Attending Social Media Residency today

A candid pic of me at the Social Media Residency

I’m attending a sort of class on the use of social media, called the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media Residency #MCCSM.  (See pics.) My blogs TheHutch and Monitor Duty have been quite neglected.  Now I’m learning about how to commit to putting out at least a little content and then reinforcing the content with more quickie things such as Tweets.  What I’m learning is going to be very helpful as we revise the website and rethink our social media plans at  Beyond that, I’m hoping to put some of these skills to good use when it comes time to promote my Kickstarter campaign for the next 5 issues of my comic book, Metro Med, the Hospital for Superheroes (Facebook and Twitter, if you want to keep informed about the Kickstarter. Thanks!).

I just learned how so many blogs have tweets looking so nice.  Turns out it’s just a built-in function of WordPress.  Voila:

One assignment was to shoot an amateur video on our smart phones and put it on YouTube.  This is as amateur as I could make it, including the noise and getting cut off as I’m saying the word “amateur.”

Unfortunately, the assignment couldn’t wait until I lost 130 pounds.  Hard to follow the rule of thirds, when I fill up all the thirds.  Egad.  Look at me, gesturing with my fat fingers.


Cross-posted from

I Am Out Of The Hospital

My first room at St. Mary's hospital

Let’s back up a bit.  I haven’t updated the blog in a while, so you don’t know all that’s going on. (I’m so neglectful, you may not even know that we got a new poodle named Murphy last September.  Maybe I should do a post on that soon.)

I walked a 5K on my birthday, March 29th.  I was feeling really good.  But in the month since, I have been having dizzy spells; some light, some serious.  I’ve also been short of breath in meetings, or when I came back to my desk.  I attribute all of this to the weight I’ve put on which has made my clothes tight; if it would just STOP SNOWING ALREADY I could be working this off and drop 15 pretty quickl  These spells have been off and on, but in the last week I started to put 2+2 together and thought I’d maybe get an appointment with my doc to get it checked out.  I opted to see the nurse on Thursday, May 1st, rather than wait a week for the doctor.

Melinda tells me that they may want to run some labs, so I should not eat anything after midnight and have breakfast after my morning appointment.  I figure they’ll take an X-ray, draw some blood, maybe make me jog on a treadmill, then send me home with some pills and a note to lose 20 pounds.  I’m anxious, because I need to spend the next two evenings working furiously to finish lettering and prepping my next Metro Med comic book and get it off to the printers in time for the convention, and I already have to spend two hours Thursday night going to my last cake decorating class.

So…at the Northeast family clinic, they have trouble getting my blood pressure despite numerous attempts.  My heart is only beating 30 beats a minute.   I keep telling them I feel fine!  They put me in a wheelchair and wheel me down to X-ray!  I stand up from the ridiculous wheelchair, take a few steps, and stumble to the X-ray platform, but the dizziness passes. They then wheel me back. The nurse, Nicole, finally comes in and tells me, “You are in total heart block.  You’re going to go downtown and get a pacemaker.”  While I absorb this, she picks up the phone and asks which emergency room I should drive to so that she can give me directions.  She hangs up and tells me my car will have to sit in the lot while they’re taking me in an ambulance!

Next thing I know, I’m downtown and Melinda’s left work to join me in the emergency room.  (Fortunately, it’s right across the street from her building.)  They examine my heart and find that the upper ventricles want to go much faster than the lower ventricles, so I definitely have to have a pacemaker.  They think they can get me in to surgery that day, so I can’t eat anything until then.  I am in surgery at 3:30 and finished around 6.  Finally got to eat 24 hours after my previous meal!

My first room at St. Mary's hospital
My first room at St. Mary’s hospital

This actually is a very simple procedure, and I was discharged after lunch today.  My mom’s come down to help out for a few days, because I can’t really lift more than 5 pounds (or put my left arm over my head), nor can I drive.  My buddy Erik found me a speedy printer that has a quicker turnaround time, so I may still be able to get my comic to the convention, and Melinda’s going to go to SpringCon with me since I can’t lift anything.

