Elaine Katz

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Comfy, my Dog

[Ed note: this was originally posted to an online support group.]

Hi y'all,

I need you right now. Some of you will laugh, and I can't blame you, but . . . in my part of the country, members of the Protestant faith, especially (and I admire this, though I am not one of them) have something they call a "prayer list" for people who are ill or have seemingly insurmountable problems.

I don't think there is ever one for dogs. But if you're the praying kind, I need that kind of psychic energy right now for both Comfy and me.

Here I was just the other day telling everyone how I've never yet had to be on anti-depressants. I'm not ready for the medical crutch yet, but I am very, very sad and frightened at the moment.

Comfy was an abandoned puppy. After a terrible two months (right before sudden onset), which included my father's death by malpractice (even if he was already quite old; it wasn't time yet for him to go) - a two month affair during which my mother, usually a strong, independent type, leaned on me, their only child, for . . . everything, and I mean everything, at the end of two months of hell, two months away from home, in the middle of a cold, miserable winter, even for Alabama, in 1989, three days after my father's funeral closer to my home than my Mom's, I drove myself home for the first time. I had stayed behind to help my mother decompress, because after the funeral everyone else left.

I had been so busy handling everything, including planning the content of the funeral with the Rabbi, that I hadn't had an opportunity to grieve. I knew this wasn't healthy. (I had so much grief and anger about the cause of my father's death that I believe this is what triggered my flu-like CFIDS onset two weeks later.) So, it's three days past the funeral. I didn't leave for home until the late afternoon (and it gets dark early in winter) because my mother was clinging to me and coming up with excuses to keep me around longer. About three or four exits off the interstate before my own, I turned down a country road on a sudden whim. I would stop by the cemetery, and perhaps I could have my first cry, at least some quiet time for meditation.

I pulled up. It was dusk, freezing cold, raining. The flowers were still heaped on the fresh grave. I was wearing crush boots, a trench coat, and was holding an umbrella. I got out of my car, walked the few feet to the site, took a deep breath, and felt sobs coming on. But I never got the chance.

I heard a mewling kind of sound at my feet, and in one fell swoop, I scooped up with my free hand a palmful of puppy, noticing that the nose and tail resembled a German Shepherd, and having *a mystical conviction - all in that split second - that my father sent this dog to comfort me.* He and I had always adored big dogs, but no one would ever let us have one. I immediately named this tiny critter "Comfort."

And then I came to my rational senses and thought, "Surely this darling puppy belongs to some child in the neighborhood. I can't just walk off with this dog. What will my husband think!" And many more practical thoughts. Even in that terrible weather in the the semi-darkness there are walkers in cemeteries. I stopped several and asked about this puppy. No one knew anything. Yards and yards away were the gravediggers preparing another site for what I assumed would be tomorrow's funeral. I walked all the way over to where they were, the puppy nestling under the flap of my trench coat, both of us protected by my umbrella.

"That's a dumped dog," they told me. "You take that dog home; it's been here for several days trying to follow every walker on the grounds." So I took Comfy straight into town, stopping at my vet's (from way back, when we used to have dogs that lived to be 18, and then no more pets because we weren't home enough). The rest is history.

I could go on and on about the difficult puppy stages, where Comfy even destroyed a bedstead with her chewing; how I took her to puppy obedience class and couldn't handle her sinewy strength (not realizing why. I got that sudden flu-like onset a couple of days before Christmas, but didn't know that for at least a year and a half of the usual "pushing" that new post-onset PWC's tend to do); how her fear of abandonment resulted in an unnatural bonding between the two of us, especially after my second onset Oct. 25, 1990, when a fractured leg requiring surgery turned out to be the accident that would debilitate me permanently, eventually resulting in a DX and LTD.

During those four months, flat on my back with what I didn't yet know was CFIDS, Comfy left my side only to go to the bathroom, being let out by my husband, and get quick no-frills meals from him in the kitchen. Other than that, no one exercised her the way I had been doing. She didn't complain. I was alone most of the day, except for lunch, when my husband came home with take-out food for me and to let her out briefly. I was not allowed to put any weight on my left leg for four months. I had seefids. Just getting to the bathroom was like climbing Mt. Everest. Trying to keep clean and my hair washed, when I couldn't get over the hump in our walk-in shower and had to do it all standing on one leg, bent over a sink, using a large plastic cup to rinse the soap out . . . . and not knowing WHY was utter hell. And only that mutual love between that critter and me kept me from losing my mind.

It's been seven and a half years of CFIDS for me thus far, and Comfy is seven years and seven and a half months old. The bond between us has grown to an unbelievable intensity. She, who twice jumped through glass windows to try to find me (before I understood her fear of abandonment, especially after those four bedridden months of bonding), and I became inseparable. I couldn't leave her. I no longer went to work. So we have been together and have gone everywhere together, no exceptions, since Oct. 1990.

