When I stepped in a dark liquid mess left in the parking lot by Una, I knew the cheery day had been a deception.
Things turned around for me briefly, as I realized that my shoes did not have deep treads. Rinsing the messy shoe in a convenient puddle and wiping it on the grass cleaned it up sufficiently.
In the waiting room, Una was well-behaved, since she didn't know this clinic and had no reason to fear it. After checking everything out, she was fairly quiet while I filled out information on a clipboard. KFP, in his Baby Bjorn, rubbed his head against my face, which was adorable if a bit distracting.
Una did bark a little bit, but I could not distract her with treats, since she had been prohibited to eat for the 18 hours before the test. Out of sympathy, I had eaten lightly that day, as well.
They finally took us into an examination room, where a technician took Una back to have her stomach shaved for the test. "She's been shaved so much lately," I remarked, thinking of the fur on her rear flanks that was just growing back after a skin infection, and the little patch on her right front leg where she had a catheter inserted to give her a dose of fluids when I took her in for an initial diagnosis.
If only the problem had stopped at Anaplasmosis, the tickborne illness. She'd fought off such an illness before, eight years ago. But both veterinarians at the veterinary hospital where I take her agreed that an ultrasound was the best way to tell us why her liver was so severely swollen.
The veterinary specialist spoke to me briefly about her recent illness and then, after reviewing her X-rays, did the ultrasound in the back room. When the technician brought her to me, Una's belly was nude and exposed. I couldn't resist touching it, and it was surprisingly soft. I felt like I was violating her, as if I was touching her inner organs.
Finally, the specialist returned with his written report. After offering Una a treat (which she dropped on the floor), he sighed heavily and began, "It's not good news."
Rather than the lymphoma one of the vets had suspected, which could have responded to treatment long enough to give her a period of remission ranging from months to years, the specialist told us that her liver and spleen were full of cancer. In fact, cancer had consumed 80 percent of the total splenic volume.
Furthermore, one of the masses had ruptured at some point, although she was not currently bleeding. He said the internal bleeding was probably the source of the anemia.
This was the sort of illness that snuck up on you, he said. Neither the dog nor the human would know anything was wrong until it was really wrong. Unfortunately, at this stage, he said it's inoperable. Likewise, chemotherapy is unlikely to do her any good. The only thing he recommended would be antibiotics to stave off secondary infections.
Her life expectancy? Four to six weeks.
"I'm sorry. I wish it was better news," he said. He handed me his written report. Under "Recommendations," he had typed only "Very unfortunate prognosis."
I shook his hand. "Thank you for the answers," I said, my voice wavering. He had the receptionist come into the examination room to check me out so that I wouldn't have to move into the lobby again with the dog and baby. They probably also feared that I would break down in the middle of the waiting room. But it was only KFP who cried, growing impatient with being in the same place for so long.
My tears would come later, during our car drive home on a heart-breakingly beautiful Fall day.
Having answers doesn't always make you feel better.