Day 52: Evidently it's never too late to learn how – and how not – to catch a frog

I won’t kid you. Lymphoma is hard. 

Roo is technically in remission, but the drugs are tough on her. She has always been sensitive to any medicine. She’s prone to stomach upsets and even things like amoxicillin make her act achy and groany. The side effects of chemo meds seem to hit her much sooner than they’re supposed to. And, she’s still on two antibiotics, one for probable tick exposure and another for the wound on her arm, which starts to get inflamed as soon as the antibiotics are stopped. Apart from the heavy duty chemo drug doxorubicin, the medication that seemed to make her feel the worst was prednisone, but that just ended.

Her most recent dose of chemo was lumostine five days ago, on Friday, and on Sunday the dose was starting to bother her. At first she didn’t get sick, or upset, or lose her appetite. She just lost all her energy. The next day, though, her stomach began to trouble her. She was desperate to eat grass, which I stopped, because when she does that she goes overboard and tears up pounds of it and can get sick for days. The last thing she needed was an irritated gut. On Tuesday she felt a little better, but still had no energy and didn’t want to go outside. 

Today, she felt better, though her energy was still down. The heat and humidity were bad, by Maine standards, and that didn’t inspire her to go out. I had to go to the vet to pick up a refill of one of her meds and it took some convincing to get Roo to come along. She decided to get in the car, though, and afterwards I drove her to the pond. I talked about it with her on the way and she didn’t seem too interested in going, but I kept talking it up – I know Roo, and Roo always feels better if she gets some exercise – and when we got there she changed her mind.

Just about everyone who has loved a dog has gone through some version of what is happening now with Roo. A lot of dogs don’t make it through as much of their lives as they deserve to. Cancer kills so many of them. We do what we can for them, but once you know your dog is dying, it’s hard not to question everything. She’s putting on too much weight – is giving her all those extra pieces of jerky a mistake? How hard is the chemo on her? Should I stop her from swimming to get that arm healed? It’s hot, she lives to swim – and who knows how much more of it she’ll be able to do. If the point of battling the lymphoma is so that she can enjoy whatever time she has left, what’s worse, a sore arm or not being able to swim on hot days?

All we can do is try to read them, and dogs are easier to read about some things than other. It’s easy to tell what makes them happy, but it’s hard to tell how they are feeling. I imagine the headaches she might be getting from the chemo. People on chemo report horrible ones. Surely dogs get them, too. Sometimes, when Roo isn’t feeling well and I’m on the floor with her, I whisper to her, “I bet this poor little bear has a terrible head,” and I rub her temples and the soft spots around her eyes and the muscles on top of her head and on her cheeks, and from the way she reacts, it’s clear that she must have not just a headache, but a bad one. Her arm hurts where that damnable wound is that won’t heal. And the chemo must make her entire body feel bad.

But – and this is the key – not so bad that if I could ask and she could answer, that she would say she’d rather be dead. Right now, it seems like she has to put up with two or three days of discomfort from each chemo treatment. And then, she gets better.

Nothing makes Roo feel better than the cool pond water. It’s too bad it’s not icy cold, but it’s cool enough, and the relief she feels, the joy, is one of the world’s great sights to see. She dunks her head under water and swings it from side to side. I imagine the sounds she must be hearing, of the water whooshing in her ears and the sound of the bubbles she blows. She snorts when she surfaces with her tail held high and looks at me with a satisfied smile and goes back under a few times. If your dog is fighting cancer, and the whole point of the fight is for them to get to enjoy themselves for as long as possible, and you have no idea how long that might be, as you can never know with lymphoma, moments like that are among the best ones of them all.

Roo’s outlook improved immediately and she headed over to the pond where she likes to hunt frogs. I thought she could never catch a frog. For one thing, she can’t see them up close. She can be sniffing all around right next to a frog and not see it.

But if everything about your soul, your entire being, is about being a hunter, which is what Roo is above everything else, you are on a lifelong training mission. And though I hate to see her kill anyone, I admit that I try to help.

“Roo,” I call to her when I spot a frog on the bank of the pond, “The frog!” She barrels over and pounces on what she thinks is the frog, but her splashing has alerted it well in advance and it is already skittering into the water by the time she gets close.

