Up on the bed that evening, in her sleep, Roo began to display signs of distress. Lying on her side, she began to pant. The only time she had panted like that was when she was on prednisone for the first five weeks of her cancer treatment and so I thought this was again the prednisone. This was one of the more difficult things about this last stage of her life: I wanted to believe that something relatively small could account for the much worse bigger picture. Instead of accepting that she was about to die, I clung to what was becoming an almost silly hope that the rescue round of chemo might still kick in and nudge her back into remission. This failure to accept things as they were would spiral out of control over the coming weekend.
Her discomfort up on the bed that evening scared me. She seemed weak and miserable. She was exhausted and trying to sleep. I got off the bed and went to the other side so I could get down in the corner and get closer to her head. She was desperate to sleep. Her eyes were half closed but her breathing was so fast and so hard that that, and whatever pain or anxiety or sickness she was feeling were making it impossible.
“Chigi Bear Beker,” I said while I was holding her, “it’s okay if you need to leave,” and I tried not to let her feel me trying not to weep with my face in the fur beside her ear.
I was wrestling with the idea of giving Roo a trazadone to see if that would help. She seemed so wound up. For an hour or so I waited, though, because Roo was tired of taking pills. I think that over the course of the 100 days she had had about 1500 pills jammed down her throat. She was good about it, always quick to open her mouth and let me put pills in her throat and then give me a smile as soon as she licked her nose when she had swallowed them. But for the last few days, as her appetite waned, she had begun to grunt quietly. She had had enough of them. Finally I decided to try it and gave her the trazadone and after a while she did seem to feel better.
Her mood improved and she even accepted a little piece of turkey. When I saw that I was so happy I tore up several slices and put them on a small cutting board we picked up in Mexico all those years ago and she ate all of that. She seemed to be feeling better. She had rolled upright.
Roo was never a licky dog. Once in a while she wanted to give me a lick, but even though I welcomed it, it was as if she wasn’t sure it was okay. Over the years we settled on a lick on the ear. Even that she seemed to regard as a stolen kiss, always looking a little sly and smiley after she did it. Except when we went to the park, when I would lean close to her to get my hat from the floor on her side of the car and she would always give me a lick on the ear to signal her appreciation of our going hunting together.
Lately, though, Roo had thrown her caution to the wind and had started to lick my face often. She did it with some urgency, trying to communicate many things. I’m pretty sure they were love and thanks, because that’s what she did in fact communicate. And now, still up on the bed with me on my knees in the narrow space beside her, she did it again.
“I thought you were a goner for a minute there, Little Bear,” I said. She looked at me with her big bright eyes.
I was hoping to keep her mood on the upswing so I said, “Hey, Chig, do you want to see the squirrel?” meaning the squirrel video.
She put her ears up and beat her tail once. I brought the tablet over and turned it on and showed her the squirrel video. She seemed less interested in it than she had been so I thought I’d try something new on her. I had downloaded a nature series on Netflix and put that on.
There were cheetahs running and elephants with their young and birds doing mating dances with fancy plumage and whales feeding on krill. Roo was glued to it and I positioned myself to lie next to her so I could narrate it for her. She always liked that, even if all I was saying was things like, “Look at that, now they’re walking in the room,” or, “They are getting the car, Chig. Probably going to the park,” or, “Look at that, Chigi – a tree.”
On the tablet, some gorillas appeared in a lush African rainforest.
“Look at that, Chig,” I said. “Those are gorillas. They look just like your daddy.”
They fascinated Roo until the picture cut to a close-up of one of the gorillas sitting in the bush and slowly eating something leafy. The filmmakers must have planted the camera in the bush somewhere. Suddenly, a fly flew right up the microphone with a loud buzzing sound. Roo grimaced and flattened her ears out and jumped up and tried to bolt off the bed. I got ahold of her to stop her before she could because it’s a high jump and she had been needing help getting in and out of the car, and I didn’t know if such a high jump would hurt her swollen arm. I lifted her to the floor. The buzzing of the fly had upset her badly and she rushed around looking for a place to hide. There was of course nowhere to hide in the camper even in less critical times. She tried her sleeping corner – the tighter of the two; she had stopped using the wider one I had built especially for her as soon as she got sick. She went in there and jammed her nose in the corner and started panting again, the sound of the air constricted at her flattened nose hissing against the wall. But she was scared the fly would come back and came out and tried the dinette seat she always resorted to in thunderstorms.
I did all I could to calm her down. I showed her the tablet was off, I squeezed in next to her the way she always wanted me to when there was thunder, but she was upset for a long time. I think the buzzing of the fly threatened her because she couldn’t snap back at the fly, maybe because it created bad sensations in her neck as the lymph nodes swelled or because she was getting too weak. The idea of a fly attacking her in the camper had punctured her feeling of security in it. The thought that there was a big fly who was going to harass her was too much for her to bear. Eventually she calmed down, but the fly ruined the last source of entertainment for her. She suspected that the fly would appear even in the squirrel videos she had gotten so much pleasure from. She would never trust the tablet again. I would try once or twice more over the coming days, but just the sight of the tablet upset her.
I began to wrestle with the final question. Lots of people say you’ll know when it’s time – but I didn’t know that I would know any such thing. I didn’t know when it was Orville’s time, defaulting instead to the worst kind of hope, the kind that makes someone else suffer. Was I waiting too long? Was Roo in pain? I couldn’t tell. She seemed only tired, but she was always the mistress of her pain and never let it show.
I didn’t know. I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing keeping Roo alive. I didn’t know how to balance the fact that she was still showing many signs of happiness and many of discomfort and exhaustion. I could not imagine euthanizing Roo – killing Roo – if she still had moments of joy ahead of her. The question ran through my mind constantly.
The next day Roo was feeling a little better. The trazadone seemed to have helped her sleep a little. In my notes I write that I didn’t know if Roo would live the week out. She went for the last swim I wrote about in the last post the next day. The weekend would be here. If Roo’s suffering became worse then there would be nothing to do. None of the vets around here works on the weekend other than at the emergency rooms and I knew that nothing would be worse than forcing Roo into the car for a long, uncomfortable 45-minute drive and then into a hospital to die.
Roo held on, though. She began to have some gastrointestinal trouble, but she wagged her tail, she walked out in the lawn, and she lay for hours on end in the driveway. Once or twice she bolted after a squirrel or chipmunk.
Then, early on Friday morning, some hope appeared in my email. It was the possibility of a cure.