April 2008


Teva is dying. Early Saturday morning, we awoke to scrambling and flailing sounds. Teva was lying on her side, panting heavily, in a puddle of her own urine with a panic in her eyes. The first thing I thought was that she fell off the bed and hurt her legs or back, but after massaging her back, legs, and hips her to see if she would yelp at certain locations with no response, I suspected a stoke. We threw on our clothes and raced to the emergency vet at 1 AM. I’d like to say that this was the first time we’d ever been there, but with 3 cats and 4 dogs over the last 9 years, we know the place well. We even know the new owners who just took it over 3 weeks ago — Dr. Schwartz performed Avery’s back surgery 2 weeks ago and we were down at their Albuquerque location just 16 hours before for a post-op follow-up with him. No, the place is not unfamiliar, but this is the first midnight run we’ve ever made.

The doctor suspected a seizure. She ran tests. “She’s really 13?” she questions. “Well she’s in great condition for a 13 year old dog!” Thank you. For some reason, our aging animals always get praised on their remarkable health, shiny teeth and coats, and stellar blood panels. I take it as a compliment to our zealous care of them. “Her x-rays show a slight enlargement of the right side of her heart. It could be nothing – just old-dogitis.” Brent remembers one of the dogs showing a slightly enlarged heart in a previous x-ray, but couldn’t remember if it was Teva or Edith. Either way, the doctor wants to keep her for at least the next 12 hours for observation – she may have another seizure, she may not. Best to have her hooked up to monitors if she does, though, just in case. “Go home and get some sleep. I’ll call you if anything changes.”

4:45 AM, the phone rings. Doctor says she had an “episode” – not a seizure, exactly, but what looked more like a fainting spell. This indicates heart trouble. She recommends an echocardiogram right away, but there is not an “echo” machine in Santa Fe. Better go to ABQ emergency vet (the other one) who has an internal medicine specialist on duty over the weekends. We pick her up at 7:30 AM (the specialist in ABQ doesn’t get in until 8-8:30 AM anyway), and we load her in the car with tubes in her nose, a catheter in her arm, and a cone around her neck. She barely recognizes us.

When we arrive, everyone is expecting us. They grab her, rush her in the back, and put her in an oxygen tank while we fill out paperwork and wait for the doctor. He sees seizures all the time, he says. They come in all shapes and sizes, so it is likely not her heart. Good news is that seizures are often infrequent, controllable, and non-debilitative. He’ll do an ultrasound on her, but this is likely not a heart incident. He pats me on the shoulder. “Remember – the glass is half full.”

It will be a few hours until they can get to her (other patients), so we drive home and wait for the call. At 4 PM he calls, with very bad news. Yes, the enlargement in her heart caught on x-ray is a tumor about the size of a 1cm marble. He also found a 1 inch tumor in her spleen. Spleen tumors are a sure sign of cancer in the liver. And cancer in the liver means it has metastisized through her whole body. It gets worse. Heart and spleen tumors present in fainting and weakness, not seizures. Those are from brain tumors. So, she also likely has a brain tumor that caused the seizure. We don’t know for sure without an MRI (the closest ones are in Denver and Phoenix), but even without the brain tumor, we’re still dealing with heart, spleen, and liver tumors. He said she has 3-5 months. Our primary vet today said that is very optimistic. She has seen animals with these issues pass in 1-3 months.

So, there we have it. We are left with a dog with great teeth, a shining coat, and fantasic blood work, but is riddled with cancer. I am so pissed off, I can’t even find the words. I read these cancer sites that say “if you catch it early, there are treatments.” But how do we “catch it early” if this stuff doesn’t show in blood tests or x-rays? Do we now have to schedule all of our animals for routine, annual CT scans and MRIs just to make sure that if they get cancerous tumors we can catch it in time to do something about it?

We have an appointment with the veterinary oncologist on Thursday, but that is really for our own information and peace of mind, understanding the process and giving her the best possible care and life until the inevitable. We are in the process of preparing ourselves for the worst — the day we have to say goodbye to a treasured member of our family and, quite frankly, the coolest dog I have ever met. This one is special, and it is especially hard to cope with. Rotten fucking luck…

I just found this article, Why Cars Don’t Get 50mpg, and I love it because it finally answered a lot of questions I have had for a long time about vehicles and gas mileage.

When I moved from California in ’99, I was moving from a very progressive, college town (Davis) with lots of bike paths, good public transportation, and easily rollerblade-able streets and sidewalks. Very few people had trucks (no need), and most drove small cars. Even in Salinas, the only ones who really had large trucks were farmers and ranchers. My brother had a Chevy S10, and my dad had a small Toyota pickup for a while before he started upgrading to Silverados.

So when I moved to New Mexico, I was shocked at the size of everyone’s vehicles. Next to Texas and Wyoming, I’m sure New Mexico could be dubbed “The Land of Big-Ass Trucks and SUVs.” There are a lot of unpaved back roads that a good portion of people live on, and it does snow in the winter, so I kind of understand it. But still. Not so many people “need” these vehicles as much as they “want” the vehicles as status symbols. Brent’s Saab 93 and my 1998 Chevy Prizm were out of place.

Brent has since moved on to a 2004 Toyota Tacoma 4WD (the smaller body style) which gets about 23 mpg on a good day. I still have my Prizm, and I reliably get 36 mpg. Our daily commute takes us 44 miles each way, with an up-down-up elevation change from 7200 ft to 5800 ft to 7300 ft. It is literally uphill both ways. Also, the lack of oxygen at this elevation slows my car down (it runs like a dream on AZ highways) and makes me use more gas. In the summer, we take my car to work, and in the winter (mostly when it snows) we take the truck. So we often think about what I would get to replace my car when it starts to show its age.

My problem with the cars on the market right now is that the gas mileage all sucks. Why would I trade my paid-off, 36 mpg commuter for, say, a Toyota Prius that only gets 48 mpg City (lower on Highway because the electric motor doesn’t kick in once it’s over a certain rpm)? Plus, I’m a total chicken when it comes to driving in snow (and around here, all the cars “grow” when it snows, so crappy roads + ginormous trucks all around me = Me stressed out), so I would prefer to replace it with a 4WD/AWD. Something like a Toyota Matrix AWD would be perfect for me — but not at 26mpg. Nothing is quite good enough to convince me to sell my car and take on a car payment again.

Then the argument starts.

Me: Why can’t car makers just build a car that gets 50mpg, is safe, is AWD, and has enough room for a 5-gallon tree?

The Engineer: Because the car would be too heavy.

Me: You engineers are lazy and overpaid. Just figure it out!

The Engineer: The laws of physics only allow for certain things, so the heavier the car, the more power it needs, the more energy it needs to make the power, etc. And safety features and AWD are heavy components. At some point you start hitting diminishing returns.

Me: That’s total crap. They send people up into space, but they can’t figure out how to make a commuter vehicle with everything I want with low mpg and a reasonable price tag.

The Engineer: Yeah. And one space shuttle mission costs over a billion dollars.

…. And so on. So, I refuse to buy a new car until (A) I get everything I want, or (B) my car gets totalled and I’m forced to buy another (probably a Prius). In the meantime, I have decided to spend the cash to get the engine rebuilt if it comes to that, instead of buying a new car that will not ever be quite what I want.

Update, 10 minutes later:

I found this article on “the car of the future.” The cosmos and I must be temporarily in sync. Thought I’d pass it along, too.