My dog is dying.

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Skunky & I went on a long, 2.5 hour walk the other day. Yes, I brought water with us. He’s not the quick walker he once was, but I think he enjoyed walking along the Hudson River from the other side. Some of his best years were spent walking along the Hudson from the Washington Heights/Harlem side.

My dog is ill. He is dying, and I think it might be time to let him go.

Last month, when I found out the tumor on the roof of Skunky’s mouth was malignant (with hemangiosarcoma, a cancer that most often affects dogs), I felt numb to the news, in part, because, aside from being a little less active (he is 14, after all), he seemed fine. He was still eating normally and happy as ever to get out of the house and go for a walk.

The vet, who told me he would advise his own mother against putting the dog through chemo, radiation, or cryosurgery, told me to spoil him rotten, make him comfortable, and to monitor his quality of life as I’d know when it was time to let him go.

As a kid, if a horse or dog had to be put down in a book I was reading or a movie I watched, I never understood it. Why couldn’t the doctor patch them up?

But in the vet’s office that day, I recalled a time when I took Skunky to Inwood Hill Park when we lived in northern Manhattan some years ago. It was late fall, an absolute beautiful time in that park, and during our walk, we passed by a man wheeling his German Shepherd-mix around the trail on a dolly as, presumably, his elderly dog could no longer walk. That was no life for the animal, I thought to myself. That’s selfish. That’s keeping the dog around for the owner, and I won’t ever do that, I thought.

And now, I find myself at that fork in the road. Yesterday, one side of his snout began to swell. Again, he is still eating and will go on a walk, but the swelling looks pretty bad. And he knows that I know something is up. When I look at him, or pet him gently, he starts to wag and gives me that look of shame he so often gave me as a pup if he thought he did something wrong.

I think it’s time to have him put to sleep. I know I will miss how he greets me when I get in. I will miss his extreme loyalty that ensures he never leaves my side. He’s part of the family, and that’s why my mom, brother, brother’s girlfriend, and the other pet living in the house (a shorkie!), don’t seem quite ready for him to go.  (This is partly why I feel guilty about having to make this decision.)

I spoke with a colleague about this a few weeks ago, as he worked at a veterinary technician many years ago, and he said, more often than not, owners wait too long. It’s not like a pet can tell us if they’re really suffering, right? He assured me the dog wouldn’t feel a thing when being euthanized. That gave me some comfort.

But it’s still tough.

You see, this is happening at a time when my own father is nearing the end of his life. A very strong man who never had any health problems aside from his Parkinson’s disease, he’s been living in a nursing home for the past seven months. My father is not suffering, per se, but I wouldn’t say he has a great quality of life.

He is incontinent. His limbs are contracting. He is fed through a peg tube. He relies on nurse’s aides to reposition him every two hours. His ability to speak is pretty much gone. He does attempt to let us know when he is in pain. Sometimes, it’s not that, but it’s tough to understand what he is trying to tell us.

The best we can all do is make sure he’s as comfortable as possible. I thank the staff at the nursing home for doing that as best they can.

In many ways, it feels like he is already gone. I always loved talking to my father (he’s a very jovial and funny man) and I haven’t been able to do that in a long while. But, he’s not gone, and this is why 2015 has been a limbo year for me. I am constantly waiting for a shoe to drop. I cannot, I will not, enjoy myself. Being social is the last thing on my mind because it doesn’t feel right.

I control that, and I know I can make a better effort to “live my life” while my dad is at the nursing home, and while Skunky lives his last doggie days. But right now, I can’t seem to find my footing.

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Riding with the wind

Photo taken today in Central Park: http://scenebygina.tumblr.com/post/122200618607/great-ride-using-my-jamis-commuter-bike-around
Photo taken today in Central Park: http://scenebygina.tumblr.com/post/122200618607/great-ride-using-my-jamis-commuter-bike-around

My father has been doing somewhat better. He continues to stay free of any infections, and I’ve been sitting him up whenever I visit. It’s tough, his arm and leg muscles seem to get more contracted as he’s been bedridden for six months now, but I don’t care; I see him more alert and awake when I help him sit up.

In the meantime, a hobby that my father enjoyed in his 20s is something I’ve picked up: cycling. I use a Giant Sedona CX (2005) for riding around Jersey City, and various New Jersey parks. I had a great two and a half hour ride along the Hudson waterfront, from Newport in Jersey City to Weehawken this past weekend.

I also have a a Citizen Tokyo folding bike for shopping at the produce market nearby. It’s ideal for short trips only.

And I just bought a 2011 Jamis commuter 3 bike for CITY riding! I rode an hour through Central Park today, up to 110th street and back to the Columbus Circle area. It was hot today, but that doesn’t stop the action in Central Park, which was full of runners, cyclers, roller bladers, and more.

