Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Goodbye Tuna

Its been 7 years since this sweet orange cat walked into our lives. Today, we said goodbye and I am heartbroken. He was the one of the longest residents, 2nd only to our cat Baby (she and Tuna hated each other) and was most likely the oldest of the bunch. We had a suspicion that he was getting older and slowing down, but the end always feels unexpected. The finality of it is always crushing.

Over the last couple years, Tuna has been getting a little thinner and has started looking old. He still jumps up on the counter every day to drink water from the sink, he jumps the baby gates we have all over the house with the grace of a horse. He slept with us every night and he spent his days with me in my office. He was a good friend and one of the easiest pets who have ever been a part of our life.

We met Tuna in 2009. I wrote about it HERE. One night he walked into our yard as if he belonged with us and he never left. He was always a gentleman, the first real cat we ever had. The others were kept upstairs away from the dogs with a baby gate - for some reason they would not jump it. Tuna took one look at  it and jumped right over - just like a real cat (Baby still won't jump).

Tuna spent only three visits to the vet before the last week of his life. The first, when we got him. The second and third were on the same day before we moved to Ohio. He got a rabies shot at our regular vet and then later than night had a reaction, so I took him to the ER.

Last Saturday we woke up and Tuna was vomiting, a lot. We took him to the vet and they felt like he probably was in some stage of kidney failure. They gave him fluids and a couple shots of medicine. He was better for a few days. Yesterday, he didn't eat. He wouldn't jump up on the counter for water, he just laid in bed all day. We went back to the vet last night. They did some bloodwork that showed he was down to about 25% of his kidney function, but he also had something else going on - some sort of infection. He had a fever.

They gave him more fluids, some more shots of medicine and pain killers. We came home and were hopeful he would eat this morning. He did not. We took him back to the vet and the plan was that he would stay there today. We were going to give him one last shot. 24 hours of fluids and antibiotics. That should take care of whatever the problem was and buy him a week, a month, a year, maybe more.

The vet called a few times with updates. Then he called to say that Tuna's fever had increased. He wanted to xray him to see what was going on his tummy. When the vet called back, I knew it was not good news. Tuna's insides were a blur. He couldn't make out any of his organs. So he was either filled with fluid or with tumors. Tuna most likely had lymphoma and there wasn't anything left to do. I hung up the phone and started to prepare for what was coming.

The last seven and a half years have gone by so fast. It seems like just this morning he was walking into our lives and now we would be saying goodbye. Forever.

Tuna started with the name Norwyn. It meant "Friend from the North". I have nicknames for all our pets, each has evolved through the years. I immediately started calling him Wynnie. Trevor commented that it wouldn't be long until I had some completely differently name for him. So right there he cut about 4 years of name changes into 5 minutes and spit out Tuna. That name stuck. His official name at the vet was Norwyn but we never called him that. He was always our Tuna.

Over the years, Tuna really had one wish - to be an only cat. He was a loner. He didn't lay with the others and generally just tolerated them. He had the most antagonistic relationships with one of our other cats, Baby. They were often heard hissing and growling at each other.

Tuna was a people cat. He wanted to be with us. He slept with us every night and liked to be on the side of the bed closest to the door. Several years ago when we were going through a difficult time (Asha was ruining our lives), I would lay in the spare room with him, in the sun and cry. He and I would talk about running away together, finding a studio apartment and living quietly alone forever. But I couldn't figure out how to do that and take all the rest, including Trevor, with us. So instead, we commiserated until things improved.

Tuna always loved the sink. He would impatiently jump up on the counter and wait for me to turn on the faucet so he could get a drink. He did that his entire life.

When we moved to Ohio, Tuna was the only one who cried in the car. He was the only one who didn't like the drive. He settled into the new house, just like the rest and felt especially at home in my office.

Every day, I would sit down at the my desk and Tuna would sit or lay on my calendar. He was the keeper of my schedule. All day long he would get on and off my lap. Usually he would lay down and after  a bit I would get up or make him move. One day last Summer I told him he could lay on my lap as long as he wanted and I wouldn't move. Three hours later, I had to break my promise because I really had to pee!

Tuna was the first one to greet me in the morning and would walk with me to the bathroom so he could get a drink. He would cry (along with Kato) while I got their food ready and he would be ready whenever I went into the office to work. He was my constant companion.

I thought of all these things and so much more as Trevor and I drove to the vet to say our goodbyes. This is the worst part of loving an animal. It doesn't seem fair that we would chose to love something so much knowing that we would eventually have to let them go. The gravity of the decision is something that never feels okay. Knowing that this is their last day, their last hour, last minute and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

We spent about 30 minutes with Tuna. He sat on our laps, we cried and told him how much we loved him. Trevor and I talked about our favorite memories of him and how we could not believe this was happening. Then it was time. We held him as he quietly slipped away and thanked him profusely for choosing us all those years ago.

In my mind I saw him walking through our back yard, jumping the fence and slipping away into the distance. As quickly as he had showed up in our lives, he left us. He was a sweet boy and we miss him terribly now and always.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

5 years with Asha

Its time for my traditional post marking another year with Asha.

It started back in year ONE as a celebration that we had survived. I also started to document our time together because I honestly wasn't sure how long we could last in this crazy life with this uniquely challenging creature. Over the years, it has given me the opportunity to see just how far we have progressed in a 12 month period. With every post, I become a little more honest and open about our experiences. I look back over those first yearly posts and while they sound so optimistic, for many of them, I was barely hanging on. As the years go by, the optimism is much more genuine, I don't have to will it into being so much these days. Here are those posts:

One Year With Asha
Two Years With Asha
Three Years With Asha
Four Years With Asha

And so here we go...year 5....

This year has felt like the first normal year of life we have had since we adopted Asha. She sleeps most of the night, sometimes all night. She doesn't run and bark nearly as much as in years past. She is able to settle herself and to lay calmly while we are not in the same room as her.

