Last Thursday I took Captain The Jake to the vet for severe lethargy and no appetite. I'd made at least three appointments for him earlier in the week but always ended up canceling them; it seemed like the second I'd hang up the phone, Jake would spring into action and either furiously chase down a goat or eat four cups of food. He rallies like a motherfucker.
Late afternoon Thursday I was sitting at the sewing machine and Jake was next to me on the floor, as usual, my sewing buddy, but he looked me in the face and made this noise at me, like, please? Please? And I got up, grabbed his leash, and put him in the backseat of my car.
I thought maybe it was allergies. Or, God forbid, Valley Fever. Maybe a sudden side effect of his arthritis medication?
It wasn't any of those things. Jake had fluid in his abdomen. I waited while his doctor gave him an ultrasound, trying to figure out what kind of fluid could possibly be in my dog's abdomen. Mysterious seltzer, maybe, or guava juice?
I was legitimately shocked it was blood.
Jake was bleeding internally, and the ultrasound didn't show why. The doctor explained that it was common in older large-breed dogs to develop masses on the spleen that eventually rupture and fill the belly with blood. He needed a splenectomy, and it wouldn't wait until Monday. If he made it through that night, he'd need emergency surgery first thing Friday.
If Jake hadn't told me to take him to the doctor Thursday afternoon, I would've given him his arthritis medication and taken him in on Friday.
Except I wouldn't have, because Friday's Jake was a completely different Jake. He woke up hungry and energetic-- although admittedly that might have had something to do with the fact that I slept half inside his bed with him all night, generally dispensing panicky comfort and making sure he was still alive. Friday's Jake wouldn't have needed to go to the vet, and Saturday's Jake would have died.
Jake needed a splenectomy to remove his spleen and a 5cm mass that had ruptured and was filling his belly with not-seltzer. The doctors at the emergency hospital pulled exactly no punches: Given the blood results, they were willing to bet he had developed hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive and unstoppable cancer of the blood vessels. Nine out of ten dogs presenting with Jake's symptoms and issues had the cancer, and it wasn't really nine out of ten, it was ten out of ten with an occasional miracle randomly thrown in to fuck with you.
Removal of his spleen would buy Jake two to four more months.
Months. Two. Two months.
It goes without saying that Randy and I were beyond devastated. They suggested a chest x-ray; if his heart and lungs were wracked with tumors, our decision would be made for us. The x-ray came back clear. Good, clear lungs, non-enlarged heart, no tumors.
Randy and I celebrated. It was a weak celebration, sure, because we were crying and trying to eat chicken sandwiches at the same time, which is really hard to do, cry and eat, and honestly it's pretty gross, I don't recommend it. But we celebrated. Next we got a second, more sophisticated ultrasound to determine if there were more tumors and where; again, if he had a bellyful of tumors or if his liver also showed tumors, we wouldn't put our Jake through surgery. The ultrasound came back relatively clear; isolated tumors in the spleen, nothing in the belly, nothing in the liver.
We celebrated. i.e., had trouble sobbing and swallowing chicken salad at the same time.
The same doctors who were so (necessarily and kindly) blunt about the situation also let us know that, though it's definitely a major surgery, dogs traditionally recover from it extremely quickly. Moreover, they typically regain all of their lost energy, appetite, and joie de vivre in a week or two. Quality of life returns. For a time.
We decided to have Jake's spleen removed. What could we do? It was too much to handle, way too sudden, we felt blindsided. Randy felt it as hard or harder than I did. He's our baby Captain, he's been our Best One for almost ten years... I mean, we couldn't... we just couldn't. We needed time. And if he wasn't suffering with fluid in his lungs or an enlarged heart or a myriad of tumors in his belly, well, let's take the spleen out and bring our wiggle home.
The surgeon called Friday evening after the surgery. Everything went as expected, and Jake pulled through like a champ. His voice fell an octave as he relayed to me the fact that during the operation he'd noted several pinprick lesions present on Jake's liver, meaning no random occasional miracle for us.
But The Captain is home. We brought him home Saturday night and it was rough; I held him all night while he cried and thrashed, waiting for the oral pain medication to catch up to the waning general anesthesia. Sunday morning he woke up clear-eyed and hungry, though, hungrier than he's been in a good long while. And since then he's only gotten better, they weren't lying about a quick recovery. I'm cooking all of his food from here on out and he's making an absolute pig out of himself, which I find incredibly flattering.
I can't really talk about this with any amount of gravity, and if you've read my blog over the years this won't surprise you-- you already know I can't talk about anything with any amount of gravity. I've been dreading writing this post (there are several short, emergency "real time" iPhone posts about it on tumblr) because Jake's entire life is chronicled here and that's so poignant to me right now.
We're so incredibly heartbroken. But at the same time we recognize what an honor it is to have this extra time to love our Captain. He gets his staples (ow) out next Wednesday and we're going to take him to Mexico on Friday so he can walk on the beach and pee on dead fish to his little non-enlarged heart's content.
I don't know what I'll do when he's gone, I really truly don't. I can't think about it.
So in the meantime, here's a short video taken today documenting Captain The Jake's ability to Still Get The Goats, even though he's down one spleen and plus one stupid inflatable blue donut.