Tuesday, March 12, 2013

escape from the death ray - for now. . . .

I am 'friends' with Henry VIII on facebook (really!), and during the worst of the drama with Luther he posted this picture meme:

I was too numb to "like" it that day on facebook, but it actually brought a smile to my face.

Here, a picture that I hope will bring a smile to your face!

February, the shortest month of the year, has this year been the longest. . . . But then suddenly, just as it seemed it would never end, it was over. The month was over, the trial was over or at least gone for now. Luther lived. We survived.

Luther still has heart trouble and liver trouble of unknown origin. But he's eating again (ok, so we haven't completely weaned him off the spaghetti-o's and animal crackers which were all that he would eat at first) and we're down to only 4 medicines. He seems very much like his old self.

Sometimes it's as if it never happened.

Some times. . . .

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

calling time. . . .

We knew when we got Luther that his life expectancy would be shorter than the average bear's, a mere 8 years on average. The end of this month it will be 5 years since Lux Luther came to live on this planet. That was on Leap Day, Feb 29, 2008.

Can you believe it?!

What we were not expecting was to have that time come any time sooner than eight years into this grand adventure. We were not expecting a life or death decision before his 5th birthday. We were not expecting what we've been through these past few weeks.

It started innocently enough. You know all about the trials and tribulations of what seemed to be Luther's allergies, requiring baths and vile-tasting medicines. Well, at some point, Luther stopped eating. Then, he stopped drinking.

I know that no one wants to hear the blow by blow description of what happened next. What IS it about medical catastrophes that make us want to rehearse each step, step by step, in linear fascination? I will try to resist. I'll try to sum up. I probably won't succeed. Apologies.

To date Luther's medical catastrophe has involved a cardiologist, echocardiograms, IV's, internists and a host of an ever-changing cast of medicines - all of which [medicines] had to go down his throat manually, as he still wasn't eating. That's us above, by the way, waiting to have the last test done. . . .

We'd put Luther on a diet this summer and had gotten him down to 136 pounds. That was about a month ago. He looked great. When he went into hospital the day after my birthday, he was 119 pounds. That was about a week ago. It's been heartbreaking.

Suddenly, it appeared we had a dog with advanced heart disease. That was Tuesday. Then, just as suddenly, it appeared that we also had a dog with serious liver disease. That was - what - the next Monday? I forget. Both can cause anorexia - and it was painfully obvious that we now had an anorexic dog. Suddenly, nothing was more important than getting food into him. We stopped almost all the medication and concentrated on food and water.

Day by day we offered anything and everything we could think of which might tempt him to eat. I cooked for him, only to have him gently turn away. He's eaten only two things of his own free will: two bites of a canned food our vet sent home (that was just about a week ago) and two bites of Carol's Canine Cookie Rolls, which you know he loves. That was about 3 days ago, but I couldn't tempt him to eat any more of them after the first 2 bites. We've gotten any number of fool-proof and guaranteed-to-make-him-eat suggestions. They've all failed. . . .

Good friends Jenny and Ray (who care for a host of animals of their own) gave us the idea of using a syringe to get not only the chicken broth I'd made for him into him, but also baby food. Thank you, God! We began measuring his intake of food first in tablespoons. Yesterday, one syringe at a time, we got over a cup of food into him. It's not enough to sustain him long-term, but at least he hadn't lost any more weight when he went in for what will likely be the last test we subject him to. We were shocked - but overjoyed - to see that he'd held at the weight he was when we took him home from hospital four days ago.

I've continued to learn so much from this beloved companion of ours. God's shown me that part of the preciousness of physical life lies in the physical fact that we all die. We lose the preciousness of life to the extent that we forget or manage to cover up the fact of death. Wouldn't it be ironic if the current spate of shootings nationwide was a perverted reaction to the relative cheapness of life that develops in a society that implies we can manage, protect and hold on to our lives forever by buying things, whether it's insurance, a safer car, better food or a magic cream to ward off wrinkles and cancer?

