Oh my, has this past weekend been intense. I will give my usual disclaimer that this post is “not about autism” per say. It is, however, about our family. In a 3 day period, our family has experienced an extreme low, and an incredible high. Particularly this mommy. At this point I am so emotionally exhausted that I am happy and thrilled one minute and literally sobbing the next. We lost a best friend and family member earlier this Friday, and gained a precious, perfect nephew/cousin yesterday. And I was very much so “down in the trenches” for both.
I will start with the bad.
We have had our dog Riley since about 3 days after John and I got back from our honeymoon- so around 10 years. My old nurse manager at Hopkins gave him to us after her dog had puppies- he was a black Labrador, something John had wanted his whole life, and when I found out the puppies were available, I knew it was the perfect thing to gift to my new husband. We went together in October and chose Riley because he had such expression and soul in his eyes- it was like we already knew him. He has been an integral part of our family since day one. He was our first baby- we made up songs about him, gave him a million nicknames, took him everywhere. When the kids were born, Riley became more of John’s partner in crime, because well, I was a mommy. That being said, I work from home, so I spent every single day with him, he was such a constant that I didn’t even think about it half the time.
And he’s gone. And it was so sudden. About a week and a half ago, we noticed that his right paw was swollen, and that he was limping. This had never happened before, and we were both concerned, so a week ago this past Saturday, John took him to the vet, where they x-rayed his leg. They said it was a soft tissue injury, that we should restrict his movement and give him some pain meds they provided. And he got better- very quickly the swelling went down and he was barely limping at all. He had some diarrhea, but that was one of the listed side effects of the medication, so we didn’t worry about it too much. Wednesday and Thursday nights, he woke us to go out in the middle of the night- but once again, we figured it was GI upset. On Friday morning, I had him shut in our laundry room, which I had been doing to keep him separated from our other little guy Darby, so he didn’t reinjure his leg. I opened the door to let him outside around noon, walked into our laundry room, and slid and fell, (sorry) in vomit. Riley had been sick. I cleaned it up, and left him out so I could watch him and make sure he was ok. He lay down next to me while I worked, which was pretty typical for the next hour or two, but he went to get up and I just heard this thump. He had fallen onto his side, and then he got back up. He walked around for a minute and lay back down. I called John at work and told him I was concerned. He had a recheck appt at the vet coming shortly, so we were going to wait for that. When I got off the phone, I looked at Riley more closely, he was panting- I got more water for him and he wouldn’t drink. I called him and he didn’t lift his head, he barely even looked at me. He eventually tried to get up again and fell down. I immediately called the vet and told them what was going on- I told them I was bringing him right away. I called John’s work, called him out of a meeting (which I have never done), and asked him to come home and get Jack off the bus. I had to take Nate with me, as his daycare was closed on Friday. I managed to get Riley up and onto his leash and he walked outside with me, but he couldn’t get into the car. I picked him up- he weighs 78 lbs., but my adrenaline was going to the point where it just felt like nothing. The 10 minute drive to the vet was excruciating- Riley is usually foaming at the mouth, drooling, barking, and generally freaking out when we go somewhere in the car. He lay on the front seat with his mug on my lap. I just petted him the whole time and told him over and over that it would be ok. When we arrived, he managed to get out of the car on his own. He was walking so very slowly, but damned if he didn’t stop on the grass, sniff the other dog smells, lift his leg and mark his territory. Then he lay on the vet floor and let other dogs come up and sniff him without even flinching. When the vet went to examine him, we had to lift him so she could listen to his heart- she said it was very muffled and wanted to get an x-ray, as whatever was going on with him was very acute. He was panting, using accessory muscles, in distress, his gums were so pale. As they went out to set up the x-ray, he crawled into a corner and quieted down. Most people would have thought he was calming down, but being a nurse I recognized the change in his breathing pattern immediately- he had gone agonal and was basically about to die. I screamed for the vet and they literally dragged him out of the room to try and resuscitate him. I texted John and told him to tell the neighbor to get Jack- that I needed him NOW. That our puppy was dying. He made it in record time, right before the vet came in and told us to come see Riley right away because things were really bad. We walked to the back (Nate was there the whole time, poor thing- although he seemed pretty oblivious) and you could just see he was almost gone. Almost the second we got back there, he stopped breathing, and they tried to intubate him, and we retreated back to the exam room. Within 5 minutes, they came to tell us he was gone.
Gone. Chasing squirrels in the morning, and gone by 4:30. All the vet could really tell us is that they managed to get the x-ray and nothing was visible in his gut, but his heart was enlarged. We could have requested an autopsy I suppose, but it wouldn’t change the outcome. She said it was likely a tumor that ruptured, a neurological event, or a cardiac event. I keep thinking that the swelling in his paw could have been a clot that broke free and went to his heart. But I just don’t know.
Friday was the day that I was slammed with the realization that no matter how much more I felt like I loved my “human babies”, Riley was my baby too, that it never changed when the boys were born, even though at the time it felt like it did. Both John and I are devastated. Even Jack, who was overwhelmed by Riley most of the time and somewhat scared of him (for his size solely, as he was the gentlest dog you would ever meet), is having a difficult time. We are working hard to help him understand and cope with a sudden loss like this. We are working hard to cope with it ourselves. I am still trying to process what I saw, and my reaction. I have always had a tendency to blame myself for everything- did I miss something? Was there something more I should have done? The vet tried to reassure me that in something this sudden, most owners wouldn’t have gotten their pets to the vet in time, they wouldn’t have recognized the signs. I try to find comfort in that fact. I also try to find comfort knowing that Riley’s last memories were of me trying to help him, and petting him, and telling him that I loved him. That he didn’t have a long drawn out illness. But it’s just going to take time for all of us.
In the meantime, my little sister was 41 weeks pregnant, the poor thing, and scheduled for an induction yesterday. Her body finally saw the writing on the wall and she went into labor on her own Sunday evening. So I found myself hauling ass to Pennsylvania as she had asked me to attend my nephew’s birth. What an honor. I was freaking out, because it was a two hour drive and I had these visions of walking into her room and her holding the baby because I missed the delivery. Didn’t happen- lucky for me, not so much for her, ha. I was able to be there for most of the process, give her the lo-down on certain happenings, and just encourage and love her in general. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, and she was so incredibly brave and strong. He was born around 9am on Monday; about an hour after her induction was scheduled to begin. She is taking to motherhood like a pro (not that I’m surprised) and her son is beyond gorgeous. I already have such an intense love for her son- he is just perfect and I can’t wait to introduce him to Jack, who is just going to lose it! I have been very involved in this process, from the text I received with the picture of a positive pregnancy test and the question, “am I reading this right???”, to finally seeing this precious child (and I do mean finally) born and placed on his beautiful mama’s chest. There is nothing more extraordinary in this world. I mean, I was a labor and delivery nurse for a while, it made no difference yesterday in the way I felt. I cried like a baby.
Then I drove back home after being up for 36 hours. Riley wasn’t there. My kids still needed me. I needed to pick up right where I left off on Friday morning. And it is so stinking hard. THIS is when I know I am really a grown up, really a mom, who has earned her stripes. When I feel like death on wheels, and still haul myself downstairs at 6 to get the supplements made, and let our remaining puppy out. When I finally get the second child on the bus, come home to work and our suddenly incredibly quiet house and finally completely break down and cry for an hour, because it was my first down time since Friday. Then, I started making calls- it was time for “work” (note intense sarcasm).