So much for what I'd planned to blog on this day. Evening finds me nowhere near what I'd set out for it to be…
(my evening post)
(the morning's reflection on the day that was)
The day started out orderly enough. I awoke to an alarm because I had a full day ahead--many things on the agenda, not the least of which included talking to several hundred second graders about goats. (Two of my favorite things.) Before launching in full throttle, I paused to do my morning rituals: a candle lit, a positive read; some time with God…a little writing. Before heading downstairs, I checked my emails. Cross checked my “to do’s”. I double checked my calendar for meetings AFTER the goat gab and pulled clothes to change into so as to not enter business meetings smelling like a goat.
Downstairs, I flipped on the TV to check the weather while scrubbing dog bowls, preparing goat bowls and multitasking my way to "the zone" where in the final 20 I'd have just enough time to shower and get out the door.
No longer is this my typical routine (for I try not to turn on TVs and I seldom book early morning meetings anymore as those hours are blocked for writing). But for the sake of 2nd graders and talking about goats, one makes exceptions.
It was reminiscent of my radio days where by 10 am I’d have juggled more meetings than most do in a week, and given the number of farm chores that now take precedence, I’d (once again) left zero room for emergencies. (What is it they say about how to make God laugh? Show him your list?)
This was no laughing matter.
Little did I know that for all my planning, my list was about to go out the window, why? Because Minsky (who had rallied from what I’d thought was a bowel obstruction just 10 days ago) now had a brand new problem. Minsky could not walk.
I noticed her a little less enthusiastic when we woke, so I let her sleep in; I’d save her breakfast for last. Given her age (she’s 14—or 98 in people years), I now tote her up and down the steps as the combination of arthritis and cataracts could make for quite the tumble (something we sadly experienced with her brother Ike, who suffered from SARDS --a disease of instant blindness, as in “overnight” …which I’ll save for another blog). Suffice it to say, Minks, ever by my side, is downstairs all day and upstairs all night, with her 19 pounds now a part of my farm girl workout routine for building upper body strength. By the time I got her up and out the door for her morning pee ‘n poo, I was aware something was painfully, terribly wrong. Not only was one hind leg totally paralyzed, the rest of her was in excruciating pain. She flinched to be touched, much less picked up. Something bad was happening here. My first thought was “The obstruction wasn’t a greenie, as I had concluded; the obstruction was clearly something much worse.”
I tried not to panic as I looked at the clock. No time to find a replacement, I’m a stickler for keeping my word, though inside I was torn to shreds for not wanting to leave my baby (or her me) even for the morning.
I called a friend to “Please come grab Minsky…I’ll make calls to my vet, the vet ER, the people who need to send her records over, etc. etc. I’ll keep with the schedule, make my talk, duck out early and meet up with you before they have completed a more thorough exam.” There was a minute of discussion as to whether the pick up came at home (leaving Minsky alone, which she hates) or grabbing her from my Jeep at the fair grounds, but I could not risk the even the brisk morning air should the sun hit my vehicle. The thought of something else rendering her more uncomfortable than she already was made that decision for me.
I would leave her at home. On the dining room table were her Xrays, a list of tests already run, her blood work up, the last she’d eaten, pee’d and poo’d…basically everything on Minsky the ER vet would ask so as to get them going while I got my own commitments seen to. We would reconvene when I could focus 100% on my girl and the painful decisions that clearly I was about to face.
Racing down my lane, I checked the clock. Plenty of time before the presentation, though I would be 10-15 late to meet with the coordinator to go over things, but given the situation I was sure she would be forgiving.
It was mid all of this multitasking that God stepped in.
I reached the coordinator who said, “We’ve been trying to reach you. Someone here with their goats brought a team. We have extra presenters and wanted to give you the option of making your talk another day.” This, before knowing anything about my emergency. I chalk these things up as “God signs”.
It was a microcosmic version of what Abraham must’ve felt when he saw that lamb in the thicket. Having taken Isaac up the mountain to be sacrificed per God’s request, he was cut off at the pass. This was never about sacrificing a son, but rather a test of his faith…a quiz of the most serious and spiritual kind.
I thanked the woman profusely. Called my friend coming to taxi Minsky. Texted my afternoon meetings and cleared my entire day as I made a U-turn in someone’s drive, heading back to the house to pick up my baby. We had a long day ahead and I needed to be fully present to cope with whatever decisions I would be facing.
