Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Waiting Continues

2013 April 23 - 24

The Waiting Continues

On Monday, Dr Bennett called after Greyla's splenectomy was finished,but before she was fully out of anesthesia because he knew how worried we were. I was so happy to hear that she survived the surgery! My deepest fear had been that she would die on the OR table, and my extreme superstition would not allow me to voice that fear! They had removed the mass and spleen and ligated all bleeders. The mass was a whooping ten pounds! And as impressive as that is, the thing ruptured shortly after they removed it! Her liver looked "beautiful", to quote Dr Bennett. Her PVC, post surgery, was 34. Not out of the woods yet, but all in all, good news. 

[A splenectomy and removal of such an enormous blood-filled mass, is an equally enormous risk,especially in a dog who is broaching her 14th birthday. We were fully aware of the risks, but elected to do it anyway, because the alternative was to watch her slowly ebb away, in increasing discomfort, with the very real possibility that the mass would rupture causing her to bleed out and die. But the decision was not one we took lightly, for so many reasons, including the financial hit, with no guarantee of success. So, when Dr Bennett called, post surgery, my relief that she had not died on the table was palpable. Unfortunately, we perhaps failed to calculate the full cost of such invasive surgery on the sweet old girl, and we neglected to fully realize how long the recovery process would be.]

Later on Monday afternoon, Dr Person called to say that we should come out to Allpet around 7:30 to see Greyla and to decide where she should go for further post op care, since Allpet does not offer 24 hour monitoring. 

Seeing Greyla that evening, in her still anesthesia induced stupor, we knew that she needed much more care than we could offer her. Our choices were PVSEC or VCA Northview for continuing care. We opted for Northview, basically bc it was the closer place. Allpet kindly offered the use of their stretcher, provided we promised to return it. 

The drive to Northview, through the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh was stressful, but we arrived without mishap and Greyla seemed a bit more aware. They settled her into a double cage, with loads of quilts and blankets, and even a folded towel as a pillow for her head. She, for the first time since the surgery, lifted her head and looked at Raymond & me with possible recognition. The road to recovery was beginning. The doctor, Dr McKlveen, assured us that us that we would only hear from her during the night, if there was a problem, and/or Greyla needed a transfusion. She also told us that Dr Threadgill would be coming in at 7 and he would be in touch sometime around 9AM, to report Greyla's progress. We drove home cautiously optimistic.

Dr Threadgill did indeed call in the morning, around 8, with the update. Greyla was not yet able to stand or walk. Some of that inability may be a result of her old arthritic limbs and joints. She exhibited some abdomen tenderness. Her liver enzymes were down a tad. The white blood count was elevated slightly. Her pack cell volume was stable. She was alert, aware and responsive. We could visit around 11. She could probably be discharged when she was able to arise and walk.

Our visit to see Greyla went well. She was brought into the room on a stretcher, but was alert and responsive. After a time, we put the rubber backed rug we brought with us on the floor and coaxed her to try and get up, hoping the rug would give her purchase that the floor alone did not. Her initial attempt was a failed one, but her second try got her onto the rug, under her own power, where she walked a single circle, then laid back down on the gurney. It wasn't a lot, but for us it was an extremely BIG deal! We also offered her several varieties of wet food, but she wanted none of them. When we return to visit in the evening, we'll bring other things to try and tempt her to eat.

Upon returning home, we each set about our tasks for the day. Mine included at trip to the laundromat. AS I was finishing up there, my phone rang. It was Dr Threadgill. He reported that one of the techs told him that "his friend" was standing up in her cage & had made a couple of circles. They got her out, and the tech then walked her through the treatment area, out the back door and outside, where Greyla peed, then walked back! All on her own! No coaxing and no assistance! I was beside myself with joy! And, Dr Threadgill, bless his Tennessee heart, was too! He said, " I was so happy and I knew you would be too, so even though I'm almost ready to leave, I knew I had to call and let you know." I called Raymond & we were both happy! The plan was to visit sometime after 7:30.

We called Northview to be sure the timeframe for visiting was good and the tech we talked to suggested bringing any food we thought she would eat, regardless of it's nutritional value. So, on our way, we made a stop at McD's and got nuggets, which she usually loves, as well as a plain burger, to compliment the assortment of bread, treats and dog food we were bringing from home.

