Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Week Two - Part Two (We begin)

Tank's zonked. It's going to take a bit longer for the anaesthesia to wear off.

He's been poked, prodded, had a lymph node in his leg removed, and two more biopsies and a bone marrow sample taken. When the results come back then we'll know. But they won't be back until next week.

The initial reports are good. Or as good as they can be with something like this. Tank's in top health. Amazing health especially for a dog his age.

But with such limited time to try and take a stand . . . on top of everything else today Tank had the first part of his first chemo. He could have had both parts of it today but it would be easier on him if he had the next drug tomorrow.

So tomorrow morning . . .

This isn't like any vet's office I've ever seen before. If my own physician's office looked half as good or the people even a quarter as nice . . .

It's immaculate and tasteful is an understatement. Comfortable. Almost . . . homey and totally animal centric from the prints on the wall and needlework pillows on the sofas in the waiting room, through and including the danged bathroom. None of the magazines — ranging from Cat Fancy and Dog Fancy to Newsweek and Time — are older than two months.

But a nice as it looks and as upbeat and friendly as everyone is, it's obvious that this isn't a happy place. Tucked everywhere are boxes of tissues.

People are introducing themselves — to Tank and me — right and left. None of it rushed or phoney. Explaining to me who they are, what they do and how they figure in Tank's treatment. I know I'm not remembering any of their names.

A happy-looking terrier comes in. It and its owners strike me as veterans. Neither Tank nor I are.

Tank's records — "Do we need to make copies and give these back to you or they ours?" "Yours." — disappear in back somewhere. Tank immediately wows ‘em by getting on the scale after I pointed and said, "Tank, there."

Next stop an examination room. Also immaculate, and sunny, bright and airy, too. White wicker . . . And on the gleaming white and forest green floor a fuzzy rug for Tank to lie upon. There's vet counters and stuff I'm familiar with but it's along only a portion of one wall

Erin and Michelle (I did remember a couple of names after all!) are in and out taking Tank's vitals and getting from me what can't be covered by the medical records I'd brought in. Observations from the person that knows him best: Me.

I'm sitting on a lovely cushioned white wicker love seat (one of two, complete with a matching end table) and they're sitting on the hard floor next to Tank, who's on a fuzzy rug.

And by now I gotta pee. Bad.

One of the receptionists comes in to give me more paperwork to sign and I tell her.

"Not a problem." She tells me how to get to the bathroom . . .

Have I mentioned I'm not too good with directions?

. . . and repeats them until I know exactly where I'm going. Which turns out to be only a few feet from the examination room that we were in. Like diagonally across the hallway.

"I'll stay with Tank until you get back." And then she sits on the floor next to Tank (he's on "his" rug) and starts stroking and baby-talking him.

It didn't matter how nice the people around him were. Tank was obviously relieved when I came back a few minutes later. I now felt much relieved and was now able to start focusing more on what seemed like forests of paperwork I'd already been through and had received. Information on . . . At least I'd had the smarts to bring a manila folder with me to stick in all in. I'll figure it all out when we get home.

The next person to plant themselves on the floor next to Tank was a slender, leggy, outdoors- looking, no-pantyhose blond, wearing a clinic coat over a flowing skirt, who as she kicked off her sandals into a corner, stuck out her hand in a firm handshake while she said, "I'm sorry about that but I'm just not a shoes person. I'm Dr. LaDue."

That Dr. LaDue is a woman is a surprise. Not because I haven't been around female veterinarians before but with the way Da Kid had described Dr. LaDue as tops in the field, in my mind's eye I'd pictured someone like Marcus Welby. And dear gawd, she's so young!

(I discovered later that as of a 2004 roster of specialists focused solely on canine / small animal oncology, Dr. LaDue is one of only 125 in the United States and Canada.)

For the next — I'm guessing ‘cause I don't know how long it actually was — 45 minutes we talked about . . . whut.ever.

As Hubby, Da Kid and I had already decided the quality of Tank's life is more important than its quantity.

Treatment options: None versus oral versus injection. The difference in potential outcomes between the oral and injection treatments, the risks and the estimated cost. Length of anticipated treatment for each and the schedule for the next 25 weeks (if all goes well) when I chose the injections because while it's rougher and the possibility of adverse reactions are greater, it gives Tank a better chance of going into remission.

Percentages this, bell curves that. She's doing what she said she would: beginning my education. Maybe all of this detail will matter to me some time in the future but it doesn't right now. I already knew there are no guarantees.

No vet-med mysteries. If I don't understand something, ask. "There's no such thing as a stupid question."

More paperwork. Pure info. This chemical does that. That one does this. If you see this or that call me. I'm on call 24/7. If I'm not there, other things are in place and . . .

But first more tests on Tank and some of them are going to be butt ugly. He will, however, be sedated and not feel a thing. Including the not required but requested removal of a lymph node from his leg to add to a study being done on canine lymphoma.

Yes.

And do I want him to start chemo today.

I'm surprised he's made it this far. Of course I do.

One last form to sign: my desire for them to attempt resuscitation if . . . during . . ."

I had to think about that. Not long but I didn't know the answer immediately. "Yes, for right now but may change in the future."

"No problem. This is for today."

I'm shown the lab and kennel areas, meet more people whose names I don't remember. There's a Rottweiler in one cage, a black on white spotted hound of some sort in another. A frightened- looking Dachshund wrapped in something is in a smaller cage. They're all strangely shaved in areas like Tank's.

I hand Tank's lead to one of the attendants. She tries to get him to go into one of the cages and he won't go. He won't leave my side.

"I'll do it." I take off his lead. "Tank. IN."

Like I said, he wowed ‘em.

I go home and come back several hours later. Michelle brings Tank out and he's STONED! She goes out to the car with me in case Tank has any trouble getting in. (More honestly, I'm sure, in case considering my age I had any problems getting him in.)

Tank doesn't miss the back seat by much when he launches himself onto it. He was pointed in the first direction but only his head made it cleanly. The rest of him is half in and half out. I hoist his butt up and he's set.

We get home. Tank wobbles out of the car, through the gate, somehow pees without falling over when he hikes, gets up the back steps into the kitchen where an overjoyed Wonderdog greets him.

Tank has no interest in the Wonderdog's greeting or after having none since 10 the night before, even a slurp of water. He's zonked. He wobbles into the living room, and he's out.

I start going through, organizing and reading all of the papers in the folder I'd crammed stuff into. It's not that I hadn't read it in the doctor's office, it's just that I'm finally starting to make sense of it all.

But there's so much to remember. To look out for.

(What I have is in easy-for-me-to-understand plain English. Dr. LaDue is also faxing stuff to Doc every step of the way in the totally incomprehensible language of Vet-Speak.)

Tank finally rouses around 8:30 and goes out to the kitchen for a drink of water. He brings it back up about an hour later. He goes back to sleep, drinks more at 10 and this time, keeps it down.

He sleeps next to my side of the bed again that night.

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