Finally, I spotted a fat frog relaxing at the edge of the water and lured Roo up onto the bank and put my hand on her chest to hold her back, telling her, “Wait, Chig. Slowly, s l o w l y,” until she saw the frog. That gave her a little time to collect herself and plan a more reasonable attack. It didn’t work, she didn’t control her attack sufficiently, but it gave her the opportunity to smell the guy and see what they look like when they’re lying still.

She took that intelligence straight to the proverbial bank and began to prowl the literal one differently. Soon, she spotted another frog. A magnificent one, clearly the reigning master of his small universe. He had camouflaged himself for a nice nap in a submerged shrub at the edge of the pond. I apologize for my sloppy camerawork. I didn’t start filming until I noticed the way she was staring at something. The video begins just at her strike. 

But she caught him. As you can see, I am not lying about the quality of this frog.

Roo has an extremely soft mouth. If she’s going to kill a known type of victim, she does it quickly, but a frog? The first time you catch a frog and taste that slimy skin for the first time you might want to do some further analysis. That’s where Roo’s soft mouth saved that frog. The wily bastard lulled her into a mistake. She carried the poor petrified frog out of the water. The frog played dead, a master of control, not moving so much as one of its little muscles in spite of being clamped inside the jaws of a stupendous and terrifying beast. He played his little frog hand perfectly. Either he was a frog of great experience and learning or he was benefitting from pure instinct. The instant Roo put him down, he seized the opportunity to bolt into action and escape into the water.

Roo stayed in the water for nearly two hours. I located several other frogs for her. She loves pack hunting like that, and if you’ve never tried it, I recommend it It is probably one of the team activities that brought dogs and humans together tens of thousands of years ago.

It lives on in Roo. I don’t know how much more she’ll be able to do. At least she was able to do it today.

Day 46: Coincidence?

Roo felt much better today. She ran around, went for a long walk, and chased frogs and mouses, dug a few holes, met some other dogs and let them know who’s boss. The doxycycline seems to be working. 

When we got back and she was hosed off, cleaned up, blow dried, brushed, had her wounds dressed and bandaged, her toenails dremeled and ate her dinner, she was ready for a long nap. I had to go to the pharmacy to pick up the chemotherapy drug, cyclophosphamide, that she has to take tomorrow.  She was supposed to get it on Tuesday, but didn’t because she wasn’t feeling well. The dose was delayed three days so she could get back on her paws, even though this drug wouldn’t make her feel bad.

Roo was too tired to get back in the car and I was about to go without her when she had second thoughts and roused herself to come along. It was a good thing, because we ran into trouble.

The pharmacy didn’t have the drug in stock. The very kind pharmacist started calling other pharmacies to see if he could locate some, but no one had the drug in stock. We began to coordinate a list of pharmacies so we wouldn’t waste time calling the same ones, and between us we called at least 20 pharmacies as far as 60 miles away. Nothing. The drug was simply out of stock. 

It was just six o’clock when I called the vet clinic, but they were shutting down and didn’t have the drug, either. I called the emergency clinic 30 miles south, but they also had nothing. The only possible lead was a Walmart pharmacy that said they might, just might, be able to get it by late tomorrow afternoon, but no guarantees, and I’d have to drop off the actual prescription, which would then mean that I wouldn’t have it to take to another pharmacy if I found one with the drug in stock.

This fruitless round of calls went on for about 45 minutes. It was a good thing Roo came along. She had been sleeping in the car – she was knocked out from her mouse safari, after all – but she hadn’t been expecting to wait so long and she gave me a mixed look of impatience and relief when I got back to her. 

Every time she waits in the car I say, “Have you been waiting all by yourself?” when I get back. You know how dogs think some things are funny, and that always makes her wag her tail. I gave her a piece of jerky and a Milk Bone, the last two things on Earth she needs now that she’s packing the weight back on to zeppelin-like proportions. “You might as well go back to sleep, Chig,” I warned her. “We might have to do some real driving.” A dog with as much experience of the road as Roo has understands that. She grunted and put her head back on the console, resigned to it.