I was expecting Greyla to be similar to how she had been in demeanor earlier in the day, with the added benefit that she could get up and walk. So, when the tech walked her into the room to visit with us, although I was thrilled that she was walking, I was disappointed by her demeanor. She seemed dull eyed, compared to earlier in the day. There was no attempt to make eye contact. She whimpered. To me, her gums seemed pale. She had 2 small areas of fresh pale blood on her blanket. We offered food, she refused it. Although, at one point in the vista she opted to eat 2 or 3 very teeny bits of one nugget. When Dr McKlveen came in, I asked about her gums and the whimpering and the blood, and was told that her blood values were stable, the blood from the incision site was not a concern and that Greyla whimpered when she needed to go out to the bathroom. I do not think it was the Dr intention to be dismissive, but that was how I took it. The difference between Greyla at 8pm and Greyla at 12 noon was crushing to me. And had I had my wits about me, I would've shared the pictures I took when we visited earlier in the day with Dr McKlveen, and perhaps she would've seen it too.

We left and in the parking lot, I broke down in tears, yet again. This time tears of lose for what little progress had been gained and now seemed gone. Yes, I want my girl to be able to get herself up from a resting position and walk, but I want her to do it with a light in her eyes and spirit. 

So, we wait a bit longer…

This morning we got a call from Dr Sisk, the daylight Vet today, reporting that he is changing Greyla's pain meds to address her arthritis problems better. He said she is still able to rise and walk and go outside. She is still refusing food. He feels that she will progress, but due to her age it will be a long rehab period. We will visit around noon. We will allow her to stay until Dr Threadgill comes on duty at 7PM and reviews her condition. We will visit agin in the evening, talk to Dr Threadgill and depending on why he has to offer, either leave her another day, or bring her home tonight.

In either case, we will try and get some kind of ramp together this afternoon, because when she does come home, we're concerned about how to get her into the car, as well as in and out of the motorhome. 

Monday, April 22, 2013


2013 April 22

Today, in fact, right NOW, Greyla Girl, our almost 14 year old Labrador Retriever, is having surgery to remove her spleen and the huge mass attached to it.

She has been diagnosed via radiographs and ultrasound. She has had blood work and additional x-rays to ensure that her lungs are healthy, as well as her heart.

We mulled and considered and prayed before making the decision. And after making it.

This morning we took her at the Vet Hospital,where she has been four times over the past three weeks, got back into the car without her, and cried. Then we came home, worked on some RV related issues, called the hospital and asked them to please call us when she was going into surgery, so we would know when to be really stressed. They called about an hour ago. Oddly, I don't feel more stressed right now. I do feel weepy. It will be at least another hour before we hear anything, maybe as long as two. The surgery itself will take 90 minutes, at least, barring any complications. And they will monitor her for vitals, possible bleeding, and general well being for maybe an hour or more before they contact us. 

Waiting, that's the hardest part. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Curve Balls

2013 April  18

Life has thrown so many curve balls lately, that I am feeling completely turned around.

Initially, in mid February, when I called Pittsburgh and found that my Daddy was very sick, then found that he needed emergency surgery to correct a bowel obstruction caused by a hernia he choose to ignore, I thought that was the extent of things. Then, while he was in the hospital, they discovered a tumor in his lung. Then, the tumor turned out to be cancer. Then the cancer turned out to be metastasizing. Those were curve, after curve, after curve.

We arrived in Pittsburgh just one week after the emergency surgery took place. The only campground open and available was at the top of a former slag heap, now covered with grass, near Tarentum. It was more expensive than resorts we had stayed in in Florida, but it was open and within 20 miles of my Dad. Weather in Pittsburgh in February and March can be wildly unpredictable. This year choose to be very wet and often very cold, and because we are at elevation, very windy. It also meant that the wetness translated into mud! And it continued into April. Small curve balls, here I suppose. Like when the power went out on our electric pedestal in the 20 amp outlet where the heated hose was plugged in, and our water froze. Like the fact that we've been hauling dirty laundry to my brother's house since February, only to find out last week, that there are laundry facilities here, but no one ever mentioned them. (They are in a locked area beneath the owner's home and she "forgot" to tell us).

