Max is starving to death. Okay, well maybe he is not really starving to death, but he thinks he is, which I have to believe is nearly as bad. He sits in front of the fridge, waiting for a handout. All. The. Time. He follows me into the kitchen every time I head there, and even when I don’t. He is so hungry, he can eat his regular meals and then look at you with eyes that say, “Really? That’s it?” He thinks he is this hungry all the time because he’s been on high doses of Prednisone for weeks now, and that is one of its less terrifying, but very sad, side effects.
Max was diagnosed in early June with non-regenerative immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. I know. What the hell is that? It is the nastiest little disease that I hope I never have to see again, that’s what it is. I always thought the biggest worry we had as pet parents was the “C” word, but let me tell you, IMHA laughs at cancer and calls it foul names. Why? Because although it occurs with a fair amount of frequency, there doesn’t seem to be as much known about it, it can be impossibly complicated to treat, is frighteningly fast to take dogs down, and the treatment protocol can be as dangerous as the disease itself for some dogs.
So far, we’ve been lucky – he has not died. More than half of IMHA dogs die. Max has had two blood transfusions to bring him back from life-threatening anemia, and is on a crazy cocktail of medicine that is given in four different shifts a day. He has endured a bone marrow aspiration, CT scan, x-rays, and weekly (sometimes twice a week) vet visits for packed blood cell checks – and still goes weekly.
He is finally regenerating new red blood cells on his own, and we are holding our breath while he begins the slow process of weaning him off his immune-suppressant drugs, to see if he continues to make red blood cells as his immune system kicks in, without destroying them.
I couldn’t even write about everything that Max has been going through until now, because I was literally scared to put it in words. I had trouble talking to people about it, and still do. Max is my heart dog – which means exactly what it sounds like. When Max does leave this world, a giant portion of my heart will go with him, more so than any dog I’ve ever had the privilege to share my life with. So much of my heart, that I don’t even want to think about how hard it will be to exist without my little Max. I don’t know why we bond sometimes so particularly to one dog over others, but most people that have more than one dog find that they have at least one “heart dog.” It doesn’t mean you love the others less, you just have something special with your heart dog.
Having my heart dog nearly leave me so soon (he’s only 8), changed me. Something I have always strived to do was live in the here and now, and to some extent I had accomplished that, and to some extent I had not. I strive to make the right things in my life a priority – to know what matters and what does not. Again, to some extent I had made progress there, and to some extent I had not. Knowing that Max could go literally any day, really drove these ideas home. I am finding it much easier to stop focusing too much on tomorrow and worrying about yesterday, and instead focusing on today. I am finding it much easier to look at each day and know what matters and what doesn’t, what needs my concern, what doesn’t, and to peel away the layers and find the happy parts.
But it is still work. Having Max so sick has also brought me closer to the brink of a mental meltdown than I’ve ever been…even though he is progressing so much better now, I still cry in the shower every morning, more of a stress release than anything else, as there is still much to be concerned about. Trying to make each day as happy as it can be, does not mean that every day you wake up with birds chirping around your head, and squirrels and rabbits helping you dress as you dance off to your castle in the hills with flowers in your hair…you still live in the real world with all of its craziness, annoyances, irritations, drawbacks, and letdowns that everyone else lives through. You just have to work at not letting those things rule the day. Because it is a choice – what rules your day, what you give power to, what you do not. I had to choose to not give in to most of the crazy, scared, fruitless thoughts that swim in my head from worry. I had to make conscious decisions about how to spend my time to alleviate my stress. I had to stop delaying happiness. Most of us wait for a better day to be happy. How often have we delayed our happiness because today “was so awful” – we swim in the awfulness, and wait for the universe to bring us a perfect day, so that we can finally be happy.
Waiting for a better day may leave you waiting forever. Making today a better day is more within my power. With Max so sick, it all finally clicked in my head. He may not have a tomorrow, or next week, so letting the stress, worry, sadness of his sickness control our days was just not an option. It’s simple, but can be hard work until it becomes second nature. Focus on what matters. Cherish the good. Don’t worry needlessly. Prepare for the future, but don’t let it rule you so much that you ruin today. And as for the past, keep the good times, the good memories, and the lessons learned from the bad ones, in your heart, and forget the rest.
I truly believe this is why we face the challenges we end up having to face. Without them, there is no way to learn, to grow, to make the adjustments in your sails, so to speak. They are always teaching experiences, if we listen, if we try, if we are willing to make the leap that these challenges urge us to make, instead of just viewing them simply as problems, as another crappy obstacle thrown into our lives. I’ve learned this time what it means to try and keep my ship steady during bad weather, and head for calm waters.
Thank you, Max. Now stop the begging, please!