Day 96: Good mood. Bad arm.


The wound on Roo’s right arm from the very first chemo treatment she had three months ago is once again so close to healing that it seems (though it has seemed many times before) like if she can be made to leave it alone for only a few more days it might finally stop troubling her. Nothing but an e-collar has kept her off the wound. In her sleep, she works her tongue so far down any bandage as to damage the wound. Even the e-collar she’s managed to get off. The inside of the camper is so tiny that it’s asking a lot, especially of a sick dog with bigger problems to worry about, to wear it.

But wear it she has been. It’s miserable for her because she can’t get into the corner she wants to be in, beside the bed. There’s a bigger corner, specially built for her on the other side, but she doesn’t like that one any more. Another mystery.

Early this morning she was bumping around trying to get comfortable. I took the e-collar off and pulled a sock over the scab. That’s workable when I can keep an eye on her, and so I did for the next hours.

She lay in one spot from seven in the morning until five in the afternoon. She didn’t move at all. That made it 34 hours since the last time she pooped, and that one, the day after the chemo, wasn’t good, so I worried all day about getting her out. But she wouldn’t go. I hated to leave her alone, but she needed some meds from the pharmacy and I had to get there before they closed. I dashed over there and to the pet store for soft treats, since she is refusing anything hard, even jerky, which I suspect could be from enlarged lymph nodes in her throat. 

The worst thing about nursing a dog with a complicated illness is that they can’t tell you what’s going on, what they’re feeling, what hurts or is making them sick. When I got back, she still hadn’t moved a muscle. She was going to have to go outside sooner or later, but I didn’t know if I should let her stay asleep or try to get her moving. Ultimately I convinced myself that she as exhausted from the bad night’s sleep in the e-collar as she was from the chemo and I decided to try to lure her outside with her beloved squirrel TV. 

“Chig,” I asked her, “do you want me to show you the squirrel?”

Squirrels on an iPad are evidently more interesting these days than squirrels outside, because she jumped up and came outside before I even turned the squirrel on, nosing at the tablet and bumping up and down as we made our way to the lawn. There. she had no interest in emptying anything. She just wanted to lie down and watch the squirrel.

I couldn’t believe the good mood Roo was in. Virginia and Jim came over to say hello, and though Roo didn’t get up, she was all wags and smiles while Virginia scratched her.

My mood had been in the gutter all day. I didn’t know if Roo was just sick (just?) from the chemo or if the cancer itself was doing it. But just seeing her smile and wag like that and show so much interest in watching the squirrel fight the snake boomeranged my mood. I shouldn’t use the rollercoaster cliché, because I’ve never felt a thing other than complete boredom and surprise that anyone would find them frightening on any rollercoaster, but this is a rollercoaster. A general sense of terrible foreboding with abrupt moments of relief and joy.

She wouldn’t walk, though. She was too tired – until I took the iPad and started walking with it. Roo had no interest in going into the woods behind the lawn. She’s too fastidious and doesn’t like to pollute her immediate environment. Roo wanted to head to the street. Roo was walking perfectly. She was interested and walking quickly. There were a couple of dogs out there and Roo stood tall and with tail held high and allowed them to greet her. She seemed to feel fine. It’s about 850 feet to the trail entrance, and she was walking with determination in that direction. I worried that any distance at all would be too much, but I gave in, if that’s what it was going to take to get her to disburden herself.

As soon as we got there, Roo started to feel some pain in her arm. She sat down and held the arm up in the air. It was trembling. It shot an arrow through me. I assumed it was the enormously swollen lymph glands she has there but I checked her paw for good measure. 

Gently I rubbed the fur on her arm in the swollen area and said, “I know, Little Bear. I know the arm hurts. We’ll just sit here,” and I waited with her until she got up on her own. It hurt too much for her to make it more than 20 or 30 feet at a time before she had to sit down again and hold the arm up. The trembling was awful. Luckily, we were just feet from the road. We made it there and Roo lay down in the middle of it. I called Jim and asked him to pick us up. I only had to wave a couple of cars around us, neither of whom asked whether anything was wrong that a dog had to lie down in the middle of the road, surprising in this neighborhood, before Jim arrived.

As soon as he got there, Roo got up and hopped right in the car. She made it look like her arm wasn’t even hurting. In the car, though, she was trembling a little in the back legs. Again the damnable question – is this a chemo thing or a lymphoma thing?

In the photo accompanying this post, you can see how huge Roo’s left shoulder area is. It is terribly swollen, hard on front and as soft as a water balloon at the elbow. And, because she can’t take Apoquel while she’s on chemo, her dermatitis is back with a rage, and where the puffy skin is rubbing in the soft skin of her armpit, she has a sore that itches her.

Roo wanted nothing but to watch squirrel TV in the driveway when we got back. She’s not in distress. She didn’t display any other signs of pain. But she also wouldn’t eat the ground turkey and rice I cooked her.

That’s how we end August. Not knowing whether these symptoms will persist, get better, or worsen. Not knowing whether the rescue chemo protocol will buy her some more good time. Not knowing whether the chemo will be making her feel bad in the coming days and whether it’ll be hard to tell if it’s the treatment or the disease bothering her.