Dr. Jennifer was concerned because Dasa’s liver levels were fluctuating. Would I consider an ultrasound? I said the first two things that came to mind.
“Does she have to be anesthetized?” No.
“Can I be with her?” Yes.
“OK,” I replied. “OK.”
Dasa has had 8 or more ultrasounds since then. I lose count. At each one I gently lower her onto her back in a padded trough, hold her feet and cradle her head against me while I croon soothing nothings, repeatedly telling her that she, Dasa, is a very good girl. Ultrasounds have become nearly routine. The first one, however, the first one was different, as firsts usually are.
After the first ultrasound, the technician wiped all the gel off Dasa’s tummy, and I held her against my shoulder like a baby. Dasa leaned in, trying to keep as much contact with me as possible. We were taken not to a regular exam room but rather to the quiet room with its couch and comfy chair, its pillows and boxes of tissues, and I knew this would not be good.
Dr. Jennifer explained that Dasa had masses on her adrenal glands, both of them, so surgery wasn’t possible and in any event, this was tricky dangerous surgery. She said the masses could grow, and since there was a major blood vessel close to the masses, there was a possibility they could grow into the blood vessel and Dasa would bleed out into her tummy.
“Would she be in pain?” I asked. No, and this would happen very quickly.
I was not in shock really, just holding myself very carefully together, trying to collect data and yet not examine it too closely. Not to breath too deeply or allow too much oxygen to my brain. Not until I took my baby safely home.
I have always awakened at night to watch Dasa breathe, to hold quiet joy at having her snuggled near me. After this however, I wake several times each night, place my hand on her tiny ribs and wait for them to softly move beneath my touch. Not yet, I pray, not yet.
When I come home and only Ivan comes down the stairs to see me, I greet my boy then dash up the stairs and down the hall, the internal chant—not yet, not yet, not yet—echoing like the rhythm of a train—not yet, not yet, not yet. As I enter the bedroom, I call her name, cheerily, not too loud, and my heart stumbles with relief and gladness when I see her ear twitch and her eyelids flicker, sleep still enfolding her. I sigh thankfully; not yet, not yet, not yet.
Since that first diagnosis a little over a year ago, Dasa has been on an inexorable slide downward. Time, an elusive foe, slowly steals her away. The masses continue to grow. Her back legs are very wobbly and she no longer wants to go on walks, not even if I carry her. This illness causes her to drink a lot of water and to eat her three meals a day with manic eagerness.
My exquisitely fastidious dainty girl will occasionally pee outside, but almost all elimination occurs inside. This distresses Ivan. We close off the piano room and living room during the day so we can all gather there together in the evening without having to shampoo that carpet on a daily basis.
The kitchen and entryway have multiple rugs and piddle pads, which are changed several times a day. Upstairs, Dasa carefully, slowly climbs the doggy steps to reach her kitty cuddle bed on the big bed. We have waterproof mattress covers and waterproof crib pads on sofas and ottomans. We’ve become very proficient at scrubbing spots on the carpet and changing sheets in the wee hours. We do lots of laundry, and I am continually thankful for our washer, dryer, & carpet shampooer that make it possible to keep Dasa’s surroundings clean and dry, not only for her but also for Ivan, who knows this is not supposed to happen and seems worried by it.
At our last exam a few weeks ago, Dr. Jennifer said the masses are growing around the blood vessels. Dasa could bleed out; she could have a stroke; she could die of old age.
My heart cries not yet, while a quiet voice whispers, but soon. Soon, and you cannot stop it.
If fate has a scale that must be balanced, then the great nearly inexpressible joy they bring us comes with the price of ineffable heartbreak when we lose them. And yet, to never have lived with their magic would be to exist without enough oxygen or light, like plants that are yellow and sickly because they don’t get enough sun.
Dasa’s 15th birthday is November 22. I pray we reach it together. I pray she does not die when we aren’t home, as we should be with our baby when the angels take her away, and also because Ivan would be very distressed. I pray she continues to be pain free and love food; we’ve talked to our vet hospital about their house call service, should we need to make that decision. I pray she will leave us quietly in her sleep as she is snuggled between Eric and me on the big bed, her favorite place to be.
We are powerless. We were given this precious gift for just so long and no more. And, aware of our very powerlessness, our very tentative existence and happiness, we are profoundly grateful for every second.