Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Last Hour of Tatiana Rambova

My dog Tatiana died about 12 hours ago.

Dealing with her illness was incredibly difficult. All I'll say is that you think there's nothing worse than explosive diarrhea without warning. Until it's six sessions a day, occasionally mixed with mucous and blood.

Discussing the decision and preparing for her death has been difficult too.

I have many happy memories of her at the park, in the sun, sniffing the different smells of the lake and the children there. So my Mom and I took her to the park, on the way to the vet.

She panted and didn't walk, but we carried her to different spots.

Down by the water, I realized that this was more for me than for her. There was a moment there, while I petted her in the sun, when I saw a small spider on the bright grass in front of her, and there was that buzzing of gnats and tiny things, arcing against the grass, and I thought about how full of life this earth is, and I stared at that spider, isolating it in my eyes, and I felt so terribly fucking sad, knowing this was the last time Tatiana would be in the park, knowing this animal I love so fucking much was dying with all this sun and life around her. It was all so overwhelming, so full of light and life and love in the middle of her death, that I could barely bear it. And still barely can.

Up by the road, before we left, she started to circle, like she had to poop, and the motion seemed to wake her from her stupor a little. She stared for the first time like she was actually looking at something, and I saw her nose sniff when the breeze blew across her body. That body, which had to be in discomfort if not pain, patches of fur shaved with little red dots where the vet had inserted IVs. And I loved her so much, and when she stopped engaging again, I knew it was time to take her to the car.

And while Mom and I talked there, watching Tatiana, I saw a woman sitting alone, facing away from us on a park bench nearby, and I knew she must know what we were talking about, must be able to piece it together, but she didn't say anything to us -- how could she -- and we didn't say anything to her.

I didn't cry there, but I felt myself nearing it so many times. If there's a Heaven, I picture it like that park, nothing fancy, just that beautiful day with green grass and the dog you love, illuminated and sniffing the breeze that blows her whiskers. Each time, I fought back the emotion and warned myself that her actual death would be so much worse. I didn't know how I would bear it.

She used to love when I took her on late-night excursions to fast-food places. She'd perk up, knowing what was going on, and as we were in the drive-thru, she'd sniff the air outside, full of wonderful food aromas. She'd sometimes point her nose at the door to the garage, hoping to get me to go, or she'd check on me at night, even though she was tired, like "I'm ready for sleep, but if you are going out, I will totally stay up for that."

I wanted to take her somewhere, and I settled on McDonald's. Mom and I each got a cheeseburger for after, knowing we might not have the strength to get food. Mom used to share ice cream cones with Tatiana, so she got one. I got a small french fries, because I'd often give her some on the drive home, if I wanted to wait to eat something bigger.

The girl who handed us the food told us she hoped our dog felt better. Apparently, she could tell Tatiana was sick. I thought about saying what we were on the way to do, but I didn't.

Tatiana rode on Mom's lap, and she'd been unsettled, as she often was in the car, before the park. Afterwards, she had a calm, even serene quality. As she stared at me with her big black eyes, I held a french fry to her mouth, and she liked the smell but wouldn't take it. We weren't surprised, but I wanted her to have those smells one more time, even if she didn't have the appetite to eat.

We were about twenty minutes early for our 4:40pm appointment at the vet, so I had a cigarette before we went inside, while Mom held her with the air conditioner on. Tatiana loved the air conditioner. When it was time, I came to the passenger's side and took Tatiana, wrapped in a towel, from Mom. I was hesitant and scared to take her, and I told myself it was because she'd shit herself so often, but it was really fear of what I'd feel, embracing her. But it felt so good to do so, and she felt weightless in my arms as I carried her inside.

They weighed her inside -- it was protocol -- and she didn't stand or resist. She'd lost a pound since we'd taken her there, a week before. The nurse took us to a room, where we sat Tatiana on the metal examining table, and the nurse asked if we were there to talk with the doctor about putting Tatiana to sleep, and we told the nurse we were there to actually do it, and Mom signed some paperwork on a board, and as she left the nurse told us she was sorry and it was for the best for Tatiana, and it was awkward but I was so thankful to hear this from someone else, to my surprise, and I felt the emotion welling up again, and the nurse put a box of tissues on the table and told us they were there and then left.

"We are gonna cry," I said to Mom. And we held Tatiana, and she didn't resist, and then the doctor came in, and we turned Tatiana with her head away from the door and her stomach to the doctor, and right away the doctor started tying off a leg while I watched, and he readied the injection.

"Do you want to get on this side of her?" Mom asked, gesturing towards Tatiana's head, and I moved right away. I'd told Mom that I wanted to be here, that I wanted to look in Tatiana's eyes, that I didn't want to ignore the reality of this, in all its fullness, even if it was impossibly hard.

