This is what happened. Tulip had a seizure. It was very scary. But then she was given baby food, which perked her right back up and we were told that it looked like she had a tumor that was keeping her from producing enough insulin. We could go on our Hawaii vacation, but she would have to have a rather expensive surgery when we got back. Also, the tumor might be so small that they wouldn’t be able to find it, we were warned. Much like the two surgeries she’s had to remove cancerous growths on the outside of her stomach, she might have to have more follow-up surgeries to find this tumor that they think she had.
We got back from vacation and Tulip greeted us at the door, happy to see us, her old self, except for an occasional pee puddle on the floor. I went to DC, so no surgery yet. But the day I got back, Betty got a terrible ear infection and while I was picking up her antibiotics, my MIL called to say that Tulip was having another seizure. I rushed home and gave her corn syrup and the last of Betty’s old baby food. She once again became her old self, and CH scheduled the surgery for the following Monday.
On Monday I got up and I felt good. I hadn’t exercised in a while and I hauled myself downstairs for 20 minutes of JUST DANCE, while CH dropped Tulip off at the vet. We had planned to go to a Weight Watchers meeting to weigh in that morning, but when I came out of the shower, I could smell vomit wafting down the hall. Betty had thrown up in her crib. We rushed her to the doctor, who told us to discontinue dairy and keep her hydrated. By the time we got back to the house, Betty was exhausted. We put her down to sleep in her newly cleaned crib and CH reminded me that the vet would be calling when Tulip was out of surgery and ready to be picked up.
I felt harried and resentful. Here’s what I absolutely didn’t have time for the day before I was set to leave for a book event in Pittsburgh: a sick baby and a sick dog. I thought about how much Tulip had disliked the halo she’d had to wear for two weeks after her last surgery. I remembered how she hadn’t been able to judge distance, and had run into the back of our legs quite a few times, which had been painful. I thought to myself that I should have reminded CH to ask about doggy valium, so that Tulip didn’t get quite so distressed in the halo this time.
Emails were piling up. There were many blogs to post. I hadn’t written my pages yet, and would not have time to do so later. I had just started sorting through all of this when the phone rang.
The vet explained it to me in the same tone of voice that he had used a few weeks ago, when telling us that Tulip could come home, but they were worried about her insulin levels. His voice was calm and even, which is why it took a while for me to register his words and become alarmed.
The tumor, as it turned out, was not small. It was large. It covered half of Tulip’s pancreas, which they could cut out, but there were also spots on her liver and on another organ that I can’t remember now. The tumor, as it turned out, was big. And malicious.
We did have a choice. They could cut out the pancreas and sew her up and send her home to live with us for a month or two before the cancer fully took over. But the recovery would be very painful for Tulip and we’d have to give her insulin shots for the rest of her short life and she’d still die of cancer.
So if we wanted they could do that. Otherwise, she was on the operating table. The surgeon could just not wake her up.
I did not interrupt, even though I always interrupt, even more so when I am angry, happy, or confused. But this time, I listened to the entire explanation.
Tulip is a rescue dog, a pit bull terrier mix. Her history from what we’ve been able to piece together is that she was bred to be a fighting dog. Her ears were cut, so that she could serve in this capacity. But she must not have been a very good fighting dog. She didn’t have that instinct. So they used her to birth litters of other fighting dogs. Then they filed her teeth down, so that she couldn’t defend herself and let the other dogs use her as a punching bag. She had low-hanging teats, chronic arthritis, and several scars on her face and body that tell this tale.
She is prone to ear infections, b/c her ears had not been cut well or by a professional. She is blond, so occasionally she had to have these growths removed from her stomach, but that’s common with blonde dogs.
She is great with kids. Her rescue org pic was of her licking a laughing child. We loved her at first sight, though it was not she we had come to see, but another dog. I was 8 months pregnant at the time. But unlike the other dog, she did not try to jump on us, she was just happy to meet us. This, we would come to find out, is her defining trait. More than any other dog I had ever known, Tulip is always happy to meet a new person.
Tulip, as it turned out, adored people. Though, people didn’t always adore her. We have a neighbor with two yappy small dogs who always crossed the street when he saw us coming and sometimes even gathered his dogs up in his arms, as if he was afraid for their lives. Junior high kids gave Tulip wide berth, as if she were made of radiation as opposed to love. We also forewent looking at a bunch of houses that we were interested in renting, b/c she was on the unacceptable breeds list.
But most who met Tulip agreed. She was a very sweet dog, a very friendly dog.
We had only had Tulip for a year and a half. And the choice we were given didn’t really seem like a choice, “Before she came to us, she had a very hard life,” I said to the vet. “I don’t want her to be in any more pain.”
So there you go. Tulip went for surgery and she didn’t come back.
At first my tears were bewildered. “I thought it was a little surgery. It never even occurred to me…”
By that night, they had gotten angry. “She’s our dog, and I want her back,” I said to CH, before crying myself to sleep.
By the next morning, I was just sad. Tulip had become so much a part of our lives, I kept wondering where she was … then remembering again. I cried again that night on the red eye to Pittsburgh. And again the next day. On Thursday, I cried on the beautiful drive from Boston to Smith College. Then I cried again on Friday, on the drive from Smith College back to Boston.
I ordered a pizza after checking into the hotel and watched the season premiere of GREY’S ANATOMY on my iPad. SPOILER: In this episode Derek deals with his PTSD after the killing spree that ended last season by removing a very difficult tumor from a patient’s brain.
I no longer believe that there are Derek Shephards. I don’t believe that there is any such thing as a surgeon who looks at an impossible tumor and not only decides to cut all of it out, but also succeeds in doing so, as Derek Shephard does twice, sometimes three times every single season.
So I watched this episode and I cried. Because I don’t believe in this character anymore. And Tulip is dead. There I said it, Tulip is dead. And we were supposed to have years together, but we had less than two, before her Russian novel of a life came to a close. The neighbor’s dogs yap on. And I’m writing this on the Friday after she died, having not worked on my novel since that Monday. Having ignored my writing exchange partner’s increasingly worried emails for the past week. Having chastised myself several times for the continued breakdowns, because Tulip wasn’t a human, she was a dog, who we had only known for a relatively short time.
However, when I do this, when I say, “She was only a dog,” this only makes me cry harder. Because she wasn’t only a dog. She was good and she was sweet and she had a great, strong personality, that transcended, “only a dog.”
Usually this is the place where I find a silver lining and say something uplifting. But what else is there to say? Tulip is dead.
And that’s what happened.