I’m okay, folks.  This is actually a good thing, because I’ve been “off my game” for a while, but I never had any heart pain.  I had no clue this was going on.  For all I know, I could have been on the verge of something much worse, heart-wise.  I’ll be able to function better.  This new pacemaker will not let my heart go below 60 beats per minute, when before it was dipping to 30.

So, to sum up:  I have a small, circular power-source in my chest that runs wires to my heart to keep me alive.  I am Iron Man.

R.I.P. Chewbacca “Chewie” Hutchison, 2009-2013

Chewie with a halo!

Chewie’s final weekend convinced me that we were doing the right thing.  It was a weekend where he slept when he wasn’t painfully coughing, and his only bright moments were when he got to eat snacks or chow down on some rotisserie chicken.  I tried taking him for a walk, and we could only go around the house on our corner and back.  It really drove home that he was suffering at this point, and his lurching attempts to roll himself out of bed and onto his feet made me regret that we had waited this long.

I took Monday the 26th off from work so that I could spend the last day with Chewie, and I was so glad I did.  He had a great last day! It started out with a car ride to drop off Melinda at work (she couldn’t get out of it, being the current team nurse).  Chewie loved it, as he has loved all car rides, and Melinda rode in the back seat with him so that she could soak up all of these last moments.  I did, however, have to lift him into the car.

When we got home, I took him for a walk in the cool morning air, and Chewie had so much energy that we went half a block!  I was certain that that would have wiped him out and he would need to doze, but Chewie kept hanging around me, wondering what we would do next!  I gave him a day filled with cuddles and treats on the sofa, a last nap on our sunny deck, and I even tossed his orange pumpkin squeak toy and watched him run for it!

After picking up Melinda from work, we spent our last hour with him and we pressed his paws into some homemade play-dough that she had made so that we would have impressions of his paw prints.  Then we headed off to Quarry Hill Vet to say good-bye.

Dr. Karen Lee and Gina were so kind.  They said that they had been sad all day, knowing that this was on the schedule.  Melinda and I took turns holding him one last time, while the doctor administered the drug.

I’ve had to do this before, for Melinda’s cat, Alley, and my cat, Natasha, when they had lived long happy lives and had fallen ill in their old age.  Those cats were so old, they predated our marriage.

Chewie had just turned four.

We bundled him in a beautiful old blanket, placed him in a plastic washtub that I had brought with, and we took him home.  I ran around packing the car as quick as I could, while Melinda brought a few of Chewie’s favorite things to be buried with him.  She lay down on the floor to stroke his head one last time.  Melinda couldn’t get off work, which meant I had a long lonely car ride north and Melinda wouldn’t have anyone with her that night.

Doris, our older cat, approached and investigated.  I believe she could tell that Chewie was dead.  We felt this was better than his sudden disappearance from her life.

I arrived at my parents’ farm three hours later, where I found that my dad had prepared a beautiful coffin and my mom had written on the lid.  I gave my doggie one last pet on his woolly head, and then I placed the items in his coffin: the orange pumpkin, a stuffing-free fox squeak toy, a ball, a chip twist, a chicken chew…and one of our business cards with the picture of the three of us.

(I am hiding these next pictures in a spoiler, for those of you who don’t want to see him in his casket.)

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Chewie in the blanket
Chewie at peace
One last pat on the head
One last pat on the head

Chewie in his coffin with his memorial items
Chewie in his coffin with his memorial items

We buried him that night, and we finished seeding the grave the next morning. Chewie is buried under the limbs of a tree, and my parents are planting flowers nearby.

Chewie's coffin
Chewie’s coffin
Chewie's grave site
Chewie’s grave site

I don’t know what kind of afterlife awaits dogs, but it’s my hope that his spirit is chasing the rabbits around that farm at full speed, free of the pain that slowed him down.  Go, run.  Good boy!

Chewie’s Farewell Tour

Chewie was doing so well that we didn’t pick up on the return of his cancer for a while.

