When Mulan was sick last year, the simple act of petting her was a stressful event. There was always a new lump, some sore spot, something to make me nervous and want to do tests and see what was going on. It was always such a relief to pet Emmett, so sturdy and unproblematic, to scratch him under the chin and not feel enlarged nodes, to thump him the way you thump big dogs in greeting and not worry about hurting him. And after Mulan died, under the grief and sorrow there was also a weight lifted, to not have to worry about daily meds and trips to the oncologist and the constant clock hovering over her head, counting down to a time I couldn’t pinpoint but knew was coming.
Three weeks ago, Emmett was attacked by the neighbor dog. His ear has healed nicely. Sure he’s been a little mopey since Mulan left, but he’s getting older. 7, not really old, just a little old. He’s been picking at his food, but he’s always picked at his food. Antibiotics like the ones he’s been on are rough on the stomach. He needs to lose a couple pounds anyway, his bloodwork after the dog attack was fine, no biggie.
These are the things we tell ourselves, even vets who should know better. He’s fine because he has to be fine.
I had him in on Wednesday to get groomed, and a niggling little voice in my head told me to weigh him. My tech took him to the scale, and when they came back in he put his head in her lap like he always does for rubs. “What’s up with the lump?” she asked nonchalantly.
“What lump?” I said, and there, oh, no, no, no, his lymph nodes were enlarged.
They were enlarged on the right side, which is the side he got bitten on, so surely this is some residual infection from the dog bite. Except it’s not.
Emmett, my best buddy, the healthy one, the coolest dog in the world, has lymphoma. I have just gotten to the point where I can pat Mulan’s box of ashes without tearing up, can talk about her without a knot in my stomach but just the sad tug of loss, just pushed through to the surface of the grey sea of grief that we all find ourselves submerged in from time to time, and now I have to do it all over again. Herein lies the flip side of loving a pet. The clock is back, hovering over his head like a grey cloud; I can’t read the numbers but I can hear the ticking, quiet and insistent.
I wish what I do for a living made this easier. Logistically, it does. Emotionally, I feel just as blindsided and sad and small as anyone else dealing with this kind of diagnosis. No other way to say it: This sucks.