My heart is aching. For the past several weeks, Henry, my service dog, has been waking up between 3 and 5am, jumping off the bed and vomiting. He goes straight to my side of the bed, rounds his back and starts heaving. Some mornings he lets out a little whimper, like he’s trying to tell me he has a tummy ache.
The first few times this happened, we thought Henry was suffering the consequences of his late-night visits to the backyard, from which he returns licking his lips and smelling suspiciously of doggy bon-bons. No matter how frequently we clean up back there, he manages to find a poo or two. Naughty Henry. We refrain from any doggy kisses after that.
When Henry started regurgitating every day, I got more concerned. I also noticed that the substance coming out of him was not some horrible fecal matter he was trying to get rid of. It was a yellowish foam. This past week he’s been having these episodes late afternoon as well. Each time he gets sick, his furry, little, black body goes into a strange curve, his ears go back and he looks at me with his big, brown, Chihuahua eyes, like he wants me to take away the misery. I would if I could, dear Henry.
Earlier this week, I took him to the vet, who did some blood tests and a urinalysis. These showed that his protein levels were low. When the vet explained the results, this was what I heard him say: “Well, this could mean several things. It could be Intestinallymphangiectasia, CANCER, inflammatoryboweldisease, CANCER, anabnormalityoftheintestines, CANCER, a chronicforeignbody, CANCER, parasites,hemorrhagicgastroenteritis, or CANCER. Let’s do an x-ray.”
As we looked at the results of the x-ray, I heard the vet say: “I see abnormalities here in the large intestine, which could be CANCER, inflammation or CANCER.” Then he recommended an ultrasound, which will show in greater detail, what is making the intestines look so weird.
As I listened to the vet explain all of this, I flashed back to when we heard the same information about Dixie four years ago in an exam room at the animal specialty hospital. For her it was CANCER. It was Intestinal Adenocarcinoma, and we were told it would kill her within a year. She had three major surgeries and lived beyond the vet’s predictions. She’s in the final phase of her life now, receiving palliative care, but recently bounced back a little. She’s painfully thin, but for today she is comfortable, and that is all we can ask.
Will Henry follow in her footsteps? Dear God, I hope not. There is a big difference between how Dixie and Henry present their illnesses. Dixie is very stoic and always behaves as if she is not ill, even though she’s very thin and weak. Henry, on the other hand, is very demonstrative with his feelings. When his gut is bothering him, he walks very gingerly and freezes. He also whines and speaks with his eyes. He looks at me like he’s about to start talking, and I can tell he wants comfort. Because he’s so little I can pick him up and give him what he wants. But I can’t make his illness go away. We don’t even know yet exactly what his diagnosis is.
I know it doesn’t help for me to sit around worrying and feeling sorry for myself, but I’m scared for Henry and myself. The grief of seeing my animal children suffer throws me into such darkness. Sometimes I wonder if I should even have pets. But then I think about how much joy they bring to our lives. I keep trying to remind myself that Dixie has bounced back numerous times. Henry is going through a rough patch, but like Dixie, he will bounce back. Being able to write about this helps. Thank you for listening.