On July 3rd, I took Chewie out to the car.  He planted his feet as we approached the car.  That was odd, since he had once again enjoyed going to Leashes and Leads for doggy day care.  When he wasn’t feeling well, he was unhappy spending the whole day running around with other dogs.  It had taken a long time, too long, for me to realize that his balking at doggy day care wasn’t because of something at Leashes and Leads that he had grown to dislike, but because he felt sick.  Once he recovered from surgery, we found that he was delighted to have doggy day care again.

Now, I’m trying to get him in the car, and he doesn’t want to go.

Melinda hopped in, and we headed off to work.  I told her how I had to lift Chewie in. “Maybe he’s not feeling well?” she offered.  “He hasn’t been eating a lot… and I’ve had to clean his ears almost every day…and he’s had goopy eyes the last few days…”

“And he’s having a lot of dificulty getting out of bed” I added.

With every additional bit of evidence mentioned, we realized what it added up to.  “Uh oh.”

It’s odd how he could have eye infections and ear infections and a lack of appetite, just as he had in January and February, and yet we didn’t put two and two together.  It’s not like he’s not eating anything…just that sometimes he eats sparingly, or doesn’t eat in the morning but does in the evening.  But once you start saying the things out loud…they add up so obviously.

I made an appointment for the end of the day at Quarry Hill Vet, and sure enough, his white blood cell count was high again.  48,000 when it should be around 16,000.  Back in February, it was 160,000…so we had some time, but the cancer was definitely back.

July 4th, he spent the day laying around the house.  I was pretty sure that we would be taking him to Quarry Hill to be put to sleep within a few days.  But when we came home Friday, he greeted us at the door, tail wagging happily!

Since then, Chewie has had good days and bad days, but even his good days aren’t great.  We took him up to my parents’ farm so that he could romp around, but he would only be good for three throws of the ball before he’d set it down and lay on it, indicating he was done.  We brought him along to the Rineharts, the family that adopted our Labradoodle Layla, when they had a birthday party.  Chewie had a good day, he walked with Layla, he got a lot of attention…but he didn’t have energy to do much more than walk.  (Chewie usually jumps up on people he recognizes.)

And he has his bad days.  Panting, growling, and displaying more affection than usual are all signs that a dog is in pain… and Chewie has been doing all three.  He has had moments where the lightest touch to his belly while he is sleeping will cause him to yelp with the most awful cry, and yet we cannot duplicate this for the doctor when he is awake.  We told ourselves that “quality of life” was the deciding factor of when we would put him down…but as I write this on August 25th, almost two months since we realized the cancer was back, I realize how many times he was in pain.  What has stopped us from the decision was that he can seemingly flip a switch and suddenly be having a good day.  It may be that his pain meds were kicking in, or he got to ride in a car and it cheered him up, or he simply had a better day.

This last Tuesday, we took him to PetSmart to say goodbye to his trainer and dog-sitter, Marcia.  Marcia was the one who told us that his goopy eye was an eye infection and we should take him to the vet…and the very next day was the start of his cancer journey.  That day, back in February, was the day that Chewie passed his Canine Good Citizenship, which was supposed to be the start of a great new phase of his life…and seeing the picture Marcia showed us, of Melinda and I beaming as we held a smiling Chewie, was very bittersweet.  Yet Chewie loved seeing Marcia again.  His little sausage tail wagged furiously as he buried his muzzle between her knees.  He even gave a weak attempt at jumping up at her.  We then spent an hour picking out some supplies for the new kittens that were added to our household this last week.  (Chewie adores them!)  The entire time, Chewie was happy to get petted by strangers, greet new dogs, and explore the store.  Getting home at 7pm, we marveled that he had been “up” for two whole hours, and figured he must be near collapse.  I opened the car door…and instead of heading for the back yard, Chewie dragged me to the street to go for a walk on top of all that other activity!  We walked south past four houses, and then Chewie and I headed home.  The walks are not very long these days.

Chewie has also been having some hip pain, perhaps brought on by the cancer, perhaps not. Perhaps the cancer is saving him from a painful decade of hip dysplasia that he would have had anyway because he’s a poodle and they’re prone to that.  Who can tell?