I opened Google Maps on the phone, zoomed the map out and entered pharmacy. I had a list the pharmacist had written of all the places he had called and the only thing to try now was to work a progressively larger radius. If we could find the drug at all, it was going to be a long drive. I was getting nervous. There was no way to contact the vet and the idea of waiting until the morning, when Roo was supposed to get her chemo, to figure out what to do was nervewracking. There’s a reason the chemo is given on a schedule, and this one was already off by three days.

Just as I was dialing the first pharmacy, I glanced up when a woman exiting the pharmacy crossed in front of the car.

I bet if there had been video of me at that moment, it would show me literally dropping my jaw. I had been expecting to see one of the opioid addicts who seem to be in so many pharmacy parking lots these days, and often in that one, but this woman woman was, of all the people in all the gin joints of all the world, Roo’s vet, Dr. Mason.

“Oh, my God,” I said, “You have no idea how glad I am to see you.”

I doubt she felt the same way. Running into patients outside of work must get pretty annoying. And running into me in particular might have been especially annoying, but there we were.

I explained the problem, told her about the calls, the shortage, the 45 minutes the pharmacist and I had spent calling all those pharmacies, that I was about to dial another one, but that it wasn’t looking good.

She had a solution. Another drug, which she described as the big brother of the cyclophosphamide, a better drug with fewer side effects, and that I could pick up at the clinic in the morning. I asked her why, if the drug was better, it wasn’t the drug of first choice, and she explained that she kept it for second rounds of chemo after the remissions, as the inevitably do with lymphoma dogs, end. But that it would be fine for now.

Brunswick is a fairly large town. What were the odds?

So, we’re all set. On track for tomorrow, another day.

Day 44: And now for something new


On Sunday evening, Roo started to lose energy. She had slept badly the night before and resisted going outside until that afternoon. Eventually she felt good enough to get in the car and go splash around in the pond. She was sluggish, but happy. We didn’t walk anywhere. We just drove to the pond and she stayed in the water the whole time, except for when she walked the short distance on the bank to another part of the pond. That was enough to make her start limping a little, as if her legs were sore. She didn’t even check on her groundhog, a sign that she was really not well.

Her last chemo had been five days before, and that, I thought, was the most likely cause. She wasn’t sick, was eating well, her digestion was fine. She wasn’t depressed. She was just tired. On Sunday night she became agitated and more uncomfortable. She couldn’t rest. I gave her an anti-nausea tablet, but that didn’t help. Lately, she has been getting anxious from the prednisone and how hungry that makes her. She doesn’t ask for food – she never really has – but I’ve noticed lately that when given some, it calms her down for a while. Around 11 PM she ate some more and then had another restless night. On Monday she was tired, but again not sick. Just so tired. On Monday afternoon she wouldn’t go outside until 3 in the afternoon. the last time was around 4 the day before – 23 hours.

We had a bad night. When the temperature is in the mid-60s it’s hot and humid in the camper and the air conditioner either blows freeing air or wet air, keeping us both up all night. Roo would probably have been up all night anyway, but the temperature swings and the moist air guaranteed it.

Roo was scheduled for another round of chemo today. Roo didn’t want to get in the car. She already had to get in the car once – we had to go to dump the camper tanks – and that was enough for her. But she didn’t argue much once I told her she was going to go to the doctor. She seemed to like that idea.

Roo wasn’t scheduled for more bloodwork today, but because of how she was feeling and acting, Dr. Mason did the test. Roo’s white blood cells, which have been low and were low last week, were now elevated, a sign of infection. Dr. Mason said that Roo was not coming out of remission. The most likely culprit was a tickborne illness. She asked me if I had found any ticks on Roo and I told her that when we were down south we had been under a constant barrage of Lone Star ticks, and those little bastards from hell tick meds have no effect whatsoever. Dr. Mason said there was no point in running a tick titer because the treatment for any tick disease would be a course of doxycycline. So, now Roo is on yet another drug. Her chemo was put off to give her a few days to try to catch up and feel better. Another pill bottle to add to the collection.

She’s feeling awful tonight, lying on the floor, panting, trying to make up some of the sleep she’s been losing these past few days, but it’s going to be another humid night in the camper. 

Roo must be so sick of the quantity of pills I have to jam down her throat every day. As soon as I post this, she’s getting another two. She doesn’t even want the bone I just cooked for her. I think of all the times in the all the months I’ve spent in hospitals around the world and how the nurses never took no for an answer and try to do it the way they did. Lights on, take these, and goodnight.

