Friday, January 8, 2010

Stella's cake

Stella has been very lame for a week now. The first visit to the vet yielded a diagnosis of an infected nail bed and a prescription for antibiotics. When these had no effect I called the vet who suggested amputation. I suggested a second opinion.

Today’s second opinion was something of a comedy of errors. I arrived to a waiting room full of nervous dogs and their anxious companions. I think the people actually have it worse, because they feel responsible for the animals and therefore guilty of something. The vet took one look at Stella and requested x-rays. This meant a trip back across the skating rink of a parking lot to the other building. X-rays taken we slid back to the original building. Then back to the x-ray building because the tech had x-rayed the shoulder and wrist, not the paw. Finally back to the examining room again, Stella slipping and sliding on three legs across the ice.

The vet took one look at the x-ray and said the toe has to come off. She showed me the x-ray and I could clearly see that the last digit of the right-most toe was a formless mass. Where the other bones showed crisp lines, clearly delineating flesh from bone, this was a tangled ball of lines and shades. If you had zoomed in on that specific bone it would have looked like a black and white picture of a tangled pile of yarn and pudding.

This could be a result of infection or it could be a tumor. I don’t know if she said cancer, or if I heard it ringing in my head. I know she said biopsy. I know she said that she didn’t know how much of the toe they would have to take.

I know it is unlikely that this will be a serious problem. Most likely the toe will come off and she will limp for a month or so and then be fine. Most likely it is not cancer, or if it is, most likely it hasn’t spread. My last dog Sasha had one eye removed because of cancer and she lived with a marble in the socket and the eyelid stitched closed over it for many years.

But it is the first signal of what I know is to come. The first chill breeze of autumn felt as the summer sun dips behind the mountains. You can see its glow on the other hills but it no longer warms you. I know that someday she will be gone, that I won’t have her soft ears to rub, her constant presence, her eyes always following me, without raising her head. I know that someday she won’t follow me from room to room, limping up and down stairs even though I tell her not too, that I’ll be right back. I tease her about pathological devotion, and once my sister told me that it works both ways.

After crying in the car and crying in the kitchen, I reached for the KitchenAid. I made an orange cake, with grated orange rind and orange oil. As Margaret said, baking is something you can control. It requires concentration but not too much. You know how it will come out. And if it collapses it will still taste good. It made me feel a bit better.


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