My heart is breaking. On Saturday morning when Henry woke up and tried to walk to Don and me, to give us his usual morning smooches, his movement was uneven and jerky. He favored his front right leg as he hobbled to me. After licking my hands and letting me scratch his head, he decided he wanted to get off the bed. Before we could help him, he jumped and landed with a thud. As he tried to walk into the next room he stumbled. In the past few months, getting off the bed has become a difficult task, not because of his cancer, but because he has some serious spine issues.
He hasn’t been able to jump up on the bed or the couches, and a few weeks ago he started limping, so we got him x-rayed. That’s when we learned about the spine problems, which are due to age. One is Intervertebral Disc Disease- IVDD, which I understand is when the discs between the vertebrae bulge or burst, putting pressure on the nerves. He also has something cause Bridging Spondylosis, which is bone spurs in the spine that cause a bridge to form from one vertebrae to the next. Both conditions cause a lot of pain. This explains why he walks very slowly and gingerly at times. It also explains why he cries when we pick him up. The vet prescribed Gabapentin for his pain, which he takes easily because it’s compounded and flavored with “Chicken Pot Pie” flavoring.
A week after the spine diagnosis, Henry started yelping and coughing while eating. I feared he had some kind of cancer growth in his throat or esophagus. To make it easier for him to swallow, I liquefied his Iams’s canned pate into a nice soup. That worked, and he could swallow without crying or coughing. When we met with his oncologist, Dr. A, this week and told him what was happening, he said it was quite likely that his back hurts while eating, making him yelp and choke, and that it may not be a growth in his throat. He added another pain medicine, Tramadol, for breakthrough pain, which was also compounded and flavored with “Savory Chicken.”
Dr. A said he may do an ultrasound of Henry’s throat at some point, but not yet because it would require him to be held in a position that would cause him too much pain. He instructed us to stop the chemo drug Paladia, for now, since it may be causing the vomiting. His primary concern is to keep Henry comfortable and make it easier for him to eat. I was grateful he wasn’t pushing to do more intensive, invasive diagnostic testing.
On Saturday morning Henry was anything but comfortable. His trouble walking told me he was in pain, then he didn’t want to eat breakfast. My heart bleeds when he suffers, and I feel so helpless. I sat with him for twenty minutes, encouraging him to eat. Eventually he licked up all his soup and limped outside to pee, but he looked so sad.
As I prepared to go to my volunteer job at the vet, I was reminded that my Port-a-Cath (the central line catheter in my chest) had been getting red and sore in the past couple of days. When I looked at it in the mirror I saw that the dark red skin was now spreading beyond the catheter and onto the rest of my chest. Powerless to control this unmanageable monster, I knew I better go to the ER. Although I had this painful, red problem, I didn’t feel all that bad. I decided to go to my volunteer job for a couple of hours, go home, clean my turtle tank, wash the kitchen floor (just a few chores), then head for the ER.
While at my volunteer job I checked the hospital website to see if I could make an ER appointment for mid afternoon. After entering all my info, including my reason for going, I hit send. Within ten seconds I got a reply saying that my reason for needing the ER was too urgent and that I couldn’t have an appointment. They then listed all the ER’s close to me. That was a reality check. After that I had a hard time concentrating on the data I was trying to enter for the vet, so I decided to go home and start my chores.
My adrenaline was amped up from anxiety, so I was able to clean the turtle tank and scrub the floor without feeling much Once that was done I gathered things I knew I’d want in the hospital, like my tablet for writing and emails; cell phone, Kindle and chargers. I also packed up a bag with my tube feeding supplies; extra socks and underwear that Don could bring in the next day or two. I knew from the last time I was hospitalized for an infected port in October, that I’d be there for at least several days.
Memories of my last two visits to the ER flooded my head. I’d waited ten hours each time to be seen because the flu had hit so hard, and many ER’s were closed. I hoped and prayed it would be emptier on this day. When I walked in and saw only five other people in the waiting room I relaxed. Once I checked in, I sat down to wait. Forty-five minutes seemed super short compared to ten hours. A nurse called me in, took my vital sign and looked at my inflamed port.
She apologized that I’d have to wait a little bit to see the doctor. A little bit was only thirty minutes. Again, relatively speaking, it was a blink of an eye.
I was led to an ER bed, given a gown to put on and left to change. The fire monster on my chest burned as the fabric brushed against it. Just then a tall, gray haired doctor with glasses came in, said his name too quickly for me to catch it, then examined my port. He asked when it was put in and when it started to get red. I told him and all he said was, “This is serious.” Then he left. Luckily a nurse came in and I grilled her with questions. What’s going to happen to me? Will I get antibiotics and go home? No, she said, you need an intense course of IV antibiotics. This sounded the same as when I was here in October for an infected port. The difference this time is that the redness is angry and spreading. I guess it’s serious. But I don’t feel that bad. Except for the pain and worrying, I’m fine. I’m more concerned about Henry.
By the time I left ER and got to my bed on the 4th floor I’d already had three different IV antibiotics: Vancomycin, Ancef and Zosyn. Those should be knocking out the monster soon. As the evening passed I settled into my room and prayed to not be restless or bored. I can write, read and even sew because I brought some of my sloth materials. Sitting around feeling sorry for myself doesn’t do any good.
Don called this morning to tell me that Henry was not doing well. He won’t eat and can barely stand up. Don’s worried because he can’t work from home today and thinks Henry needs to see the vet. The way he described Henry’s difficulty makes me worry he’s dying. What if he dies while I’m in the hospital? When Dixie died in July, I was in Chicago, visiting my brother. I don’t want to be absent if Henry dies too! I can’t do anything to help him! I start to panic, but then I hear how overwhelmed Don is, and I calm down. It takes a lot to overwhelm him, but he feels helpless too and can’t stand to see Henry suffer. We both get the idea to ask our favorite neighbor, Mel, to check in on Henry while Don is at work. She’s an animal whisperer, and if she could stop by to check on Henry, carry him outside to pee and give him some more medicine, That would give us some comfort.
Mel’s available to help, which is a relief, but I wish I could be there to help him through this difficult time. Is it just a difficult time? Is he having spasms in his back, making it hard to walk and eat? Is he dying?? I need to trust that things are just as they are meant to be, and that I don’t have a lot of control over them, just like I don’t have any control over this red-hot infection that has taken over my port and chest. It’s out of my hands.