My poor old retriever, Pete, isn’t doing so well. In July we took him to Los Angeles to the Sam Simon clinic to have a tumor removed from his front leg. It was diagnosed as an aggressive soft tissue sarcoma and the surgeon said it would almost assuredly come back, and fast.
It did. Two months later, we’ve been treating it now for over a week here at home. We could do chemo or radiation, but he’s an old dog and I am loathe to inflict any more illness on him in order to prolong his days for my benefit. The difference in the return of the tumor is that now it’s opened up the incision from the surgery and the exposed tissue is necrotic. The tumor is cutting off the blood supply from the surrounding tissue and it’s dead stinky meat hanging out of his leg. So I clean it, debride it, apply antiseptic and antibiotic ointment, and redress it. He calmly and patiently tolerates my care, seeming to offer me loving compassion for the job I must do. We got a recovery sleeve for him to wear over his leg so he can’t disturb the dressing and to keep it clean. We’re very thankful that he doesn’t seem to be too uncomfortable yet, and otherwise his health is pretty good for now, although the prognosis is that it will inevitably spread to his lungs.
I adopted Pete from a shelter when he was a year or two old, and my puppy-boy has been the most polite, gentle, well-mannered, faithful, and devoted pal I could hope for, and I am treating him gladly with the love he deserves. It’s my hardship that this particular care is triggering, reminiscent of one of the tasks I performed in the care of my Sheri, my best friend and late wife. After her disastrous surgery that resulted in a coma and the loss of her badly infected and damaged hip, she was left with a deeply tunneled wound which required careful packing and redressing daily. It took eight months of daily wound care on that injury until it was pronounced well enough to finish healing without further packing. Chronically ill, Sheri had been prone to infection for years, and I was terrified and as meticulous as possible. We kept that particular wound from ever becoming infected, but in hindsight it was a small victory.
In the end, she died of sepsis. As her doctor described it, her body had been in the process of fighting infection for so long, it suddenly decided that infection must be its natural state and her immune system just stopped fighting it. She passed in less than a day.
And now, five years later, I am left with overstuffed, bulging, emotional notions I have yet to unpack or look at too closely regarding the battle we waged for Sheri to live. From her cancer diagnosis in 1997 to rheumatoid arthritis in 2003 and the catastrophic car wreck she survived in 2007, the e-coli infection, the throat surgeries, the hip surgeries, the infections, the fibromyalgia, the abdominal surgeries, the narcotics addictions, the chronic pain, the coma, the wound care, the rehabilitations, the therapies, the paranoia, the depression, the bewilderment, the bed sores… She fought them all and I fought them with her, and sometimes for her.
And in the end, it wasn’t enough. I am steadfastly treating the wound on Pete’s leg as I steadfastly treated Sheri’s tunneled surgery wound, and I know as I keep it clean and keep it from becoming infected, it won’t save him. Just like all those years of fighting for Sheri’s health didn’t save her. Whatever I contributed, it wasn’t enough to keep her from dying at 55.
I am blessed to have my husband Khrysso now to protect my heart as I continue to grieve the loss of my best friend ever in the world. I know he’s there as I’m ambushed by the explosion of some of these over-packed parcels that burst in response to triggers I don’t see coming. I’m overwhelmed by this realization that all of the diligent care and recovery we strove for didn’t buy Sheri greater health or longevity or freedom from pain. It wasn’t enough. My part wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.
So this is where Khrysso and my therapists kick in, and I can process this perception and relegate it to where it belongs instead of leaving it buried in a bulky parcel in the shadowy basement of my awareness. But it’s still startling to realize these bombs are there at all, that I had packed them away in the desperation of the moment and forgotten them instead of dealing with them when the time was better. But I suppose the outcome is healthier now armed with the proper tools.
And Pete? At least, Pete is somewhere in his early teens, which is pretty good for a dog his size. He’s had a pretty good and adventurous life after being rescued from wandering in a park in Youngstown, Ohio, by a devastated queer struggling to find their way. His unfailing companionship and unconditional love through the last dozen years have been nearly the only constants in my life. I’m grateful for my puppy-boy and to have been the object of his affection. He is certainly one of mine, and always will be.
Grey Forge LeFey
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