A visit to my family doctor to discuss some medication changes, turned into numerous tests, including an ultrasound which led to a specialist, which is leading to a procedure. Curve ball, curve ball, curve ball, curve ball. Good grief!

Then came the curve balls related to our Greyla Girl, who is nearly 14, and a mostly labrador retriever. She was having occasional bouts of being off her food, which we put down to her age and being finicky and the major change of being in the cold for the first time in 18 months. Then she threw up a couple of times. Again, she bounced back, so we didn't fret too long or hard. Then, one evening, she simply collapsed. All four feet went out from under her and I panicked. She refused to let me help her up, but simply laid on the floor for over an hour. Then, she managed to get up, with assistance, and go outside outside by means of us using a towel to sling her and asset her down the steps. The next morning I called the Vet. The vet saw her that afternoon and was of the opinion that she had arthritis. Dr Person gave her medication which seemed to help with her gait. However I neglected to share the information about her appetite and her occasional vomiting. To be honest, I was so overwhelmed by Greyla's collapse that I never even thought about these other things. Perhaps I threw that curve myself.

After two weeks on Rimadyl, we went back to the Vet, for blood work and a refill on the drugs, which seemed to be working. Here comes another curve ball. Greyla's blood work showed elevated liver enzymes. Now, it occurs to me to tell Dr Person about the lack of appetite, which comes and goes, and the occasional vomiting. We establish a plan of action. If Greyla doesn't eat in 24 hours, bring her in. In the meantime, stop the Rimadyl, consider beginning Tramadol for pain relief, and plan to recheck her blood work in a month, if she is eating normally.

Unfortunately, there is a nagging little voice in the back of my mind telling me to get her checked immediately. In spite of the fact that as soon as I hung up from Dr Person, Greyla ate very morsel in her dish. The nagging voice continued, until I called in the morning to request a recheck and abdominal X-rays. I was expecting an enlarged liver. What we saw, instead, was an enormous mass in the middle of Greyla's belly. It is so large, that it is displacing portions of her small intestines, and obscuring visualization via X-ray, of her liver, stomach, and spleen. Major curve ball! Especially curvy, because her physical exam was exceedingly normal. Dr Person suggested that an ultrasound guided aspirate or biopsy was probably the way to proceed. So, tomorrow sometime, Greyla and I will meet Dr Rodgers who will do the ultrasound.

In the meantime, additional curve balls have been lobbed regarding the ultrasound. One, by my dear husband, who questions spending the money on something diagnostic, which "isn't going to make her live longer". And then, the curve ball from a friend who talked about "the inevitable". 

I just want to do the best thing I can for Greyla. At this point we don't know if the mass is connected to any organs, or if it is benign, or cancer. I'm praying against any other curve balls, unless they involve a miracle, and the total disappearance of that huge mass. That would be a curve ball for which I would give thanks.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Another shared post...

February - March 2013

Sometimes the simplest things alter life in major ways. In mid February I made a phone call to my brother in Pittsburgh, from Fort Pickens Campground. That simple call changed everything about what we've done and plan to do from that point to this, and beyond.

During that phone conversation, it was revealed that Dad was sick, in pain, vomiting and refusing to go to the Emergency Room. After threats to Daddy, made by me, he finally agreed to allow my brother Vinny to take him to the ER. Turns out the old guy had a hernia, which he had been ignoring, that in turn, was causing a bowel obstruction. The ER admitted him to the hospital and surgery was scheduled for Saturday morning.

While Daddy was being prepared for surgery, during his chest x-ray, it was noted that he had a mass of some sort in his lower right lung. It was decided that this would be addressed after the hernia / obstruction repair.

Daddy's abdominal surgery went well. This fact is astounding, given his frail physical condition, and advanced age. In prime health, he weighed around 150 pounds. When admitted to the hospital, he weighed in at a mere 116 pounds. The hernia repair was accomplished and the obstruction was not severe enough to require a resection. Thank you, Lord! 

 A couple of days after the emergency abdominal surgery, Daddy had a CT scan of the mass in his lung, followed by a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed that the mass in his lung is cancer. 

All of these events took place before Raymond and I returned to PIttsburgh from Florida. My brother Vinny was the primary person dealing with all of these events. Perhaps a little background is in order.