I just read through all of the previous yearly updates and remember how our home used to feel to me. For a long time, I didn't want to come home. I would pull into the garage and sit there, knowing that once I got into the house, it would be chaos. Asha was chaos. And while I loved her, the chaos was exhausting. The mania and the mayhem was exhausting.

The last two years, my perception of home has really changed. I find peace and comfort here. Honestly, I hate not being home. Right now, Asha is laying at my feet. Two years ago, she would have been jumping up, running and barking every 20 minutes. Now, she just lays there, like the rest. She has developed the ability to be calm.
This isn't to say that she doesn't still run and bark, that she doesn't walk in circles and get herself worked up. There are times when her anxiety takes over and she gets out of control and we are back in the days of old...wishing for some peace. But those days are few and far between.

We joke, but it is actually true, that I haven't had a good night's sleep in 5 years...since the night before we adopted Asha. She sleeps through most nights, with one exception. Every night, around 3am, I wake up and I hear her make a quite crying noise. I get out of bed and touch her. She comes back to bed, jumps up and lays against me with her head in my hand. Then we sleep until the alarm goes off.

Every couple months she goes through a phase where she can't sleep. We go maybe a week with her waking up every hour or two. It exhausts me and in my mind, I go back to the beginning days, the worst of the days. During those times, I wonder if she is going backwards...if it is possible that she could go backwards. Could this progress turn into regression and what would we do. Then, just as quickly as she stopped sleeping, she starts sleeping again. And life goes back to "normal"

There are so many 'before and afters' with Asha. Before and after the seizures started, before and after the anxiety medications started, before and after we met our Behavioral Vet Dr Pachel, before and after we started Chinese Medicine treatments, before and after my meltdown, before and after our move. The one that sticks with me and the one I think of every night when she lays her head in my hand is the before and after our 5 days in the ICU.

It has been just about two years since we spent 5 days in the ICU with a very sick Asha. I wrote about that HERE During that time, we didn't know if she would live or die. I had lots of time to think about what her life had meant to us and if it was enough. I had lots of time to think of the things we wanted to do with Asha, to think of what we wanted her to give to the world and get from it in return. Every night, as she sleeps against me, I remember those nights on the floor of the ICU, when she laid against me in the same way. And I feel lucky. I know that we are lucky to still have her and I don't want to waste it.

One of the things I promised myself during those nights was that Asha would become a Therapy Dog. I had considered it, but never taken the steps to do it. So this year, when Asha FINALLY took her last medication from that illness, I looked up certification classes for Pet Partners Therapy Dogs. I found a local hospital that has a program and I signed up. It took us two tries, but we passed the test and are now an active Certified Therapy Dog Team.

Twice a month, Asha and I visit a local hospital. We see patients, nurses, doctors, hospital staff and visitors. It is during these times that I know we aren't wasting our days. I get to see this amazing creature, who has made the difference in  my life, affect the lives of others. She connects with everyone in their own, individual way. She exudes love and hope. She gives so much of herself during those visits and soaks up the love she gets back. It is the most rewarding thing I have ever witnessed. I get to see these private interactions between two souls and it is really something.

So year 5 has been about moving forward and carving a new path. It has been about new experiences and making good on old promises. This year Asha met some new friends....

Felt the sand between her toe and breathed in the cool, Lake breeze....
And began her journey as a Therapy Dog...

Each year, Asha teaches me more about myself and about the world around us. Our Fifth year together is no exception. 5 is a scary number, after 5, she starts to head towards 10. I want her to live forever (I want all of them to live forever) and I know that isn't possible. I know that any day could be her last. And as much as that breaks my heart, I know that when her last day comes, there will be no doubt that she lived life. She LIVED it and she helped me live too. Here's to at least another five years with Asha. Thanks for sharing our journey.

Monday, February 15, 2016

2nd time is a charm...

This past weekend, Asha and I passed the Pet Partners test to become a Certified Therapy Dog Team. This has been several years in the making and we are so very proud. This is quite an accomplish for a "normal" dog, even more so for one that was born blind and deaf like Asha.

Asha has always loved people and her effect on them is undeniable. We live with her day to day and it easy to forget just how special she is. In the midst of the chaos that she often creates in our lives, she can seem just like any other dog. She has won a Hero Award, been voted Fan Favorite at a Top Dog Contest and now passed her Therapy Dog test but when she is pacing and barking while I am trying to work, none of that matters!

Asha's different ability doesn't seem so different to us most of time, we take it for granted because it is just how we live. My purpose with Asha has always been first and foremost to keep her safe. This means that I keep her close and use touch signals to reassure her. We have a bond like no other, built solely on trust. I don't always realize just how much she depends on us until someone else points it out.

At the beginning of Asha's life with us, all we wanted to do was survive. The idea of doing anything with her other than just keeping us all alive was unthinkable. It wasn't until we met a very special person that we started to think there could be more purpose to Asha's life.

We adopted Asha from the Oregon Humane Society in July of 2011. In February of 2013, Asha was awarded the Diamond Collar Hero Award by OHS and we attending a wonderful banquet at a downtown club. During this banquet, Asha met many people (there were about 500 attendees).

After the event was over, several people came over to meet us. Just about everyone talked with Trevor and I, then they reached down to pet Asha. One man, dressed in a business suit, walked over and squatted down on the floor in front of Asha, almost ignoring me and Trevor. During that time of her life, Asha did not like having anyone right in her face and she never licked anyone. She would usually turn her face away. This time was different.

Asha was standing next to me. When this man squatted down, Asha put her ears back and sat down. He spoke softly to her and Asha licked his face. Trevor and I looked at each other and then said "who are you and what you do you?" We knew there had to be something special about this man, because Asha was telling us.

He said "I'm a lawyer and on the Board of Trustees at OHS". Right...but there has to be more? "My dog Annie and I were a therapy dog team for years," he said. And there it was. This was a special person with a soul that could be seen and heard by a deaf and blind dog. His name was Akin Blitz and he talked with us for while. Akin was the one who first suggested that we look into becoming a Therapy Dog Team.

