13 October 2009

Questions and Answers

After Malachy passed, I contacted Dr. K., his primary veterinarian to inform that Malachy had suddenly fallen so ill which, in turn, forced us to make that most difficult of decisions. I informed Dr. K. that the U of M emergency room veterinarian had hypothesized that Malachy had either Lymphoma or Blastomycosis. I discussed with Dr. K. the ER vet's diagnostic possibilities which brought to mind a recent patient of his who succumbed to Blasto. This particular dog (a collie) had been exposed to mulch that was used in a yard improvement project. The collie inhaled the Blasto fungal spores unknowingly embedded deep within the mulch. The deadly spores invariably took up residence within the collie's lungs causing irreparable damage. Dr. K. suggested an autopsy/necropsy for Malachy in consideration of the fact that Bernard and I recently placed large quantities of mulch around our house.

I immediately contacted the U of M Center for Veterinary Medicine, hoping that Malachy's body was still at the hospital. I requested a necropsy, somewhat (okay, significantly more than "somewhat") panicked that there was a possibility that all of the mulch we installed caused Malachy's death. Worse yet, could the mulch be a health hazard to Eamon and Emma, Bernard and me, Malachy's sister, Madeline, the neighbors? Were we inhaling these Blasto spores every time we walked out into the yard??? We were all at risk of serious health concerns? I was so fearful of my children's safety.

I researched everything I could about Blastomycosis. I learned that the odds were low that Malachy had succumbed to this fungal disease but began planning to remove all ten yards of the mulch. Did we unknowingly cause our sweet boy to become ill? Was Madeline going to succumb to this disease as well? The potential for serious illness in considerably less serious in humans but I began to look for signs that Eamon and Emma might become ill. The fact that they developed coughs that progressed in severity (oddly enough) shortly after Malachy passed caused me additional concern and worry. Their coughs required a visit to the pediatrician's office. The nurse practitioner quickly diagnosed them, not with Blasto, but with easily treatable type of walking pneumonia. (Antibiotics quickly resolved their coughing issue and they were back to good form in a day, very thankfully). After a conversation from Dr. F, the U of M internal medicine veterinarian, I realized all we could now was to wait for the results of the necropsy. Dr. F. strongly suspected that the final verdict would come down as Lymphoma but a definitive diagnosis could not be made until the pathologist had thoroughly examined Malachy's body. So, we could only continue in our grieving process while anxiously awaiting the pathologist's findings.

Today, Dr. F. called to inform of the preliminary autopsy report. Malachy did not have Blastomycosis, which brings much relief that our newly installed mulch did not cause his illness. He did not have a brain tumor, nor mennigitis, nor Lymphoma, all very grounded hypotheses based on his symtomology. Instead, he had cancer of the blood vessels, more formally known as Hemangiosarcoma. This type of cancer is particularly aggressive, highly malignant, and cruelly insidious. Dr. F. informed that Hemangiosarcoma does not generally respond to chemotherapy, spreads quickly, and is generally fatal. Dr. F. said that dogs do not feel the actual cancer cells' growth, but instead, the indirect consequences such as the eventual damage to organ systems. She reiterated her surprise that he had no clinical symptoms during exam only two days before he passed away. During her exam, she noted that he was active, happy, engaged, and did not appear to be in any pain at all... in other words, he was clinically doing well. She did not anticipate that he would become so ill so soon after his visit. None of us did. There was nothing we could have done to save him. The cancer would have continued mercilessly regardless of any medications and treatments.

I feel conflicting emotions about these results. I am relieved beyond measure that Malachy did not have Blasto and thus, our family is not at risk. I feel a sense of calm with these results in hand, as it allows a chapter in my so called "book of grieving" to be written. There are so many components to this *book* and this new chapter allows a measure of peace.

I am grateful that we did not inadvertently cause Malachy to become so sick. I am grateful that he did not suffer throughout the progression of the disease process until the very, very last hours of his life. I am grateful that we had 24 more days to love him after the beginning of this journey as we initially did not know if he would live through that weekend. I am grateful that the Prednisone reduced the swelling caused by the cancer, allowing Malachy to temporarily return to his usual self. I am grateful that we were able to give him extra kisses, extra hugs, extra snuggling, extra playtime, and extra treats. We were given the opportunity to show him that he was truly loved and adored by us all. Most of all, I am grateful that our family had the opportunity to hang out with one truly cool puppy dog for seven years. It is not the quantity of the years but the quality of those years that only really matter after all is said and done.

Dr. F. told me upon our first visit that veterinarians often refer to golden retrievers as the "heartbreakers." They have wonderful personalities...so gentle, so happy, so sweet. The aspect of goldens that breaks one's heart is their high rate of heritable predispositions. They tend to become ill. They die. They break your heart.

I miss my Shortround terribly. I feel the deep heartache. Yet, I do not regret this intense "affliction" of dog love that I have been so fortunate to experience. Isn't it better to feel the intense joys of life with all of the inherent risks than to not have ventured into the possible wonder that awaits?

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