It was three hours later before we had the prognosis. Turns out it wasn’t a blockage Minks was dealing with, but a herniated disc, the pain from which worsened with the slightest attempt to empty her bowels, which is why she quit trying.
The surgeon came in to explain my options. I could either a) leave Minsky in their care where they would confine her to a cage, run her through a CT-scan, and swiftly get her into surgery where her odds were decent they assured me, repeating more than once that “Age is not a disease” but not having any great proof that a dog of 14 could survive such a surgery. And if she did, given her breed’s life expectancy is around 15 years, my question was “Did I want her using up a percentage of her days in surgical recovery and physical therapy, weeks of which would render her nowhere near home.”
The second option was “Take her home. Start her on pain meds and muscle relaxers and anti-inflamatories. Confine her to small spaces and let her live out her days in the familiarity of her own home, hearing the sounds she knows well, smelling the smells that brighten her eyes, being surrounded by those who matter most to her.
Yes, I had been praying the whole way there, but my prayer was not “God keep her alive”. Anymore my prayers these days are “God, help me” and in this case “Thank you God, for the last 10 days you gifted us.” …These past 10 days (since her last emergency episode) likewise had presented us with a “quality of life” decision and since then, we have done our best to make every second count. And now, as I watched my baby girl tortured by pain, trying so very hard to be a good girl and not bite the mean people holding her sideways to show me how her reflexes worked, (showing me it was between this vertebrae and that that the problem was occurring), through tears I said, “Give her something for the pain. I’m taking her home.”
Somewhere in the midst of our many questions and issues, they had told me that the cost for the surgical option started somewhere between $3000 and $4000, assuming no complications. I looked at them and said “Honestly, you could give me this for free and I still would not choose this option, for to do so would be selfish. She deserves to ride this out peacefully; I will not add complications just because science knows how to repair a disc.”
With that I paid a second $300 tab in as many weeks and headed home. Minks, now woozy from her pain pills was now back in her familiar co-pilot seat and content not to be left with strangers, confined to a cage.
I carried her to the front yard, let Rosey out to watch over her, and came inside to invite neighbor friends to come visit over the Easter weekend. Once inside, I placed her on her favorite blanket in her favorite spot where she can hear her goats outside, smell food cooking inside and rest in the knowing that I am near. I gave her her meds as instructed and love like never before. After dinner (which she ate heartily) Boo joined us on the couch as is our evening ritual.
Toting her to bed, I placed her in her favorite spot and sang her goodnight as I spoke to her openly and honestly:
“ Minks, You’re a good gurrrl. I want you here always. And you will be here always. But you don’t have to stay on my account. Mama will be fine. Your spirit will be here always, but I do not want you to suffer. Just know whatever you decide, WHEN you decide it, is between you and God. The only prayers for me should be for my strength to let you go.”
By morning, I awoke to a surreal sense of serenity. I really can’t explain it. I could hear her breathing deeply (no doubt, aided by the muscle relaxers they’d prescribed). But I had resolved within myself that if I sensed in any way that she was in pain, (as she was when she woke up yesterday), I was prepared to spend my Good Friday saying goodbye.
Instead, in what is becoming Minsky’s style, she popped up her little head as if to say “I’m hungry.” I carried her downstairs, where on her own, she walked to her food bowl, then to the front door, then around the yard.
I haven’t a clue as I write this recollection, how many more days or hours I have with this girl. What I do know is that this journey shared with Minsky has heightened my awareness so vividly, that I cannot imagine ever taking life for granted again, though I know as humans, we routinely do. My prayer…my question as I entered this day was, “Is there a way I could’ve come to this state of awe and gratitude, without fearing the loss and the pain?” (Oh, but that we could learn these lessons out of love and not fear.)
I ponder that one still. For in truth, none of us knows the day or the hour when we won’t have those we love here physically in our midst. On the one hand (in the words of Tim McGraw) I really do, with all my might, want to “Live like I was dying”…On the other, there is something beautiful to behold, when we live like we are living…really living…pouring everything we’ve got into the simplest of life’s moments, recognizing them for what they are worth.
To me, THIS is the goal worth striving for.