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Radical Red: Lydia Lazarus

September/October 2004

Laura Jones
I never expected to write a Heartwarming Pet Story for Positively Aware, but a recent experience with my dog Lydia and colleagues who've been through the mill due to HIV/AIDS prompts me to do just that. My husband and I adopted Lydia from the Orphans of the Storm shelter two years ago, when she was maybe six or eight years old. We don't know who had her before she came to live with us, but whoever that was loved her enough to stuff her full of treats and make her very fat and friendly. She loves people, especially babies. She also loves beer, and old men (and old men who are drinking beer), so we theorize that her former owner died or went into a home and no one else wanted to take responsibility for her. But we'll never know for sure, and it doesn't matter, really -- we're sure glad she lives with us now.

Because I have the privilege of bringing her to work, Lydia is well known to the staff, volunteers, and clients of TPAN. Unfailingly friendly and affectionate, she serves as TPAN's own volunteer Pet Therapist, dispensing love and tender lickies to all who will allow. She also seems to have this bizarre ability to sense when someone's in pain, and will sniff out the sore area and lick it or lay her head on it if it's accessible. I don't know if it helps, but she apparently considers it part of her job duties on Community Service days (mostly Tuesdays, but sometimes multiple times a week).

Given her sweet personality and agency-wide popularity, you can imagine how awful it was when she nearly died of liver failure in May.

What happened? We don't know! We left her in the care of various friends and co-workers while we went on a two-week vacation, and when we came back she had diarrhea. No big deal, we thought; that'll pass quickly enough. And it did -- only to be replaced by vomiting and lethargy, dehydration, rehydration, a series of lab tests and IV liquids, and then a full-on liver crash with mushrooming bilirubin counts and a horrific case of jaundice. One day she's just got the runs, and less than a week later she's vomiting orange bile, urinating tea, completely yellow, and unable to eat or drink or walk or do much of anything but lie there with an IV in her leg. The vets don't know what the hell's going on -- the toxicology profile shows nothing; the X-ray shows nothing; the belly ultrasound shows nothing; and eventually the needle biopsy of her liver shows nothing either. She's clearly dying, but no one knows why.

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Sounds sadly familiar to some of you, I know.

We're running out of money by this time, of course. And her bilirubin count keeps climbing, putting her at risk for convulsions and a very unpleasant death. The vets tell us they can't do anything but keep her hydrated and hope she gets over it (whatever "it" is), but no one's hopeful. So we do what you do when someone you love is suffering and you have the power to end that suffering: We made plans for euthanasia. And then we took her home from the vet's, and made a big bed on the floor so we could all sleep together one last time.

When we brought her back to the vet's the next day, her blood test showed that her bilirubin count was no higher than it had been two days before ... still well in the Kill Zone, but significant in the fact that it wasn't still climbing. After the vet assured us that Lydia wasn't in serious pain, we decided to hold off on the euthanasia, learned how to give her subcutaneous hydration with a modified IV unit, and took her back home to see what the weekend would bring.

Against all hope and prediction, she began to improve. First she was able to drink and hold down water. Then she was able to go outside by herself. Then she was able to hold down small amounts of baby food and rice ... and then, very slowly, she began to lose all that awful yellow and turn back into her little white-and-pink self under her fur. Eventually she began to growl when we stuck her with the sub-Q needle, and that's when we really started to believe we were going to get to keep her.

A month later, she's fine -- you'd never know she'd been sick. We were warned that she might have organ or brain damage as a result of the illness (which we figure was caused by something poisonous that she ingested), but as I type she's healthy as can be, sitting under my feet looking all annoyed because I won't take her out for a walk. She's skinny and tires easily, but back doing Community Service at TPAN.

I was touched and amazed by how everyone was so concerned about her, and by how many people also seemed to identify with her personally from their own bouts of HIV or hep-related illness. I'm holding those personal altercations with Mr. Reaper responsible for the predominant TPAN reaction to Lydia's illness: "She'll pull through. After all, they told me I was going to die, and I didn't." Other people's hope and encouragement helped us to hold off on euthanasia long enough to see her begin to recover. I'm not sorry that we planned to put her down, but I'm thankful for other people's willingness to believe in her slim chance for life when all hope for recovery seemed gone.

So thanks again, everyone. Come by the TPAN and give Lydia some rubbies.


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This article was provided by Positively Aware. It is a part of the publication Positively Aware. Visit Positively Aware's website to find out more about the publication.
 

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