Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tender Mercy

We had a very serious incident with Riley over New Years. Without the how's or whys, suffice it to say, we got her to the Emergency Vet hospital in just barely the nick of time. As she was being carried back, her heart stopped, necessitating the administration of CPR. It worked, and she went quickly from a comatose state to alert to walking - well, tottering. 

By Tuesday, we were allowed to visit her in a location that was not the Intensive care unit, and by Thursday she had so firmly declared a hunger and water strike that the staff decided it might be worth letting us take her home for an overnight stay to see if she would eat and drink in a more familiar setting. What they didn't mention, thankfully, was that if we couldn't get her to eat and drink, their next step was a feeding tube. 

So they released her to our only slightly capable care for an overnight visit with five pages of aftercare instructions, an exhaustive medication regimen, and the (laughable under different circumstances) strict admonition that she was not to be exposed to other dogs, particularly any dogs larger than her. She weighs six pounds for crying out loud. Our six month old kitten weighs more than she does. 

We were so happy to have her home, and so blissfully unaware of the gravity of our situation that the overnight went exceedingly well. We set up an infirmary in the guest bedroom. She ate the chicken out of some homemade chicken and noodles, she drank water, and we were able to return to the Hospital the next day to report success. Having demonstrated these basic core competences in the care of our dog, the clinic gave us permission to extend our home visit through the weekend. 

By Saturday morning, I had had enough time and information that I began to have a firmer grasp on how desperate little girl's situation might be. She seemed to be exceedingly disoriented. Her motor skills were extremely uncoordinated. I could sense her frustration and stood beside her staring into the preacipice that folks who have had a stoke or other brain injury face: the more quickly you re-map those neurons, the more functional the recovery. On the other hand, rehabilitation requires pushing yourself physically, falling, failing, and getting up to try it again, a painful process to watch and survive.

By bedtime on Saturday, I was despondent. The poor baby had struggled through the day weaving like a drunken sailor. She gave a heartfelt effort to eat and drink and greet an adoring public. I quietly lamented that she would never be the pert, perky little gal we had known before. I worried about her mobility and her quality of life. I was questioning whether our decision had been the best for her, or a selfish one based on what was best for us. 

When I woke on Sunday morning, I woke with a fresh perspective. I woke up with thoughts of our girl, Mercy. When I picked up Mercy from that stranger's house in southern Missouri, I loaded a dog into our car along with some serious misgivings about our ability to care for her. Her back end was so weak from the broken pelvis and spinal stenosis, she couldn't walk more than a city block and a run ended in total calamity. Across time, Mercy developed a way to compensate for her swervy back end, using a rabbit-hop to re-orient herself and avoid repeated falls. Mercy ran right past her six month and one year predicted life span, without a second thought from any of us. If Mercy could survive and be happy with her issues, Riley could do it, too.

Sunday was a new day, and each day has been a new day since. Riley has improved every day, some days by leaps and bounds, and some days imperceptibly. By today, two weeks from the day she coded, it is almost hard to believe that the only thing wrong with her isn't that a four-year old took after her with a shearer. We know we still have a long way to go: risk of sepsis hasn't completely passed, her broken rib will take another four to six weeks to heal, and we struggle every day with toeing the line between pushing her to do all the things we used to do and holding her back from trying to do everything she used to do.  Thanks to Mercy, we feel like we have an angel on our shoulder as we feel our way along.