Day 42: Return to the killing fields


So far, so good. 

The turnaround for Roo continues. I’ve only been taking her to the nearby park where the tadmouse pond is, which seems to be all right with her. Either she can’t see tadmouses any more, which is what it looks like, or she’s lost all interest in them. Instead, she has discovered frogs and spends hours stalking them. Roo prowls in the shallow water at the bank for hours and splashes around for hours. She’s feeling good and enjoying herself and I don’t rush her or have the heart to hurry her up. There’s nowhere to sit there and by the time she’s done I’m baked and sore from standing around. It always reminds me of when Orville was dying of lymphoma and the last time I took him swimming at his favorite mud hole in Colorado and when we got back to the car he sat down and looked back at the park for about five minutes. He knew he would never be seeing it again. He was right. He was dead two days later. Going to the park and hunting mouses and frogs is what Roo lives to do. I don’t want to cheat her out of a minute of doing it. 

When they’re on the bank, these little green frogs are so somnolent that they don’t notice Roo unless she practically steps on them, and as she only pounces on them if she sees them move first, they have nothing to fear. They’re already skittering into the water by the time she sees them. 

The frogs may have nothing to fear, but I wish I could say the same for a certain groundhog last week. Roo has been targeting it for years, spending hours working its network of holes in the woods without success. Sometimes the groundhog isn’t there and Roo knows it, but she never forgets and always at least checks. The groundhog’s luck finally ran out. It was a matter of poor timing. The groundhog wasn’t expecting a car to roll up, or for it to disgorge such a rapid enemy. Roo must have heard the groundhog the instant the door opened, because she jumped straight out and bolted into the woods and came out five seconds later with it dead in her mouth. At least it was fast. Roo must have struck like a viper. 

This groundhog was not as big as the one who nearly killed Roo in Indiana when she made the mistake of clamping her jaws on the wrong end, giving the groundhog the chance to swing around and plant its teeth in Roo’s neck, but while this might have been a lesser fight, this one was the most important capture of her life. It erased any doubts she might have been having about how she was doing. The first thing she did was to bring the ground hog over to make sure I saw it. I don’t like seeing any animal killed, but Roo is  a born predator and as far as she’s concerned the groundhog is a coming feast. If you give Roo a raw bone she will not eat it. She will bury it and check on it from time to time until it’s sufficiently rotted before eating it, which is why Roo buries her kills instead of eating them on the spot. It’s also why I zap bones in the microwave before giving them to her.

For this groundhog she spent 45 minutes digging 25 holes, but none of them were good enough. They weren’t deep enough or in the right kind of dirt or under soggy leaves that she decided wouldn’t do the job. A groundhog like that needs to be firmly in the ground if you want it to turn out right. Once she got it good and buried she went back to the pond for another swim and she was lit up with satisfaction and pride as she dunked her head underwater and snorted and kept looking at me to make sure I appreciated the moment as much as she did. Did you see that? Did you see that groundmouse? I caught that.

Since then, she’s gone back every day to unearth it, check on how it’s cooking and make sure to show it to me a few times. She pretends that she just happens to be walking nonchalantly near me, but she goes out of her way to bring it to the path where I am to let me see it. I tell her what a great mouse hunter she is. I tell her what a great groundmouse hunter she is, and she holds her head low and walks at a dead slow pace for a moment in  humble acceptance of the praise before digging another round of experimental holes until she get it right again. When Roo’s lymphoma first appeared and she seemed to be sinking so rapidly, and as we barreled the 1320 miles northbound and I saw in the rear view mirror tilted down to keep an eye on her how uncomfortable she was as she tried to find a  position that didn’t hurt in the back seat of the car as we drove north and I was sure she was dying, I kept wishing on her behalf that she hadn’t caught her last mouse. Here she is, six weeks later, and she’s killed one of the kings or queens of all mouses. I’m sorry for the groundmouse, but glad for Roo. I suppose it’s more indicative of my own moral failings, placing Roo’s spirit above that groundhog’s life, and, believe me, I am sorry about that.

