Dog Days of Summer
We had no idea what was wrong with the dog, figuring she's tweaked something in the leg and it was healing poorly. There was a ridge along the upper part of her leg that felt, to me, like her shoulder blade was off kilter. But not being a vet, I let the professional make the diagnosis. And what a diagnosis it was. Within 30 seconds of hearing her symptoms and running his hands along both forelimbs, he stated he was 99% sure she had a bone tumor that was more than likely malignant. Blood work and x-rays would confirm that and tell us if the cancer had spread. If it had, Holly would have another 2 to 3 months with us. If it hadn't spread, amputation would be the way to go. With that and chemo she would probably have another year or so.
Holly is, perhaps, one of the best dogs I've ever had. She is one of the two dogs our girls have grown up with and truly bonded to, even though my husband and I had two other dogs when they were little. The idea of losing her to such an insidious disease made me sad and angry. It was no one's fault, of course, certain breeds are prone to this sort of thing, but I didn't want MY dog to have to go through it.
I cried as I explained the situation to my girls. Then we were all crying. We waited for the results in the reception area of the clinic, where a very kind tech offered us chocolate. They certainly understand their patients and the families. Never in my life had I prayed that I'd want to amputate an animal's leg, but that's what I did that afternoon. Because if the cancer had metastasized, even amputation would have been useless. We would have had to either put her down then and there or deal with her disease and make her as comfortable as possible for the next couple of months so she could die at home with all of her family around her.
Soon enough, the vet came out with x-rays. Heart in my throat, I had the girls wait in reception while I followed the doctor into an exam room to view the films. The tumor surrounded her upper humerus, making it twice as thick as a normal bone. You could almost see the malignancy pulsing from it. Who knew how long it had been growing there. I held my breath as the doctor slid the film of her chest into the viewer. No nodules or masses. Her lungs and chest appeared clean. That didn't mean the cancer wasn't in her system, but for the moment it wasn't present. Taking Holly's leg would be a good start to keeping her with us a bit longer and out of pain. And that's what we wanted most of all, to get rid of her pain.
Surgery was scheduled for the following day. We did a little shopping while we waited for the phone call to tell us she was done. I offered to take the kids to a movie, but no one's heart was in it. How could we enjoy ourselves when our best friend was in surgery? So we picked up a few things for school and home, wandered the mall, waited for the phone to ring. Soon enough, the vet called to say the surgery had gone well, that Holly was starting to come around. We could come pick her up and transport her to another clinic where there was a doctor and techs on site 24 hours a day. They would keep an eye on Holly over night.
When we returned to the clinic, Holly was brought out on a stretcher. She was still very out of it, though her eyes were half open, and her front left quarter was shaved and covered in gauzy bandage. The sight of my big, robust rottweiler-retriever laid out on a stretcher and missing a limb was tough to see, but not as tough as if we would have lost her. The techs brought her to our waiting minivan and we transported her to the other clinic. The folks there assured us that they'd call if anything happened, and that we were welcome to call any time, even late at night, if we wanted.
Even with that assurance, the girls and I were still in no mood to do anything but head back to the house (we were staying at my step-father-in-law's) and decompress. We did call that evening after dinner and told Holly was doing well. She had almost completely come out of the anesthesia and was sleeping normally. The next morning we called again. The tech and doctor were happy with how things went the night before and we were free to come pick up Holly whenever we wanted.
At the clinic, Holly wasn't too keen on the linoleum floor and was still a bit wobbly from the pain meds, but with help she made it out to the car. Once back at the house, she laid down outside for a bit before regaining the energy to hobble inside. For the next couple of days, we enticed Holly outside with treats and verbal encouragement. Each day she grows stronger and more sure of herself on three legs.
Back home now, after a ferry ride that ended with a scratched open incision and the donning of the shirt and sock of shame, Holly is getting on well. Though the pain she is going through with her recovery is pretty high, I think she realizes this is a different pain. A better pain, if that's possible, knowing it's short-lived. After she's through her current pain meds and antibiotic, we'll discuss options with the vet. Chemo may be in her future, depending on circumstances. But no matter what medical situation we may find ourselves in, this family is quite happy to still have its best friend around, no matter how many legs she has.
Holly wearing the tee shirt and sock of shame: