. I set up a nice little bed in the back of the van so I could cuddle her the whole way home.
Bottom photo: 5/15/13 - Home at Last
And Kaylee assumed her rightful place on the couch, right next to mom.
By Tuesday, Kaylee’s condition hadn’t changed any: her kidney function wasn’t any better - but it wasn’t any worse, either. (Ralphie’s kidneys deteriorated on the last day, despite the treatment he received.) Since she was on a more conservative treatment plan due to her heart murmur, we held out hope that it might just take an extra day or two for the fluids to do their job, and decided to keep her in the hospital.
Luckily, we had another day of gorgeous weather for our visit. We took Kaylee outside for our allotted hour, but she seemed a little more out of it than the day before - whether due to exhaustion, depression, or anger, I can’t say.
She was also having more trouble walking, a fact that concerned us but ranked rather low on the vet’s list of priorities. What was first diagnosed as a herniated disc could have been any number of things, each hard to diagnose in an old, sick dog, and impossible to treat given her renal failure.
After our hour in the sun, the staff suggested that maybe *I* could try to get Kaylee to eat? They set up a little “buffet” of baby food and meaty stuff in an exam room, where - with little luck - I tried to coax, cajole, and sweet talk Kaylee into eating something, anything! Mostly this just consisted of me placing bits of food on Kaylee’s gums and the roof of her mouth so that she’d HAVE to swallow them. (Her missing teeth proved a huge advantage here: I could stick a tongue depressor in her mouth WITHOUT prying it open, if I found the right spot.) She was pretty annoyed by the end of it, not that I blame her.
I found myself wishing that she’d adopt my answer to depression: eat ALL the things!
We visited Kaylee every day of her 4-day stay, always for an hour at the very least;sometimes for two hours or more. She didn’t need to be hooked up to tubes all the time, so we were able to take her outside the kennel area, which was nice. Monday was warm and sunny (unseasonably hot, actually!) so we brought a blanket and lay down in the shade of a nearby office building. Kaylee appreciated the sun and the breeze, as well as the opportunity to stretch her old bones. She was happy to see us, though eventually the repeated visits culminating in us walking/carrying her PAST the van and BACK INTO the hated hospital fostered some resentment and anger on her part. (Yes, my fee-fees were hurt.)
Of all the dogs, it was Kaylee who took Ralphie’s death the hardest. (This came as a surprise, since they weren’t particularly close in life.) Occasionally a finicky (but otherwise enthusiastic) eater, Kaylee skipped a meal here and there during Ralphie’s illness, and after he passed she stopped eating altogether.
At first, we thought that she was miffed at me for redirecting all “her” attention to Ralphie. But when we showed the dogs Ralphie’s lifeless body, it became clear that his death affected her deeply: whereas the other five dogs took care to avoid the body, Kaylee camped out on the king bed opposite where Ralphie’s body lay and stared, intently, as we mourned, cuddled, and washed the body. Even after we packed it away, into a plastic pirate chest and then the freezer, she continued to keep vigil in the bedroom.
Saturday morning, in an effort to ease Kaylee’s grief, I took her - just us two! - to the park. Specifically, to the fort where we spent our last morning with Ralphie. She sniffed around a bit but wasn’t especially interested in sitting in the fort, nor did she want to walk - her back right leg was giving her a bit of trouble. Instead we lay in the grass and I sang to her - "The End of the World," which is what it felt like at the time. She seemed to enjoy it, taking in the sun and the sound of my voice, which should have been my first hint that trouble lay ahead: NO ONE enjoys my singing.
That evening, nearly 48 hours to the minute that Ralphie’s heart stopped beating, I happened to find a small snake bite on Kaylee’s belly. Shane rushed her to the ER, where they just happened to run some blood work “just in case.” The results revealed that Kaylee was in renal failure, just as Ralphie had been. (The snake bite? A minor and very treatable injury.)
Shane raced home to pick me up so that we could discuss our options with the vet together. (I was too panicked to drive myself.) I also wanted to visit with Kaylee, and bring some of the other dogs in to get checked out, in case there was some weird environmental cause; two dogs in renal failure in less than two weeks is too crazy to be a coincidence, right? (Wrong. Everyone else was fine.)
With Peedee and Mags looking on, Shane and I discussed possible treatment plans with the vet. Normally she’d receive the same treatment as Ralphie: IV fluids to flush out and hopefully stabilize her kidneys. But her heart murmur complicated matters: push too much fluid and we might send the poor girl into congestive heart failure. After an hour of emotionally laden deliberations, we opted for a conservative treatment plan; Kaylee would start out with about 1/4 of the fluids Ralphie received, and they’d play it by ear from there.
We arrived home, exhausted and defeated, at 1AM on Mother’s Day. After troubled sleep we headed back Sunday morning, this time with O-Ren, Jayne, and Finnick, who still needed to have their blood drawn. Kaylee’s heart was pumping strong as ever (in fact, by Monday it was no longer a concern), and we were able to visit with her in an exam room, since she didn’t need to be on fluids 24/7, the way Ralphie had. She was glad to see us, but also mad (understandably so) that we’d "abandoned" her overnight in the hospital. You can see Rennie photobombing some of the pics Shane took with his cell. The baby food we tried to coax down Kaylee’s throat didn’t improve their manners any.
So Mother’s Day was spent at the ER, loving on Kaylee and worrying about all six of our remaining dog kids. Afterwards: crappy Pizza Hut pizza washed down with waterworks. I think I also opened my birthday presents that night (finally!), because things didn’t look as though they’d improve any time soon. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.) Another crappy May holiday. And, scene.
♥ Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials;
♥ Margaret Atwood (especially the Mad Adam series & The Handmaid's Tale);
♥ The Hunger Games;
♥ The X-Files;
♥ (Mostly) everything Joss Whedon; and
♥ Unicorns, narwhals, time travel & zombies (not necessarily in that order).
Also, I'd rather pretend that season 6 of Lost never happened, and that Alias ended with the 2003 Superbowl episode.