~ A bit of joie de vivre, a comprehensive joy of life, with an occasional edge.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Incurable? What the hell...

The doctor called awhile ago.

Her diagnosis was simple, direct, and right to the point: the patient had been diagnosed with incurable Lyme disease.

Incurable? What the hell...

Earlier last night my roommate and I had taken Cleo, one of our two dogs, to a local veterinary emergency center, one of the best around. She had not been able to keep food down for about 48 hours, and wasn't drinking much water. She had been running a fever in the morning, but later her nose was cool and wet, the way that it should be with a healthy dog. But she was moving slowly, though wagging her tail and looking up at us with those big brown eyes when you spoke to her.

So we took her to the vet to see what was the matter. They got her in quickly, and within minutes the vet saw her, took her temperature (which was normal), but she had noticed a few signs that she wanted to check out. So we left her with the vet and went to the waiting room.

About ten minutes later she called us back in, asked us some more detailed questions about Cleo, then asked us to wait again. About twenty minutes passed, and again we were called into the vet's diagnostic room, where she told us that she would like to keep Cleo overnight, perhaps longer, in order to do a thorough examination. We agreed, then headed home, and I made a few calls along the way to people who knew that Cleo had been a bit under the weather.

I was tired when we arrived, so I jumped into the shower, as I had a busy day ahead on Wednesday. As I stepped out of the shower, my roommate knocked on the bathroom door, telling me that the vet had just called. I quickly slipped on my clothes, stepped out and asked my roommate what the vet had said. He told me that Cleo had been diagnosed with incurable Lyme disease, and the vet had recommended that she be put down immediately so that she didn't suffer.

My roommate left for the animal hospital immediately so that he could be with her. He asked me to let him go alone, and I could understand why. He was probably crying most of the way there, as I was a right after he left, two grown men, each of us in his own private grief.

Cleo was our Chocolate Labrador Retriever, the bigger of the two dogs in the house. She really belonged to our roommate, but she and Greta, the other dog, had adopted both my son and me, so we always referred to them as our dogs. Cleo was always a happy dog, gregarious and friendly to a fault. My son would play with Cleo and Greta for hours, the classic boy and his dog(s) scenario. My son was generally the one to feed them in the evening, and had over the years taught them a few simple tricks.

And Cleo would talk to us, carrying on conversations with each of us. We understood her, and she understood us.

But Cleo had demonstrated the classic signs of canine Lyme some disease months ago. My roommate thought that it was just arthritis, which she had been diagnosed with earlier. The disease had evidently progressed further than was thought, and was now effecting her respiratory system. While at the animal hospital, the vet had noted that she had an oxygenation level in the low 80% range when it should be in the high to mid-90% range for a dog of her age, 8+ years.

It all starts from a simple tick bite, but if not discovered and treated quickly, can spread silently throughout the body. And that's what evidently happened to Cleo.

From all indications, she had probably received a fatal tick bite maybe six or more months ago. In recent weeks she showed shifting lameness where she favored one leg, then the other, and the lameness came and went. She stopped eating dog biscuits about three weeks ago. Then in the last two days, she didn't eat at all. It's possible that she was suffering from neurological damage, and also from the early signs of kidney failure.
In any case, the veterinarian advised that she be euthanized, put to sleep, and I assume by first an intravenous injection that simply puts her to sleep, then an injection, which is generally a very high dose of a barbiturate such as pentobarbital. Unconsciousness, respiratory then cardiac arrest follow rapidly, usually within 30 seconds. Most observers generally describe it as a quick and peaceful death.

But my roommate got back and he said that she had actually passed away on her own just as he arrived at the hospital. That's how far and rapidly the disease had progressed... there one minute and gone the next.

So Cleo is no longer with us, and will be missed more than I can express here.

I'm going to wait until I see my son J.R. to tell him face to face, as he's been away for the holidays visiting with family in New England. He truly loved Cleo with her always-happy face and wagging tail. You can understand this. Just a few hours ago she was looking up at me with those big, brown eyes and wagging her tail, a bit more feebly than most times, but happy for the friendship that we shared.

She wasn't really "my" or "our" dog, but this has effected me more than I might have expected. And I'm going to have a hell of a time telling my son when I see him.

I have to go now... I think that you can understand.

Also published on Facebook on 12/30/2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Prices We Pay

Why is the price we pay for eliminating hatred and evil so steep?