A Therapy Dog Team is a human and their pet who provide comfort during visits to patients in hospitals, nursing homes or to children in schools. Asha's story and demeanor, as well as her love for people and ability to navigate the world make her a wonderful candidate for this kind of work.

It took three years, but we finally did it. I looked at the classes and testing several times when we lived in Washington. The timing was never right and so we didn't do it. It has been in the back of my mind since that day with Akin. There were subtle signs that now was the time. When we met our behavioral vet here in Ohio, her trainer suggested we become a Therapy Dog Team. Then, I was at a benefit for our local shelter and there was a group from the local hospital there talking about their Therapy Dog Program. And so I found the next testing and signed up.

I went to the handlers class back in October and then Asha tested. The test is these 20 exercises:

-accepting greeting from a stranger
-accepting petting from a stranger
-loud noises
-leave it
-rough petting in a group of people
-loud equipment (wheelchairs, walker, people talking loudly)
-Sit on command
-Down on command
-Come on command
-Stay on command
-walking nicely on leash
-walking through a crowd
-restraining hug
-allowing an overall physical exam
-loud individual
-angry yelling
-being bumped from behind
-being offered a treat
-ignoring another dog

Asha knows sit and down with touch signals. Touch on the top of the head has signaled "sit" as long as I can remember - she learned that within a week of coming to live with us. She learned down years ago but really only does it now when presented with a treat. The sign for that is touch to the chin. Since she can't see or hear, she would be unable to "come when called", so we had to come up with another way to do that and get an exception to the test.

Working with the evaluators, we petitioned the program for an exception. Asha's vet, Dr Pachel had to write a letter about Asha's disability and agree that she would be a good candidate for a Therapy Dog. We were granted the exception and would be allowed ONE tug on the leash to get her to come.

The day of the test, I was SO nervous. I felt like this would be the way to validate Asha and her abilities. I knew that the evaluators (who hadn't met Asha) doubted that it would be possible for Asha to pass. That day, the room was full of volunteers and all the evaluators came in to watch. I felt quite a bit of pressure to show how special Asha is. I am very protective of her and only want her to impress.

We had been working on her skills. I was mostly worried that she wouldn't do the down without a treat and treats aren't allowed. We went through the test and Asha did her best - I could hear some "ooohhs" and "aahhs" as she impressed people with her abilities. Then came the time for down. I touched her chin and she considered laying down but changed her mind. I got anxious and worried that she wouldn't do it. I have no doubt she felt that and she got confused. Then she refused to lay down and I gave up on her instead of doing what I always do, which is let her know it is okay and helping her do what she needs to do.

At that point, I knew we didn't pass. They let us complete the test and Asha did everything else just fine. A perfect score is required to pass and so Asha and I were given a "not ready" score. We would need to take the test again.

I will admit, I was tremendously disappointed. Asha didn't know the difference, she had a wonderful time, met new people, visited a new place and got to spend time with me. But I was so sad about it and felt like I had failed her. I know this is silly, but that's how I felt.

The evaluators encouraged us to come back and test again. I promised I would and I promised that we would work on the down. Asha knew it, we just needed to be able to do it. That was October.

Last week I got an email that another evaluation had been scheduled and would Asha be able to come test. My answer was "yes, yes, yes!" And so on Saturday, we made the 45 drive to try again.

I had been working with Asha on "down". She doesn't always do it for me, but she knows it. The other day, Trevor used the signal on her for the first time and she laid down, so I knew that she really did know it!

I was nervous again this time, but decided to approach this test like we approach everything else that we do. I would be her advocate and help her understand what was being asked of her. I would support Asha and let her know it was all okay. I knew that if I did that, she would pass. Asha trusts me so much, I often take that for granted. I wouldn't take it for granted this day.

When we arrived I saw the evaluators who were all familiar and all happy to see us. Asha remembered them too - her little nubbin tail wagged furiously when she met them for this second time. We walked around the room to get familiar with it and then we were ready to test.

We went through all the exercises and when we got to the down command, I think the whole room held their breath. I knew she could do it and when I asked, Asha complied. She laid down like a boss. I hugged and kissed her and thanked her for doing this seemingly simple command.

Asha passed all the other exercises as well, including the "come when called" with ONE tug of the leash. They brought in a "neutral" dog to test Asha's reaction to another dog. When I saw the dog they were using I almost started to cry. This dog looked EXACTLY like my friend Ashleys' dog, Larry. I saw this doggie and I knew it all going to be okay. And it was. Asha passed. We jumped for joy and I showered her with kisses. I do that often, she just sits and let's me do it as if to say "Oh mom...."

And there you have it. I am so proud of Asha and so very excited to continue on with the process. I will now go through orientation and mentoring at the hospital. Then we will begin our visits. Asha is a special soul and I feel a responsibility to share that with the world. This is good start.

Friday, July 10, 2015

4 years with Asha

4 years ago today we brought a new little puppy into our lives. She was 5 months old, deaf and blind. Her name was Pinky. We renamed her Asha, which is Sanskrit for hope and life. There is much irony in this name. For quite some time she took away all my hope and made my life feel unmanageable. Over the years, things have changed. She tore us down and built us up. Raising Asha has been like putting a puzzle together in the dark. As time has passed, the lights have brightened and life has become much more clear.

This year with Asha has been difficult, like all the other years before, but for different reasons. Asha's "usual" challenges were overshadowed by an unexpected illness. We never saw this one coming. Last year at this time I was lamenting our lives with Asha; all we had been through, all we have overcome. Then , on July 21st, Asha went into the ER with trouble breathing and didn't come out for 5 days. We spent every second fighting for her life. HERE is my blog post about that.

I always expected that Asha wouldn't live as long of a life as the others, that with her genetic issues, her life would be shortened. I did not expect it would be so shortened that she wouldn't make it to her 4th birthday. It has been a long haul, but I believe she has totally recovered from her illness and while I still watch for signs that she is having any trouble breathing, we are back to normal..well, as normal as Asha gets.