In the last two weeks, the lengths of his walks has been consistently dropping.  Chewie, who could once tear across the dog park and run full tilt for a half hour, or walk ahead of me wanting me to go faster as we walked the length of Silver Lake Park and back to home, suddenly can only go around two blocks and back home.  Then he could only go down the street two blocks, turn around and come back.  Then he could only go around one block.  Then it was just down the block and back. Then half the block. Tuesday, it was only four houses down the block.

On Thursday, Chewie planted his feet before we were past the third house.  It was a clear message.  That was as far as he could go.  I wanted to see the damage from that morning’s storm and flash flood as a guy was pulling out items from his house to dry on the lawn, so I tugged him forward. He relented, and slowly walked forward one more house.  Then we went home.

Melinda and I decided.

On Friday, I called Quarry Hill Vet to see if we could get a 4 pm appointment for that day.  If we could, then we could take Chewie up to my parents’ farm to be buried.  Quarry Hill didn’t have any open times, so we have scheduled it for Monday the 26th at 4 pm.  This weekend, we’ve stopped all of his pills except for the two painkillers, and Chewie’s eating rotisserie chicken and hamburgers!  I wish I could say that Chewie is living the high life and getting one last hurrah.  Truth is, he’s mainly sleeping, when he isn’t indicating his growling and barking at his pain.

Friday, I barely made it through work.  I used up the box of tissues at my desk while I tried to focus on file comparisons and building new web pages.  But something my friend John Morgan Neil (the comic book writer who created Aym Geronimo) said really touched me.  Our pets rely on us for everything, including taking away their pain.


Dealing with doggy renal cancer

Two months later, here is where things stand with Chewie. He is, to use my wife’s phrase after his checkup last week, “healthy as a horse.”  He has boundless energy, and he’s all atwitter that the long winter has finally ended.  Taking him on a walk is like trying to hold on to a kid with A.D.D. who just downed 20 pixie sticks. He is constantly getting his leash wound around his leg and pulling full-strength.  This is the Chewie we used to know.  The little stinker even snuck out of the house and ran away a day ago.

If there’s a down side, it’s this: The dog who calmly almost-passed his Canine Good Citizenship test three weeks before his cancer adventure started? Gone. No way he’d even come close to passing. We’ll have to work on him some more.

A week after my last Chewie post, we took him up to the University of Minnesota to discuss chemotherapy options.

We’re giving Chewie an oral chemotherapy drug this month, but we don’t think we’ll continue it.  There is no way to tell if he has cancer short of finding cancer; it’s not like they can test blood and pronounce the patient cancer-free.

So…we don’t know if he has it or not (although it’s a safe bet that some microscopic cancer is still floating around somewhere).

If he does have it, we don’t know if the IV treatment ($600 every 3 weeks for six sessions) or this oral chemotherapy drug (about $300 a month) will do anything to prevent it.

We could spend no money at all and he’ll develop cancer and die, or we could spend tons of money and he’ll get cancer and die.  We could do nothing and get lucky.  It’s a very big crap shoot.

Dog Cancer Survival Guide

So we’re probably going to just give him homeopathic recipes from the Dog Cancer Survival Guide, watch out for foods that cause cancer, give him foods that inhibit cancer, and enjoy what time we had left.

A co-worker of mine who has two standard poodles of her own helped me gain some perspective.  If we hadn’t done anything, Chewie would have died a month ago of natural causes (i.e. cancer).  All the time we have left with him is a bonus over his original lifespan, which would have been a little less than four years.  It isn’t really “fair” that he probably won’t make it to 14, but we could spend a fortune and he won’t make it to 14.

Right now, Chewie is active and happy and loving the spring (that’s FINALLY arrived).

