Earlier this week, I took the boys with me to the animal hospital with Harry. It wasn’t ideal – I would’ve preferred not to take them – but the doctor only had late afternoon appointments, so I had no choice but to bring them along. I made a deal with them in the car. “Threat” might be a better word to describe when I said quietly and slowly with a finger pointed toward them for effect, “When I’m talking to the doctor and when the doctor is talking to me, you must be quiet. Or else.” No exclamation point. Threats are most effective with periods. Occasionally questions marks work, too. For instance, “Threat threat threat, blah be-dee blah blah. Do you understand me?” But, periods are best.
It worked. They were quite good, actually.
We were at the hospital for an internal medicine check-up, and since Harry looked better and more energetic, I expected good news. I could tell his back felt better, and I hoped the same would be true for his blood sugar. If it was high enough, I also hoped they would lower his prednisone dosage because the side effects – extreme hunger and thirst, excessive urination, and weight gain in the abdomen – came on hard and fast.
I was right and wrong. The doctor agreed that Harry’s mobility and coordination were better. His blood sugar, however, was not. Normal glucose levels in a dog are 75-120. A dog with insulinoma after a successful surgery might find a “new normal” in the 50s or 60s. Harry’s blood sugar was 29 that afternoon. According to our doctor, a number that low almost a month after surgery indicated that the cancer had most likely metastasized. While Dylan and Riley quietly drew pictures (for Harry) next to me on the couch, the doctor suggested an increase in prednisone and gave me the names of two well-regarded oncologists in the area that had some success with chemotherapy on insulinoma patients.
I was caught off guard. I couldn’t hold back my tears.
Girl desperately wants to save dog. Girl can’t.
Riley kept coloring, but Dylan asked, “Mommy, why are you crying?”
I looked him and said, “I’m sad because Harry still doesn’t feel good. His boo boo isn’t better.”
At the tender age of almost seven, this precious boy of mine doesn’t know what to do with the swell of emotions he’s capable of feeling. As a coping mechanism, he hones in on something – anything – concrete. When Harry first came home from the hospital, it was the long line of black stitches down his belly. He was terrified of them.
“Mommy,” he said, “I don’t ever want Harry to have stitches again.”
“Me neither,” I said. “I promise you, he won’t.”
Now, it was his distended abdomen. “Mommy, I don’t like Harry’s belly.”
“Dylan,” I said, “It’s the medicine that’s making his belly big, but no matter what he looks like, he’s still our Harry.”
On the car ride home, I cried quietly in the front seat. In the back seat, Dylan began to sob.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I’m sad,” Dylan said.
“I know. Do you want to talk about it?” I asked.
“I don’t want Harry to be sick,” he said.
I’ve never done this before – this having a dying pet with two small children thing. Honesty seemed like the best – and only – strategy. “I don’t want him to be sick either. It’s okay to be sad,” I said. “It’s okay to cry. I’m sad, too. I’m crying, too.” We cried together as we sped down I-95 towards home.
Then Riley, who’s four years old and way less concrete and wants to turn into a unicorn after he turns five and loves Harry more than Kefir and all the way to the moon and back said, “Let’s make a deal. No crying in the car or you will lose your Kindle at bedtime.”