I've learned that you can't buy life. You can buy medical treatments and the time of medical experts who will tell all about how all the different systems work, and how this medicine causes that to happen, but yet another medicine can help regulate what-have-you but how, in the long run, there's not much to be done when the body starts to shut down. So we can't buy life, but does that mean that we have to impose death? We hate uncertainty, don't we?! Ah, but where do we get the idea that we get to decide when it's over? This is a thorny question in the case of an animal we have responsibility for - whose care is in our charge. Do we call time? When? I don't have the answers. We're living this, right now.

Some time ago I read about what additional turmoil we put ourselves through in our aging on account of our continued and often unthinking medical interventions. Of course, I can't find the article any more. I probably "liked" it on facebook, thinking that would keep it on hand for me, but it hasn't. . . . What struck me was the author's chagrin at having dodged a potentially fatal illness on the part of his aging father, only to discover that it made decisions so much harder down the road. Having intervened in one area, many other areas were also impacted. Those other areas also seemed to require intervention if only to avoid the guilt of realizing that the initial intervention had not saved his father's life after all, but only killed him in a different and ultimately more painful way, and in a way that the author was now actually directing. It was an eye-opening article.

I've also learned an awful lot on the spiritual level. Physically, if we won't eat or drink, we won't live. Medicine will not help. Life support is not real life and force-feeding works only short-term. The same thing is true, spiritually. I understand more and more what St. Paul said when he spoke of having to give milk instead of solid food to those he was teaching. 'You were not ready for solid food', he said, 'and you're still not ready!' The writer of Hebrews takes up the same idea, but with reproach: 'You ought to be teachers at this point - feeding others - but you still need to be fed milk like a baby!' It's all well and good to be fed milk if you are a baby; not so good if you're full grown.

I've been eating as much as I can, spiritually. I've been thanking God for the spiritual food I've hidden in my heart to keep me well and prospering, spiritually. And I've been drinking from the one who said "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink." Who knew that, in the end, the question may not be is there food and water, but are you hungry and do you thirst?

Luther does apparently thirst now, if only as a palate-cleansing reaction to having had food syringed into his mouth. We hope that he will again hunger. . . . he hasn't, so far. We can keep this up only so long.

Meanwhile, we wait on the results of a test that will show us just how bad the liver function is and a sort of last ditch test to see if maybe all of this is the result of something called leptospirosis, which apparently causes (among other things) anorexia, dehydration, rapid and irregular heartbeat, and damage to the liver . . . . Check, check, check, check and check.

It is apparently treatable - although it may well leave us with a dog cured of leptospirosis, but one who eventually dies of heart and liver damage.

If Luther will not eat, we won't have much time in any event. Like I said, he is drinking for the moment, and the syringe-by-syringe feeding has kept him from sliding away altogether. But at some point, we'll have to call time. We just don't know yet when that will be. We keep hoping that tomorrow will be a better day. That maybe this afternoon he might decide to eat something. That perhaps we'll get a treatable diagnosis that will clear up all of this like waking up erases a bad nightmare we've been in. Two weeks ago, Luther was on a diet with a bit of a skin allergy. Today, he's in the equivalent of intensive care at home - with doctors on call - and really not knowing if he'll survive another day. It's been that way for the last nine days. Nine days of not knowing; nine days of deciding not to decide; nine days of just living and just hoping for another day, another tablespoon of food swallowed; nine days of alternating tears and quiet joy and even laughter; nine days of treasuring Lux Luther, the Leaping Laird of Light. My 'boy'. . . . my 'honey bear,' all the silly names we come up with in terms of endearment.

He's sleeping at the moment, covered by a blanket. He seems to take comfort being covered these days. Or maybe I just take comfort, covering him, I don't know. I hate to wake him, but it's time for the next feeding. The hours go quickly. At the moment, no news is good news. He sleeps, he wakes, he drinks, he endures 2 or 3 syringes of mush, he submits to a couple of pills, he changes scenery and moves to a different pillow. He sleeps. Occasionally, we go outside and he sniffs the air. He pees. He sniffs. He turns around to go back inside. Yesterday, it was 53 degrees and we put his bed out in the sun. He slept under a blanket for a good two hours. I refused to wake him.

