I had to read your text 20 times because the words made no sense. Bodhi was awesome. You two were great for each other. My heart is broken for you.
— from a text from my brother-in-law, Jeff Kaczanowski
Why did she keep saying unfortunately?
I’d brought Bodhi to the emergency vet because he’d halted, swaying, at the beginning of our evening walk and refused to go any farther. Earlier that day, he’d been to his new veterinarian for a tick bite, for suspected Lyme disease. I’d caught it early, so we were confident he’d be all right. But he wasn’t. He hadn’t eaten, hadn’t evacuated, and suddenly hadn’t been able to keep water down. Then he refused to go on his walk, and I had to lift him into the truck to get him to this…place.
The vet tech kept reassuring me: “I’m no doctor, but I’ve been in this business for almost 10 years, and I’ve seen a lot of Lyme. All of this is consistent with Lyme. Don’t you worry.”
She was young. Very young and earnest.
And, now, the vet was here in the examination room with me, talking in that measured tone. Bodhi was still in the back somewhere, waiting. Waiting for me to come and get him. And this vet was in here saying unfortunately.
“Unfortunately, we think there’s a mass on his spleen…”
“Unfortunately, the surgeon doesn’t feel comfortable…”
“Unfortunately, we need to do tests…”
I can’t focus on her words. I can’t make them make sense. I just brought my beautiful boy in because he was reacting to a tick bite. That’s all. He’d contracted Lyme disease, and he wasn’t feeling well. Consistent with Lyme, the tech had said. So, it was all going to be okay.
And then I see what the vet is holding in her hand. She gestures with it, like it’s something normal, something I’d see every day of the week. A syringe, with a long, thick needle at its end. It’s full of something. Blood. Not the right color. A strange, murky grey tinge mars the red. It’s from his abdomen. Why is there blood in his abdomen?
I start signing papers.
“Anything,” is all I can say. “Just do whatever it takes.” Anything anything anything anything anything anything.
She keeps talking, this woman I don’t know, don’t trust — am forced by circumstances to depend on. I want her to stop. I tell her to stop. She calmly tells me she has to review everything on the papers with me, make sure I understand.
There’s nothing here I want to understand.
I just want my Bodhi back at the house with me, curled up on his old bed, getting well in this place where I know virtually no one, except the few members of my family who live in the area. They offered to come out, to sit with me. But I’m here alone because I don’t know how to ask them to help me, to support me. I’m stingy with my pain. I don’t know how to invite anyone into this nightmare I’m having.
And why is this woman still talking?
“He’s just so young,” she’s saying now, on her way out the door with my signed papers, heading back to clear the way for me to see Bodhi before they start doing more tests, the “invasive procedures” necessary to tell me why my vibrant, strong, happy dog is so sick.
“He’s just so young,” she says again, pausing to beam sympathy at me with her eyes. And I read death on her lips.
He’s hooked to I.V.s when they let me into the back. It jolts me. But I’ve played this scene before. I’ve stood on this spot, said my lines. Except…
No, no, no, no, no. Not this one. Not this one. This one is special. This one is my joy, my heart, the other half of my soul. Please: Not. This One.
His eyes are a mix of fear and hope and pleading. I nearly faint. He wags just the very tip of his tail when I stoop down to where he’s lying, and it makes me laugh because that particular wag always makes me laugh. I pull his head close, whispering only for him — not for the crowd of gawkers who press in on us and stare and try to make encouraging noises. I whisper just for my Bodhi to hear, “Stay with me. Please, please stay with me.”
He struggles to his feet, and I realize my mistake: He thinks I mean he’s coming home with me. Someone says, “Oh! He can stand!” They’d had to carry him back. He hadn’t wanted to go with them. They don’t know what I’ve done.
“Oh, god,” I moan. “No, sweetheart. You need to stay here. You need to let these people help you.” I get him to lie back down. I fuss over him a little, trying to undo my unintended deception. He’s crushed, afraid. He knows. He might not be aware, but some part of him knows. As some part of me knows, too.
I somehow manage to start the car and get back onto the freeway. It’s well after midnight. We’ve been there, waiting, for nearly five hours. I drive back to the house — not home without him — to pray.
A friend texts me — the only one I’ve been able to reach out to through my shock and anguish:
If we can fill a room with [healing energy] for me, we can fill a room for Bodhi. Let’s focus on that.
I focus on that. I prepare my room. I prepare myself to hold space. I light the candles. I call them all in — my ancestors and angels, my guardians and guides…
The phone rings.
“Unfortunately…” she begins.
And the world implodes into a million jagged shards of pain.
On the way home to light candles and burn incense and say whatever words I thought might save my sweet boy, I sent a fervent prayer to heaven:
“Please, please give me a miracle.”
And, from somewhere in that blackest of nights, I heard an answer:
“You’ve already had it.”
A strange stillness came over me, cooling the heat of my desperation and lending me a moment of clarity. I was suddenly flooded with gratitude. It was true. I’d had nearly four years with a luminous soul that was wrapped in a Golden Retriever’s body. Four years of laughter and adventure and play and sweetness and love. I’d had my miracle. I’d had Bodhi.
And even later, when I wrapped my body around his and felt him leave me, I knew I could be grateful for that.