Roo had to return to the vet for chemo on Tuesday. Because of how badly she reacted to the previous dose, though of a different and more predictably intolerable drug, the vet decided to space out the two drugs that would normally have been administered together this time. She only received vincristine. It doesn’t seem to have affected her at all. Roo seems completely healthy and happy, better than she has in months, up until the time the tumor was growing undetected in her forepaw. The worst thing is knowing that this is temporary, trying not to anticipate the inevitable. The reason I haven’t written another update in over a week is because some mechanism in my mind was at work, making me pretend, or helping me to forget that there is anything wrong. But the truth is that every time I dry Roo or pet her, I’m dreading what I know I will eventually feel when a lymph node swells up again. None of the thinking downstream of that is any good, and the more one thinks about it, the worse it gets.

There is a major design flaw in the Golden retriever. The fine hairs behind the ears are especially hard to dry. Though Roo isn’t one of them, lots of Goldens get ear infections, and the dampness in that area can’t help. Without blow drying them or baking them in the sun, they stay wet for hours and hours. Roo loves nothing more than for me to dry them by combing them with my hand while we’re driving and she sits in the passenger seat of the car. She nudges my hand with her nose and bats me with her paw to make me do it. And when I’m doing that, I’m reaching the mandibular lymph nodes that were the first to swell, the first sign that she was sick. Every time I feel something hard on her body — a shoulder blade or some bone protruding when she’s lying down — a shot of adrenaline rises in me and I and stop breathing for a second while I verify that it’s not a swollen gland.

Though there was only a small chance that Roo would have reacted badly to this round of chemo, the possibility of her being sick two days later when there would be Fourth of July fireworks was worrisome. Side effects from chemo can take a few days to appear. Being a little sick during fireworks would not kill Roo. She was just be more tortured than usual. But I do believe that she would not survive a prolonged assault of thunderstorms when she is at her weakest. I don’t know if she would have survived last week if we had been in souther-style thunderstorms. She would never eat or drink. She would be panicked on top of being sick. Her digestion would shut down. She would have to be hospitalized.

One of the benefits of what a civilized place Brunswick is is that the fireworks around here aren’t too bad. There are only a few boneheads so committed to being assholes that they just have to blow off their personal supplies, but the municipal exhibition is only about a half hour long right after sunset and then that’s that, with none of the endless gunfire of the south. Still, the vet prescribed xanax for Roo. Trazadone has done nothing for Roo, neither has CBD oil, Thundershirts or anything. Since Roo was feeling healthy, I gave her the vet’s maximum recommended dose of two milligrams. That way, I could see the effect on her at a time when she wasn’t dealing with being more ill in preparation for the inevitable days when long storms hit and she is. It seemed like a high dose, considering that the human dose is one-eighth to one-quarter as much. It must work differently in dogs. The xanax calmed Roo down but didn’t knock her out. In fact, she seemed to be feeling pretty good. She was relaxed and only at the height of it did she turn down a piece of turkey. When the bigger explosions came, she still insisted on climbing up on the dinette seat to cram in next to me and hide and pant, but it was nowhere near as bad as it had could have been.

We’re going to remain stuck in the camper. I’m resigned to the fact that Roo will never get out of it. There just aren’t any rentals. In the local classifieds, there are no longer even any ads at all. For the few online rentals that are legit and not Craigslist scams (every single one I’ve responded to has been a scam), 90 percent of them don’t allow dogs, period. Of the rest, the cheap ones are always up a flight of stairs or two, and there will come a time when walking up stairs will be too difficult or even impossible for Roo. That’s my main regret. Roo is used to living in the camper by now, but it’s noisy as hell in here. Now that the floor is rotting, the developing hole makes my bed creak so loudly that Roo avoids hers, which is next to it. I’ve moved to the other side of the bed to try to minimize that creaking — it doesn’t take much; if I so much as move an inch to adjust a pillow there is loud creaking — but Roo then comes to the other side of the bed to stay closer to me and the space on that side is too narrow for her to turn around if her belly is troubling her. Lately she has been able to turn around there again, but she couldn’t when she was sick and when her liver and spleen were enlarged and her belly was swollen. It’s still a little swollen, but the vet says that’s just a beer belly from the prednisone. But there we are. There’s no way out. At least Chig is for the moment feeling good, and that’s all that counts. The whole goal of her treatment is to maximize the quality of her life for as long as possible. That’s what we’re doing.

