At seventeen Mimi, the little Shih Tzu that Jesi welcomed into our family on December 20 2012 has lived longer than Jesi ever did.
Somehow there seems no justice in this…. yet somehow I believe Jesi has something to do with Mimi’s extraordinarily long life, especially given the medical issues she is facing.
My vet shaking her head in awe, exclaims “she’s like an every ready bunny” when I meet her in the hall of the animal rescue where I adopted Mimi over five years ago; where the vet works and where I volunteer each week. The vet seems to have finally accepted Mimi’s miraculous existence as I update her periodically, “She sure has an appetite at the moment.” She nods and replies with a smile when I continue “She just keeps toddling along.”
Mimi’s life is lived in a fine balance though…I hand feed her, and every few weeks we make a trip to the pet store to try out new cuisine. I have to read her body language when it comes to eating, or getting her meds down. She might lick her lips and I think… “Great, this will go down,” and then when I move my hand closer she backs off and wanders off into the next room. I am left on the floor surrounded by dishes of sardines, tuna and chicken in gravy and jars of baby food. The pills have to go down early in the feeding process as I know even when I get her interested she will give up and walk away when she is done, and that is usually before the dish is empty. Timing her anti anxiety medication in baby food or peanut butter two hours before I go out is also daily ‘must do’ as Mimi has separation anxiety and when it comes to my leaving her alone, I have to sneak around the apartment without alerting her to my departure. Often she accompanies me and sleeps in her bed in the car (weather and errands permitting) just for the company.
Not only are there the oral meds, there are also two eye ointments that need to be applied to both eyes three times a day. Mimi has severely dry eyes. And she has a growth on her right upper eye lid.
It’s been there longer than I can remember. When it first appeared the vet was able to ligate it near its base and it fell off. After a while it grew back but the stump below the eyelid grew thick, like the trunk of a tree. When I took her to the vet a couple of months ago, weighed down with guilt, (I had been so concerned about keeping Mimi warm through the bitter December and January weather due to her lung disease, I had neglected to keep her eye clean), her eye had oozed so much the hair under her lid was matted together.
Mimi’s major disease as far as I knew it at the time was chronic bronchial congestion, tracheal collapse and she suffered from some heart issues thought I was uncertain what. She coughs every time she comes in contact with the cold air, or wakes up, or drinks, or scurries up the hall to the exit of our apartment building, or any time she moves at a pace more than a potter.
I just hadn’t been attending to her eye.
“That needs surgical removal” the vet declared when she saw Mimi cuddled in my lap in the examination room.
“As long as you know the risks …” she had said, looking directly at me later in the consultation.
I knew what she was referring to…
By the time we left the vet that day Mimi’s eye was looking much cleaner. I had a tube of steroid ointment to apply twice a day for ten days to try and shrink the lesion. I was also equipped with a new promise to myself to clean her eye every day and never let her hair get that matted again. But I knew the discharge meant that the lesion was irritating her eye. Perhaps something more permanent was needed so Mimi would be comfortable? The vet said she would look into it. I didn’t even dare to ask what she meant.
A couple of weeks later the vet called to tell my that the veterinary ophthalmic surgeon she had consulted had suggested ‘debulking’ the lesion. By then I had started Mimi on more eye meds to try and ease the discomfort and her eye seemed to weep less, and not always get so bloodshot. I was also becoming obsessed by checking and rechecking it multiple times a day. I’m sure if Mimi hadn’t been so well natured she would have told me in doggy language ‘get out of my face’ but she would tolerate my constant head attempts at snuggles which invariably ended in my peering into her eyes in turn while steadying her head between my hands.
But ‘debulking’ didn’t sound as major as doing a wedge incision, taking a piece of the eyelid with the lesion out, which was what I had expected with a surgical procedure.
Should I get it done for once and for all? But how could I know whether Mimi’s lungs would withstand the sedation and anesthesia. And how uncomfortable was she anyway?
I know I will lose her one day, “But I don’t want to lose her on the table” I had said to the vet during the consultation weeks earlier. I had tried to hide the tears that were struggling to escape the corners of my eyes but I knew she saw.
If only I knew the right thing to do…
That is when I decided to ask Jesi’s advice.
I hadn’t been sleeping well for over a month. I would often wake up before dawn. My mind would immediately begin racing like a horse bolting from a stable. I would lie awake listening to my breathing, or repeating a mantra to try to fall back to sleep. I decided to ask Jesi for a dream to give me a sign as to how I should proceed with Mimi. Would she survive surgery or was it too much of a risk? Yet I hardly ever remembered my dreams. So how could I expect to get a message?
I was stunned when for three consecutive nights I had the most palpable dreams I have ever experienced. I could feel them long after I woke up. They were the type of dream where you are both aware you are asleep and dreaming and also aware as you come out of them, that you are somehow a distinct and different wakeful soul from that of your dream state self. I believe they re called “lucid dreams.”
