Saturday, November 25, 2006

This Want of You

What physically remains of you
I keep finding throughout my house:
under the sofa, in the corners of the bedroom, on my coat.
Your fur, your beautiful coat, gray and white plume of soft fur, now
nothing more than dust bunnies rolling
like small tumbleweeds throughout obscure places in my house.

But what remains of you is within me.

We put the Christmas tree up tonight,
took the bell off your collar and put it
front and center
among the sweet smelling boughs.
And with that, I picture you running through Douglas furs in Wyoming,
chasing chipmunks,
sniffing out fox or squirrel.

You live in my memory.
So vivid, now, I see your tail waving at me
As you trot in front, lead dog,
smart girl.
I can reach down and pet your soft head,
smell the earthy want of you
see you digging a nest in the flowerbed to lie in the sun.
I miss you. God, how I miss you now.

And I'm sorry. I would trade so many, so much
to have you back here with me
just for tonight
under this tree.

Friday, November 24, 2006

In Memory: Kahlua, 7/1/1994 - 11/24/2006

11 Years, 4 months, 23 days

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pretty Lucky Life

Dad's lung collapsed the night after surgery. Pneumothorax, the medical term for collapsed lung, is rectified fairly easily by inserting a chest tube on the side of the body where the lung is collapsed. But for my dad, this is just one more point of entry for various bacteria.

My dad has always been stoic and strong, proud of his eight year stint in the Marines. Although only five foot ten inches tall, I would marvel at his strength when I was young, watching him pick our 19 foot boat up by the trailer hitch and walk it to the hitch on our truck.

He's always been so proud of his chest and the hair on it, as if it's some hallmark of masculinity. Now, because of the total sternal resection, his chest is sunken in, hairless and covered with scars and suture lines. He shakes from pain, then becomes suspicious and acts oddly after a morphine injection.

My poor dad. I want to do something, would do anything I could to help him or heal him, but there's nothing I can do but watch from the sidelines, helpless.

Similarly, there's nothing I can do for Kahlua, who vomited up blood again last night. I think the time has come to put her down, but it kills me to think of this. But I cannot think of myself. She is suffering.

This year, I am thankful for my parents. I am thankful for finding a part of myself again in my dogs; I am thankful for my dogs, who make me so happy -- they have truly been a joyful distraction from all the stress of life. I am thankful for my marriage, my kids and my husband. I am thankful for my house, however much work it needs! I am thankful for having worked at the hospital almost six years; I am thankful for my job.

And every one of these things, at one point or another, has made me completely crazy! There are days I ask myself "why FIVE dogs?" or "why did I have another child?" or "did I really mean it when I said 'for better or worse?'"

But ultimately, when I look at my life, it's a pretty lucky life. I am fortunate. I might forget it sometimes...but I know I am.


Monday, November 20, 2006


Interesting finding tonight that even my dad's sternal wound infection is related to smoking....

"Numerous studies were performed to identify causative factors of sternal wound dehiscence and subsequent infection. Factors identified include hypertension, smoking,...."
"Sternal necrosis" (breastbone tissue death)"and osteomyelitis" (bone infection)" occur in patients with profound sepsis, with gram-positive infections, and on whom inadequate debridement is performed. Debridement is the cornerstone in healing these wounds; d├ębride viable, bleeding bone. Some advocate resection of the entire sternum and costal cartilages to reduce the chance of recurrent infection. Regardless, perform bone biopsies at the farthest margin of debridement. If dehiscence is observed early, 1-stage debridement followed by immediate flap transposition can be performed.

Contraindications: diabetes and tobacco using patients!

Nov 20

Today, my dad had his entire sternum removed in a three and a half hour surgery, the bone completely eaten away by infection.

Today, Elise spent the day in sick child care at the hospital with pneumonia and a temperature of 101.

Tonight, Kahlua lays across my lap, laboring to breathe, coughing violently every so often.

Tomorrow, my dad turns 67. Pieces of his body have been rerouted and rewired and removed since his birth 67 years ago. A slice of his abdominal muscle now protects his vital organs in his chest where his breastplate once sat.

That's what's going on.

At times, out of no where, I burst into tears. Kahlua will look up at me, wheezing, with her brown eyes fixed on me, or Elise will cry for me to rock her, or I'll see my dad intubated yet again. And I'll think of how short life is, and what life will be like without Kahlua, and someday, without my dad. Hearing my dog groaning in the night, seeing my dad drift into and out of consciousness, seeing my child's tears, I realize how vulnerable we all are.

Years ago, in cadaver lab, I remember thinking this too. That whole summer, it freaked me out how our skin is really so easily sliced, how the superficial fascia just tears away from the muscle like linen ripping, how it's absolutely amazing we go through all we do in a lifetime and still remain intact.

Life is beautiful and short. We are born perfect. We are beautiful and perfect.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

November 19

Tonight I saw my dad in the hospital. He has a PICC line in now, and is scheduled for surgery tomorrow morning. The plan is for debridement of the infected tissue inside his sternum. Tonight, as he talked, the air exchange was audible in his sternum. While we were visiting, a male nurse came to fill the hole in his sternum with gauze. It's bloody, pus-filled and foul smelling.

Tuesday, my dad will be 67. Sophie and I took him cards we'd made, one "Get Well" card and two "birthday" cards, along with a gift. He seemed like he was holding back tears reading them. What a birthday.

My poor dad. As he ate his dinner tonight, he said, "well, this might be my last supper." He is very down, frustrated, and understandably so. He says he doesn't know what he is living for.

As Sophie and I walked down the hall toward my dad's room, we looked up to see he and my mom 20 feet up the hall in front of us, then slip out the emergency exit door. We found them down on the patio, in the dark, smoking. Hiding in the dark, like criminals or closet lovers. Hiding from the rain, in shame, in the dark, smoking.

