When the End of Life Feels Imminent
We had a health scare a couple weeks ago, and I had to take our 8-year-old goldendoodle to the vet.
Earlier in the week, Comet didn’t have his usual zip. Instead of eagerly greeting visitors, he stayed on his doggy bed. By Thursday evening of that week, Comet began to act even more strangely. He hunched his rear end when he stood, and he crossed his rear paws when he walked, nearly tripping over himself.
I told him to sit. He stared at me with glassy eyes and slowly listed to one side. He almost fell over before catching himself, and then he straightened up and started listing the other way.
The next morning, he was still hunching his rear and getting his legs crossed.
I made an emergency appointment with the veterinarian, and I brought Comet in as soon as I could get my husband, Todd, who has ALS, out of bed and set up at his computer. I returned home, and we waited for the doctor’s call.
Todd and I were both bummed out. I worried that Comet had a tumor in his brain or had a stroke.
“I don’t want to outlive my dog,” Todd said.
“You better want to outlive your dog! Goldendoodles only have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years,” I replied, laughing a bit of the stress away. Even if Comet lives to the ripe old age of 15, that doesn’t take our son through high school.
“I just didn’t think I’d have to watch my dog die,” Todd said. It was a reasonable assumption, considering we had gotten Comet as a puppy a few years after Todd was diagnosed with ALS.
While we have lived with the knowledge that Comet could meet an untimely demise since he’s a free country dog that sometimes chases cars, it hadn’t felt as though the end of his life was imminent.
When the end of life feels imminent, it changes everything.
After Todd was diagnosed, he wanted to fulfill a few dreams, but he had to calculate the value considering the prognosis. Most people with the disease only live three to five years after diagnosis.
Todd had always wanted a boat, but he had to grieve the fact that this dream would be unfulfilled, because the expense didn’t justify the short time — possibly only a single summer — that he could enjoy it.
He did buy his dream camera, a full-frame Canon 5D that took incredible pictures and even HD video — a bigger deal 10 years ago before phones were so capable — to capture precious family memories until his arms gave out.
In thinking he’d only have a few years to live, Todd wondered if he should bother going to the dentist. Was it worth the hassle? He did continue going for regular cleanings and hasn’t had problems until recently. He had a cracked filling and needed to get it replaced.
“I’m outliving my teeth,” he said with dismay.
It was the most intensive dental work he’s had since his ALS diagnosis. He wedged his wheelchair into the small dental office, and I planted myself on a chair in the corner of the room.
“If he starts coughing, get out of my way so I can give him a manual assist cough and get the suction ready,” I told the dentist and his assistant. It was scary considering his current health, but thankfully the procedure was completed without incident.
“It’s good that you’re experiencing the normal problems of aging,” I told Todd. “I hope you live to need dentures.”
Since Todd’s diagnosis, I have been more aware of the tenuous nature of life. We are all so fragile. I look back at pictures of us from when our kids were little and marvel at how young we looked. Now when I look into the mirror and see wrinkles at the corners of my eyes, I remind myself that aging is a good thing. I am happy that Todd’s beard is showing his age. Gray is a gift.
A few hours after I dropped Comet off, the veterinarian called with her report on Comet’s health. I put her on speakerphone.
“The bloodwork looked good,” she said. “But he’s acting like he’s high.”
“That makes sense,” Todd replied. “I caught him listening to Pink Floyd a couple days ago.”
The vet laughed and suggested that perhaps our country dog had gotten into some decaying organic matter. She said she’d give him fluids, a steroid injection, and anti-nausea medication, and I could pick him up in a couple hours. We would see how he did over the weekend.
Thankfully, Comet was back to his normal, energetic self the following morning, so we don’t need to say goodbye to our pooch yet.
Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.