Do you remember the late actor Richard Harris? You might remember him as Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies. If you're older, you might also remember him as the English aristocrat and later prisoner in a film by the name of A Man Called Horse (1970), or for his role in film version of the Broadway production of the musical Camelot (1967). There was a time, however, that he was known as much as a singer as he was for his acting roles, and he made the Billboard Singles Charts on six occasions, starting with "MacArthur Park" in 1968.

One of the other times was in 1972, when he released "There Are Too Many Saviors on My Cross", more of a narrative poem set to music than anything. It was found on his LP entitled His Greatest Performances. It came from a poem of the same name published in the only poetry book Harris ever wrote, I, In The Membership of My Days, which was also published in 1972.

The various place names, the "Orange" and the "Green," and the fact that Harris was Irish, make it obvious his specific subject was the bitter conflict between Protestant (orange) and Catholic (green) in Northern Ireland. He spoke out quite frequently on his frustrations with that conflict, which had spawned so much hatred and taken so many lives, and mostly in the apparent name of religious differences.
Like all great poetry though, it rings true in a much broader context.

There Are Too Many Saviors on My Cross
Written & Performed by Richard Harris.
There are too many saviors on my cross,
lending their blood
to flood out my ballot box
with needs of their own.
Who put you there?
told you that was your place?

You carry me secretly naked in your heart,
and clothe me publicly in armor,
crying God is on our side.
I openly cry
who is on mine?
You who bury your sons and cripple your fathers,
whilst you bury my Father in crippling his son.
The antiquated Saxon sword,
rusty in its scabbard of time now rises.
You gave it cause in my name
bringing shame to the thorned head
that once bled for your salvation.
I hear your daily cries
in the far-off byways in your mouth
north and south,
and my cavalry looms again,
in rebirth.
Your earth is partitioned,
but in contrition
it is the partition in your hearts
that you must abolish.
nightly watchers of Gethsemane,
who sat through my nightly trial,
delivering me from evil,
now deserted.
I watch you share your silver,
your purse rich in hate,
bleeds my veins of love,
shattering my bone
in the dust of the Bogside and the Shankhill Road.
There is no issue stronger
than the tissue of love,
no need
as holy
as the palm outstretched
in the run of generosity;
no monstrosity greater
than the acre you inflict
Who gave you the right to increase your fold,
decrease the pastors of my flock?
Who gave you the right?
Who gave it to you?
And in whose name do you fight?

I am not in heaven,
I am here,
hear me.
I am in you,
feel me.
I am of you,
be me.
I am with you,
see me.
I am for you,
need me.
I am all mankind;
only through kindness,
will you reach me.
What masked
and bannered men
can rock the ark
and navigate a course
to their anointed kingdom come?
Who sailed their captain
to waters
that they troubled in my font,
sinking in the ignorant seas of prejudice.
There is no virgin willing
to conceive in the heat
of any bloody Sunday.
You crippled children,
lying in cries
on Derry's streets,
pushing your innocence
to the full flush face
of Christian guns
(battling the blame on each other).
Do not grow tongues
in your dying dumb wounds speaking my name;
I am not your prize.
In your death,
you have exorcised me in your game of politics.
Go home to your knees,
and worship me in any cloth,
as I was never tailor-made.
Who told you I was?
Who gave you the right to think it?

Take your beads
in your crippled hands;
can you count my decades?
Take my love in your crippled hearts;
can you count the loss?
I am not Orange,
I am not Green;
I am a half-ripe fruit
needing both colors
to grow into ripeness.
Shame on you to have withered my orchard.
in my poverty
without trust
shame on you!
Shame on you again and again,
converting me into a bullet,
and shooting me into men's hearts
The ageless legend of my trial grows old
in the youth of your pulse,
staggering shamelessly from barricade to grave,
filing in the book of history.
My needless death one April
let me,
in my betrayal,
lie low in my grave,
and you in your bitterness
lie low in yours,
for our measurements grow strangely dissimilar.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
sullied be thy name!

By Richard Harris, from I, In The Membership of My Days, Random House, New York, 1972. The CD release of this narrative can be found on Disc 2 of My Boy/Slides, a 2005 release which has limited availability.
Late in his life, Richard Harris offered a strong performance as as Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the blockbuster Gladiator (2000), and he became known to an entirely new generation of film fans as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone(2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). His final screen role was as Lucius Sulla in Julius Caesar (2002). He passed away from Hodgkin's Disease on October 25, 2002.
  • Note: The above is an edited and updated version of a column that I posted elsewhere on 11/02/2006, but the message in the narrative poem seems to still ring all too true today.

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