It was raining hard on the drive back from the hospital. Roo worries that hard rain means thunder, so she was concerned, but also too tired not to fall asleep. When I told her there would be no thunder it was good enough for her and she was out cold. When we got back to the camper, I expected her to want to stay in the car, where she often prefers to rest, but she wanted to get in the camper right away, probably because of the overnight separation. The main things Roo needed were rest and food. After three days of refusing food and then the first dose of chemo, prednisone, dexamethasone and a few other meds, it seemed like it would be better to take it easy once she ate anything. When she showed some interest in the rotisserie chicken I picked up for her on the way to the hospital, I only gave her a little. She ate it, but a few minutes later did a bit of tongue flipping that she’s done in the past when her stomach was upset. It went away after a few minutes, and an hour later I gave her some more chicken, and by the time I turned the lights out for her around 11, she had eaten three small plates. She wouldn’t touch anything else, not even the fresh goat milk I was lucky to find, and which she normally loves.
She wanted to sleep under the dinette. I sat beside her. Any time I got up she batted the floor with her paw, the way she bats me with it when she’s sitting in the passenger seat and wants attention. The exhaustion, the big swelling of her belly, the drive, the hospital stay and the meds had all taken a piece out of her.
Since Friday, Roo’s panting had been terrible, a constant indication of how uncomfortable she was. In the awful heat down south, even the short walks she took when necessary made it worse. Though she was still panting last night, it began to soften. I stayed up late to keep an eye on her and finally took a sleeping pill and went to bed. This prompted her to her old routine, and for the first time in days she went to her usual bed, which I took as a good sign. She had not been eating to lie in it at all. I think it must have been because it made the swelling in her belly from her enlarged liver and spleen and swollen abdominal lymph nodes more uncomfortable.
She didn’t stay in that bed overnight and went to the other side of the camper bed, where the space is much more cramped. Normally, she goes in there and performs an acrobatic maneuver in which she has to practically fold herself in half to turn herself around, but over the last few days that tun became impossible with the pressure in her gut and she only went in nose first and lay with her nose pressed into the corner. When I checked on her early in the morning, she had turned herself around. And she wasn’t panting. I gave her a little more chicken, which she ate right away, and a cookie, which she wouldn’t eat. Then she got her three and a half prednisone pills — thankfully tiny and easy to swallow — and I kept the camper dark until she decided to get up around 1 PM. She had been drinking plenty of water and would need to get up to offload it sooner or later.
We went outside and it was obvious that the Kahoo was feeling much better. I felt the lymph glands under her jaw. The were smaller. Her belly is still distended, but it seemed to me that it had gone down, too.
The main goal of coming to Maine was to escape the murderous heat and terrifying storms of the south, and the day didn’t disappoint. It rained hard all night, but without any of the thunder without which no rain seems to fall in the south, and hasn’t fallen on us in months, and when we went out it was cool and easy on Roo. I thought she would be too weak to do anything more than to go in the back yard here, but then she got interested in her old stomping grounds and drifted slowly towards the driveway. I put her car harness on — I stopped using the collar once those glands swelled up — and we walked, at a crawl, towards the park she used to go to every day.
“We’re not going to go to the park today, Chig,” I said to her.
She gave me that look that dogs use when they’re batting an idea around even though she knew it wasn’t a good idea.
“You’re not feeling too good, Chig. Let’s give it a few days. A little rest and you’ll be fine.”
She looked in the direction of the park and back at me. She was thinking that it was right there, a few steps away. How bad could it be to look? Or she was thinking that she owed me a walk.
“Nah. Not today. Today is going to be a sleepy day for you. Let’s go home.
She agreed and turned back towards the house. We were only a few feet away, but it was slow going. She needed a little cleaning and when we got back she was happy to get a little water on her backside, patted down with a towel and then she lay down on the cool pavement where I gave her a long overdue brushing and then we sat there and she went to sleep with me telling her she was the best girl in the world.
I was amazed at the effect of the first round of the drugs. She wasn’t feeling good, but the difference between yesterday and the day before is big. I don’t know if it’s just the dexamethasone and prednisone bringing the swelling down or if the L-asparaginase — the chemo agent she had yesterday — is already doing its job, or the combination, but it’s helping her quickly.
Virginia and her son Henry, home from his freshman year at college and about the best kid you’ll ever meet, pulled into the driveway while Roo was lying there. Roo developed an instant crush on Henry the first time she ever set eyes on him and she loves Virginia. She got up to say hi to them and wagged, not as fast you would if you were in the pink, and smiled and stretched. I realized I hadn’t seen her stretch in days. After a few minutes Roo wandered into the trees next to the driveway and nosed around for something. She came back out with a bleached bone she originally found two years ago and which I have twice thrown back into the woods on the occasion of leaving Brunswick. Every year she brings it back out and it sits beside the door. It’s a used-up bone. There’s nothing left to it. She just likes having it around.
She slept in the driveway for a while, then came inside. I lay on the floor with her, holding her head. That heavy, good dog head, her soft cheeks in my hands, her eyes closed, her breathing still delicate, but the panting gone. I told her how well she’s doing, how fast she’s getting better. That she was sick, which was why she had to see the doctor, and how the doctor was helping her and how she would be catching the king of squirrels in a matter of days. As I spoke to her her head got heavier as her muscles relaxed more. She has been asleep since.
The initial signs are encouraging. The whole point of the treatment is to stop the pain and to induce a remission. Though those remissions are never permanent, they are periods in which most of the cancer is gone and the body feels healthy, even if it is haunted by the wraith of the cancer. They are time for the dog to go about feeling like, and being a dog. I suppose this is a lightning version, a compressed example, of how the rest will go. Varying degrees of sickness, some days better than others. If for now we can get the discomfort in her belly and throughout her body, it’ll be a big first step.
Her follow-up visit with the oncologist is tomorrow afternoon. I don’t know if Roo will get a second round of chemo then or not. Dr. Gill said that she would give it to her if she didn’t respond to the first round or if she was still refusing food. Roo’s not going to be too delighted by returning to the hospital, but she’ll be all right. She better be. She’s going to be spending a lot of time there, hopefully, none of it as bad as her overnight in the ICU.