Wednesday, November 4, 2015
WHAT I'VE LEARNED
Late yesterday afternoon I learned a new word. It's a word I wish I had gone my whole life without learning: hemangiosarcoma. It's a very aggressive form of cancer that appears only in dogs (and possibly in cats, but that's not known for sure).
My beloved 10-year-old Murphy presented with the classic symptoms: he seemed absolutely fine, aside from some indigestion, until early yesterday afternoon. I had the day off for Election Day, the weather was gorgeous, and my plan was to take both my dogs for a hike. But when I went to call Murphy, he was nowhere to be found. After a frantic search through the house and the fenced-in yard, I finally discovered him curled into a ball in the woodpile next to the garage, which was as hidden as he could possibly make himself.
When I first saw him there, he was lying so still that I thought he was dead, but then I saw that his eyes were open. I brought him to the vet, and somehow I knew in advance that it was very serious; I started crying as soon as the examination began. The vet did a physical exam and followed up with chest and abdominal X-rays, after which he showed me that there was a mass on Murphy's spleen which apparently had ruptured and caused some internal bleeding. The vet told me that while there was a very slim chance that there might be a more benign explanation, his 35 years of experience told him that this was a hemangiosarcoma and that it had already metastasized. If this were the case, we could opt for surgery to have Murphy's spleen removed, but that this would only buy him another month or two until another of his organs would be so compromised that he would be back to the condition he's in now.
The vet kept Murphy overnight to rehydrate him via IV, and is going to do a sonogram this afternoon to see the condition of his other organs. I'm not going in to work today, partly because I hardly slept last night and I'm a wreck, and partly because the vet said he might be able to send Murphy home tonight and if he does, I want to go get him as soon as I can. My husband is out of town. He was supposed to come back Friday, but he's coming back tonight instead. My son who lives in D.C. can't get here until Saturday. We still haven't told my daughter, who is in college in New York. We're going to wait until after the sonogram so we can give her as much information as possible so she can decide when to come home. We're only thinking ahead one day at a time.
You don't have the privilege of knowing Murphy, so I'll tell you about him. We got him when he was an 8-week-old teddy bear and he immediately stole everyone's heart. When he was a tiny puppy, people would pull over in their cars as we walked him to marvel at him and ask what breed he was. He's a goldendoodle (half poodle, half golden retriever) who was apricot-colored until he lost his puppy coat and turned the beautiful white you can see in the photo.
I've always said that Murphy was born with manners. I've also frequently referred to him as a saint, and that is entirely accurate. Once he outgrew the puppy phase of nipping our 9-year-old daughter, who he had decided was his littermate, he has never been anything but - to quote Chaucer - "a very parfit, gentil knight." Unlike his little brother Finney, whom we got when Murphy was two so that he would have company during the day when we were all at work or school, Murphy is reserved around people he doesn't know. But to the members of his family, he has always been the most devoted, loving creature I've ever met. He's someone I've often wished I could emulate: infinitely patient, infinitely kind, infinitely accepting. He does everything with a full, open and generous heart. He's a true embodiment of love, and for the last ten years he's taught all four of us humans exactly how it's done. We are so much the richer for having had him in our lives.
Last night I was on one of many phone calls with my husband, and he asked how a friend of mine had reacted when I told her our sad news. I said, "Well, she's not a dog person," and he replied, "Well, Murphy's not a dog." Truer words were never spoken. Murphy is a noble being who has also been our baby for the past ten years. Lucky, lucky us.