Every day is a gift. Bittersweet. The first and last time we may be able to do this.

He's "only a dog" - I know. Some may feel offended that we do and feel so much for a pet, when others are going through so much with people, with their husband, wife, father or mother, or [God have mercy] a child. . . .

I make no apology. I don't seek to compete with anyone else's grief, trial or loss. Luther is our dog and we love him and one day - probably one day soon - we're losing him. It's hard to take on board. And yet it makes today the most important day of my life. I suspect that every day is supposed to be like this.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

the pie pan and the rock

Dispatch from Puerto Rico - somewhere on the Northwest Coast. . . .

I sat for an hour watching the clouds scud across the sky, alternating sun and gray shade. The green and yellow parrots worked ferociously, breaking off the tips of bare branches, dumping excess weight, and then leaping into the air and falling a foot or more before their wings caught up with the excess weight of a branch twice their length in their beaks.

They flew to the highest palm tree, disappearing into the ball of fronds above, from which a cacophony of shrieks and squawks was emitted. At least 20 parrots must roost in the palm, and nest building and expansion or renovation was clearly underway. I amused myself thinking up conversation in the parrot talk.

"Wipe yer feet before you land, you big oaf!"

"Not there! Put that lumber on the other side. By the nursery! Sheesh."

"Whaddya mean there's no warranty on your labor? If one of my babies falls out of this nest, I'LL show ya warranty!"

"Did you hear what that other parrot roost is building?! You'd never believe. . . ."

Every conversation was a loud conflict, a quarrel, a garrulous query, gossip or dispute at full volume, but oddly sociable. No one feared for their life or reputation; divorce was not an option. Children don't get abused or abandoned and don't run off to 'find themselves' or do drugs.

Closer to hand, the Changos were getting bolder.
They swell up into a squeeze box and make a wheeze, wheeze, wheeze - SQUEAK! with feathers ruffled into a big black ball and cocked tail.
After the squeak, their feathers smooth to reveal a bird half the size. It's a courting and dominance display.

The smaller females largely ignore the show and quietly go about cleaning the deck of the croissant crumbs that have blown off the railing where we put them every morning for our little feathered friends. The males posture on the railing until only one is left. The rest scatter about the deck and on chair arms and trees, eating the crumbs contributed to by the lone male, who nervously eats on the railing, looking over his shoulder lest a challenger appear.

And yet the Changos are sociable, too. They all apparently roost in a large, low hanging tree - luckily at some distance. What a racket! During the day, though, or at least when confronted with croissant, they do not prefer to keep company in large flocks. They prefer to keep their treasure to themselves. . . . Only 5 or 6 Changos are to be found at any one time at our place, and they arrive dutifully every morning. They keep a companionable distance from one another. They all take regular turns at the the birdbath. There, they drink, bathe, and sometimes dunk their food.

The birdbath is of humble origin: a used, disposable pie pan. It's held in place by a good-sized rock which does double duty. It not only keeps the pie tin from flying off in the wind that comes off the ocean, it also gives the birds something to stand on when they bathe. Apparently, they don't like just hopping into water - they want to be able to walk in - and walk out. The rock is a splendid vehicle for this purpose.

I'd been reading about God's call on one's life, that His call comes from His nature and if we hear His call (which is NOT a given), our response is according to our nature.

The pie pan and the rock came into focus as a perfect example.

This particular pie pan had already been used, as I said. It was battered, and otherwise trash.
Filled with water (which so often symbolizes the Holy Spirit) nonetheless it would blow away in the wind of earthly cares and storms. The rest of the symbolism fell into place. It was so obvious! Laughably so, in fact, laughter that left tears in my eyes.

The rock, of course, is the symbol of Jesus, who gives us a place to stand, provides ballast and a sure foundation. The end picture is of what would otherwise be trash - good only for the garbage heap (although these days, I should probably say the recycle bin) - trash transformed by being grounded in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. It is thereby turned into something good and useful and refreshing also to so many others.