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Chewie one week later

I  wanted to let you know that Chewie is finally getting some energy back.  He’s had a rough week of recovery, but we’ve had a lot of encouraging signs recently.  After so many days of hard sleeping, weakness and wooziness, he seems to have perked up.  Last night he actually pulled out some of his favorite squeak toys and went to town on them for hours.  His bruising is gone, his wound is healing, and last night the vet at the U of M called to say that his platelet count is high and his white blood cell count is low (both reversed from last week when his white cells were off the charts and his platelets so low that his surgery was risky).  He will have to have chemotherapy to make sure that all of the microscopic cancer cells left in him get wiped out… but it will be chemo aimed at giving him a full length life as opposed to just easing his passing, so even chemotherapy will be a good thing.

The U of M has actually asked if they could use him as a case study.  I gather that his cancer isn’t unique, but it’s rare enough and in his case he’s a very young dog to have acquired it.

I can’t say enough good things about the crew of doctors up at the U of M.  One thing I found remarkable is that at every stage of the game, the doctors were up front with the price list of what was being proposed and why it was recommended and whether we were willing to proceed.  If they didn’t do that, it would just have added to my stress level because it would make me the heartless monster to have to introduce the subject of what it cost.  I do wonder if things like that couldn’t help improve human healthcare, even though that’s a different situation.

One week

It was last Sunday that Chewie threw up his food after finally eating a little, and I told Melinda that I thought he was sick.  The next day she took him to the vet and began the little adventure I’ve been chronicling.  It’s not even a week, really, though we’d been worrying a little over his appetite.  If not for the eye infection and our thinking that that was the cause of his overall discomfort, we might have taken him in sooner.  (And who knows whether taking him in too early would have sent up the proper warnings?)

We were warned he would have some serious bruising due to his low platelets, and they weren’t kidding.  This little photo I’m sharing doesn’t even show the worst bits, which are down by his bits.  However, the bruises which flared up on Friday are already looking better by Saturday.


(And yes, we do realize Chewie has the body of an AT-AT walker.)

Today, I had a class in comic book writing with Bill “Fables” Willingham.  When I got home at 2:30, Chewie came running to the door woofing like old times (but the first time since his surgery).  Melinda told me he’d been mopey since I left, walking to the gate to watch for me. When she said, “Are you missing Michael?” he grumbled.  He finally has some energy for his old behaviors, for something else besides sleeping and slow movement, and as I kneeled down he snuggled up to me.

I thought for one last time about the decision to do the surgery, the impact on the finances, all the fear about whether such an expense would be worth it.  I won’t go into the details, but the total bill came to 1/2 of what the contractor just quoted to remodel our entire bathroom.  When the doctor mentions an average lifespan of 16 months after surgery, and the riskiness of the procedure due to his deathly-poor platelet count, it is such a gamble. We could spend all that money only to lose him post-op, or have the cancer spread, or pass on a few months later.  I couldn’t leave my dog in pain, but I can’t imagine putting him down for want of a few thousand dollars.  I know there are people in worse circumstances who don’t have the luxury of even taking the option we took.  Heck, if we hadn’t been aggressively paying off credit cards, there are times we wouldn’t have had this luxury!  I shudder to imagine that alternative, and how awful our lives could be right now.

Today, I grabbed my dog’s fluffy ears, snuggled his curly head with my nose, and realized the blessing we had this week.  “My puppy’s alive!  My puppy’s alive!” I kept repeating, as I hugged him.

Chewie in Recovery

Or…The Adventure of Chewie Hutchison and The CONE of SHAME!


On Thursday morning, I awoke to some terrible pain in my guts.  I called in to work and took the day off.  At first, I was worried that I was taking a sick day needlessly and it was just a little intestinal fit.  I needn’t have worried.  As it turns out, I spent the entire day either sleeping or on the toilet.  I will spare you further details, but it affects the rest of the story.

We hadn’t known whether Chewie would be ready at the end of Thursday or sometime Friday, which made Melinda nervous because of the serious dump of snow we were supposed to get.  (Driving back the other day from dropping Chewie off was bad enough.  The drifting snow obscured the highway many times.)  Melinda left for an 11:00 appointment, and I went back to sleep.

