Day 78: Roo soldiers on

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All I can go on is my own personal experience, but in that experience nothing has ever been this hard. Not getting taken out of a mud hut to be shot in the middle of the night deep in one jungle, or getting captured by committed war criminals in another one, nor escaping from them, not my admittedly brief jailings, detentions in five countries and ejections from a couple of others, not paralysis, not being crushed under a jeep, not acrimonious divorce, not shame or regret or loss. Nothing has come close to trying to nurse Roo back to whatever health she might still have ahead of her. Many of you reading this have done it, and you know. And doing this singlehandedly in this tiny camper has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is a 24 hour preoccupation, a constant struggle to try to mitigate the problems that come up constantly and seem to change by the hour. The only thing to do is to watch closely and try to address symptoms, but you never know for sure what the trouble is and you can’t ask.

Roo had a terrible time bouncing back from the chemo treatment she received two weeks ago. She was never in pain and she never seemed especially distressed, though that could have been because was too lethargic and rundown to express more. The worst of it seemed to have been the way the chemo upset her stomach. She had loose stool for nearly two weeks and at the tail end of the doses of anti-nausea meds she was getting she began to look worried, as if she was expecting something she had hoped was done with to come back. She refused food for a few days. The nausea and feeling like she had been poisoned, which she essentially had been, must have been overwhelming. But how brave she was. You would have been as proud of her as I was. You would have gotten more proud of her every day. I did.

For about ten days she had some small issues of incontinence, which upset her and embarrassed her and no dog likes being soiled. When it happened, she would pick her head up, looking surprised and confused. She didn’t realize it had happened until she felt it in her fur and on her skin. From what I read in the cancer dog forums, this is common.  When I washed her – not an easy thing to do for a dog who is too weak to stand up – she would slowly wag her tail, the only times for days when she did, a wag of embarrassed gratitude, and then she would be relieved, standing with her hind legs in the tub and  relaxing, her head dropping and her eyes closing as she felt the warm water and my working everything out of her fur and do her best to stand still and lift her tail. Once she was rinsed clean, those moments of relief were the best ones she had for days. 

For five of those days, the only fluid she got was from a bag hanging from the shower curtain and through the needle I put in her back. Being able to do that in the camper was a huge relief to me. There is nothing to it, and in 15 minutes a liter of solution is administered and the problem of dehydration is gone. 

In the mornings, Roo managed to go outside for a few minutes. She was always old to get outside and flung herself on the grass and wiggled to scratch her back and lie around and listen to the sounds and see who might be in the trees, but after that and some quick chores she was tired quickly. After I lifted her back into the camper she would stay there for the rest of the day. During the worst of it, she wouldn’t move until the next day, not so much as to shift positions, and then I cleaned her the best I could where she lay on the floor whenever the need arose.

After that first week, she began to surprise me by suggesting that she wanted to go for a walk. I would help her into the car and we’d drive to the frog pond where she splashed around for half an hour or so. Then one day she didn’t want to get in the car and walked to the end of the driveway instead. We walked for about a half an hour, down to the cool stream nearby. She wanted to go farther, but I knew it would be too much and she didn’t argue about turning back. It was probably too much as it was. She could hardly get up again after that. She still can’t.

The following paragraph contains a spoiler alert, so those of you who have not yet seen Roo’s favorite example of squirrel cinema may want to skip it. The movie, which is eight hours long, is all shot on one location. A camera is pointed at a cutting board in someone’s backyard. It is covered with bird seeds and a few peanuts. A squirrel rummages through the seeds. It squawks and chirps. Once in a while the squirrel runs off to fend off a lurking crow who would like some of the seeds but who never works up the courage to chase the squirrel away, which one would think would be easy enough to do. The crow doesn’t think so. Sometimes the squirrel notices one of the peanuts and picks it up. Recognizing the treasure, it carries the peanut off. You might think that would be the end of the movie – an enigmatic ending leaving it up to the viewer to make of what they will – but the parade of life goes on and is never interrupted for long. There is, just as in real life, always another squirrel ready to take the place of the last one. The cinematography is perfect for a dog, evidently just a cell phone on a stick that is never moved at all. You might think that a movie like that could warp your brain. The squirrel, or squirrels (it’s hard to tell how many of them there are), never once shut up, and while that makes the film difficult to have running for the hour and twenty minutes at a time that have so far been all I can take, it’s exactly what a dog likes. I’m sure when Roo feels better she’ll write a 20,000-word essay on it for an obscure French film magazine.

We have seen this movie many, many times.

The wound on Roo’s arm finally looked like it was healing yesterday. A good, solid scab built up for the first time. Overnight she managed to get her e-collar off, though, and she licked it back down to blood.

Stupidly I said, “You didn’t! You didn’t lick that arm, Chuggie Che Beker! OH, ROO, WHY DID YOU LICK THE ARM?!” If you don’t think seeing that didn’t reduce me to tears, you’re wrong. I was so hopeful that that wound was healed, and subjecting her to the e-collar for the last several days was all for nothing.

Roo is still weak. She hasn’t wanted to go for a walk for the last two days, but today she had to be rousted into the car and off to see Dr. Mason for another round of chemo and another cold laser treatment on the wound. It had to be done. She only has a few more rounds of chemo left, as she’s on a shortened chemo protocol because of the lymphoma vaccine she will be getting and which has extended the lives of patients with the type of cancer she has. Maybe she will get some time to be Roo again.

How much time, though, no one can say. Roo is in clinical remission, but lymphoma always comes back. Not knowing whether the discomfort and sickness of chemo is a fair bet on her behalf is the hard part.