This year brought lots of changes for our family. In February we moved from Vancouver, Washington to Akron, Ohio. We drove 2500 miles with all our animals. Everyone did great, even Asha. She is so trusting, I often can't believe it. She rode in the car for hours each day, stayed in a different hotel room each night and didn't seem to mind much at all. Just like the others - as long as she is with us, she is happy. (I owe a blog post of the moving process...)

We arrived at our new home and got settled. Everyone wanted to know how Asha was doing in a new place - was she adapting? Asha always adapts. always. The first few weeks she was angry because we had lots of people coming and going, doing work on the house. She wasn't able to spend time with all of them and that made her mad. So she barked a lot and peed in the house as an act of defiance. Once that activity stopped, she settled into a good routine. She still paces and barks, just like she did in our old house. She has her path through the yard that she travels each day. She has her spots that she likes the lay - the places I always find her when I come home. Some night she sleeps in bed with us, some nights she sleeps on the floor. Most nights she sleeps all night and that is something we have been waiting 4 years to say!

Asha's life is so routine driven. You can set your clock by her. She knows when it is time to get up, when it is time to eat. She knows when I am getting ready to leave and starts to look for her treats (I "hide" treats in the kitchen for her when I am leaving). She knows that putting on her nice grey collar and her pink harness means we are going somewhere. She knows everything there is to know around here.

When we decided to move, I was most worried about the animals, specifically Asha and the effort it would take to rebuild our team. Asha has a regular vet, a behavioral vet, a critical care staff, a Chinese medicine vet and reliable petsitters. It took us three years to build that and I was so worried about rebuilding it. Then I realized that the Universe provides. We have found a great vet, an excellent behavioral vet and a great petsitter. We are working on the Chinese medicine vet and hoping that we don't ever need the critical care staff, but have made contact with one close to us, just in case. While I am comforted by all these people and Asha likes them very much, I still long for those who have gotten us this far. Having to tell our story from the beginning is overwhelming. Walking into a vet's office for the first time and presenting Asha and her stack of records is a little intimidating. When we meet someone new, we always try to tell them how special Asha is and the words never do her justice. Time usually takes care of that and they soon realize for themselves just how special our Sissy is to this world. And they fall in love with her...of course, they fall in love with her.

The hardest part about moving was saying goodbye to our team. We still keep in touch with them all, for advice and just for their friendship. They are a part of our story and this crazy journey and so we are never really that far away.

I have always known how lucky we are to have Asha, but this year has really solidified that feeling. Every day I tell her how much I love her and how much she means to me. Even though she can't hear me, I know she understands. There is nothing quite like having her sit next to me and lean into my body. She's been doing that since the first day I met her in a big empty room at the Oregon Humane Society and I expect she'll do that until her last breath, which I hope doesn't come for many more years.

So here is to another year with Asha. Another year to live and love and learn. I say it often and it will always be true - Asha is my soul, living outside my body and I am totally and completely in awe of what she does to my world. Happy Anniversary sweet one. We couldn't love you more.

Here are the blog posts from Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3.

Friday, November 14, 2014

For my Grammie....

My Grammie passed away on Monday. There will be no funeral and so no chance to stand up and talk about her. If given the opportunity, this is what I would say…

Anne Richards is my grandmother…my dad’s mom. She was my favorite person who ever lived. I knew her for 40 years and I loved every minute I spent with her. What I am about to tell you is what I knew of her, what I remember and I can’t guarantee that others would remember it the same way, but all that matters is that this is how I remember it. How I will always remember it.
During my entire childhood, Grammie was a caregiver. I remember riding along with her to the house of whomever she was taking care of. The list was long – Joe Fretcher, Aunt Erm, Aunt Buela, Grace Davis. My Aunt Erm once told Grammie “some people were born to serve”. Then there was my Pop-pop. Grammie’s husband, my father’s father. She took care of no one else more than she took care of him. She spent 50 years doting on him, making sure he had what he needed. For years Grammie put her needs on the back burner and took care of us all.

Grammie and Pop-pop lived across the street from us and I spent a lot of time at their house. Every holiday and birthday was spent with them. Any big announcement involved a walk across the street to tell them. When I stayed home sick from school, Grammie took care of me. The channel 6 news was always on at lunchtime and there was always a glass of grapefruit juice for Pop-pop and a jar of peanut butter with a spoon on the end table.

There was no place I felt safer than with Grammie. She would rub my back while I fell asleep. She was always teaching me things…important things about life. When I wanted to constantly be with my friends she would make me stay home and say that it was important to know how to entertain yourself. On school days she would braid my hair and make sure I made it to the bus on time. Each summer, I would spend all my days with her. We would plan a project for the summer – knitting, crochet, needlepoint, arts and crafts of all sorts.

We would take trips to the bank in Pitman, have fried bologna sandwiches for lunch and there were always butterscotch crumpets in the freezer. She took me to get my driver’s license on my 17th birthday and gave me many rules of the road on the way there. When we were out to dinner, we would see women dressed “inappropriately” and Grammie would say things like “look at her, THAT is why you should always wear underpants”.

She taught me to wipe from the front, don’t go outside with wet hair, sit quietly in church, bite your tongue when you want to lash out and run to greet those you love. When I would come home from college or come to visit, she would always run out the door to hug me when I pulled in the driveway.

17 years ago my Pop-Pop passed away. For the first time Grammie didn’t have anyone to take care of. She and Pop-Pop had spent winters in Florida for as long as I could remember. First for a month at a time, then for several months. After Pop-pop died, Grammie bought a place in Florida and moved there permanently. No more New Jersey for her. She gave us all bottles of New Jersey dirt so that we would remember where we came from. She left the place that was her home for 70 years and she never looked back. This is where her real story began.

In the past few weeks Grammie was heard saying that these last 17 years have been the best years of her life and I believe this to be true. I watched my Grammie come into her own. For the first time in her life she did what she wanted to do and explained it to no one. When she went out with gentleman she always paid her own way because to quote her "she didn't want there to be any misunderstanding or expectations".

