Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Through The Fire: Kit's First Month After Surgery Part II

When last we left our hero, he had just gotten up and walked on his own for the first time since his surgery. The painkillers still not out of his system, he was none the less feeling tired, confused, and aching like crazy. The doctors had sent him home with antibiotics some stuff for the pain, but the "stuff for the pain" doesn't really alleviate pain - it just makes you not really care about it so much.

More importantly, Kit had gotten out of the front-door foyer, and into the den. This is where I had whipped the room into shape so Kit had room to get up and walk around a little, he had his choice of beds to use (one a cushioned dog bed, the other his favorite wool blanket), as well as a supply of water, and a fantastic view of the back yard and trees and birds - and squirrels he could not yet chase.

In the first few days, though confined to the den, Kit began showing signs of improvement not just every day, but more like every 12 hours. He would get up more. He would walk more. His appetite was fantastic, and he enjoyed every bite. It took several days before his digestive system came back online -- and that's something we're still working on -- but his turnaround started strong and has largely been a great success.

For the first couple of weeks, Kit's world was confined to the ground floor den, and the postage stamp of our backyard. I would take him out back as frequently as he wanted to go, though for the most part he would take a few steps out back, have a wee, then a few more steps and lay down. I would spend late hours into the night - into the early morning, if need be - downstairs with him. My big rattan swivel chair and backup laptop, and boom box for entertainment while Kit rested up. As long as I was in the room with him, Kit was OK.

Then it would get to be 4 AM or so, and I'd need some sleep. No sooner would I leave the room, Kit would tell me "hey, either come back here, or let me go upstairs with you!" He was in no shape to try the steps just yet, so I'd come back to the den, get him comfy on his wool blanket, and eventually make my way upstairs again. The nearest somewhat-comfy sleeping spot for me was the living room couch on the second floor, so I'd make myself a nest there - if Kit made any noises of distress, I would be close enough to hear it. On the morning of my birthday on May 1, I woke up after being crashed-out on the couch after a late night with Kit.

Soon after, Kit was ready to try getting up the steps. I let him approach this at his own pace, but I knew from the day he came home, that was an immediate goal: Prior to the surgery, when Kit's left front leg was giving him so much pain he would randomly scream in agony, he still found the strength to climb up another flight of steps at the end of the night, to sleep beside our bed. Kit insists on being right by my side, and I can only sleep on the couch for so long.

Just a couple of weeks after the surgery - only a couple of days after having his bandages removed (to expose his half-shaved left side, and the quickly-healing incision), Kit decided nothing was going to stop him from sleeping in his favorite spot. I carefully observed as he made his way up the steps - one by one, deliberately - until he found himself in the bedroom, and his dog bed right beside ours.

Starting a little over a week ago, Kit is now undergoing chemotherapy. Every three weeks, for the next 15 or so. The day after his first treatment, he got real sick -- I was no stranger to Kit having an upset stomach (and have gotten many miles out of our little wet/dry vac, so I'm a carpet-cleaning ninja by now), but the first day after chemo left him in rough shape. Happy to say, he's not had an incident since then - it's been over a week and he hasn't yakked since.

I'm well aware that Kitsune is no young pup. He's probably about 13 now, as he was probably around 2 when I got him in 2000. He's been through quite a bit over the last few years - and his vet bills are at least double what my own entire medical bills have totaled in the last 30 years. He's also worth every penny of it, worth every bit of lost sleep, and worth all of the cleanup at 3 AM. The odds are pretty strong that Kit's osteosarcoma will eventually return, though I'm doing everything I can with his program to see to it that doesn't happen.

For now, he's going for walks. When he sees a squirrel, he tries to chase after it - and does a pretty good job on 3 legs, too. He's still full of life, still wagging his tail, still smiling that huge grin of his. He has no regrets, and neither do I.

Pictured below, Kit climbed up onto the beanbag chair in the den, and was quite proud of himself:

There's more to come. Kit's story is still being written...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Through The Fire: Kit's First Month After Surgery

This week made one month since Kitsune came home after his cancer surgery. The doctors at Southpaws removed his left front leg, including the shoulder, so he looks just a bit different from the passenger's side than he did before. A read of the the surgery notes indicate no sign of metastasis at the time, which is encouraging news.

Bringing Kit home was wonderful but tough -- just a day, two days after surgery, he was in tons of pain and the painkillers they'd given him only seemed to disorient, rather than alleviate. With help from two of the vet techs, I got him into my car, and drove home.

Getting him into the house, however, was another story.

Kit knew where he was, and I'm sure on some level he was glad to be home. Yet, from the moment I opened the car door, I knew this wouldn't be easy. He wouldn't maneuver well at all in the back seat, and the soreness and swelling from the surgery made him to tender to lift -- I could loop a towel under his front leg (the only front leg now) and try to support, but every single step was a struggle. He was fighting to move ahead, but his strength wasn't there. Kit wasn't going to get anywhere on physical ability alone, but he pushed for all he was worth - he made it the fifteen feet or so from the car to just inside the front door, and collapsed flat on the linoleum.

Kit looked at me with some confusion in his eyes, as though he didn't quite understand why he was so lame, and looked sad as if he was letting me down. Dogs always want to please their masters, and the best ones practically shame themselves sick when they feel they've let you down. Kit has always been one of the best. I got some towels underneath and around him, brought some water for him to drink, and sat with him.

All afternoon. All night.

I made a nest out of Kim's beanbag chairs, brought my laptop over to watch some Top Gear Australia, and tried to get some rest. With Kit unable to get up and move, I knew he'd have no choice but to evacuate on the floor - that didn't matter, as I was ready to clean up whatever happened. Ever the dog to mind his manners, Kit moaned, groaned, and tried with all his might to hold back, until he peed a river on the floor.  Cleanup was quick and complete, to prevent him from soaking the bandage that wrapped round his chest.

I held him, comforted him, and told him "you're gonna' make it - just hang in there." Kit has always seemed to understand more of my vocabulary than most animals, and he seemed to get it, somewhat.

That first night was rough: He constantly shifted round, moaned and whined, and was generally just the most uncomfortable I've ever seen him. The drugs in his system were wearing off, leaving him groggy and in plenty of pain. I was hopeful, however, that he'd feel a little better the next day. He needed to -- for his sake, and my own.

On day two, after peeing on the floor probably 3 times, it was time to try whatever we could to get him out to the back yard. I had already converted the bottom-floor den from "storage" to "pretty good space for Kit to rest and enjoy some peace & quiet."

Still in the foyer, I helped him up onto his feet. He limped -- aching all the way -- to the back door. One step down, and he was on the grass. He took a few steps, peed, took a few more steps, then laid down. Flat. Exhausted. He stayed planted there for 20 minutes, in fact, not wanting to even attempt to move. The look on his face told me "hey, I'm glad to be out in the yard... why can't I just stay here?"

After spending what seemed like a month laying on the cool damp turf, and after about half a dozen attempts (no go, no go, and oh hell no go) to help him get up and return inside, Kit struggled to his feet, and staggered to the door -- a few yelps, some wincing, but he made it on his own. He took a while to hop his front leg up the one step from the back door into the den, but he made it. And once he was just barely clear of the back door, he plopped down again.

He had gotten up and walked on his own, and it took all he had. Already, he was stronger than the day before.

[To be continued... soon.]