Note: Travis was a part of Kathy’s life for more than 13 years so I asked her to write a guest post for the blog. She penned this piece in late January but only now are we ready to share it. These have been a difficult six weeks but we believe that sharing our experiences may help others through the emotional, physical and mental challenges of living with a senior dog.
We were awakened several nights last week by the bark of a baby seal. OK, it wasn’t a seal, it was Travis coughing and gagging, threatening to cough up a lung. Because it was only happening at night, we determined that the culprit was probably his night-time water bowl.
This bowl wasn’t elevated and we thought this might be making it difficult for him to drink. During the last few months, the liver tumor has caused his body composition to change, with organs being pushed out of place and fluid collecting in cavities not meant to hold liquid. This was only happening at night, and it came on very suddenly, so it had to be the water bowl, right? We raised the bowl, and got one night of reduced coughing and gagging, but it was only one night, and it was only reduced (not eliminated), so we took him in to see Dr. Ireland.
You know it’s not going to be good news when the vet tech comes to get you from the lobby, but then offers to hold onto your pet while you go into the little room with the vet to see for yourself why your dog has been gagging. Travis’ chest cavity was so filled with fluid that even Dr. Ireland couldn’t see his heart or lungs. (Ironically, the comparison image he pulled up was from the infamous beans and rice escapade, which did lighten our moods a little.) Since his gums and tongue were still pink and he wasn’t gasping for breath, Dr. Ireland decided this was probably pleural effusion (fluid inside the chest cavity, exerting pressure on and around the lungs) rather than pulmonary edema (fluid inside the lungs). We left the office with a bottle of Lasix tablets and a sliver of hope that the fluid buildup was just the result of the liver tumor’s growth putting pressure on the chest cavity. The alternative was metastasis to the lungs, but since he couldn’t really see the lungs, we wouldn’t know for sure about that until we could get some of the fluid off.
We didn’t get out of the parking lot without getting a glimpse of what Travis’ future might look like if the pills didn’t work, though. He was unusually agitated when we put him in the back end of the car, circling and panting, unwilling to lie down, even attempting to jump out of the open tailgate. I was positioning myself into the backseat so that I could more easily reach him, hoping to comfort and calm him, but what Kate saw from her position at the open tailgate alarmed her. His tongue and gums were a greyish-shade of blue and Kate was turning white. She closed the tailgate and ran back inside for help. While she was gone, Travis continued to circle, whine, and pant, then just as Kate and a tech returned to the car, Travis dropped his load.
The poor guy wasn’t dying, he just had to poop!
We had totally missed his signals. TOTALLY. He knows better than to poop in the car, so he had tried to jump out. He was whimpering and whining, also typical behaviors when he’s trying to tell us he needs to go. And the circling? C’mon, that’s a classic pre-poop ritual for Travis! How did we miss all of these signals?
Because all we could see at the time were his blue tongue and gums.
Dr. Ireland joined us in the parking lot, and although Travis’ tongue and gums were starting to ‘pink up’ a bit by then, he thought an injection of Lasix would help get the fluid moving more quickly than the pills would. So after a curbside injection in the parking lot, and a quick sanitizing of the back end, we drove home with a more relaxed dog—but more anxious parents.
That blue tongue was scary. And it was real.
I know that Travis is terminally ill and will probably die sooner rather than later, but until now, I’ve been able to contemplate this as a theoretical construct, not something that I might witness at a moment’s notice in a parking lot. But knowing that it can happen at a moment’s notice, I find myself reluctant to make plans more than a day in advance.
And that’s OK with me. Travis is still an active member of the family, joining us for rides in the car, following Harley’s lead on walks, listening for snacks to hit the floor, snuggling on the love seat in the Arizona room. We know the end is coming but he’ll decide when that is. We’re ready to help him when he’s ready, but not until.