My whole life I remember Grammie being fascinated with Easter Island. She had pictures and books all over the house. She had always said that it made her homesick, something about that place made her feel like she had been there before, but she hadn’t. Over the last 17 years she became more interested in the metaphysical world. She read so many books, led study groups and belonged to different clubs. She talked more and more about the next dimension, the 5th dimension specifically. She wanted to learn enough so that she would go there when she died. She felt that her spirit had originated in Easter Island and that somehow it would go back there some day. She was a free thinker and she had been stifled all these years. Now she was able to really delve into all these things that would have been so taboo back in our little New Jersey town, in our little New Jersey church.

It may seem odd to hear it this way from me, but to listen to her was mesmerizing. She believed in so many different things and she was a very interesting conversationalist. She would always say “Tracy, there is just so much to learn….never stop learning”

Grammie was a collector. She had several phases of collecting in her life. Had she not been so focused in the items she collected, she would have been a horder. Instead, she scoured antique malls for her treasures, first the antique glass goblets that are now proudly displayed in my home then the yellow teapots that cover her home and the rose & rooster flatware that she had to have special shelving built for. She loved these things and it gave her a tremendous joy to search near and far for that one special item that was missing from her collection. I remember how much she enjoyed telling us about each of her finds.

My  Grammie was a very strong woman. For so many years she took care of others because it was the right thing to do. Many women in my time would have run away, divorced, left home to find themselves. Grammie knew that her actions would have irreparable affects on those around her and so she stayed and buried those pieces of herself that couldn’t be tolerated in the life she was living. She planted those seeds and in her later years, those seeds blossomed into the fullest life one could possibly have. Grammie experienced this second part of her life to completion. She got every ounce of living out of this world.

We all thought she would live to be 100. We couldn’t imagine someone so vibrant ever slipping away. The last couple years, when I would go to visit, we always talked about death. Grammie would say that after she died, she would be moving on to the next adventure and that we shouldn’t cry because it was all part of life.

In February of this year, on my 40th birthday, Grammie had a heart attack. We thought it was the end for her. She recovered, which is to say that she didn’t die. We knew she didn’t have much time left and she was ready to go. She often said that she was excited to die, excited to see what comes next, to get to the 5th dimension, the place she had spent so long learning about. She was excited to leave her earthly vessel and allow her spirit to find its next journey.

Back in October, she took a turn for the worse. I called her to remind her that I would be coming to visit in November. Every year in November, I would travel to Florida and work in a town just 20 minutes from her. I would always spend a couple days with Grammie. This was the highlight of my year. During that call she told me that it was her time and she was ready to go, her body was giving out. I asked her to hold on until November. I wanted to see her before she headed off to that journey. When hung up she said "I'll see you in November" and I knew she meant it.

Last week, my aunt (who lives next to my Grammie) got sick and so my dad made the trip to Florida to take care of Grammie who was in need of round the clock care. She was fading, her body giving out. All the family had been to see her. I was the last one.

When I arrived, Grammie was in bed and not able to get up. I laid down in bed with her and put my arms around her. She held my hand and we talked about the things going on in my life. When it was time to leave she sat up in bed, held my head and kissed me. I knew then that we were saying goodbye. I had to work the weekend and planned to be back to her house on Tuesday. I said “I will see you Tuesday” and she didn’t reply. She knew that she would not see me on Tuesday.And the truth is that I knew too.

The following Monday when I saw my dad’s number on my caller ID, I knew that she was gone. In that moment and for every moment since, the world has felt both emptier and more full. The physical world will never be the same and I will forever feel the void of her absence. The spiritual world is more alive than ever. I feel her presence in every sunset, I see it in every leaf blowing on the breeze. I taste it in every breath I breathe and I know that she is everywhere. In everything. And she will be forever.

I have a thousand memories of her, a thousand funny or sad stories. Every time I talked with her she told me something she hadn’t told me before. She was love and peace and life and hope and honesty and truth. As she grew older, she became more herself. She was unapologetic for her quirks and steadfast in her beliefs. I admire everything about her. The way she approached life and ultimately death gives me comfort, makes me less afraid of what is in store for me. I know now that I can face anything that comes my way in this life and I believe that there is an adventure on the other side.

I told Grammie that I would cry when she died, how could I not? She is off on this grand adventure and we are here to carry on without her. People will sometimes ask questions like “if you could have a dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?”…my answer has always been and will always be “My Grammie”. The one thing I regret that is I can’t talk with her about where she is now. I can’t sit in her yellow living room with her and listen to her tell me in great detail, with a glimmer in her eye, a distant look and a longing in her voice, about what she has now learned.

There were only a few things of hers that I wanted to have after Grammie died. She did a great job of dividing her valuables up long before she passed away. If she wanted us to have it, we either already have it or there is a note stating that we should get it. She gave me her goblet collection about 10 years ago. She has mailed me things over the last couple years - mostly books about the goblet collection. The things that carry the most value are often not the things that could be sold for the most money. Grammie had a simple amethyst ring. She got it when I was in the fourth grade. I remember it vividly. She had bought it for herself. The one and only thing I ever remember her doing or buying for herself back then. I remember her being so adament about that...about buying it for HERSELF. Even as a child, I knew that it must be special. I remember it on her hand and I remember thinking that one day I wanted it. The most beautiful thing about that ring is that she wore it on her finger for so many years and it was special to her.

I also wanted a simple yellow coffee mug. It probably cost $8 and she drank her coffee out of it in the mornings. Worth nothing except that it belonged to her, that it was part of her daily ritual. And a book...one of her many books. I looked for one that seemed well worn, that had lots of notes and markings in it. I like the idea of reading what she read, seeing what she wrote. 

