It started Sunday morning. Having stayed up late the night before, J and I decided to sleep in as long as our bodies would remain horizontal. I remember thinking at one point (perhaps upon realizing that my Grandma had probably been awake for five hours by then) that Gee, isn’t it great that Daisy likes to sleep in, too? She never jumps on the bed at 6:30 to demand I let her out when there's still dew on the lawn!
Daisy, for those of you unfamiliar, is my four year-old Cairn Terrier. She was brought home after Marley, my first attempt at owning a Cairn, broke my heart by dying of kidney failure at 12 weeks of age in the summer of 2002. Daisy can shake the snot out of a stuffed devil and makes the strangest gurgles and whines while chewing a purple rubber shoe that lost its squeaker long ago. She’s also a champion barker: at the ringing telephone, at dogs walking by on the sidewalk, at squirrels with the temerity to scramble through our backyard, at human sneezes, at the call signal for our local public radio station.
But her sweet side makes up for it all. She’s my buddy, and never fails to crack me up with her nightly sprints around the house, her “nyum-nyum-nyum” growl when she’s annoyed, the way she play-bows before a single piece of kibble on the rug, dancing around it before burying it in the couch cushions.
Did I mention she can throw a tennis ball back at you? No small feat for someone lacking opposable thumbs!
When I finally came downstairs on Sunday Daisy sidled up next to me as usual, hoping I’d drop a bit of cereal on the floor. I noticed that she had a cut on the bridge of her nose. Upon closer inspection, I spotted several raised blisters across the top of her muzzle. I figured she must have simply gotten into something in the night—maybe she’d been bitten by a spider, or perhaps she was exhibiting a severe allergic response to some weeds she’d been sniffing and rooting around in during our walk late the night before. Either way, I was confident it would clear up by the end of the day. She's a terrier! Terriers are tough!
I was wrong. By Sunday night her upper nose was a swollen, bleeding mess. She was lethargic, looking at me as if to say: just make it stop. So like the good little hypochondriac that I am, I got online to see if I could determine what the problem might be.
What an interstellar mistake. By the end of the night I was sobbing, determined that she had an autoimmune disease that would require lifelong, painful treatments and we’d have to say good-bye to her long before we should. I wondered how I could come home from work if she wasn’t there to greet me at the door, wagging her tail and flopping onto her back for a reunion belly-rub. I could visualize the empty, quiet house, her untouched basket of toys in the corner, the fact that I'd probably still find doghair on the furniture, maybe a long-lost chunk of rawhide wedged behind the fridge even years after she was gone--talk about your recipe for an intense crying jag. Good god it can suck to have an overactive, worry-prone imagination.
After reaching nothing but a busy signal for an hour at my vet on Monday morning, we actually got a break: a ten o’clock appointment had cancelled—could we be there in fifteen minutes?
Daisy’s nose was even worse by then: the ulcerated mass of lesions had swollen dramatically. She was lethargic, lacking even the energy to bark at the grumbling coffee maker. I didn’t want to be “that owner,” but I decided to bring with us to the vet a printout describing the autoimmune disease I feared most, with the name of the condition (pemphigus foliaceus), key descriptive symptoms (ulcerated lesions across the bridge of the nose), and age of onset (four years of age. Good lord, Daisy’s four years of age!) highlighted in yellow. So I folded that printout and brought it in with us, because two hours of online research certainly trumps years of veterinary training.
After a long wait in the exam room, the vet whisked Daisy back into the bowels of the facility to shave her nose, which must have been quite the ordeal, given Daisy's general hatred of all things vet-like. (Also, we could hear her yelping down the hall.) He then prescribed some antibiotic ointment and pills and was hustling us out of there when I spoke up, “Um, I know it probably drives you nuts when people try to diagnose their pets' illnesses on the Internet, but you don’t suppose she’s got an autoimmune disease, do you? Her symptoms are a pretty good match.”
He shook his head, futzing with some paperwork at the counter. “Let’s see what the antibiotics do. Half a pill daily, and put that cream on her nose twice a day. It should clear thing up in no time. Come back in ten days for a follow-up if it’s not healing.”
Ten days? my mind echoed. Ten days of wrestling my dog twice a day to rub salve on the raw wound above her nose? Ten days of watching her suffer, of trying to keep her from scratching her healing wound?
“What can we do to keep her from scratching it? Should she get one of those collars?”
The vet acted as if I’d told him a knock-knock joke he’d already heard a thousand times. “She’d be miserable in one. The cream should help with the itching.”
Daisy was looking pretty miserable without one, but I chalked that up to the whole nose-shaving experience.
On the way home, I was optimistic. We had ointment! We had bug-fighting pills! I would order natural supplements and make her a homemade dinner! Staph infection, begone!!
Unfortunately, it’s now late Tuesday night, and while she’s peppier than she was yesterday, her nose is still a raw, bumpy, oozing mess.
I’d say it was pretty gross if she wasn’t my dog. I guess in that respect I think I can relate to parents. I mean, who cares about a little icky thing like vomit when the health of your child is at stake?
She’s sleeping at my feet right now with a white lifeguard nose and dream-twitches. I’m hoping that she recovers, and that we’re not looking at a shortened lifetime of steroid treatments and pain and tests and vet visits. The Internet is full of heartbreaking stories of animals in similar situations. I’m hoping she recovers because I think she’s got a lot of house sprints left in her, and a lot more barking at squirrels to do. And I’m just not ready to say good-bye.