On Friday, May 2, Ricky got really sick after dinner. I was on my way out to a screening at the film festival. He threw up so much it had me really concerned, plus he just seemed really out of it. I put him to bed and just hung out with him. He didn’t move all night long. The next day he got up and seemed tired but ok and things got back to normal.
The next Friday evening the same thing happened. But it wasn’t as nearly severe. I was keeping an eye on him. He seemed off the whole weekend, but I attributed it to the general slowing down from aging that I had seen in him. That Monday however he was very fussy with his food in the morning and at dinner would not eat anything. I tried to give him a treat and he even refused that, turning away from the food as if it was making him sick. So I knew I had to take him to the vet.
The next morning we stopped in at the Echo Park Vet Hospital. Dr. Barrera saw him and said Ricky seemed very dehydrated. He recommended leaving him so they could get some fluids into him by IV and they would also run some test. I could pick him up at the end of the day or wait until the results came in the next day. I decided to pick him up at the end of the day. When I did he seemed happy. We now had to wait for the results.
The next day I went and walked Ricky and Oscar at lunch, still waiting to hear from the Vet. As I headed back to the office, Dr. Barrera called and said the results weren’t good and I should bring Ricky back right away. I turned around, went home and got Ricky. The vet said he was in kidney failure and he also had pancreatitis. The protocol was to try and get as much fluids into him to flush out his kidneys and then they could work on the pancreatitis. He said Ricky would need to be in the hospital 3 nights.
When I went back to check on him that evening, the poor boy looked so sad. He hardly had any energy and just lay on the examination room table. I sat with him for over an hour and my poor boy barely moved.
Two days passed and each evening I went and checked on him. He seemed to be getting a little stronger each day. Joven went with me one night and Corrie another. Ricky was very happy to see them. With much anticipation I awaited Saturday morning, changing my schedule all around so I could be ready when they called to come and pick him up. My heart sank when Dr. Kim called and said he wasn’t ready to come home yet. They still didn’t like where his levels were. That evening when I went to visit, she said his levels had come down, but the one level was still not down enough. She told me that Monday they would do another test and he should be able to come home then. Monday came and they never called. Finally I called and they said that they hadn’t done the test and that they were closing the office early for Memorial Day. I was so pissed off!! Not only had they not bothered to tell me they weren’t doing the test but they were closing and I wouldn’t be able to see him that day. I guess they have their share of people who don’t bother visiting their pets when they’re in the hospital, but that obviously wasn’t me.
The next day Dr. Barrera called and told me I could come pick him up. When I got there he was very somber. He said that Ricky’s levels still weren’t in normal range. He felt that they probably would never get down all the way. There wasn’t much more they could do for him in the hospital and that going home might make him much more comfortable and happy. I couldn’t agree more. He said he would need to be on a strict low-protein diet and I would have to do subcutaneous fluid injections in the scruff of his neck every other day to get lactated ringers into his system to help flush the kidneys. I hated the thought of having to do the injections—not wanting to cause him pain, but also scare of my own fumbling lack of ability. But if that’s what it took, I would do anything. I also asked about seeing a specialist and he recommended going to VCA Animal Hospital in West LA.
For the next few days, Ricky seemed much better at home, but he wasn’t eating a lot and seemed very content to just hang out. He could still go up and down the stairs but it was a struggle. I’d pick him up and carry him but every time I did I was reminded how much weight he was losing. It felt like I was picking up a different dog.
My friend Rose came over and showed me how to do the subcutaneous fluid injections. Poor guy, it always took me two tries to get it right.
Our walks were slow, but he managed to do our regular morning route. He’d even get all excited and his hackles would rise up and he’d try to do his bark whenever he thought he saw something in the empty lots down the street. But sadly, much of the walk was him eating grass. This was a sign that his stomach was not happy and that was the reason he wasn’t eating.
That weekend I took him to VCA Animal Hospital where we met with a veterinary internist, Dr. Sean Yashimoto. The facility was beautiful and Dr. Sean was fantastic. During the exam he noticed that he was having a hard time finding Ricky’s kidneys. That was not a good sign. Ricky took it that the doctor was giving him a massage so he was in heaven. We decided to do an ultrasound just to see what was going on and another round of blood test. The results showed that his kidneys were indeed very small. The possibility was that they had shrunk over time due to old age or genetics. His levels for pancreatitis were also still very high.
Dr. Sean prescribed some more medication for Ricky’s stomach that would hopefully stimulate appetite. I thought maybe I should get him a marijuana prescription but decided against asking for that. Other than that he said we should continue the course and it just may be a matter of him adjusting to higher kidney levels but manageable ones. He also said that there was really no long term solution and that eventually he would probably be back in the hospital. I said it was worth a try and I would do whatever I could.
For the next week-and-a-half, Ricky didn’t really improve much. He was declining very slowly. He didn’t like the prescribed diet. I had taken to finding all different kinds of treats that were low protein. Some he ate and some he didn’t. But slowly he stopped eating each type until the only one left that he would eat was Cesar’s Softies treat. Thank god for those. Dr. Sean had sent some recipes for making food at home but he would basically just eat the chicken or salmon and leave everything else. The area around his bowl was like that of a little kid: crumbs and food droppings all over the place. Oscar was in heaven!!
Then one Thursday, I came home and he was in a really good mood. We had a great walk and when we got home he tore into his food like I hadn’t seen him do in weeks. I just kept giving him food because I figured he needed the nutrition. I just kept thinking if I could get him to eat he’d get some strength back. I was so excited. I posted on Facebook that I thought we had turned a corner.
The excitement was short-lived however. The next day he was as lethargic as before and slowly over the course of the weekend he stopped eating again. I tried everything; all the recipes. He’d take a little chicken by hand and of course the Softies. Then he on Tuesday night he ate a little chicken, then drank a lot of water. A few minutes later he threw up all the water. I knew we’d have to go back to the hospital. I had already made an appointment for that weekend. But in the morning I called and changed it to that morning. He seemed so sad that morning. He didn’t want to go for a walk. I had to carry him outside so at least he could relieve himself. My heart sunk. I was sure that I would have to make a very sad decision that day.
We got to the hospital and Dr. Sean saw him. They did some more blood tests. His levels had gone back up. He told me that we could try hospitalizing him again. They’d be able to put him on an IV and get more fluids into him that I could at home. This might bring the levels down if they could get the toxins out of his system. But it really was going to be a short term fix. He said if he had ten people in the same situation, half would choose hospitalization and half would not. I was prepared going in that this might be the day to let him have rest, but I thought at that moment that he deserved at least one more chance to try and fight this. So he was admitted at that time. Dr. Sean said that he would only keep him if his levels improved. But if they stopped improving his recommendation would be to stop treatment and send him home.
I went back that night with my friend Corrie. We were able to visit for a good hour. Dr. Sean visited and said they were able to get the levels down, but they were higher than the original test showed. But, again, as long as he was improving we would continue. I went back the next night and was able to sit with him for another hour. Dr. Sean said that the levels had improved again but that not as much as the day before. He might be leveling off soon, but this also meant that the levels would still be high.
The next day would begin the last leg of this journey.