I miss her tremendously and wonder where the last 40 years have gone. One thing I know for sure is that I have always known that my time with her was extraordinary. I always knew that she was special and because she loved me, I felt special. That feeling will never go away and for that I am forever grateful to my Grammie. I hope her next adventure is even more amazing than she expected.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Asha's two month update

It has been two months since our health scare with Asha. Two months ago we spent 5 days in the ICU. Two months ago we tried to prepare ourselves for a life without Asha. Two months ago we were fortunate enough to bring her home with us to recover.

We have spent the last two months watching her, evaluating her, medicating her and nursing her back to health. It has been a long road but it has gone so fast. I look at her now and find it hard to believe all we’ve been through in such a short time.
When Asha came home, she was still very sick. She was breathing on her own and taking all her medications orally. She took at least 20 pills per day. We also nebulized her 2-3 times a day for 15 minutes (nebulizing means holding a mask with a stream of medicated steam in front of her nose).

I was so nervous to have her home. I missed the comfort of 24 hour care. I missed having a medical professional there to give me an expert opinion. Without that I worried I would miss something. I was so concerned that she would go backwards. Considering how fast she got sick in the first place, I didn’t want to miss any sign of her getting sicker.
The first week Asha was home, we did not leave her alone for a second. I slept on the couch with her. She was still having her panic attacks at night since she had been off her anxiety medication for a few days. I knew it would take a week or so to get back to normal. When she has those panic attacks, she runs around and barks. She also hyperventilates. With her breathing issues, that really concerned me. She wasn’t able to settle down at all up in our bedroom, so we were back on the couch. Just like the good old days.
After a couple days, her anxiety leveled out and she was able to relax more at night. It wasn’t too long until we were sleeping upstairs again. It was so obvious that Asha didn’t feel like herself. She hardly moved at all during the day. She would go outside to go to the bathroom and take one step off the deck, do her business and come right back in to lay down.
We’ve worked hard to get Asha’s anxiety under control. “Under control” is relative. What that means is that Asha is still quite anxious. She doesn’t really relax very easily when we are around. She knows when we are home and she needs to know where we are at every minute. If we go upstairs and don’t let her know (we walk her over to the gate at the bottom of the stairs and touch her nose as we go up the stairs) she will pace the floor and bark uncontrollably. When we are downstairs with her, she will lay still for a bit but every so often will jump up, run and bark until we come to her.

Asha wears a leash in the house most of the time. That way we can keep her near and if she jumps up and starts to pace and bark we can pull her back in. For example, right now, I am sitting at the kitchen table and Asha is laying at my feet. I have her leash around my wrist. In the last 20 minutes she has gotten up twice. I pull her back to me, touch her and she lays right back down. If I didn’t have the leash, she would get up , run into the front room, pace and bark.
This is our reality, our routine….and we have gotten used to it. After Asha came home, she didn’t do any of this. She just laid in one spot, all the time.  As much as I have spent the last three and a half years wishing for peace and quiet, I didn’t like it one bit. It wasn’t normal. It wasn’t right.
We went back to see Dr Seekins after two weeks. Asha’s xrays showed improvement and we were able to decrease some of her medications. We stopped one and were able to start nebulizing 1-2 times a day. We were so happy that Asha was showing progress. As we started to decrease her medication I became even more vigilant about her breathing and her behavior. No one knows her like I do. I know every breath, noise and movement she makes. It had been such a crazy few weeks that I was starting to feel like I couldn’t even tell what was normal anymore. Her breathing had been so irregular that I worried I wouldn’t know what regular looked like!

During this time we were also making regular visits to see Dr Hope Valentine, Asha’s Chinese Medicine Vet. Dr Valentine is one of Asha’s favorite people so it was good not only for her body, but her soul to spend some time in her office. Asha was put on some different herbs to help her breathing and her organs. She also received accupuncture.
The days went by and with each one Asha became more herself. Soon she was spending more time moving around instead of just laying in one spot.

We went back two weeks later for another follow up. Asha would get so excited when we walked in the doors at Columbia River Veterinary Specialists. Her little nubbin tail would wag furiously until she was able to greet all her friends there. Her stay there was no picnic and so it was surprising to me that she still loved coming there.
I remember when the tech brought Asha back in the room after her xrays she said “the doctor will be in to go over the films with you in a minute, but I can tell you she smiled big when she saw them.” Sure enough, Dr Seekins came in to see me and was thrilled with how Asha’s lungs looked. We were able to again decrease her medications and move our next follow up to a month out. That was great news.

Now that Asha was feeling better, her personality was really showing. A month earlier, I had sat on the floor of the ICU, with a very sick Asha, and tried to explain to Dr Seekins all that this sweet girl meant to us. I am sure most owners tell her how special their pet is, but Asha is different. She isn’t like other dogs and I couldn’t find the words that day to express it. Now, Dr Seekins was seeing for herself and I loved that. Asha has a way of looking right through you, right into your soul. One of the great joys of my life with her is when other people see how amazingly special she is.
We headed home and we continued to monitor her progress. Asha was just starting to act like her old self. One day I was working at the kitchen table and Asha would not settle down. Just like before she got sick, she was getting up and pacing and barking. While we are used to this behavior and we have lived with it for years, it can still be incredibly annoying. Even though Asha is deaf, we still talk to her and sometimes even yell at her as if she was a hearing dog. I got up from the table and said “Asha, you are driving me nuts”. I stopped in my tracks. Then I sat down on the floor and hugged her while I cried. I had wanted Asha’s old self back for a while now. Ever since she got sick, all I wanted was her to act like “normal”. I cried tears of happiness because that time was finally here. Our girl was coming back to us. I have never been so happy to be annoyed by her!

I was getting ready to head out of town for a busy month of travel. I was happy that Asha was doing so well. We are blessed to have incredible pet sitters who I knew would keep a close eye on Asha. All has been well for the last month. Asha hasn’t coughed at all since we brought her home from the ICU. Her breathing has been steadily improving. Most days, Asha is her normal self.
Last week we went back for another follow up. Asha’s lungs again looked good but there is still some damage. It is hard to say if that is how they looked before she got sick (we have nothing to compare them to) and it is hard to say if this is as good as they will get. She may have some permanent damage to her lungs and she may always have a little more trouble breathing than before. But she is really doing great. Dr Seekins is very happy with her progress. We are continuing to decrease her medication. We will continue to watch her like a hawk for any indication that she is doing anything other than improving. Our next follow up is in 4 weeks.

