Thursday, December 2, 2010

Darwin: Our Bestest Boy

It was my 35th birthday, just a few days ago. The morning started early. I saw the sky turn from black into blue. My whole household was awake early. I received happy birthday kisses in my face from Darwin. Mark and I talked about our wedding plans. Later on, Mark and Darwin gave me my presents: the interesting and supposedly funny sailing novel “The Motion of the Ocean”, a day backpack just big enough for our stuff and some doggy gear and a state-of-the art, small digital camera that is waterproof and shock proof. I was excited and didn’t expect this. There is even a “pet function” on it. You enter your pet’s name and date of birth and it keeps track of its age with every picture you take of him. I would be using that setting frequently! A card wished me many more wonderful birthdays together with my small family. Mark, Darwin and even Kali signed it. I felt pretty darn happy.


During this day of rare relaxation, we hang out with Darwin frequently and Mark noticed that he looked pretty dehydrated. His gums and tongue lost their pink color and looked almost white. He showed not much interest in water and food and Mark called the vet twice during the day, mentioning the symptoms and updating Darwin’s status. It didn’t seem life threatening, so we decided to take him in the following morning, saving on the expensive Sunday emergency fees. Those fees would have been the least of our worries and expenses based on the days to follow…


Before Mark and I went to Belgium, we took Darwin to a vet for his annual check-up and extensive blood work. Big was our relief when he proved to be “totally healthy”. About two weeks later, while we were in Belgium and Darwin enjoyed love, care and exercise at Tim and Kristen’s place, he got sick. Tim took good care of him and the vet diagnosed him with tick fever, for which he prescribed antibiotics. Mark and I received daily updates that Darwin was doing better and the medicine seemed to work.


Upon our return to the States, all three of us were very excited to see each other again, and to be reunited felt wonderful. We had missed our cute boy, who is normally with us 24/7. Darwin didn’t appear to be 100% to us, but we blamed that on the antibiotics, known to upset the stomach. He lacked appetite, was slow, missed his usual energy and rested a lot. Mark noticed that his belly was a bit bloated, which sent a shiver through his spine. Thoughts of Kali and her life threatening cancer emerged. It seemed unlikely, though, to have two dogs with the same symptoms within two years. Must be the medicines. A couple more days went by until we noticed Darwin was anemic (pale) last Sunday.


On Monday, we took our dog to the vet, first thing in the morning. He agreed the gums and tongue were very pale and Darwin’s belly didn’t feel normal. The blood work came out exactly the same as when he was diagnosed with the tick fever: his red blood count was low, explaining his anemia. But why? They kept Darwin for the rest of the morning, took X-rays and did more tests, but couldn’t figure it out. We were referred to the specialists of Port City Referral Hospital in Portsmouth, NH, and set up an appointment immediately. There, a specialized radiologist took an ultrasound of Darwin while we waited. Always a perfect dog to us, he was a perfect patient there.


The news came like a bomb shell and took our breath and our life away. Our hearts missed a few beats. Darwin had three malignant masses, on both kidneys and liver. There was nothing to be done! His bloated abdomen was believed to be filled with blood, leaking from a ruptured tumor. We really couldn’t believe it! That was almost exactly what happened to Kali. We took her to the vet; she was diagnosed with cancer and died quickly… This could not be true. Darwin was not even ten years old and we did a check-up to make sure he was all right! We were not going to let this happen to him, after the disaster with Kali, not even two years ago. We were devastated. Darwin was going to die. Soon.


The tears came and kept coming for days. We thought about all the options and there were none. The next day, Tuesday, Mark noticed a red dot on Darwin’s shaved belly. He talked to the radiologist about it, who thought there might be a small chance that Darwin’s blood didn’t clot right. A small chance that the blood in his belly and his anemia were the result of a blood clotting problem. That was all we needed to load our baby into the car and drive to Portsmouth again. A sprinkle of hope that this was just a nightmare. Another blood test was performed, only to wipe away that last bit of hope. His blood clotted OK. One question remained: What if the liquid in his belly wasn’t blood but something else? Either way, it would be disastrous, but if it wasn’t blood, Darwin would live a little bit longer. I wanted to know and we let the vets find out. A nurse returned with a syringe full of blood. It was over…


Disbelief. Pain. Sorrow. Many tears. Disbelief. A lot of pain. We were in shock. Cold. Shivering. Not thinking right. Not being able to function. There must be something we could do… An operation was impossible. It would kill him on the spot. If only it was in one kidney… If only he didn’t get sick… If only…


Mark and I spoiled Darwin more than ever. He had bacon, steak and rice for dinner, brie (his favorite French cheese) and home made treats as snacks. He drank a lot. Proof that his kidneys were starting to fail. His belly grew bigger. Mark carried him down the stairs. He wasn’t interested in walks. He grew more uncomfortable with the progress of every day. We loaded him up with hugs, love and sweet words. I kissed him on his nose, between his eyes. My favorite spot. I used to stroke him there, while his head lay on my lap, until he drifted into a comfortable sleep. This wouldn’t happen anymore.


The thought of losing him was unbearable. Mark and I were/are devastated. We can not imagine a life without dogs, especially on the boat. Everything we did, all the choices we made, the kind of boat we have, the way the days developed; it was all with Darwin in mind. The new doggy toys and gear we bought to take back to Irie. His home, he would never see again. An empty home for us to return to. Why would we go to the beach again? Why would we get up early? Who will bark to passers by? Who will greet our visitors? Who will protect us in the future? No more licks in the morning, huffs to warn us, wagging tail to greet us, four legged company everywhere we go…


Wednesday arrived. Darwin stared at us with a weird look in his face. He didn’t understand what was going on. Why all those tears, mommy and daddy? He tried to get comfy –he used to be so good about that- but didn’t succeed. It was time. He was ready for a deep, long, comfortable sleep. He was ready to go find Kali. Mark made the worst phone call of his life. Darwin made his last trip in the car. He loved car rides. He loved everything if he could just be with us. We always promised him we’d return and we always did. Now, for the first time in our lives, he was going to leave us. Another vet visit. His last one. After the doctor sedated him a bit, he rested his head on my lap. Mark and I were very close to his face. We stroked him, whispered sweet words, showered him with tears and gave him all of our remaining love, while he passed away. Then, he was gone. All that remained was his lifeless body. I gave him a last kiss on his nose, between his eyes.


Mark, Darwin and I came to the United States, mainly to take care of Mark’s sister Dru, who has ovarian cancer. She is doing unexpectedly well at the moment. We’d like to think that Darwin gave his life for hers. The emptiness in our lives is indescribable. The pain incurable. Our future and life on the boat is shattered. Everybody who met Darwin, loved him. He was a special boy and will be remembered as a wonderful, well-behaved, lovable, handsome and smart boy. The bestest! Mark and I are very fortunate to have had him as our family for almost ten years. Now, we will have to move on, without him. And we will. It is going to be very very difficult. We are missing our boy so much. Now, it’s just the two of us, just loving each other…

4 comments:

aerialsoul said...

This is horrible!!! I'm very very sorry! I recently heard a news story about cancer in dogs and cancer occurs much more than I realized -- something like a 50% risk level.

Mark and Michele s/v Reach said...

So sad - Darwin is in our thoughts.

John & Melodye said...

I cried when I read the poem in the Compass. Dear sweet Darwin. We know exactly how you miss him - it has been four years since we lost Millie and I still think I hear her barking at me when we return to the boat.

Liesbet said...

Thank you for the nice words and thoughts. We are still missing him terribly.