The pie pan itself is not being honored for itself in itself. If it insisted on that, it should be thrown out. Likewise, we ourselves are not saved in order to be preserved as we were, but to be transformed. If we insist on remaining as we are - which we are free to do - we,too, will be thrown out. But neither is the final question one of utility alone. Here, the metaphor breaks down. It breaks down in a way that would take another posting to explain, and one which I'm not going to get into today. Or tomorrow either probably, for that matter. . . . Sorry, I'm kind of on vacation. At least where taking on Utilitarianism is concerned. That's real work.

Let me just say that our lives are not disposable pie pans. But they are like disposable pie pans if we are not grounded in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.

And let me also say that what Jesus said about what happens to salt if it loses its saltiness now makes a whole lot more sense to me. . . .

Meanwhile, the Changos neither toil nor spin, but dine richly on croissant.

Friday, January 11, 2013

the magic portal. . . .

Poor Luther.

He's allergic to something, and it makes his skin go itchy. These days, he's getting baths once a week (down from one every 2 or 3 days) and taking 3 gigantic pills every morning and every evening.

I should say I'm wrestling him to shove 3 pills down his throat each morning and each evening. . . . "taking them" is a definite misnomer for this process. He does not "take" them. In fact, he's getting great practice evading them. Even the cottage cheese trick doesn't work, as this medicine apparently tastes so vile, he simply refuses to eat his dinner. And that's vile, because Luther isn't one to skip a meal these days.

Poor guy.

Then, the final insult.

"OK. I think you should put him in a T-shirt." Dr. B, his vet, said, at his last follow-up appointment.

"A T-shirt?" we asked.

"Yes. You know, just slit the T-shirt up the back a bit and then tie it around his waist after you put his legs through the arm holes and his head through the neck. This is looking like contact dermatitis, so let's see what putting him in a T-shirt will do." Dr. B is unvaryingly enthusiastic. She had merely smiled and shrugged when we incredulously repeated her initial instructions that we were to bathe Luther 2 - or 3! - times a week with some very expensive shampoo she was going to prescribe. Bathing Luther is not exactly easy.

Right, then. A T-shirt it is. It turned out that his chest is way too large for even an XL T-shirt. I slit the shirt all the way from hem to neck and attached ties. He fought it in hand-to-hand combat for the first hour, but he's gotten used to it now. He only wears it outside, so I put it on first thing in the morning, and take it off after his last outting at night. I have to be careful here, as Luther has begun to see going outside as a magic portal for food. He goes out, and when he comes back, sometimes he finds food in his bowl! Magic! When he then empties his bowl, inevitably it occurs to him that he should try the magic portal again to see if it won't fill up the bowl upon his return . . .

Poor Luther.

He tipped the scale at 160 not too long ago, and altho Dr. B didn't say it, I said it for her: "He's overweight."

She did not disagree.

We put Luther on a diet, and he's lost 20 pounds. He's looking SO much better. He's much more energetic and runs now, instead of stopping after only a couple of half-hearted lopes. Hmmm. But could he be allergic to being on a diet? That's just about when he started having skin problems. . . .

This has not been fun for any of us, let me tell you. Luther is not over-the-top food-driven - he won't eat if he's upset or nervous, for example, or if there is another dog around to play with - but he does like his chow. I don't like the fact that he finishes his dinner and it's obvious he's still hungry. I hate it that he goes to the magic portal, goes outside and comes right back in with such eager anticipation. I hate the sight of him standing in front of his bowl, waiting. Disappointed.

[sigh] Poor Luther.

He doesn't see the work of the magic portal transforming him from overweight itchy-skinned mess back to the lithe and sweet-smelling hound of old. All he sees is the empty bowl, the terror of the bath, and a T-shirt instead of his usual hair shirt.

Ah. . . . hair shirts. That's for us these days, for the keepers of the magic portal.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

starting the new year right. . . .

WARNING: explicit religious material follows. Material which is the subject of considerable dispute even amongst the "religious." Proceed at your own risk.

The last day of the year, I received an invitation to join the Annapolis Chorale downtown to sing at Church Circle first thing this morning, Tuesday morning, January 2.