We continue to take things one day at a time. Asha is the most amazing creature to me, as she has always been. I still look at her now and then and remind myself that she cannot see or hear. I am in awe of the life she lives, of the way she navigates the world with nothing but love and happiness. She has the most open heart and the most adventurous soul. It is like it never occurs to her that anything other than good exists in the Universe. I often forget how much she depends on Trevor and I. Her complete trust in us is humbling and my complete love for her is overwhelming. I didn’t think I could ever love her more, but with every passing day I find myself more in awe of her and her place in my world. I wonder who I ever was without her and who I would have become had she not come into my life.

If at the end of my life, I am judged only for the way in which I loved this girl than I will be content. She is all that is good and right in my world. She makes me a better person. She saved me from a life of ordinary. I am so grateful for every day that I get to see her sweet smiling face. I hope I get to see it for many more years to come.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Gift

The last four weeks have been a blur.  Back in July, our dog Asha had started showing symptoms of kennel cough. We had taken her to a self serve pet wash and a pet store, three days later she started coughing. We assumed she picked up a virus. She coughed for a couple days and we took her to see our vet. While in his office, Asha didn’t cough a single time. The vet listened to her lungs and believed she had a mild kennel cough that should resolve on its own. A week later, Asha was still coughing and it was getting worse. I called the vet and he prescribed an antibiotic and cough suppressant. She took those for one day and got significantly worse. Her breathing went from a dry, hacking, deep cough to a wet, raspy, shallow cough. Within a day she was laboring to breath. I still don’t really understand how we got from there to here. I finally had the chance to reflect on those first days and all that has happened. I see how Asha continues to teach me things about hope and life and love.

I remember thinking that we would go back to the vet, Asha probably had pneumonia, they would take  some xrays, prescribe a different medication and that would be it. When the vet came into the room to review her chest xrays, he looked at Asha with worry. I was surprised when he told me to get to the 24 hour emergency veterinarian, because Asha needed to be hospitalized. There are several of these types of facilities in the Portland Metro area and he wanted to know where we would go so he could call and prepare them. I chose Columbia River Veterinary Specialists because they were 10 minutes from our house (I believe that decision saved Asha's life,I don't think we would have gotten the same care anywhere else). Our vet didn’t typically refer patients there because it was further away from his office but said he would call them. I told him that we would go wherever he felt Asha would get the best care and if after talking to CRVS he didn’t feel like that was it, he needed to tell me.

The vet came back and told me they were expecting us at CRVS and suggested I be sure to keep the air conditioning on during my drive (in order to keep Asha as comfortable as possible). It was rush hour and the drive took forever. I know the gravity of the situation had not sunk in. I remember thinking about the words the vet used – severe bacterial pneumonia, suspicious nodules….these sounded serious. But how could that be? Just a couple of days ago, she was relatively fine.
We arrived at CRVS and they had Asha on oxygen almost immediately. They started IV fluids and medications. Trevor and I left her there for the night – we figured it would be easier for the staff to give Asha the best care without us there. She had been in the ER overnight as a puppy, when she had her first seizure. After she recovered that night, she barked until we picked her up in the morning. I honestly expected it to be the same way this time. I called and checked on her before we went to sleep and then again during the night. I thought I would call in the morning and they’d say she was better and come get her because she won’t shut up! That didn’t happen.

When I called in the morning, the doctor said Asha wouldn’t eat and asked if I could come over and help them. Again, I still expected I would get there, feed her, and we would come home later in the day. When I arrived, I was shocked. Asha looked sick. For the first time, she really really looked sick.
Asha was born deaf and blind, she has epilepsy and anxiety. She navigates the world well and it has taken us her entire life to get to a good place with her. But she still decides what she will and won’t do. Being in a strange place, with strange people, is not okay with her. She would not go into a kennel and she wouldn’t settle down when left alone. The staff at CRVS had taken the door off a kennel and made a big bed for Asha on the floor of the Intensive Care Unit. Then, someone sat with her almost all night. I was happy to take over that duty. When Asha was younger, I slept on the bathroom floor with her…for months. So this was familiar to both of us. Asha leaned in to me for comfort, just as she has since the first day I met her.

Asha wouldn’t eat. This was a problem because she couldn’t take her medication, so they started giving them to her by IV. The goal was to get her breathing under contol. I decided I would stay with Asha all day. I was able to do my work from there and it made us all feel better. The staff welcomed this.

As the day went on, Asha’s conditioned worsened. Then things got even more serious. I met with the doctor late in the day and she told me that Asha’s digestive system had shut down. Her stomach was not emptying and was filling with fluid. This was a problem because she could burp up that fluid and aspirate or breathe it in. That would make her pneumonia and breathing worse. If her stomach didn’t start to empty they would have to put a tube down her throat to suction out the fluid. They had started her on medication to get her digestive system re-engaged. Hopefully there should be movement within 24 hours. 

I remember calling Trevor and telling him this in a matter of fact tone, but feeling complete and utter disbelief. What the hell was happening here? Asha had been in the ICU for 24 hours and there was no talk of going home. Her health was going in the wrong direction. How was that possible?
Trevor and I decided that I would stay the night with Asha. She wouldn’t do well on her own and we wouldn’t do well not being with her. I don't remember us even discussing it. We had come home for about an hour to take care of our other dogs and when we headed back to see Asha, I had my pillow with me. I laid awake all night on the floor of the ICU willing her to get better. The next morning, the vet felt like she would have digestive function by the end of the day – the medication seemed to be working.

