Requiescat in Pace, Tristan

Yesterday was kind of a weird day for me. Left late, got home, walked the dogs in an unusually quick fashion for a Friday (being hungry, I think), and almost immediately got a call from my grandma. I let it go to voicemail because I was tired and my brother and I were discussing food, but the message chilled me to the bone and spurred me instantly into action. She was begging me to come help, NOW, because something was wrong with Tristan in increasing panicked tones. I fumbled with the phone to call her back while racing around to change my clothes and grab some towels (my dog first aid bag and with hesitation but hard emotions: a blanket), and ordering my brother to hurry and come with me. Said a hasty and apologetic goodbye to the dogs, and rushed off trying not to speed too badly, one eye out for cops, but knowing time was of the essence.

When we got there, night had just fallen, around 8:25pm. He got up and came over to greet us, but his legs started giving out and could not stand even with repeated attempts. I gently laid him down, and that was the last time he ever stood up. Checked his vitals with my hands to the best of my ability, checked for injury, checked for reactions, asked questions about timing, exactly what happened, how he was earlier that day. I felt like a paramedic, neutral and concise, but hiding an exponentially growing realization that this was the end. His heart was tachy the entire time I was there at my grandparents, he’d eaten very little  (he is a voracious eater and ate all of his breakfast), asked to be let out and when he didn’t come back my grandpa found him collapsed in the trees. They both managed to drag him into the house (this was around 6pm), and he lay there for the 2 hours leading up to our arrival. No injury, no broken bones, no pain reaction from him. I tried to make him stand up, but he wouldn’t, and responded not at all to treats. His gums were very hot and sticky, like he was sweating.  I noted that he had lost quite a bit of muscle mass. I called his vet’s office who put me on hold for over 8 minutes, so I hung up and called back and immediately told them the problem. They put me on hold again this time for about 5 minutes. The tech was overall not concerned that it was an urgent, instant medical emergency, but pointed me to the nearest e-vets. I had to then call my uncle who was on a train coming home, and we decided to go to the closest vet: VCA Southpaws. I  knew about that already because one of our patients is a vet there, and had a good vibe about them with their close relationship with my own vet office. FINALLY able to do something, my brother and I picked him up in a blanket and put him in my car. He didn’t fight or move while we moved him, but the moment he was in the car he picked up his head and looked at me and my grandparents. They came out to see us off and I had my brother drive because I knew I couldn’t drive in the dark and I’d be in no position to drive soon.

I held his paw the ride there, trying to make light convo with my brother. We get there and thankfully they’re not busy, but in an almost maddeningly calm demeanor they had me fill out paperwork and eventually rounded up some nurses to bring him in. Thankfully I filled out the paperwork almost 100% (I surprised myself!), with minor hand shaking. They asked to place an IV catheter and I OK’d it. They then led us to a room in the back and I was like, Oh no…because it was like one of those consult rooms in a hospital. Then again I’d never been in a hospital before, let alone an animal one. My uncle kept updating us to his destination, and asked that we go back with him, but I never asked for that because I kind of knew we wouldn’t be able to…and selfishly I didn’t want to break down just yet. My brother and I hung around for the next 2ish hours just waiting. The doctor came in and went over a few things, asking permission to run blood tests, which I OK’d. She said that he was stable for the moment, no injuries, just the swollen lymph nodes (lymphoma) that we’d known about. Blood pressure was fine, heart rate was fine for the stress he was in, his vertebrae were stable (apparently Doberman are prone to slipped discs), but his temperature was through the roof at 105.7 degrees F. They were very worried about opportunistic infection given his cancer. The bloodwork would take an hour so it worked out timing-wise with my uncle’s arrival.

More waiting. I was getting very cold and very tired as my body not only was still hungry but shutting down to go to sleep (10 is my bedtime usually).

Then my uncle got there. I heard him rolling his luggage down the hall and he looked an absolute wreck. I updated him, he updated me. I had been under the impression that Tristan had already started chemo, but this was not the case! That despair in my stomach grew. The symptoms he had shown I had attributed to weakness from chemo. Now in my mind it was inevitable, the outcome. As usual, he was rolling out logic and talking through things, and I talked with him in a very objective way, but steering it towards the inevitable decision. Then the doctor rolls in with the information and the information from his vet. It wasn’t good. He was anemic, probably from the lymphoma spreading to his bone marrow, his temperature did not respond almost at all to the medication they were giving him, the prednisone regimen is a pre-treatment to retard lymphoma before chemo, but obviously it couldn’t stop it from spreading, the beta cells were in such high numbers, and it looked like his body had turned autoimmune and was killing itself. My uncle asked questions and just was beside himself. The doctor was very informative and experienced at this and medically neutral, giving him the options but listening 3rd person she was definitely recommending euthanasia.

