Radiation treatment is not something to be taken lightly.
When my wife and I sat down with the oncologist a month ago, we thought we understood the worst that could happen. We chose the line of treatment we did to minimize the potential side effects. It didn’t matter.
The past 8 days have been emotionally and physically draining for my family. Starting last Monday, Chaos refused to eat or drink in anything other than tiny amounts. It was clear that the ulcers in his mouth were getting worse and the medicine was not cutting the pain enough. We got a brief reprieve Tuesday. It snowed here in Westerville. Chaos has always loved the snow. When he went outside for his morning business, he plunged his face into the snow and began lapping it up. He then came inside and ate a healthy amount of food. Immediately after his meal, he ran back outside and shoved his snout into the cold mushy white again. We packed six baggies full of snow and stored them in our freezer. Also my wife took him to our regular vet for an injection of subcutaneous fluids. The mixture of the extra food plus the hydration put Chaos in great spirits that evening.
By Friday, not even the snow could convince him to eat much. He was still eating, however. That morning we dropped Chaos off at Med Vet for his weekly checkup. That evening when I went to pick him up, the tech reported that Chaos was doing well. They’d given him some more subcutaneous fluids, but he seemed good. I spoke briefly with his oncologist and they went back to fetch him for me. They found him in a horrible state. Panting. Listless. Shaking. His temp was at 104 and a yellow puss was oozing from his mouth. The doctor wasn’t comfortable releasing him to us and we agreed to leave him there for observation.
At around 10ish that evening, I got a phone call from the oncologist. Chaos’s temp had spiked up to 107 and his blood pressure had plunged. They’d moved him to their ICU and were trying to stabilize him. While she didn’t come right out and say it, the message was clear: “If you want to say goodbye, you’d better head in now.” Fearing the worst, my wife and I bolted for Med Vet. Each stoplight on the way there seemed to last for an eternity. I was certain we were on our way to watch our dog die.
Halfway there, the doctor phoned us again. They’d brought Chaos’s temp back down to 103 and his vital signs were back in the normal range again. By the time we arrived he was sitting up on a table in the middle of the ICU, alert and happy to see us. We stayed there until the results of his blood work came back. Aside from being low on electrolytes and potassium, everything was good. They hooked Chaos up to some heavy duty antibiotics, fluids, and a steady drip of pain medicine. We left with the assurances that they would call us if anything changed.
That night I slept on the love seat of my living room, fully clothed, with my cell phone next to my head. Thankfully it never rang, yet I did not sleep well.
The doctor’s diagnosis was that a number of factors were coming together to put Chaos in a weakened condition: severe dehydration, the pain from the ulcers hitting their peak, and an infection inside his mouth. We visited him twice each day throughout the weekend. We could see improvement, yet he was in extensive pain. His mouth foamed and bled around the ulcers. The skin around his snout was raw. He refused every bit of food we put in front of him. Sunday afternoon we were given a choice: let things continue as they were in the hopes he’d start eating or surgically implant a feeding tube. This was the exact scenario we had been hoping to avoid. However, at that moment, the choice was clear. We opted for the feeding tube.
I’m ecstatic to report that Chaos passed the surgery fine. When I picked him up today he was almost back to his usual self. It was a night and day difference from how he was Friday evening. He doesn’t seem to mind that he has a tube coming out of the side of his neck. Feeding him and ensuring he gets enough water is going to take more effort than we are used to. Each meal will require one of us spending 20 minutes slowing injecting a slurry of dog food and water into the tube. If the test run at the hospital is any indication, getting him to sit still for that long is going to be the biggest challenge. However after spending the weekend thinking I’d lost him, it’s an inconvenience I will happily take on.