As the day went on, there seemed to be no improvement in her breathing. I was so focused on the moment that I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that she had been there for almost 48 hours and there had been zero improvement in her condition. They had been pumping her full of oxygen and medications and she wasn’t getting better. Then Dr Seekins (I called her Dr Megan in prior posts – up to that point we had seen so many doctors and I didn’t know any of their names, instead we referred to them as “blonde doctor”, doctor with curly hair who checked us in” and “Dr Megan with the cool tattoo on her forearm”) came in to talk to me. It was during this conversation that I realized the graveness of our situation. I wrote about that in my previous post HERE.

Asha had the diagnostic procedures and we felt like we had some better answers. I was hopeful we could start to make progress. Then, she had her seizure. I look back now and know that I was fortunate to have been there when it happened. There were no staff in the room, they were tending to other patients. I realized Asha was having the seizure, I called out for help and within minutes the nurses and doctors were treating her. When the nurses came in, I got up and out of their way. I sat down in a chair in the corner. I didn’t freak out, I didn’t cry. I texted Trevor and then closed my eyes. I could hear them working on Asha and I summoned every ounce of positive energy from the Universe. I wanted to fill the room with hope and life force.  At the same time I wondered how much worse it could possibly get. When  was it going to start to get better? Was it going to get better?

After we got Asha’s breathing under control, we sat and talked with Dr Miller about our options and what things could go wrong during the night. We discussed that Asha’s breathing could again become unregulated and they may not be able to get it under control. In that case the options would be either they put her on a respirator or they let her go. Dr Miller said that Dr Seekins did not think putting her on the respirator would be the right thing to do. It didn’t hit me at the time, but I later realized what that meant. Dr Seekins must have believed there was a real possibility that Asha was going to get worse. Trevor and I decided that we wouldn’t do that if it came down to it and then we looked at each other with all the hope in the world that it wouldn’t come down to that.

I spent that night laying on the floor in front of Asha. I could see her face and could also watch her chest rise and fall. I literally lived breath to breath for the next 12 hours. I watched each inhale and exhale. There was no before and no after. There was only that breath. Once we made it through the night I started to live minute to minute, then hour to hour.

We finally started to see progress. We were 72 hours into our stay. Things had gotten worse and were now getting better. There was some talk of going home now, but it wouldn’t be for a couple more days and that seemed so far away. You would think the time would drag, but it went surprisingly fast. Every two hours Asha was getting medication, trying to be fed, being nebulized, going out to potty.

There were benchmarks. We had gotten through the eye of the storm and were now working the plan. We had reduced her oxygen and then stopped it all together. We started to move her medications from IV to oral. In order to go home, she needed to be able to take her medications…and there were a lot of them….by mouth. We worked on this for over 24 hours and finally had success.

I felt quite a bond to the staff, to the doctors and especially the nurses and techs who spent their time with us. They were seeing me at pretty much the worst moments of my life and I knew they were on my team. As Asha started to improve, her personality started to come out and I could see these people realize how special she is. I could see them start to understand what I had been trying to explain for 5 days….that this dog is my soul. My favorite thing is when others get a glimpse of how amazing she is. That started to happen. I could also feel their hope grow….their hope that she would actually go home. When I felt that, I started to have hope too.

At one point I asked the doctor to go over all the medications Asha was on and would have to take once we got home. She went over the list and I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I had been so focused on the moment to moment that I hadn’t thought about going home and what the next steps would be. It was overwhelming and intimidating. I began to see that getting out of the hospital was not the end…we still had an uphill climb and a long way to go. I tried to be grateful that we even had the chance to move on to this next phase. We would be leaving and Asha was coming with us…alive.
The last three weeks have been focused on making sure that Asha continues to improve. I watch her like a hawk, so concerned that she would go backwards. She has not, she has continued to improve. She's had two sets of xrays, both showing her lungs starting to clear. We are slowly reducing her medications. She has spent time with Dr Hope Valentine, her Chinese Medicine Veterinary. I have no doubt Asha is alive because she was able to be treated with both western and eastern medicine, in a very integrated approach. We are moving forward and that feels so very good.
Asha whole life with us has been impossible and yet there was always somewhere else to go, something else to try. We never felt like we were at the end with her, there always seemed to be another possibility, another hope. I think that is what saved us and what saved Asha. I refused to believe that this was it for her….that this was it for us.  Usually when one of our pets is dying I have a conversation with them about heaven. I never did that with Asha. At one point, I did tell her that if she needed to go, she could go…but I didn’t want her to. I look back and wonder why I wasn’t preparing her for death, because she was on the brink.

My life changed the day I met Asha. I have learned so many things about myself and the world because I have loved her. I feel so lucky that the Universe chose me to be Asha’s advocate in this life. Every time I think I’ve learned all there is, she brings me yet another lesson. Through this experience, I’ve found another part of myself that I didn’t know existed. I’ve seen a strength in myself and in Trevor that is beyond what I believed possible. My bond with my husband has grown deeper through this struggle. I have always known that he and I are a good team, but this really showed me that we can get through dark times as long as we lean on each other and stick together. He is my person and there is no other who could do that job the way he does.

Asha has taught me that when you think it is the end , there is always another beginning. The start of something new. We have started a new journey, along an untraveled road. We will meet the most amazing people and have the chance to expand Team Asha and let more love and light into our world. This is a tremendous blessing. Without Asha, without this chapter in her life, we would not have met Dr. Seekins and her team and what a shame that would have been.

Asha is also teaching me about letting go and giving up control. This is an ongoing lesson, the one that I believe she was sent into my life to teach. It is my nature to want to be in control, to plan, to have the next 4 steps figured out. I can’t do that right now and it is incredibly difficult for me to not know what comes next. We have done more than anyone could possibly do and I must come to peace with that. Asha’s life will continue to unfold the way it should and all I can do is continue to support that in every possible way. However it turns out, I can have no regrets, I can never wonder if we should have done anything differently. I can only have faith that anything is possible and that we have searched to the ends of the earth for her and for us.

I know without a doubt that my life, my world is better because of Asha. This sweet soul was entrusted to me and I to her and that is the most beautiful gift I have ever received.

And so our story continues....