The Christmas season is difficult for me. About this time six-years ago, Wife knew that she had residual disease and we were making a daily trek to-and-from Truckee, California for radiotherapy treatments. I could tell that she was winding down, as I put it. We would learn in short course that the cancer had crossed the blood-brain barrier.
One evening as we sat together watching television, she said to me “I’m afraid this will be my last Christmas.” This absolutely broke my heart because I feared it was true. It was an articulation of the thought that had been running around in my head for some time.
We celebrated Christmas nonetheless and did our best to enjoy the time together as a family. But is was a deeply poignant Christmas and one that remains indelibly imprinted within me.
Christmas passed, the treatments continued for awhile, but ultimately they sent Wife home to spend her remaining time and energy on her family. We spent the time together as she worsened and eventually succumbed to her illness.
I continue to struggle every Christmas to hold onto the hope that the birth of the Christ child represents. That hope and joy is tempered with the recollection of the last bit of time spent with Wife before she died and left us. It remains a struggle.
Friday I was working at my table and took a business call. About 1500h, The Girl stood and fell over. She was agitated and confused. I called her to me and reached out for her. She shuffled back and forth, unbalanced. Her eyes shifted rapidly left-right. I started checking her, wondering what-the-hell just happened, fearing a stroke.
My caller broke the connection, saying “you better deal with this.” I immediately called the vet, carried The Girl to the rig, and left.
Our regular vet shuffled us into his schedule. His wonderful assistant checked The Girl and took some information. Dr. Ross came in, examined my love, and told me that this is most likely something called ODV for “Old Dog Vestibular Disease.” (It is really Idiopathic Vestibular Disease, a neurological disorder of unknown cause.) He said it is an 80-percent probability. He also said “you do not want to know about the other 20-percent.”
I looked at him. This is not my first rodeo and I know what that means. If it is IVD, then it should resolve in a few days (he said four or five; the Internet says 72 hours). All sources say to give it time. If it is IDV, then a residual head-tilt might be permanent.
I would be lying if I said that I have not wept a great deal the last 24 hours. The rawness of Wife’s death does not go away. My friend Jim told me that it never will; that you just learn to live with it. Truth… I am not ready to say goodbye to The Girl. I am praying that it is IDV and that we have at least a couple more years together.
I made some scrambled eggs for myself for breakfast, late. I added an extra egg, think she might eat that after she turned up her nose at her normal fare. I was right — she ate the eggs when I hand-fed her. Doc said I might have to hand feed her for a couple of days.
I have to be careful she does not fall and break a bone. The bed is off-limits unless I am in it with her. She moved last night and I spooked and grabbed her. We went out once and then snuggled back in for the rest of the night.
After breakfast I decided to get her out for an outing. I had a couple of errands to run and wanted to offer her a walk. We drove over to one of our favorite parks. I got her out and leashed her (which I rarely do). If there is a neurological problem, then I figure that one of the best ways of restoring the circuitry is to get her exercising the pathways. There is no reason to keep her down if she is willing and able to move.
So, I followed her stumble-drunk gait around the park for a half an hour. She sniffed plenty, peed a couple of times, and acted more-or-less like herself sans her usual athleticism. She seemed pleased that we had been out.
Now she is snoozing on her mat on the sofa. I am not worried she will hurt herself getting up and down from that low piece of furniture. She does not seem to be in pain, but is uncomfortable that her vision and balance are not right. She retains that sweet personality and loving spirit.
I am so reminded of how I could tell that Wife was trapped in her failing body. The disease took her ability to move and her ability to talk. But I could see her in her eyes. I see the same thing in The Girl, her love showing through even when she is less able to demonstrate it through our physical playtimes together. I continue to pray that the vet is right and that it is just IVD.
In the end, I find myself back in that struggle to not be the bitter, cynical old man who lost his Wife around Christmastime and loses the greater significance of the celebration. I want to remember the celebration of the Christ-child’s birth and what that means to all of us.
But, to be honest, this is hard. It is difficult to remain positive. But then I am reminded no one ever promised it would be easy.