Vinny owns the home in which he, our Dad, and two of our other unmarried brothers live. When Daddy was discharged from the hospital, it was to return to Vinny's house. In addition, Vinny had, at the end of January, retired from his 30 year gig at the USPS. His original plan had been to take a couple of weeks, head off to the beaches of NC and simply relax. For whatever reason, he didn't go, and I thank God that he didn't. He stepped up and became Daddy's primary care giver in those first days of Daddy's release. The other two brothers living in that house did what they could, but Vinny bore the weight of it. He's a good son, and a wonderful brother.

Raymond and I arrived in Pittsburgh on February 22. We were blessed to find the ONLY open campground in the PIttsburgh area, in the Tarentum area, about 18 miles northeast of where my Dad and brothers live. We drive and live in our motorhome, but have no other means of transportation, so we had to obtain a rental car. And let me just say that IF we had suspected that we would EVER be camping in PIttsburgh in February/March, we certainly would've opted for a motorhome with an arctic package! But that's a tale for another time, as is the whole experience related to our stay at Mountaintop Campground. This is the story of Daddy, which I will continue.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Shared Post

This started out as notes. I wasn't sure if the notes would be for a blog post on Mind Flotsam or on Me And Ray And A Dog Named Grey. In the end, I decided to simply post it as is, on both blogs. Yes, I am lazy :) But, the longer post I have been trying to work on for weeks detailing Daddy's illness, surgery, discovery of cancer, and our journey back to Pittsburgh, just doesn't seem to be coming together. So here is something, anyway. ~jm

2013 Apr 7 Notes for possible blog post

One of my Facebook friends is Jamie The Very Worst Missionary. I also subscribe to  her blog posts. Today her blog led me to the website of her church, Lakeside, in Folsom CA. That in turn led me to blog posts by the pastor. Which led me to sobbing at my table as I read about the pastor's Mom and her passing.

The posts were poignant and funny, to use the pastor's word: Bittersweet.

One reason I was so touched by the posts, is that my own Daddy is dying. And to quote Brad, "we're all dying, but this is different". Very different when it is someone you've loved all your life. 

Selfish: he's 87 I have friends who lost their Dads at much younger ages. I don't care! I want my Daddy! (I seem to fluctuate between the bossy former nurse, the oldest child organizing things, and the terrified eight year old. that exclamation came from the eight year old.)

Selfish again: he told the oncologist, "Doc, I've been around long enough" He seems to accept his mortality. I have trouble with that.

Selfish & guilty: well meaning friends ask if my Dad knows Jesus. My response has become: in a Catholic way. Cop out? Truth? I fear bringing up the topic of Jesus, redeemer and salvation, because I don't want to alienate my Daddy.  We are talking more than we ever have in all our years. Not just about sports & superficial stuff. For the first time, Daddy is sharing with me stories about his feelings, things he loved doing, his friends, his interactions with the parish priest, Fr Matthew Kebe, when Daddy was a teen & an adult, and lots of other personal insights. I do not want to approach him in any way that will close off this flow of  interaction. I fear if I say something about Jesus, he will shut down on me and all opportunities will be lost…

Trying to maintain trust in the Lord: perhaps I  am grasping at straws, but I see this mornings sequence of Jamie's post and where it led, as a sign that God has it all under control. I also saw that same sign in Daddy's sharing stories about Fr Kebe with me on Easter. 
(Partially because when I was having difficulty, many years ago, accepting my former pastor's declaration that he would not baptist me, my friend Martha shared something she had written regarding not re-baptising an adult who had been baptized as an infant. She sighted the work of the Holy Spirit, and how we can never really KNOW, which caused me to think about Fr Kebe. I had not thought of him, maybe ever!  Yet, after reading Martha's paper, he came to mind. And somehow, knowing what a godly man, priest, he was gave me peace that even if my parents were having me baptized at 3 weeks old out of Catholic convention, the faith and dedication of the priest bringing me before the Lord, and HIS connection through the Holy Spirit were enough to allow the Spirit to work in me.)

Anyway, I am trusting that through the same Holy Spirit, God will give me words when the time is right, to talk to my Daddy about the redemption offered to all through Jesus death and resurrection. Perhaps our shared remembrances of Fr Kebe will be the door that leads to that conversation...