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My Second Wife

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In Puerto Rico, where I was born, if a woman co-habited with a man for 7 years she became his common law wife. And so it was with me and Sabrina.

She was my guardian angel with a great tush. She was always protective, slept with me and allowed me to kiss and pet her. And when I got 'lucky', she rolled over for me.

During the days we spent together, she was sometimes opinionated even while playful, but she never let me out of her sight. She allowed me no privacy on the pot or in the shower and, if I moved from room to room, she got up and followed me, waiting patiently for my next move. If I asked her to "stay" she did, but only for a limited time and then she would find me, barking her demand: "where do you think you are going without me? Somebody has to take care of you."  I got used to it after 7 years.

* * * *

On April 5th, 2006, after a short trip out of town, I came home to find that Sabrina, still in her winter coat, had developed a lump in her chest just behind her right leg. It fit in the palm of my hand. Carol had mentioned wasps and the lump felt warm so was it a reaction to a bad bite? Well, it was worth the thought so I decided to wait a day to see what happened. There was no change by the next day so I opted for the vet where the area was shaved revealing a mass the size of a small melon, mostly blood, it was surmised. After some drainage and rummaging around, cancer became the most likely suspect. She was bandaged and wrapped to avoid any unsightly leakage.

The mass grew larger and Sabrina's right front and rear leg swelled.

The next ten or twelve days were a serious, sad, sleepless blur -- traveling from vet to vet, hours on the road, in waiting and examining rooms -- waking at all hours of the night to the sound of whimpering, sleeping on the floor, stroking Sabrina's muzzle until she calmed down and fell back to sleep.

Poor girl looked, and probably felt, like a pin cushion, all four legs shaved for easy needle insertion. Her chest and belly shaved for ultrasound and biopsy sampling. But, for the most part,  she remained herself -- protective, of normal appetite, with normal water intake and regular bathroom habits. Except for the lump, she was normal I kept saying to myself. Was it cancer for sure? And if so, what kind? Operable or inoperable?

The next morning, she was at a Veterinarian Cancer Clinic with four Board Certified Oncologists -- each with their own area of expertise including surgery. The radiologist read her x-rays but didn't see any metastasis. Ultra sound and CTs were performed and nothing seemed abnormal in her ribs, heart, stomach, intestine, bladder or spleen. All good news.

Whenever she emerged from a veterinarian office, I held my arms out to her (my signal to come -- remember Sabrina was mostly deaf) this little wiggle butt, trotted to me with her habitual sniff, sniff.....hmmmm.... sniff, sniff -- head up for a kiss. Same as always.

Leaving Advanced Veterinary Cancer Center

From the ultrasound we could see that the mass was totally encased and filled mostly with blood and necrotic material but we hoped for a granular tumor and therefore an operable tumor. However, there was little doubt that it was some kind of cancer. But the lab reports came back inconclusive.

On the 12th Sabrina seemed a bit weaker to me and had some trouble breathing so I asked to test her for anemia. It turned out her levels were low, just at the edge of the danger zone, so she was transfused with two units of blood.

On the 14th, the oncologist sedated her, and with an ultrasound view to guide him, re-sampled a portion of the mass that was tucked waaaaaaay up, deep into her arm (leg) pit, and was a little darker in coloration. From there we hoped to retrieve a bit of cancerous tissue for an accurate pathology report which would then guide our decisions.

We expected the report on Mon or Tue, the 17th or 18th. Further testing on Fri late and Sat indicated Sabrina was holding her own blood wise.

But it was not to be.  On Sunday, the 16th, I noticed she was acting a bit peculiarly...almost as though she wanted to be alone. She lacked some energy but otherwise was ok. We went outside and she looked about, in retrospect it seemed to have been a bit wistfully but, of course, that was probably my imagination working overtime.

As she barked at the neighbor's puppy, I noticed a blot on the bottom of her bandage and it was damp to the touch... more than before... so I called the Emergency Vet Hospital and with a short description of the problem, took her there.

I wanted the bandages removed to see what was going on and to re-bind her so we could return to the cancer hospital the next day. As the bandage was cut away an ugly mass of clotted blood and other necrotic matter fell out of a 3 inch hole in her chest.

There was no way this ugly mess was going to be pushed back in so, gingerly, the vet started to pull away the necrotic material, hoping it wasn't connected to a ruptured blood vessel while, along with two vet techs, I stood with Sabrina, stroking her muzzle and whispering into her right ear (she had about 10% hearing in that ear). She lay there quietly.