He asked for a few minutes to decide. My uncle clung weakly to the notion that instant chemo could save his life, but logically he knew the odds were not too optimistic. I put in my observations and recounted for him, as the objective 3rd person, the Dr’s facts and analyses all pointing to euthanasia as the real solution here. Inside I wanted to cry, but I needed to be as strong as possible, even if it seemed like I was being an uncaring hard-ass, in order to afford him the opportunity to make the tough decision. When he broke down, I knew he’d made a decision. The right one. I ran over to him and just hugged him and that’s when he lost it. I held him as long as he’d let me, and tried to be comforting (I felt half self-conscious only), before he said he needed to tell the doctor before he changed his mind. I went to find the receptionist who contacted the doctor (my brother followed behind me, giving my uncle a little privacy). I came back to see him with tissues and bowed out to go to the bathroom. I realized that my fly was down the whole time which allowed me a rare smile in the face of the despair bubbling up inside me.

God must have been guiding me the whole time because I don’t know how to I knew what to say in all of this. It was like having an out of body experience. When I came back, all that despair pushed its way out. The decision had been made and I could finally let go…not that it was waiting for me, because the tears just started coming. It was then that I finally divulged my own decision for my own dogs if they were ever placed in this situation, I wouldn’t be able to save them. I know how chemo works and have several patients on it. It is brutal, brutal, what it does, and in our case, a dog wouldn’t have long to live afterwards provided it will take to begin with. As the doctor surmised, his body wouldn’t be able to hold up to it given the state it was in. I hadn’t wanted that piece of information to color his decision and it seemed to give him solace that he’d made the right one.

They wheeled Tristan in for us to say our goodbyes and the tears kept coming for me. He was half sitting up when he saw us, but that was all he could manage. I sneakily took pictures not because I’m an insensitive asshole, but I thought one day I’d ask my uncle if he wanted them. Tristan was tired. He seemed to know what was going to happen. My brother was very quiet about it, but he cried a bit. I’ve never seen him cry as an adult. After about 20 minutes my uncle noted that he thought Tristan was ready. Neither he nor my brother wanted to be present, but I’d read in the past from other vets that while it’s your choice not to be present, the pet always looks for you when you leave. I stayed. And sure enough, when my uncle and brother left, he was looking for them. The doctor assured me it was the best decision, which I concurred with, then talked me through what she was going to do. I told her I have 2 dogs of my own. His fur was so coarse and he seemed worried, so while she gave me the tissue box, I tried my best to be strong and comforting for him. Ended up leaving snot all over his face, but the crying was at a minimum as he started slipping away. His eyes never closed and the doctor said some of them don’t. Three big breaths later, he was gone. I felt him go. I should’ve looked at the time, but I didn’t. She pronounced him dead and gave me his collar. I stood up, telling her I have 2 greyhounds and was well aware of their risk of ostesarcoma. I don’t know what I was going for with that, but I apologized for making her do that and then thanked her for her help. I patted his warm body one last time, and left the room.

Walking down that hall and out those double doors, I started to break down fully. Managed to thank the receptionist and sobbed my way through the exit. Helped my uncle get his stuff in my car and we started for home. It was quiet with lots of sniffing. Everyone lost in their own thoughts. I put the music on low and the first song playing was “Home” by Chris Daughtry. My brother drove on, unsure of how to handle the situation.

Finally we got my uncle home and I gave him Tristan’s collar. I then called my grandparents for him with the news, and we went home ourselves. Our stomachs were hungry, but our appetite was long gone. My brother expressed that he was glad I was even able to stay through it because neither he nor my uncle could be with him at the very end. It wasn’t just an ability, it was my duty.

My dogs seemed to understand the aura and didn’t bark ferociously at us even though they were starving hungry themselves. I left the blanket and towels in the car, not wanting to deal with it yet. The blanket I chose was the one we’d give him when he came to us. I hugged them both and proceeded to get some nutrients. I tried t wait for my mom to come home, but she was closing so I left her a note and tried to go to sleep. When I tucked Liana in, she smelled my arms and sighed one big sigh. Sleep didn’t happen until after she got home and found the note, but that seemed to be closure for me.

I dreamed things I don’t remember now, and woke up at 6am only to start the tears again.  The memories played back and forth and back and forth, so I decided to type it all up here in the hopes that it would stop. Certainly therapeutic so far…and I realize that I already remember some things in the wrong sequence. I really hope this stops the tears. My face is very puffy and I’m afraid to walk outside with the dogs lol. I’m also dehydrated from fluid loss. That wasn’t even dog. I had a long history with him and certainly a strong emotional investment, but I can’t begin to imagine how I’d be with my dog. My uncle is probably an absolute wreck…alone in his house with momentos of Tristan everywhere.

Looking back on it, the way everything had worked out, worked out, because if I’d come home earlier and we’d gone out to dinner like we usually so, my grandparents wouldn’t have been able to contact me. I’m blessed and honored to even be able to have been there for him through all of this. Someone he trusted and loved. Both for Tristan and for my uncle as well. I’m serious, I don’t know how I just knew to do certain things, to say certain things, but I am thankful that strength was granted to me. How to be an adult 501. A part of me says, now you have experience. What a dick, that part of me, but it’s right. Not to say that each situation is the same, but the silver lining (besides him being out of misery and suffering) is that I don’t have to go into it cold when the time comes for mine. I certainly need my brother or someone again who can drive me, but to have experience is one of the best confidences.

I love you big guy. Run free, eat to your heart’s content, get all your belly rubs, and one day I’ll meet you on the other side of the Rainbow bridge.

 

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