vendredi 23 juillet 2010


On our last afternoon together
watching a German Shepard play with students

She looks so sad. She knew she couldn't run and chase a stick and make the students laugh, nor run and chase the other dog and make herself laugh. I wondered if she ever would again. She lay down next to me and put her head on my arm, lifting it to look around from time to time. I let my legs rest on her hind quarters. I'll go back to that memory until I can return to happier ones, and I will still go back to it to remember what a moment you want always to remember feels like.

This morning, I wrote an email to a friend.

Today is very hard. I feel sick. Rapide isn't well. She can't move, and she keeps gagging. If I try to lift her, she starts screaming, the way dogs scream. I have to get her an anti-inflammatory, in case it is her lumbar region again, but it is so strange that it came back the evening Baccarat died. Mary, I am just devastated. I know I just have to move through this and eventually it won't ache so badly, but I miss her so much I can hardly stand it. Her body leaves the veterinary clinic soon. I receive her ashes next Friday. I just want to touch her, and I can't anymore. Her fur was so soft, so much softer than her mother's. She always shined, and I loved to stroke her paws, her muzzle, and she let me. I look back at missed walks, my selfishness, thinking she'd be here for years to come, that I would be comforted in her eventual loss by the preparation the work of old age would do in her, but it was so sudden. Now, I recall saying several times that she had become grown-up in the last few months, more subdued and in possession of herself, and all I can think is that what I was seeing was the coincidence of her being 3 going on 4 and her having the earliest stage of her cancer. I thought she was maturing; she was becoming sick. Then, I thought it was the heat that prostrated us all, but it was the cancer grown into an enormous tumor in her heart. Earlier, it slowed her down, just as the heat set in. Then, it hit critical mass, and that's what we couldn't miss: her heart failure was so sudden then.

Her eyes were the part of her that talked, they and the end of her tail. Her sighs. I just so badly wish that I hadn't had to walk away from her the evening before her surgery. She turned her head away, slightly, but her eyes stayed fixed on me. I wanted to run back and scoop her into my arms, cry in her neck. I forced myself to smile at that old look and tell her she'd be fine. I knew, of course I knew, that I would most likely never feel her warm again, see that look or any other, watch her react to Sam's name or my husband walk into the room. It's so wrong. She was so young, Mary. Just 4, only just turned 4 the first full day she was hospitalized here at our vets' clinic. How could that be? I know that God does not watch over us at all, nor does God protect us. All God does is teach us lessons by placing them in our path. To what end are those lessons intended? How does it make me better to lose someone I love? I understand that sadness and grief are part of life, that we are not immortal, but there should be an order, a real preparation for loss. That's why we diminish and have to go through old age, so that even we are eventually ready, but ca
ncer is terrible. To see your dog seem fine and on the 15th day after you first notice a problem, to go pick her up in white plastic bags, her forepaws crossed even inside there, so beautiful. It is so wrong.

And Rapide is whimpering behind me, in pain. She has finally stopped gagging, at least for now.

The only thing that helps is to keep writing, over and over again. I can't keep doing that. I know I won't need to forever. It will get better.

Yesterday, in the car on the way to get Baccarat at the hospital, where they had brought her back for us, there was traffic. I had a migraine. It was horrible; I felt so sick. When we got there, I got out of the car to go ask the security guard for permission to bring our car in to get her body.
I was surprised I could walk. My legs felt like rubber, and I felt weightless, numb. He was kind. His eyes said more than our vet's here, and their nurse/secretary. I am angry with them for that, but he looked so sorry, and nodded, "Of course." The doctor came out to greet us, and she shook my husband's hand and then leaned forward to put her hand on my arm and kiss me on each cheek. My vet here did not shake my hand, did not say, "We are so sorry for your loss." Her eyes are big and blue, and they were wet. They talked to me like Baccarat's, saying all she didn't put into actual words. She showed my husband where to bring the car, to the same door through which I had walked Baccarat out every day I had come to see her, every day they had visiting hours. There was only Bastille Day and a Sunday I couldn't see her. Then, we went to talk in her consultation room. She explained that they knew as soon as they opened her and touched the heart that it was bad. The muscle of the heart wall had become very rigid; a bad sign. It was terrible, she said, very sad for them, because the surgery was going so well, better than they had hoped. The biopsy while she was on the table told them what they already knew, the tumor was malignant and it was a cancer of the worst sort. She said that we made the best decision, not to wake Bacs, saying again that while she would have recovered well, and seemed fine after a few days, since dogs have such a high threshold for pain, but then she'd have failed again very quickly afterwards, and that would have been heartbreaking to see. It's true. Sam and I would have seen her start to be well again, and we would have hoped again, and then it would have been like being cast to the bottom of the canyon floor from the rim.