Over time, she has just gotten better and better. Smarter and smarter. She understands the most casual commands and lives to please me. She's never been punished or yelled at. And still she tries to mind. She knows every nuance of body language and can tell when I'm hurting even if I don't make a sound. I just look down, and there she is, ready to let me cling to her until the pain spasms pass, until the panic attack stops, or the asthma, etc. And I understand every nuance of her body language. She doesn't even have to bark anymore to tell me she wants to go out. But when I ask her to bark to chase away stray cats from my "bird sanctuary" she complies even from behind a closed door where she can't see what's going on.

Her size alone makes me feel safe anywhere under any circumstances. She keeps me from that abject loneliness that all PWC's may experience. She gives me a reason to get up in the morning. I'm the one who fixes her supper every night, even if I'm too tired to make my own. I'm the only one who takes her out for exercise in a public park, where she has service dog status and written permission to be off leash running like a greyhound while I drive the pace car. Those excursions make her ecstatic, and thus, give me the greatest joy.

And she "talks" to me, the way y'all's cats talk to you. She has all kinds of sounds for "greeting," and "response to chit chat," etc. Every Alabama summer, during "dog days" she gets dermatitis. I'm allergic to every animal except Comfy--cats, long haired dogs, you name it. But in the summer, she becomes allergic to grass, molds, mites, whatever is out there. And so, we annually have to go to our vet and get her on benedryl and prednisone.

We went to the vet's on Friday so she could be treated for dermatitis. While there, I showed the doctor a spot on the back of her muscular neck that looked asymmetric. I said, "I hope this is just a large muscle, but tell me whether it is." He said, "It's not a muscle." He checked it out by inserting a needle (which didn't hurt Comfy at all) in several places. He said that it was a solid mass, not a cyst. Then he showed me where she has another one at her throat, where all that soft loose flesh is that I'm always getting to grab when I'm in pain.

He checked her lymph nodes. The only good news so far is that these are fine. I asked him whether there was any point in doing a biopsy. "If this were your beloved dog," I asked, "would you do one?" He said he would. We talked scenarios. At best, it could be fatty tumors that don't mean anything. I myself have one of those on my knee. It's ugly as sin, but quite harmless. But I don't have a good feeling about Comfy's; I wish I did. It's irrational, but I feel as though I am now being punished for every bad thing or thought I've ever done or had.

I asked about the worst case scenario. He said that one could send her off to a veterinary college (pretty far from here) and have her treated just like a human. I said, I wouldn't want to put her through chemo-therapy or other torturesome treatments. The biopsy will be early next week. Monday, unless the vet wants me to wait until she's through with her prednisone pills. He also said the prednisone would help her for the tumors--whatever that means.

It's been about 40 hours. I can't even sleep. I cry intermittently and cling to poor Comfy, who thinks I'm hurting and comes to comfort me in turn, who doesn't know why she's getting even more attention than usual or why I actually took the supper steak that George treated me to tonight, and cut it into tiny little pieces and fed it to her by hand, one piece at a time.

If you are the praying type, please pray for her. I believe in that kind of energy. I know large dogs don't usually live as long as small ones, but our beagle (small) and shepherd (large) that we had when first married, both lived to be eighteen. Comfy should be around for at least eight more years. I can't bear the thought of possibly losing her too soon. And nobody really understands except another animal lover who has CFIDS. My mom, usually very understanding of my symptoms, actually said to me, as if I don't know this: "There are worse things." Drew lots of comfort from that. George, who made an aggrieved face when I told him, hasn't said another word. He's the Gary Cooper type. Draw lots of comfort from that, too------NOT.

It's 5:30 a.m. here right now. It's been a long night. Since Friday afternoon I've thought about writing to y'all but couldn't bring myself to even turn on the computer. I've never been sad and scared in quite this way before. It's because I feel totally helpless and powerless. When someone I love is seriously ill or in danger, there's usually a lot I can do to give assistance and support, in other words, take enough action to keep too busy to sit around and grieve. I'm not usually a worrier either. I was one of those parents who trusted my kids enough to call if they got into difficulties, and so when they were out on dates, I went to sleep -never once waited up for someone who wasn't in any trouble yet.

But for the last two days I've been a basket case. I WANT MY BRILLIANT, MENSA QUALITY, ADORABLE DOG TO BE OKAY. I need you guys. I can't get through this alone. You're the only ones who are going to take this seriously and care enough to "help me make it through the night." I'm talking buddy system here. This is an S.O.S. Thanks, friends.


Sometimes prayers are answered directly. Thank you, my friends. It was nothing more than fatty tumors. Not a day goes by now that I don't appreciate my moments with Comfy all the more. Not a day goes by that I don't remember how you all helped me through this. Support can, indeed, be beautiful.

© Elaine Katz, 1997

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