Soon, the U of M Emergency Vet called to say that Chewie was doing well and could go home that afternoon.  If we could be there by 3, that would be ideal, since Chewie’s doctor would be in rounds at 4.  (It’s about an hour and a half of driving to get there.)  I tell her that’s great, and go back to bed, confident that Melinda will wake me at noon and we can have lunch and then go.  Hopefully, the rest will have done the trick and I’ll be fit to travel.

I wake up at 1:30.  Melinda didn’t wake me up.  I panic and tell her we need to leave right away. She starts to pack some snacks and sodas since there’s no time for lunch.  I use the bathroom, get dressed, run to the bathroom again…and as Melinda gets her coat on, I realize I have to use the bathroom again.  She says, “Why don’t I just go?”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course.  It’s okay.  You’re sick.”  I’m a jumble of emotions, because I wanted to be there to pick up Chewie and hated to miss that moment.  I also know that if the storm starts Melinda will detest driving in that weather.  I also know that I have 10 seconds to decide before the diarrhea starts, so I’d better run.  I wave and Melinda grabs the cooler and is out the door.

One bathroom break later, I’m back in my pajamas and hitting the hay at 2PM.  I wake up at 6:30 to find the lights on in the hallway and Melinda’s back.  Chewie is resting in the living room and doesn’t even acknowledge my being there.  He spends the next few hours wandering the house trying to find a better place to nap, not realizing that the discomfort is his and not the bed’s.


His entire belly is shaved, and all of his legs have shaved patches where needles were inserted for fluid IVs and pain meds.  We need to keep him from licking the wounds; we can monitor him during the day, but if we don’t put The Cone of Shame on him during the night, he could be licking his wounds for hours.

It’s actually called an e-collar (Elizabethan collar, which is itself a joke name).  Putting it on him really requires three hands and the dog’s total cooperation. Fortunately, Chewie doesn’t have any energy to resist.  We put it on him three times, because Melinda’s a pushover and keeps taking it off him.  Do you know how frustrating it is to pull the inside sliding plastic around, hoping to get it tight enough that the Velcro finally lines up and you can seal it…and fifteen minutes later he’s walking around without it because your wife said, “Awww”?  Well, neither does Melinda.

Ideally, we could put the collar on him and put him in his kennel for the night.  Unfortunately, he cannot easily move in the kennel with it on.  We put the e-collar on him one last time, confine him to our bedroom so that he can’t get in trouble and go to bed.

A few moments later I hear the plastic collar scraping against my side of the bed.  I reach out, feel my way down the inside of the cone and rub his woolly pompadour and his muzzle.  It’s the first affectionate thing Chewie’s done since he got home.  I take off my CPAP mask, pick up Chewie and lift him onto the bed, since he really can’t make the jump in his weakened state (and with the collar throwing him off).  He clambers up onto Melinda’s belly, lays the cone down on her chest and falls asleep with both of us petting him.

On Friday, we awake to find a massive dump of snow arrived in the middle of the night.  Chewie would ordinarily love to romp and play in it, but he slowly trudges out to do his business.  His legs are so wobbly and at times shivering.  We have to watch him when he comes in to make sure he’s licking his paws to dry off and not lick his wounds.

Melinda has a good idea.  We wrap him in his Thundershirt(tm), which is usually to comfort a dog during storms or other periods of anxiety, but this has the added bonus of covering his belly wound.  Chewie has spent the rest of Friday recovering (what you and I call sleeping).


I know all of these pictures look the same, but it’s really the extent of his home experience since his return.

UPDATE:  Re-reading this post 3 weeks later, I thought I should add a note.  I later realized Chewie wasn’t being affectionate.  He was walking over to me to get my attention because he thought I’d  forgotten to take that awful collar off.

Chewie is out of surgery

Chewie’s anesthetic started around 4PM, and Dr. Corbin called at 4:10 to give us a final preliminary report before she started.

At 7PM, she called us to let us know that his surgery went well.  While they had him open, they did a test of a tiny scrape of his liver.  The liver had appeared a different shade than it should be when they did the sonogram of the area, but it could be any number of reasons, and cancer would show as a dark mark or marks on the liver instead of a completely different shade.  The little pin test they did caused more fluid than they expected (again: low platelets, so he is not clotting normally), so they really didn’t want to have to do a biopsy unless they had to.  With the kidney removed, they closed him up.

