The Longest Monday

This morning I woke up by hearing this: "Nozomi pooped on the floor again."

Every so often, usually shortly after Nozomi has her biannual period, this sort of thing happens. Because her body is recovering from the trials of being in heat, she will sometimes have a mess waiting for me in the morning. She's never scolded when this happens, because she and I both know it wasn't intentional. Today's mess was different, though. In addition to an uncharacteristically small amount of potent poop, there was urine and stomach acid on the floor as well. This means that she had a really rough night.

Yesterday, before going to bed, Nozomi and I sat together like we usually do in the evening. She was panting a little harder than usual, but I figured this was because of the recent temperature change. Until recently, the weather was pretty mild with 25˚C afternoons. Late last week, however, we hit 29˚C. Nozomi gets brushed quite often so that her fur is not thicker than it needs to be for the season, but she always pants more heavily as the mercury climbs during the months of May, June, and July. Thinking this was normal, I made sure her water bowl was full and went upstairs to bed. The mess in the morning made it clear that my assessment was way off.

After scrubbing the floor, cleaning her bed, and dealing with the mess, I brought Nozomi out to use the proper bathroom outside. Because she wasn't walking with a great deal of vigour, I carried her to a spot where she generally likes to relieve herself. She did, but with some effort. Returning home I set up her breakfast and replaced her water only to see that she climbed into bed and was not particularly interested in food.

When Nozomi isn't interested in eating, something is clearly wrong. Off to the vet we went.

Nozomi may be deaf, but she has a pretty good knack for knowing what's going on. For any typical trip to the vet, she will struggle and try to escape her fate. It never works, but 11 years of failure doesn't stop her from trying anyway. Today, though, she didn't even offer a glare. I could pick her up, put her into her carrier in the car, and drive the 9km to the same clinic we've used since 2011 without a single sign of concern. Again, something is clearly wrong.

At the vet's office she underwent an ultrasound, blood test, and other checks. The diagnosis was 子宮蓄膿症1, an infection of the uterus. To help her she would need immediate surgery. However, because this particular vet has for years pushed the idea of having Nozomi spayed and suggested that she might die otherwise, both Reiko and I were suspect of his claims this time. Animals, like people, have reproductive organs. It wasn't until recently2 that humanity started regularly spaying (and neutering) animals. So why would it make more sense to remove organs? God doesn't play dice. Nozomi's uterus was there for a reason.

The vet was pretty adamant, though. She needed surgery immediately, and only he could do it, and if we didn't do it right now she would die, and if she died he wouldn't care, because she's not his dog.

Yes. He said all of this.

A second opinion was in order.

There is another vet that Nozomi has been to from time to time when really sick. They're one of the highest-rated vets in the country and often have people waiting outside the clinic because the waiting room is at capacity3. We called ahead, explained the situation, and was given a slot to see a vet at 2:50pm sharp. We arrived on time and Nozomi was given yet another round of tests. Just like before, she didn't put up a fight. She didn't even try to resist. She just let all the people do their thing while focusing — if she can even do such a thing — on breathing. The diagnosis was the same: pyometra. She would need to have her uterus and ovaries completely removed immediately if she was going to see Wednesday.

The vet explained:

Her uterus and cervix have a bacterial infection that cannot be solved with medicine. For dogs like Nozomi, this is like having an appendix that is about to burst. If you wait even a few hours, there's a risk of the infection spreading inside the body where it cannot be contained. She must have surgery now. It's a little expensive …

I waved off the price. It didn't matter. Nozomi had her 11th birthday not two weeks ago. She still has plenty of time left to enjoy the parks around our house, the other dogs in the neighbourhood, and the attention she receives from so many of the people who see us together outside. I can always earn more money4. I cannot — and would never want to — replace Nozomi. There have been other dogs in my life, but none like her. And I will selfishly do what I can to make sure she's here for as long as possible, for as long as she can be here, while feeling as little pain or discomfort as one could hope for.

Nozomi was taken to the "hotel" at the back of the vet where she would wait three hours for surgery. Reiko and I were asked to go home as there was nothing more we could do. I signed the paperwork to authorise the surgery and absolve the vet in the event Nozomi didn't survive the procedure.

Then we went home.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Eventually we distracted ourselves with dinner, which is one of the two times bad news usually arrives5.

And still we waited.

A little before 7 o'clock, two hours after the surgery was expected to start, we received a phone call. Nozomi was semi-conscious and recovering from her ordeal. The procedure was a success.

The twelve hours between the time I got out of bed to clean poop and the time when the vet called to say Nozomi was on the mend were perhaps the longest in recent memory. Nozomi has been sick before, sometimes terribly so, but rarely has half a day felt like a week of helpless waiting.

The voices of self-doubt that taunt me endlessly were conspicuously absent today. It's as if they knew better. But my conscious self filled in for their silence with this:

You can describe in detail how your computers work right down to an almost atomic level. You can explain how a star works. You can describe mathematically the properties of a magnetar from memory. But you can't do anything useful when someone you care about is sick.

I'm not a doctor. I have no idea how bodies work or what makes us alive beyond the basics that were taught in high school. All I can do is seek the help of experts when things get really dire. And, thanks to experts, Nozomi is recovering from her ordeal, minus some infected organs. So long as she regains her energy and appears to be on the mend, she'll get to come home before the weekend.

And for that, I am truly grateful.

  1. In English this would be pyometra.

  2. By "recently", I mean "within recorded history", which is arguably around 5,000 years. That's pretty recent in the grand scheme of things.

  3. Even before social distancing was a requirement.

  4. I understand that this is said with a great deal of privilege. However, even if I were not currently employed, I would find a way to cover the medical expenses.

  5. The other time bad news arrives is in the middle of the night.