It turns out that the group of wierdos which sporadically shows up to protest at the funeral of slain soliders had threatened to show up in Annapolis to protest on the first day homosexual marriages were to be performed in our State Courthouse. St. Anne's Episcopal Church, just across the street, planned a "counter" protest:
A Celebration of God's Unconditional Love for All. On January 2, from 7:45-9 AM, we will gather in Church Circle, Annapolis, to proclaim God's love for all people in Jesus Christ. On that day, Westboro Baptist "Church" plans to be outside the courthouse to speak its words of hate. We will not engage them. But we will speak our message of love more loudly. We will lift our voices in song and praise by singing the carols of our Christmas season. Through music, song, and prayer, we will bear witness to the good news of God's unconditional love. Come and join us and let us show the world that the love of Jesus is more powerful than hate."

I emailed the Right Reverend Amy Richter asking whether or not the church intended thereby to support homosexual unions - a move I had not thought St. Anne's had taken.

I did not get a response prior to the event from her - I didn't really expect one - but I did get a phone call from the choir director. He was elusive on the question about the church stance on homosexuality. He emphasized that the message to be conveyed at the event was directed against the Westboro people, a message of love, apparently, instead of the hate perceived to be coming from them. It had nothing to do with homosexuality, as far as he was concerned. He was unimpressed with my suspicion that people would naturally assume that St. Anne's supported homosexual marriage if they assembled to oppose the anti-homosexual rants of the few Westboro wierdoes or if they provided music for the procession of the first homosexual couples to the Court House.

Here's a picture of the "God's Unconditional Love for All" celebrants at St. Anne's - which, if I hadn't been told otherwise, looks a bit more like a pro-homosexual marriage rally than a church gathering.

And here's a video of the outting. The hooting which accompanies the "dancing" in front of the courthouse is coming from St. Anne's. . . .

Really, St. Anne's?


I am saddened that a group of 4 wierdos could escort this venerable institution into taking such a position, a position they have not taken before, and have shied away from when questioned by thoughtful people in intelligent conversations. I really don't know what to say.

There are two proverbs in the Bible which appear to contradict one another:

"Do not answer a fool according to his own folly, or you will be like him yourself." (Proverbs 26:4) and "Answer a fool according to his own folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes." (Proverbs 26:5)

As to the Westboro people, I suspect that St. Anne's would have done better to endorse Proverbs 26:4 and to have met the Westboro-4 with silence. Nothing St. Anne's could say would get through. Why speak then atall? In fact, the very fact of coming "against" a hate group puts St. Anne's in the potential position of "hating" the hate group! You should read some of the comments directed against Westboro online at the sites covering this event. . . . They were not exactly "loving."

I, however, am embracing Proverbs 26:5 with respect to what St. Anne's has done. Respectfully, this was foolish and I hope they will see that this wasn't such a good idea. You may have a nice, glowing feeling that so many people assembled in the "name" of love - but hello! - what "love" is this? Look at the fruit of your gathering. Is this what you had in mind? If not, you can clarify the record. I hope you will. God's love is indeed "unconditional", but on His terms, not ours. So actually, it is conditional. In a way, anyway. What I mean is that we can't redefine sin to suit ourselves and do away with the need for a Savior. It's been tried. . . .

The "good news" is not that we are not sinners - it's that Jesus takes away the sin of the world. We sang those very words this Christmas in St. Anne's, in our performances of Handel's Messiah.

Of course, St. Anne's could have meant to "come out" in support of homosexuality and the open homoerotic displays. Because that's just what they did. If that was their intent, my apologies, and I will shut up now, and revert to the wisdom of Proverbs 26:4.

P.S. To be opposed on religious grounds to normalizing homosexuality is not to hate those who either endorse it or who practice it. It is to say that my religious teaching tells me homosexuality is wrong and so I will not presume to say it is right. Please don't hate me for that. If you do not share that religious conviction, that's up to you. But please don't try to force me to set mine aside. Believe it or not, I have rather good reasons for believing as I do.

Oh, and bringing up either slavery, Hebrew purity laws or the historic treatment of women as your reason to re-write the Bible in this regard will only convince me to stay with Proverbs 26:4. Just sayin'.