It doesn’t sound like they had any excessive problems due to the low platelets, but he will probably have more bruising than a normal dog would.

We don’t know yet when he will be coming home.  His behavior in the morning will be the best indicator, and they will call us tomorrow morning.

Our schedules are all up in the air.  Melinda and I don’t often have weeks this full of appointments, but this week our calendar had something scheduled every night.  Contractors coming to give us estimates for bathroom remodeling on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Taxes on Thursday.  Now all of that had to be rescheduled.  (I canceled the contractor who was coming tonight, saying, “You don’t want to be here during all of this drama… and the dog’s surgery means we won’t be redoing the bathroom for a while anyway!”)  Melinda had been so lucky to get an appointment with our accountant at 5PM on a Thursday in February; now that we had to reschedule, the next opening is in April!

I’m taking Friday off from work, because either we’ll be picking up Chewie or he’ll be home and I’ll monitor him.

No pictures today, but I’ll have some when we pick him up.

Thank you to everyone who has written us notes on Facebook or e-mailed us.  Thank you to my parents’ Bible Study class that prayed for Chewie this morning.  Thank you to all of our understanding co-workers.

Oh, drat.  Just as I was about to hit “Publish”, I got an e-mail.  Thursday is the TeeFury Grab Bag day!  I have been waiting for that.  What a time to have all my money tied up in dog repair.


Chewie: Good news and bad news

The bad news: Chewie has cancer.


The good news: It is on one of his two kidneys.  Tomorrow, surgeons at the University of Minnesota will operate and remove that kidney, and so long as the cancer is confined to that one kidney, that’s the end of it.

Short of “turns out Chewie just had a bad flu and now he’s recovering”, this is about as good as the news could get.  With his platelets so low and his white blood count off the charts, it had to be pretty serious.  Were this cancer on almost anything else in the body, it would be a death sentence…but just as with people, a dog can get by with one kidney.  If only bodies had more redundant organs!


Melinda and I left work at 2PM to talk with the doctors on the phone and hear the verdict.  Dr. Stiller at the U of M told us that they were willing to operate, despite his platelets being lower than they would like, because the platelet count is most likely being caused by the infection so it won’t be getting better.  Surgery is ballpark $2500, and if they have to give him a blood transfusion, that’s $500/bag.  (Where do they get the dog blood?  I’ve never seen a doggie blood drive.)

I thought the price was the bad news…but then Dr. Stiller told me that the average life expectancy after the surgery was 16 months.  I’d been gung ho to do the surgery because Chewie is still so young, but I hadn’t thought about the lifespan afterwards still being reduced.  Thinking about it, I realized that the “average” is negatively impacted by the number of dogs with cancer who were already elderly and going to die in around 16 months anyway, as well as the cases where the cancer is not caught in time and it spreads to more systems.  Still…it was a shock.  We cannot justify spending thousands to give a dog a year of life.

We told Dr. Stiller that we would think about it, and that we’d call her back in 10 minutes.  I then proposed to Melinda that we should get a second opinion from Dr. Karen Lee at the Quarry Hill Veterinary Hospital, so we hopped in the car to drive over.  Stuck at a red light, I started fighting back tears at the thought of having to say no to surgery and saying good-bye to Chewie someday very soon.

Dr. Lee greeted us and listened to all of the developments.  In light of all the factors in play here (Chewie’s youth and vigor; the tissue mass being on a kidney; kidney surgery being relatively easy, with only three connections to tie off), Dr. Lee didn’t have any reservations.  If it was her dog, she’d do it.  We are so grateful for her last-minute consultation and her support.

We went home, called Dr. Stiller to tell her to proceed, and then had supper in our very quiet and lonely house.

Chewie goes in for surgery on Wednesday the 20th, and then he will come home on Thursday.  Please, please, pray for him, for the surgeons, and for us.

We would like to thank all of our friends, family and co-workers who have been so supportive over the last few days.