With apologies to groundhogs.



Day 32: Roo hasn't felt this good in a long time

After the intense difficulty Roo has had over the past month, I’m having trouble believing that she’s feeling as good as she is. She hasn’t been as enthusiastic or in as good a mood since at least March. Maybe even February.

That tumor she had in her paw threw me off. When she was limping and tired, I thought it was from that. She had bloodwork at the vet in Oklahoma for her paw surgery in early April, and there was nothing to indicate that she might have cancer. Still, had I realized that she was in more trouble than just that, maybe things would be different. Maybe her chances for a longer remission would be better.

As it is, though, she is already in remission. I don’t know if the severity of her cancer when it showed up last month means that the remission won’t be as long. I suppose there’s no point in thinking about that, but it’s hard not to.

In the meantime, her progress has been astonishing, especially after the strong reaction she had to her last chemo drug, doxirubicin. That one floored her. She was sicker than I’ve ever seen her on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday she started to get her energy and spirits back. Since then she’s been as good as new.

When you have a dog with a disease as serious as Roo’s, you start to get a little confused by the way they act. Was she just tired this morning when she didn’t want to get up? Or was it just Roo, who always liked to sleep late, being Roo? When she wanted to get back in the camper after going out for a short walk, was that because she wasn’t feeling good? We’re still in the window when the last blast of chemo could still get her down.

Around three this afternoon, Roo started to get anxious. She gave me some side-eye and a few groans.

“What’s the matter Chig?” I asked her. She just looked at me like I was some kind of idiot.

“Do you want to go to the park?” I said.

She jumped up, wagged her tail and stretched and yawned. Those yawns are what she does when she’s thinking about executing mouses.

On the walk, Roo never dragged. She ran up hills, down hills, bounded after chipmunks and squirrels, excavated an enormous pit. When she made it to Tadmouse Pond, she forgot all about the distaste she developed for tadmouses after the one time she caught one and found out how disgusting they taste. There weren’t any, but she was looking. When she wagged her tail, she wagged it at a speed she hasn’t for months. When she met other dogs on the trail, she assumed her usual swagger.

Finally I had to tell her that we had to go home because the old daddy couldn’t keep up with her, and it was true. My legs were killing me. She kindly allowed me this and didn’t argue. She doesn’t argue much these days. It’s almost as if the last month of being so deathly ill softened her up a little. Whatever it is, it seems like she’s an even a sweeter dog than she’s always been, which was always sweet.

Day 28: Roo comes out into the light


Rooki got some relief from the meds and IV fluids at the hospital on Friday. She was still sick and miserable and weak, but her level of distress was improved and at least she was able to lie still and get some rest. One of the drugs prescribed, mirtazapine, acts an an appetite stimulant, and by evening, with some coaxing and henad-feeding her a tiny bite at a time, Roo ate a little cooked beef and rice. The metronidazole, lomotil and Proviable helped a little with the diarrhea, though it still haunted her throughout the day. She was too weak to stand up, let alone get outside, and she seemed upset and embarrassed by any small accident, not matter how much I encouraged her. When I cleaned her with wet towels where she lay, she sighed with deep relief. Later in the day, she finally took a sip of water.

The diarrhea stopped on Saturday morning and Roo took a good drink of water just as I was about to load her up to go to the vet for more IV fluid. maybe the message had finally gotten through to her, because I told her a million times that if she didn’t drink from the bowl I had been sliding under her nose every ten minutes she was going to have to go back to the vet. During the day, she pecked at the occasional cookie. In the early evening, I had to go to the store and didn’t want to leave her alone because I knew it would stress her more than coming with me. I lifted her into the car, which she has always found offensive. She didn’t mind now, even if she made another embarrassed wag, tail low and slow.

When we got to town, Roo sat up in the passenger seat and looked around with interest. She always enjoys a walk in town.