We made out a smaller check for the surgery, since there were no nights on duty with
her, and my husband wrote another for their hospital before we got her body. I appreciated his taking it upon himself to write them. He was showing me that he was assuming this, like he said he would, for us.

Then, he went for the car, and I walked around the side of the building, where the gray door was propped open. A moment later, Dr. Gouni and the resident appeared, struggling to carry her body in the slippery white plastic bag. I asked my husband to hurry out of the car and help them, but they were already there, he opened the back end, and I fumbled to make sure there was the place, nothing lumpy under the blanket under her, as though it would bother her. They asked if I wanted to see her. I did. I told my husband to turn away, if he wanted, since he had not wanted to see her, preferring to remember her alive and well. I had to. I am just that way. They turned down the edge of the bag, and there was her head, in profile, still wet from the surgery. Her. I sobbed, Mary, and reached out for her head. My husband looked over my shoulder and stroked her forehead. Her tongue was sticking out, and gray. I wished it hadn't had to be. She used to lick the inside of my hand with her tongue when I held the end of her muzzle. If I said "bisous", she used to lick my lips; that disgusted my husband. I didn't care. She didn't do that in these last two weeks, but she would lick my hand, gently, and look at me, telling me everything with her eyes for which she had no words. I said goodbye and thank you in English. I told them it is my real voice, but it s
ounded strange to me. Dr. Gouni reached forward again, and I thought she wanted to hug me, but we kissed each other's cheeks again and she had the courage and the compassion to hold my gaze. I'll miss her. She is a truly good person. Her husband is lucky, the animals are lucky and the hospital at the Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire d'Alfort is lucky to have this young woman, who is older than she looks, and who stays with them despite the low pay and missing her family in Greece.

When we drove away, we took a different route, found the right road, thought we lost it, got aggravated, I asked him to drop it for once, since I really couldn't take it just then; nothing mattered more than just coping, and we didn't need more stress. If we didn't make it back before the vet closed because of the traffic, then we would place her in the spare room and I would take her in the morning. Whatever we had to do. We were on the right road. The traffic lightened, and I noticed that my headache and nausea were almost all gone; all I needed was to have her with us, and I was much better. Perhaps, too, to have seen Dr. Gouni. I asked her to thank the student, Enora, who had cared so kindly for Baccarat. She told me that Enora was sad, too. They had all hoped so much that it would prove to be a myxoma, a benign tumor of the heart. The muscular atrophy had, she confessed, been the biggest indicator for her that it might not be. Baccarat's muscles at her temples were no longer existent. Sam noticed th
at the first day at our vet, two weeks ago tomorrow. I wondered if I had missed it earlier.

I will send them a letter, and maybe some sort of present for their care.

I might look for a new vet out here. I want a vet who can say, "I am sorry," and shake my hand, at least. If I find one, I will tell them. My husband says that is the difference between public and private. The CHUVA at the ENVA d'Alfort is a public institution for the teaching of veterinary medicine and the vet out here is a private clinic, become more about making money than caring for animals and their families.

They are probably picking her, and any other dogs and cats who have died, up now. I don't like to think of her burning, Mary. I just want her ashes to take to the forest at the base of the peaks of the Mont-Blanc range. I wish there was another way. I wish it didn't have to be this way. I wish.

Mary gave me the idea for a present to send to Dr. Gouni and Enora. Violets. She told me that when they had to have their dog put down last winter, their vet gave them a pot of violets, and it was the same when her son and his wife had to do the same with theirs. Our vet offered no condolences, no support. I thank them for helping us get Baccarat into the cardiologists at the ENVA d'Alfort and their teaching hospital, but I can ill pardon not sharing our grief for an animal for whom they have cared since she was 8 weeks old by at least expressing their regret for so sad an outcome to her short life.

I can offer violets to a young doctor and a student who cared enough to be kind and to let us see that it was so.
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