Today two months ago I had to bring our dog to the hospital for surgery. Cookie had a slipped disk for the third time and the vets recommended to do another surgery. As this was technically the least difficult surgery (two she already had undergone), we did not hesitate long as we wanted her to get out of pain as soon as possible. She recovered quite well from the previous two surgeries which made us confident that everything would go well. Unfortunately it did not. She came out of surgery in a much worse state. Whereas she was walking well when I brought her to the clinic, she was paralized up to the neck after the surgery. She was basically tetraplegic. It was devastating to see our sweet and beloved dog like this. She couldn’t pee without help, could barely lift her head and even lost her voice. It broke not only our hearts but also the one of my mum who loved her just like we did.
The neurologist, who knew her and us well after these three surgeries and still has our full trust, couldn’t explain what exactly had gone wrong. But he gave us hope that she would recover from this injury as this is not unusual to happen in dogs. He had a suspicion that it could be a spinal shock and it might improve after a week or ten days. We waited a full week for a miracle, leaving Cookie in the care of the clinic but visiting her twice a day. We tried to lift her and our spirits, massage her limps, talk to her, feed her cooked chicken and fish and give her all our love and hope. It was a very emotional time filled with struggling between hope and giving up. Due to the damage that the surgery caused, all ways for her to express herself had been taken from her. Seeing her state worsening after one week, we decided in agreement with the vets to release her from her misery. At the age of only 5 and a half, we had to let her go. It felt like someone chopped a piece of my body off. The paralysis had started to expand towards her head which caused her difficulty to breathe. The neurologist explained that sometimes this can happen because there is a loss of blood circulation in the spinal cord that affects the diaphragm (from what I understood) and ultimately affects the ability to breathe. She was very, very unlucky.
Since then I am trying to get over this loss. The worst is, that the last week of her life was hell and I feel like I should have spared her from this. But we also didn’t want to end her life as long as there was a chance for her to recover. To a dog you cannot explain what happened and I couldn’t explain to her why she is in such a state after I handed over the leash to the veterinary nurse and I feel guilty for this.
I know that some people will think ‘but it’s just a dog’. Yes it is a dog, but she was a full member of our small family and we saw her grow up and become a fantastic, cheerful and always sweet dog even though she surely had a lot of pain in her short life. And it hurt us so much losing her.
So I thought I’d share where I found comfort and what made me feel slightly better in these last weeks:
It never felt as good to be in the fresh air and move like in these last weeks. I am thankful to live in Switzerland and for the first time in my life I am thankful for the winter. Walking and moving and breathing the cold, crisp winter air until my face hurts from the cold made me definitely feel better. Whenever we have a chance, we drive to the mountains for extra freshness and to calm ourselves down.
Talk and remember
Sharing amongst ourselves, my mum and our friends definitely helped a lot. Remembering the fun moments we had with Cookie and also the things that still bother us or make us feel bad is something that made us grow together. Talk about it made me feel a lot better. Knowing that you are not on your own with your feelings provides comfort. Our friends with dogs where also very helpful and I still turn to them when I feel low. I also have to say that the people at work were very sweet and understanding, something that I value a lot! And honestly, if I would lose a person that I love, I would not hesitate to get professional help too.
Escape from reality and indulge in an extensive session of Game of Thrones or hide behind a good book helped too. The first weekends we also couldn’t bare staying at home so we ended up doing some short trips to Milan or other places. Of course you cannot always hide from real life but every now and then it is great to forget all of it and distract yourself.
Another thing that calms me down and makes me feel better is yoga. Adriene (my personal yoga hero) has put together a nice yoga sequence for the broken heart. And it doesn’t matter what made your heart break, does it?
Even though something like this makes a lot of work related problems appear like minor issues, work is a great distraction. Sometimes it is hard to hold the tears back but sometimes it is good that you have to focus on something different that makes you forget everything else.
Sorrow is a very personal thing but maybe sharing what made each of us feel better helps another.
Cookie, you are dearly missed in our family. I will never forget what you taught me and how many cheerful moments you brought into our lives. All we can wish for, is that you are runnig free now. That you are happy and without pain!