”Do you want to go for a walk, Chig?” I asked her. She did.

it was slow going. Roo seemed disoriented, and it was an effort for her, but she wanted to walk and it was good for her. After a few minutes we got back in the car and I bought her a rotisserie chicken and we brought it back to the camper and she loved that. I worried about giving her too much, and I suppose I did because later she became sick again. I spent the rest of the night in the floor with her. Being close to me makes her breathe more easily and she lost patience with me and batted at me with her paw any time I got up, as if to say, “What do you think you’re doing?”

She was gassy and her stomach was growling and her belly seemed tight, and what with the diarrhea having stopped for so many hours, I was sure that what she really needed was to get outside, but she wouldn’t go. It was night, a condition she will only take on in emergencies or when she is feeling confident or when there’s a suspected animal to chase. She wouldn’t risk it. Over the course of three hours I kept trying to convince her, but she was resolute. Absolutely not.

I managed about two hours of sleep before checking on her again. She was sleeping soundly and I left her alone and tried to get back to sleep myself, but it was impossible. I wanted to make some coffee, but Roo was lying in an unusual spot for her — in fact, in a way she had never laid before — with her back against the stove and sink cabinet, so there was no way to make it without disturbing her, so I abandoned the idea. Around 11, she woke and wanted to go outside.

As soon as she got outside, she went to the grass and dragged her butt, which scared me because the first sign of her lymphoma was her doing that because her vagina had swollen. I checked her and saw, to my enormous relief, that she was only scratching because she had had more diarrhea overnight and it was uncomfortably caked between her legs. That’s why she was lying against the sink and stove. She was keeping out of any unpleasant spots on the floor. I removed the bandage around her arm so she could get the first soaking from the hose she’d had in nearly two weeks. Her wound looked like it had finally turned the corner. It wasn’t nasty at all, and Roo luxuriated in a long, cool shower.

After she took a pee and wiggled and snorted in the grass, I assumed she would want to go back to sleep. Even in the best of times, 11 in the morning is not what Roo has ever considered a civilized hour to do anything but sleep. But she began to walk towards the street and looked back at me as if to say, “Well? You coming?”

”Do you want to go for a walk, Laroupka?” I asked her. She gave me a look that suggested we had better things to do than stand around and jawbone about it. I slipped her old collar on and, at the end of the Flexi, Roo started walking quickly. She looked just like the old Roo. I couldn’t believe it. I thought she would run out of steam by the time we got to the corner, but she wanted to keep going to the park nearby. I let her off the leash when a squirrel appeared and she took off after it, bounding over the bushes and branches in her trademark series of pounces.

It’s hard to describe what seeing that made me feel, but you can imagine.

We kept walking along the path we had been avoiding on our other recent walks here because of the numerous swimming holes that Roo could not go in with her wounded arm. This time, Roo was allowed to swim all she wanted, and she dunked her head and swished it around under the clear water over and over again and snorted and smiled. It was a great moment.

I was wary of going too far and tiring Roo out, but she didn’t slow down. For the first time since March, Roo was acting like healthy Roo. Her goal was obvious. She wanted to go all the way to the tadmouse pond, about three-quarters of a mile away. I decided to risk it. If she started running out of steam we would turn back.

She didn’t run out of steam, though. She was up to it. She kept her speed up for all of her hour-long walk. She didn’t dig holes or run much, but the improvement was more than I had thought possible only hours before.

We’re at the laundromat now. All of our Dollar Store carpets and Rooki’s bedding needed a good wash after the last two nights (we went through the entire stack of the absorbent pads the vet gave me). They’re ready to come out of the dryer now, so it’s time to go in and get them and take Roo back to the camper.

9:56 PM update; Roo is exhausted tonight. I hope we didn’t overdo it.

Day 26: Back to the hospital


Last night, Roo kept feeling worse. She struggled to sleep, and when she managed to, even her light snoring sounded uncomfortably thin and strained. Once in a while she awoke with a start and jumped up wanting to go outside. But then all she wanted to do was lie down. By dawn, she wanted to do this so often the I left her outside with the door open because I am desperately out of sleep. She didn’t want to come back in the camper. She just laid there.

