I don’t know how long I have left with my dog. When I adopted her in July of 2006 from the city pound in East Harlem, they guestimated her age at about two and a half. Not knowing her real birthday, I set it as Valentine’s day since that seemed like a good day to celebrate the birth of my constant companion and best buddy. I named her Simone de Beauvoir after my favorite philosopher. She is the first dog I named after a ‘celebrity’ and the OG Badass dog.
This Valentine’s Day on what could have been her 10th birthday, Simone woke up at 630am having a seizure. I was in a deep sleep and at first felt some kicking as if she was having a nightmare but soon realized it was much worse. She was spasming violently, shaking, drooling. I had never seen a seizure in my life, certainly she had never had one. I didn’t know what to do. I picked her up and took her to her dog bed and it went on for several minutes. Her body was completely out of control, shaking all over and her bladder and bowels released. After it was over, I gave her a bath in the tub and after about an hour of wandering around she settled down and went to sleep.
I talked with my vet as soon as the office opened and she said to keep an eye on her. Later that day, everything seemed fine, back to normal. Then a few hours later, another seizure. We went to the emergency vet. They wanted to keep her overnight for observation but between the $1200 estimated price tag and the fact that I knew being in a hospital would be more stressful for her than being at home, I decided to bring her home. I gave her the anti convulsant drugs they had given me and then half an hour later, another scary 6 minute seizure. You have no idea how long six minutes can seem.
Thankfully the seizure medication must have started working because that was the last seizure she had, but she was having such bad ataxia she was falling over constantly for several days. I took her to the neurologist and they switched the seizure medication to one with less side effects. I was told that the only way they could diagnose what might be causing the seizures would be to do an MRI. The procedure would cost $1500 and she would have to go under anesthesia – which was not advisable due to the weakness of her heart.
For the past few years Simone has been on medication for a heart condition and has been basically fine. Last spring I knew something was really wrong when she started pushing her food away. This dog is a beagle, she lives for food. In turns out her kidneys were suffering, partly from age, partly from the effects of having been on heart medication for so long, partly from the fact that her heart not working very well put stress on her other organs. I saw both a cardiologist and renal specialist and both agreed two years was about the longest I could expect her to live, and 11 months was more likely the estimate for her life expectancy. Obviously I had known she wouldn’t last forever, but before this I thought we had a few more years than that left. It was a rough few months, coming to terms with her imminent mortality. She started feeling better and even though I knew we were on borrowed time, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the situation.
After the seizures hit, we went back to the cardiologist to find out if her heart was healthy enough to under for the MRI. What I found out was that her heart has enlarged further and she is still on track to die of heart failure within a few months. Rather than risk putting her under for the MRI, I am just going to have to accept that I will never know what caused the seizures or what might be wrong with her brain. I have had to think about the day that her heart failure has progressed to the point where she can’t breathe and what I will do. The vet told me some people spend thousands on ICU treatment to keep their dogs going for a few more days. I don’t have that kind of money, I don’t even have that kind of available credit. And while I don’t want to let her go, I also don’t want to put her through hospitalizations just to keep her alive for a little bit longer when she is suffering and has no chance of getting better, only worse. I am trying to make the most of the time together knowing how little there is left and how hard it will be for me to make the choice to end suffering when her quality of life is gone.
I have heard that dogs live in the present. Obviously we have no idea what is really going on in a dog’s head since they can’t speak to us, but I can believe that they live in the present. I have never lived in the present. When I was a kid I fantasized obsessively about the future, desperate to grow up and get out and live the life I dreamed of. Even in my 20s – which should have been the time I enjoyed my life the most, lived most in the present – I was too busy fretting about what I was missing, living in the future while still managing to feel prematurely old. Now as I face turning 40 I find myself looking at pictures of myself from only a few years ago when I was thinner and prettier and happier and hopeful for the future – longing for that time and that person that I was. The future is now and now I seem to be living in the past. It’s as if the present came and went in a flash and I didn’t even notice it.
This morning Simone woke up unusually early needing to go out. I lifted her out of bed and after putting on her little fleece coat and leash, carried her down the stairs. When we got outside a light snow was falling. It was early and the street was quiet. As we walked along her little paws left tracks on the unplowed sidewalks. Just enough snow had fallen to make white again the giant piles of snow and trash that had turned brown over the past few weeks. The trees lining my block looked beautiful with just a dusting of white and the gas lamps were still lit from the night before. For a moment this average Brooklyn street looked a little bit like a fairy land. I consciously felt myself living in the moment, walking with Simone down our quiet street, knowing that it would be one of those moments that stays etched in my memory.