For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
This pretty accurately reflects where I’m at right now. On Monday morning, Dad sent me an email early, asking me to call about Carmel — not a good sign. When we talked, he elucidated that Carmel couldn’t use her right hind leg, and he planned on calling the vet when they opened. My spirits plummeted. A couple times I’ve dreamed Carmel died, and woken up both times crying, tears running down my cheeks. If that’s how I reacted in a dream, how much worse is it in real life? I’m not ready to find out! Especially not with already having the emotional burden of Grandpa dying at Easter, Ben’s memorial service just on Saturday, and my dear friend Rachel moving to Fresno in a couple days.
The vet X-rayed Carmel’s back and told Dad she had a spinal injury. He gave her a shot containing a very high dose of steroids and sent her home, telling Dad that if she didn’t significantly improve by this morning, she probably wouldn’t improve and that would be that.
Well, this morning she wasn’t dramatically better, but if Dad picked her rear end up, she would bear weight on it. And she was willing to walk for a Milkbone. But it wasn’t enough improvement to think she’d get back to living a functional, happy doggy life — what’s life if you can’t walk around and sniff stuff? — so Dad made an appointment with the vet to put Carmel down at 5:00 today. I stopped by midday to check on her, and she had moved! –just a few feet, and frankly she didn’t seem herself at all when I came over. She didn’t move an inch, and although I petted her ears the way she likes, she seemed extremely subdued. My impression was that she was really just enduring, and we’d already lost the the happy dog we know and love.
I won’t sugarcoat it; I spent a good portion of the day crying and heartbroken. We went to go on a farewell walk with my dear friend Rachel, who is moving to California in a couple days, and all I could think about was losing Carmel. Carmel has been in my life since I was in high school, and I can hardly imagine not having her stinky, hairy self around at Mom and Dad’s house. She sometimes comes for visits at my house, and we practically have to drag her out the door when it’s time to go home. Carmel has been a consistent, unconditionally loving presence in my life for many years, and the prospect of losing her truly broke my heart.
I have so many happy memories of her, I can’t even begin to quantify them, let alone describe them. We hiked innumerable miles, snowshoed (that darn snow between her toes!), walked in parks, took her swimming, dressed her up silly, taught her tricks; I won’t go on. You get the idea. I missed the best years of her life while I lived in Massachusetts, and she was the one thing I really missed all those years back East. You can talk to parents on the phone, but you can’t get dog cuddles remotely. I collected tennis balls on my commutes and mailed Mom and Dad long tube full of tennis balls. Oh joy! …at least, on Carmel’s part.
So Dad picked me up at 4:45 to go with him and Carmel for her last visit to the vet. She was surprisingly able to walk, but kept staggering badly and losing control of her rear legs. Standing up proved particularly difficult. We walked into the vet’s office, and Dad asked to talk with Dr. Marsh a bit before we put Carmel down. He came in, and Dad described Carmel’s symptoms (a different vet had seen Carmel the previous day). One new symptom Dad mentioned: Carmel seemed to hold her head at a strange angle. Hmm. Out came the eye-examining light. Hmmm. More discussion, some more investigation of her posture. Yes, she definitely held her head at an unusual angle, off to the left. Stand her up: Gee, she’s clearly listing to the left. Well, hey, this lameness may not be due to the back injury observed on the X-ray! Turns out Carmel has vestibular syndrome, which he described as kind of like doggie vertigo, where Carmel doesn’t know where down is. It’s a central nervous system problem that isn’t treatable, but often resolves itself in a week or so, with a decent likelihood of her getting back to reasonable functionality.
We walked back out into the waiting room with Carmel. The entire staff was there, waiting to be sad with us. Instead, when Dr. Marsh announced the new diagnosis and sent us home, the entire staff clapped and cheered. Hooray! What a huge blessing! I felt like I was the one reprieved, rather than Carmel. She’s still a 13-year-old overweight golden retriever, and nothing will bring back the boundless-energy ball of enthusiasm we remember, but at least we get time for more stinky, hairy cuddles.
Now I’m exhausted. Like I said at the beginning: I can’t take anymore scares! Or, more accurately, I can’t take any more, PERIOD.
And here’s my all-time favorite video of Carmel.