I didn’t mention yesterday the disturbing conversations I’d had with the vet’s office. When I called and asked to speak to the vet at her convenience, her staff said she wouldn’t. I understand that she’s busy, operating, all that. I asked that she call me any time she gets a few minutes, no matter how late. The person at the desk said it wouldn’t happen. She was one of those people who doesn’t let you get a word in, who talks over you non-stop, saying something mundane and repetitive as if speaking to an idiot while ignoring everything you say. Finally, I had enough. The exhaustion and frustration was too much. I had already gotten the message, that they wouldn’t put me in touch with the vet, and I said, “Look, since I can’t get a word in edgewise, I’m going to hang up now,” and I did. I figured it was going to be time to have to find another vet again. The whole reason for getting rid of the last one was because of the impossibility of getting through to her at critical times — first the catheter wound from the chemo leak and the rotting skin that has now taken nearly a month to heal, and now this episode of bad sickness — and that there would not be a repeat with this one was a promise I needed, and received from her, before I transferred Roo there.

This morning when I called back, because it was obvious Roo was going to have to come in,  and they said that the vet would come in to see Roo. Roo was in bad shape and didn’t want to get in the car. She made it out of the camper. I had to lift her into the car. 

When the vet came into the exam room, I thanked her for coming in.

“I was coming in anyway,” she said. Then what was the problem in the first place and then she accused me of being rude to her staff. “You hung up on her,” she said.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said.

She’s the kind of lady who’s used to laying down the law. “I won’t tolerate it,” she said.

“I got sick of being spoken over while I was trying to explain what was wrong and she wouldn’t stop talking and I said that since I couldn’t get a word in I was going to hang up. Would you like to fire me? Go ahead. This is ridiculous.” I was steaming. Roo was lying there on the floor in distress and feeling like hell and now this bullshit.

“No, I didn’t say that,” she said.

“Then what’s the point of this? You’re the one who promised I’d never have a problem getting in touch with you. I wasn’t asking anyone to drag you out of an operating room. Just a call back at any time you could and she said to forget it, that you wouldn’t talk to me at any time. Then asked me questions and didn’t listen to any of the answers. Just interrupt every thing I said to tell me I would never get you on the phone.”

She said all right, she’d ask them about it.

She finally took a look at Roo and brought in her back. Roo was going to need a liter of IV fluids since she hadn’t been drinking all the day before, with the exception of the one drink she had when she was Virginia when I went to the pharmacy. I sat out in the waiting room, unslept for days, in a constant state of worry and sadness about Roo and now given this nonsense to steam over.

The doctor came out to tell me that Roo was being given her IV fluids. Her bloodwork looked good. Nearly normal, in fact. And her lymph nodes were normal. And an ultrasound showed no more swelling of the spleen and liver. Signs of actual clinical remission. The chemo was doing its  job.

On the other hand, the chemo was also chewing Roo up much more than it was supposed to. While in back, Roo had had a sudden bout of uncontrollable diarrhea. That brewing in her all night must have been what had been making her so uncomfortable. And she couldn’t get it to unload. All those times she wanted to go outside, and nothing, just pressure building up in her belly.

The vet said that she would have to think about using this drug again on Roo. The dose might have to be reduced or, she said, it might have to be cut out altogether. “It’s too hard on me, it’s too hard on you and it’s too hard on her,” she said. I just shut up because I didn’t think I’d do much good by wondering out loud what difference it made how hard it was on her or me.

The clinic gave me some absorbent pads to spread out and I put one in the car where Roo was going to lie down, and the poor bear had another round of the diarrhea on the way back.

“Goo girl, Chig!” I said. “Let her rip! That’s my bear!” but she was embarrassed. “Don’t worry, Little Bear,” I kept telling her, but it upset her. Back at the camper I rinsed her off and dried her, spread a few more pads out and in she went. 

She continues not to eat or drink. She’s resting more comfortably than she did last night and the diarrhea seems to have abated. If she keeps refusing to drink overnight, she’ll have to go back for more IV fluids tomorrow, and another blood count on Tuesday. It’s pretty hard on Junior. My main worry now is that if this last chemo drug isn’t supposed to hit its peak until seven to ten days after treatment, that Roo could be in for some rough days before she gets to enjoy entering remission. If she starts vomiting or if she has more uncontrollable diarrhea she’ll have to be hospitalized.

[Apologies for typos, etc. I can’t bring myself to re-read this and correct it. And again, another old picture. It just somehow seems unfair to take any pictures of Roo feeling the way she does now.]