In my first dream Jesi and I are driving along Lincoln Street, past the field where she plays soccer. The road winds around like a serpentine, the soccer field on one side and on the other a steep hill rising up from the flat, driveways leading off to houses perched above. I am on the way to my dentist’s office to pick up Mimi who has spent the day there for veterinary treatment. [Interestingly, in my waking life I had a bad experience at the dentist a couple of weeks earlier.] It is dark and the air is thick with fog, as if it has warmed and is rising like steam off the icy ground. Like the fog, it is eerily dark and still. As we drive I come upon dog after dog, frozen as if it died in the midst of play. They are poised like statues in the middle of the road. These dogs all-struck-down. At first I think at they are hit by cars. Later, not able to get one particular image out of my head, a dog with a ball poised on its nose, I wonder if they are dogs who died while undergoing surgery…
Jesi and I are horrified at what we see. We exchange thoughts, it is as though we are in the spirit world where one can communicate that way. She prefers to stay with these suffering dogs, while I go on to the dentist to pick up Mimi. It is then I wake up knowing this to be a dream.
Jesi has vanished.
The following night, as I turned off my light, once more I asked Jesi for a dream. This time I asked her to confirm the message she had sent the previous night. Although I was 99% sure of my decision, I knew Jesi would answer my prayers in respect of Mimi. Jesi was with me the day we both met Mimi at the rescue. Jesi was the first family member I introduced Mimi to after I finalized her adoption. I still remember how her face lit up when Jesi saw her sitting in the back seat of the van when I picked her up after school. “Is she ours? To keep?” I haven’t felt so sure of Jesi’s support from the other side in relation to anything so much as this since she passed away over three years ago.
As dark as my first dream, my second dream is bright. Everything about it is light, the sun shining with a soft white glow, the breeze blowing gently. I live in a farmhouse. I am mama to two baby chickens. I am feeding them grain. They cluck around following me adoringly. I have to take my tractor and drive down a dirt road into the country, but first I make sure they are safe and have food and shelter. I clearly remember letting them look in the fridge! When I leave I feel a lightness in my heart that they will be ok.
The morning after that dream I told the vet to cancel Mimi’s surgery.
I was surprised when the following night I had yet another dream. I know I wanted it, but I didn’t really feel I deserved a third message from Jesi and so didn’t ask in earnest. I just put in a wish for a dream. And what I got felt so real…
I almost feel the cold air on my face while I hike up the mountain, almost hear the howls of the wild dogs in the distance. I look around but there is no sign of the dogs. As I continue climbing the path gets steeper yet my strength increases and I climb faster and faster. I ‘attack’ the mountain with increasing vigor until I reach the top. It reminds me (even while I am inside the dream) of how I used to love hill running.
At the top, I suddenly find myself in my car, and Mimi riding shotgun (as she does) beside me. We are poised ready to drive down the other side of the mountain, through a cemetery. Mimi edges over to half sit on my lap, causing me to lose control of my braking foot. Despite feeling around for the brake I can’t find it. All I can do is to navigate through the headstones and around the raised cement markers as the car speeds down the hill. All I think is that with my seatbelt I will survive but Mimi is not belted in and if I crash, she will not. I manage to steer the car onto a road alongside the cemetery gates until it slows down…and I wake up knowing it is a dream…instinctively knowing what it means…
Mimi’s decline will be somewhat rocky, just as her health has declined in the past two years, yet her final decline will not be sudden…
Every day with Mimi is a new adventure and I never stop worrying about her health. Over the last week her cough worsened. It developed into a looser more congested sound, and became more frequent. But she still had an amazing appetite. A sardine and a pouch of Tiki Aloa Chicken and Salmon with sweet potato kale and pumpkin for breakfast which she eats from my fingers while sitting in my lap, diced boiled chicken for dinner, finger fulls of beef broth baby food for supper…
She still had the energy to scamper down the hallway, at least until she ran out of breath and started to wheeze and cough. She could still give me the run around in the apartment when I was trying to catch her to clean her eyes or squirm when I did. And she knew to sleep by the door if she sensed I was going out without her.
There is still some spunk left in my little old lady. I notice these things and it is these small things I rejoice in noticing. I know Jesi is watching them too. Only half an hour ago I was sitting on my kitchen floor near Mimi, her dish of boiled chicken still untouched. She came up and sniffed it, licked her lips and moved away. I waited, too tired to move, knowing she would return. When she did I offered her a piece. She refused. But she didn’t walk away. She stood doing the shakes…when she does these minute shiver shakes throughout her whole body. She is not cold. There is no physical reason for them. They are for my benefit!
Yet it is true, Mimi’s had a tough few days, she is on some new meds for her heart and blood pressure and I know she feels different, but I also know she is a great actress. So I sit there trying not to giggle, speaking kind soothing words to her, adding “Jesi I hope you are watching this,” as Mimi’s little head gets closer and closer to her bowl and gradually she starts snuffling the chicken down until the bowl is empty.
I know Jesi is, and I know Jesi is laughing just as much as I am inside…but really…
Why shouldn’t Mimi get some TLC just like we all want when we are not feeling well? At the age of seventeen she deserves it!
When it is time for Mimi to go, it is these memories I want to cherish, and the fact that I am sending her to the most compassionate animal loving angel I know…
Straight from my arms into the folds of Jesi’s wings where She will care for Mimi once more.