ALL of this could have been alleviated or made better by quitting smoking: the heart disease, the breaking of the wires that held his sternum in place (which broke from coughing from emphysema), the lack of wound healing, ALL of it. And yet, this addiction is so strong, he stands outside in the rain with a staph infection, suture line visible through his hospital gown and jacket, smoking.

I wish my parents could see the sad irony of this.

On top of all this, Kahlua vomited a pool of bright red blood this morning. The time is coming very near. And Thanksgiving is Thursday.

Thank you for my voice, and not being afraid to use it.
Thank you for my sense of justice, and trying to make sense of the world.
Thank you for my family.
Thank you courage, grace, compassion.
Thank you Sophie, Elise.
Thank you Foxy, Mandy, Jack, Marley.
Thank you Kahlua.
Thank you reality check and karma.
Thank you balance.
Thank you, God, for this moment, and for every moment of my tiny little life.
Thank you grief.
Thank you hurt.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

self mutilation

For some reason, when I came home and found this on our breezeway last evening, it struck me as completely hilarious. A glamorized image of the ideal husky, this toy, now matted with slobber, missing an ear and most of its face met me on the floor of our porch, a gift left by our huskies. Chris said it looks like it has a cleft palate. Imagining three huskies ripping the face off of a stuffed replica of themselves reminded me of how I used to give my Barbies mohawks when I was a kid, mutilating idealic images of the "perfect" person. My dogs probably look at that stuffed replica of the idealic husky and want to vomit.

What does Disney know about sleddogs anyway? Sleddogs are not glamorous AKC beautified show dogs. They're down-and-dirty, "git-r-done" working dogs who are often stinky; usually voracious in their appetite for food, exercise and companionship; sometimes timid; almost always vocal; sometimes downright ugly, floppy-eared beasts who appear more suited to work in a junkyard than on a trail hooked to a gangline.

My daughters recently wanted to rent Iron Will, a Disney rendition of a boy who runs a sleddog team to victory to honor the memory of his dead father and preserve his family's farm. Typical glamorized Disney images of what people think of when they think of sleddogs: 70 pound Malamutes, with steel-blue eyes and glossy black and white coats thick as blankets.

My dogs seemed to give their opinion of Disney and the "traditional" husky by chewing the face off this one, leaving only the blank empty expresion of steel blue eyes and a big hole where the rest of its mouth would have been.

Go get 'em, kids!

Friday, November 3, 2006

Cold, clear skies

Tonight, under clear cold skies, I hooked the huskies up and we ran in the dark. I love it when it's so cold everything seems crispy. Now, the dogs are curled up, sleeping contentedly with their big tails wrapped around themselves while I sit pricing mid-distance sleds, praying for snow and dreaming.

I'm also praying for my dad. He underwent surgery this a.m. to repair broken wires that held his sternum together after open-heart surgery in June. All wires connecting his sternum were broken except for one at the very top. The cardiologist rewired everything back together. He came out after surgery and gave mom the broken wires, cleaned and sealed in a little clear specimen container. The Cardiologist said a portion of one of my dad's lungs was lodged in his rib.

Tonight, in the ICU, he was in a lot of pain. He is extubated and his numbers looked good, blood pressure, sats, respirations, etc all holding, like him: strong and steady. Tomorrow, remove chest tube and move him to the floor. He was very visibly in a lot of pain tonight.

Nothing has ever struck me quite the same as seeing him both times in the ICU. He looks so old, so frail and helpless. Watching my parents age is odd. Logically, I know (obviously) that my parents are aging and will die someday. Emotionally, however, I still think of them as eternal, ever-present....I still picture my dad as this invincible heroic-like figure of my childhood, who could do no wrong and who nothing would ever topple. It takes some getting used to, this thing of watching your parents' age and realizing their mortality. Tonight, when I walked into the ICU to find my dad lying there, seeming so small in that big bed, mouth hung open, skin pale and cold, drifting in and out of consciousness, I was reminded instantly of my grandmother, dying in a hospital bed last January. I could see my dad, dead. No more, spirit gone, could feel what it would feel like to lose him and miss him. And instantly, the familial ties lept up, rallying, as I offered him an extra blanket, ice, water, an extra pillow, to massage his feet, anything to make him feel more human and more alive.

Is it selfish that I offer these things to him? I want to help him because I love him, because he is my dad, but I also want to help him because I want to ...I want, I want, I want...because of me...because I want to reassure myself that he is not in a critical state of disrepair. That I will not lose him. Not yet.

It is quiet now. Dogs snore at my feet, lounging on the couch. Dreaming, their feet jump and move, as if they're running. Over fields of snow they run, under stars and cold, clear skies...

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Kahlua's Last Stand

Kahlua is refusing food again. When she goes outside, she just lays in my flowerbed. She is weak and so, so skinny, bones jutting out in all directions. She looks at me often with such a look of deep sadness and confusion in her eyes, as if trying to understand why she feels like crap, why she can't run around with the other dogs without coughing.

But then, she'll perk up, wolf down a whole plate of pancakes (her favorite) jump around, and bark excitedly at me. Dying is such an up and down process.

A friend of mine and I were talking today about how similar it is watching an animal die as it is watching a person going through the stages of dying. It's up, then down, good days and bad. Two days ago, Kahlua devoured pancakes, bacon, and eggs left over from breakfast. Today, she hardly ate half a hot dog, turning her nose up at the last couple bites distastefully.

Last night, 3:12 a.m., I awoke to horrible hacking cough out in the hallway. The cough is increasing in frequency and severity. And she can't weigh more than 25 pounds now -- every calorie she takes in going to feed the tumors.

11 years, 4 months, 17 days....