I immediately went to Tatiana's face, and I crouched down and looked right into her eyes, and they weren't confused or darting around like I'd worried they would be. She usually hated vets and struggled, but now she seemed totally resigned, not like she understood but like she didn't have the desire or the energy to resist. I smiled for her, and I put my right hand on her back and left hand on her chest, where she loved to be scratched, and I stared at her, and I told her it was okay, and I rubbed my nose on hers, and I breathed on her nose to let her know I was there and this is my smell and your Julian is here and he loves you. And even though she didn't have any resistance to give, she stared right at me, and the doctor put the needle in.

She didn't react, but her eyes stopped moving right away, and her breathing slowed, and it was such a change that I said, "Oh, she's gone," even though she wasn't yet. Her chest lifted up and down, with a normal rhythm, and I could see her nostril flaring slightly and the fur on the edge of her nose contracting, an inch from my face. And I wasn't upset, but I pointed out that she was breathing, and then Mom, who was holding her too, also saw it, and Mom said that our last dog, Charlemagne, who I hadn't been there to see die, hadn't taken this long, and the doctor said that with Tatiana's congestive heart failure, her heart probably wasn't pumping enough to get it through her body. Her eyes weren't moving anymore, and I said I didn't think she was cognitively all there anymore, even if her body was. And the vet talked about dosages, and how he'd given her the right dosage but he might give her a little more. And he left and I asked Mom to shut the door because of the sound outside, and she did. "Oh, baby," I told Tatiana, and I breathed on her some more, in case she was still cognizant.  And the vet came back, and I kept staring at my girl and breathing on her nose, and seeing her nostril move in my peripheral vision I was so close, and I thought about botched death row executions but didn't say anything, and I kept staring as the vet readied another needle and put it into her chest where I couldn't see. And Mom asked if he put it into her heart, and he said, "Into her chest cavity, yes." And Mom said, "You must have done a million of these," and the vet said, "Probably too many," and he left again, and I asked Mom to close the door again, while I held Tatiana, and she did.

I hadn't been upset, but I started to feel uncomfortable, holding that squatting position, and it was time for this to be over and for the vet to do his job. And then the vet came back, and he gave her a third shot, and while I stared into Tatiana's eyes, just three inches in front of mine, suddenly something happened to them, and they didn't move exactly, but it seemed like they pulled back, inside the eye, like the life left them in a split second, and I said, "Oh, she's gone" again, and I knew I was right this time.

And then those eyes, like they'd come unglued inside her, rolled up over the course of about two seconds, so I could see the white and veiny red lines on the side of them, the black iris just a crescent moon at the top of these two strips of wet bulging flesh, and all the details were crystal clear, like my own eyes were focused with all their might at hers, and neither of ours ever shut.

"Take as long as you need," said the vet, and he left the room and closed the door, and I stared at my dog, so lifeless now, and I petted her ear, but she was gone, and we let go of her.

I blew my nose, and Mom had tears on her cheeks, and she was wiping them with the tissues, and she said, "It was the right thing to do," and I told her "Absolutely," without hesitation, and I cried a little, but I was really okay.

I had been so prepared for this moment, and those I love had warned me of it, but it hadn't been hard at all. I felt so glad to have seen it and to be there, right there, the person she loved most, holding her at the end. And I hated that it had taken so long, for her sake and for ours, but it was done, it was done, and her suffering was over, and the caretaking was over, and I knew then as I never had before that we'd made the right decision, and I had no doubt that she was gone, and the worrying had been so much worse -- so much worse -- than the thing itself, and it was what it was, what it had to be, and it was done.

I knew there was no point to it, but I petted her some more and adjusted her head and lifted her legs, to make sure I didn't regret doing so later. But this was a dead thing, a puppet, no more my Tatiana than a tumor on her body that I wouldn't cry to remove. There is no such thing as blacker than black, but there is limper than limp, and a corpse has it. And it was time to go.

And I was okay with it, like I never thought I would be. The nurse, in her condolences as we left, was more upset than I was.

At home, Mom and I kept talking, and then we got a couple beers, and we put our other dog, Daria, in the yard. And it wasn't until I saw Daria, playing with her frisbee in the sun, that I felt the sadness I'd felt at the park, and I told Mom that it wasn't death that saddens me but the memory of those happy moments, when she'd run to me on the driveway, or get wide-eyed in wonder at a treat, or sniffing the grass in awe at its smells, or how happy she was when a child petted her when she was dressed as Batdog in the Holloween parade, and those are the memories that haunt me, those memories of love and of life and of engagement, and the rest is just the time you fill between.

I've uploaded some photos my mother and I took, at the park and in the car afterwards, on Google+. In retrospect, Tatiana looks very weary, her back arched in pain. That's me, petting her in the landing by the water.