I can see why my dad loved to ride his bike. (I remember he rode a Gazelle.) Like running, it clears the mind, but it’s much more relaxing. Something about that wind hitting your face. (I imagine it’s what people who ride motorcycles love, too.)

And, of course, I’m doing something I know my father loved.

Missing days

I’m trying to be more on a schedule where I get my life somewhat back into a normal routine, by going every other day to see my dad at the nursing home, but it’s not working out so well. I get racked with guilt when I skip a day, and usually spend the next two or three days rushing there after work.

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My dad is actually doing well. I mean, he’s not jumping out of bed and walking around, but he’s been without pneumonia or infections, and his sacral wound (bed sore) is coming around, albiet slowly.

My brother moved mountains (that’s just me saying it takes MOUNTAINS to get action at the nursing home) to get my father’s old primary care physician to check him out, instead the invisible doctor who has a contract with the nursing home. I’m glad he did. He found my dad to be anemic and said if he can’t get stronger, he’s not going to improve.

So that’s where we’re at. He ordered some changes and I continue to see my dad more awake these days. It’s crazy to think that, in February, and some of March, we really thought we were going to lose him. He was rarely awake and, at one point, had to be intubated.

Thanking our lucky stars, and also my mother’s friends from church, who keep visiting and praying for him at his bedside on a weekly basis.

On nursing homes, family visits … and resentment

Screen shot 2015-03-17 at 11.07.18 PMI should be happy (?) that my father is OUT of the hospital and back into a subacute unit of a long-term facility, aka a nursing home. But this, his third round back, is more depressing for me. He sleeps more, interacts with us less, and it seems to get thinner by the minute. There’s no other way to say it — it feels like I’m losing him.

I’m also slightly, ok maybe definitely, losing my [was it ever normal?] mind. I’m angry. A lot. It doesn’t make me want to punch anyone; it makes me want to check out and stop speaking to everyone (except my parents.)

Life goes on and, more and more, it’s only my mother and I who visit and spend hours with my father (my mother more than all of us, as she has been forced to retire as a result of my dad’s fall and hip fracture.)

My brothers, both who have children, visit less and less. Two and three days go by and no visit. And I resent more and more. I have to be there every day. Throughout this whole ordeal, I’ve missed two days. I can’t see this going any other way for me.

I’m not going to lie; I’m pissed about their lack of devotion. I do not understand how you could not visit your father, the sole reason we were even born into this country, and became the people we are today. And checking in with my mother? Not so much.

Am I going crazy?

I actually met with a friend recently (something I hadn’t really done since my dad fell and became very ill) who also has a father in a nursing home. The situation is different. This person isn’t close to death, but immobile, and being in a nursing home is because the person’s spouse simply cannot handle the complicated care.

But this friend, one of five, told me that only one other sibling visits their father. “What can you do? You can’t get mad at it. And you can’t keep asking them to visit.” That’s true, I guess.

It’s hard to accept. I feel like I have anger, acid, or vomit, hanging at bay at the pit of my throat lately. I’m so disgusted. How can people be like this? Why are people like this? How dare they live their own lives? How dare they go out and have fun? Get a haircut even? Anything, all while my dad is stuck in a room. He can barely talk. He’ll probably never feel the outdoor air or direct sunlight again? How can you not just want to sit there with me!!! Aaaarrrrghhhh.

The anger and resentment affects so many other things. It’s like a bad domino effect. (Only I’m not reacting. As per usual, I’m bottling it all in.)

For instance, I posted a story on Facebook about a guy who walks 21-miles to and from work in the suburbs of Detroit every day because he doesn’t have a car. An old friend (Let’s go with acquaintance. If we were once friends in high school but haven’t spoken since then, don’t hang out in person, are we friends, really?) comments that the man is stupid for walking that far for a job that pays $10 per hour. -__-

I want to de-friend and block this person FOREVER. But not before insulting the person’s ignorance, of course.

A nurse’s aide at the nursing home gives me a look when I nicely ask her to do something. Nothing monumental. Just, oh, I DON’T KNOW, turning and positioning my father — something that should be done so he doesn’t develop another pneumonia and worsen his bed ulcer. She then s-l-o-w-l-y obliges. I want to throw a shoe at her.

A tourist slows down and then stops short in front of me when I’m on my power walk to work in the morning? Yeah. I lied. I maybe want to punch this person.

I need a break.

I know what I need to do is just live MY own life the way I want to (which is visiting my father as much as I can) and realize that maybe my brothers are experiencing my dad’s demise differently than I do. Maybe visiting is hard for them. Maybe.

But being angry about it, which I am not saying this blog post absolves me of, isn’t the way to go. I WILL TRY to let it go. I can’t promise I will, but at least it’s out here on the record, right?