Her skin in the wound area had rotted and the hole widened to about 4" and she started to bleed out; the blood flow was heavy and frightening. Quickly, the vet grabbed big, thick pads of gauze and jammed them into the cavity with four fingers of his right hand and, like the little boy with his finger in the dike, pushed down, holding back the flood.

The problem was what to do next.

There was an infinitesimally slight chance for coagulation so together, we decided to clean out as much necrotic material as possible, to pack the cavity with gauze, applying a lot of pressure, binding her up as tightly as a Japanese Geisha's feet and await the outcome. Would this stem the blood flow?

Sabrina was injected with something to "take the edge off" as we wheeled her to a large crate located in the main examining area where she could rest. I removed my shirt and left it for her to smell but I wasn't allowed to remain with her.

I gave the vet instructions that, in an emergency, he should immediately take her to the operating room and do everything possible to save her.

There was nothing left to do but wait so Carol and I decided to take a short drive just to get some fresh air. I had a terrible foreboding but all we could do was hope.

Strangely, we elected to do something we hadn't done in years: we stopped at a Carvel for an ice cream. No sooner than we sat down in the sunshine to eat our cones, my cell went off and I was informed that Sabrina had bled and was rushed into surgery. Sort of numb and dumb and running on emotional 'empty', we did the only "feel-good" thing we could -- quickly finished our ice cream -- then raced back to the Emergency Hospital.

I paced the waiting room while Carol sat quietly, controlling herself. A fax came in from the cancer clinic with Sabrina's tests, blood types, etc. And I paced some more. An hour went by and I asked for a progress report. The receptionist left and returned to say the doctor would be out to talk to us. She ushered us into a small, private examining room. We knew what to expect and I prepared myself as best I could.

The vet entered the room, his gloves still on, with a forlorn expression to explain what we already knew: he wasn't able to find the bleed source. He had cleaned the cavity but it was further inside her body. Cutting her open to get there might result in little and Sabrina's quality of life at the end would probably be nil even if the leaking vessel(s) was/were located and cauterized or clamped.

This cancer had left a hole in the side of her chest big enough to put your fist into. With little choice I agreed to "put her to sleep".

To his credit and with great sensitivity, the vet asked if we wanted to see her. "Of course" and I told him I wanted to be with her when she was euthanized.

So, together, just barely controlling our emotions, we trooped into the operating room and gathered around Sabrina's unconscious body with tubes and electrodes and beeping monitors and, for a few minutes alone with her, we cried and stroked her and kissed her and said our private good byes.

Then a vet tech entered the room and one by one the monitors were extinguished, the switches switched, the power turned off.

And I told the vet to go ahead with her euthanasia.

Sabrina was put to sleep Easter Sunday April 16th, 4:20pm. She died on the operating table at the Danbury Emergency Clinic in Connecticut. She was 9 yrs, 7 months and 19 days young. Carol and I were with her when her heart stopped beating.

We kissed her goodbye again -- for the final time -- and left the vet's office via a side door, tears streaming down our faces. We sat in the car and sobbed for a while. Then we took a couple of deep breaths and drove home to Truman.

When we unlocked the house door, Truman came to say hello and to check Sabrina for a have-you-been-anywhere-interesting? sniff. Not seeing her and maybe sensing sadness in the air, he appeared a bit confused and wandered around aimlessly.

As I write this, I'm still getting used to taking a shower alone. Sabrina's bed is still in the corner, her leash hangs where it always did and her food bowl is where it always was. We don't have the heart to move them. Her ashes are coming in a few days and we will put them somewhere appropriate outside in the gardens, after I'm willing to part with them.

If I was a religious person, which I often wish I was these days, it might add some meaning to the fact that she died on Easter Sunday and that maybe she was on her way to a wonderful after life but, unfortunately, I'm not a religious person and I'll just have to live with the finality of her death.

I adopted Sabrina at age two but in the end, I'm heart broken because I couldn't rescue her.


Dakasha's Lady Sabrina DL657371/01
August 28, 1996 - Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006

Our deepest appreciation

Dr. Jeffrey Hubscher & Dr. Joan Kobalka for their primary care, initial evaluation and recommendations
Dr. Victor Rendano & Dr. Rachel St-Vincent at the Advanced Veterinary Center for their caring expertise
Dr.Tony Dellamonica at the Danbury Emergency Center for his valiant efforts & sensitivity at a terrible time
to all the receptionists, vet nurses, techs & everyone else who cared for & about Sabrina
and especially to Megan for her hugs at our lowest low.

Jan Rifkinson
April 2006


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