“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Monday, April 16, 2012

Part II, Day 14: House Call

In one of those miraculous coincidences that make me love the place I call home, the veterinarian I drove four hours to take Zoe to last month grew up two towns over, and once a month he comes to our county and makes house calls.

For those of you who are new to this post, and others who find the whole chain of associations so convoluted that you would like to review, the line of connections went like this: former student e-mails from Vermont to tell me that her co-worker's dog has the same form of cancer that Zoe has.  I contact this man and his partner and they hook me up with their vets in Vermont and invite Zoe and me for a visit.  We head over in March, have a fabulous time, and Zoe now has new friends, more vets on the team, and more approaches to treating her disease.

Dr. Don Thompson graduated from the university where I teach, and his mentor who helped him get in vet school is my friend and colleague, Dr. David Hornung (Dave).

Dave is the founding member of the gentlemen's walk, although when I used to go on it, before my husband took over, it was a mixed gender club, which, by the way, did not make the jokes any less spicy.

Dave co-led a trip to China in 2005 with my friend, Anne, who blogs about gardens, and for some odd reason, they invited me to join them.  We visited hospitals where traditional Chinese medicine is practiced and learned about acupuncture in our travels.

Now the former mentor and student are seeing one another for the first time in over 30 years.

Meanwhile, two veterinarians named Dr. Thompson are meeting for the very first time.  It would be amazing if they were distant cousins, but to the best of their knowledge, they don't share DNA.

Dr. Amy Thompson diagnosed Zoe's cancer at the end of August in 2011.  I have invited her here to join us not only because she will provide crucial information to the other Dr. Thompson about where Zoe's tumor first presented, but so that she can benefit from his decades of experience.  Amy is studying acupuncture herself, on top of co-owning a thriving veterinary hospital.  Her fifteen-month-old daughter has only, within the last week, started sleeping through the night.  It's another miracle that she could steal an hour of time to come here today.

Dr. Thompson (Don) arrives at 9:20 AM.  When I ask him what kind of tea he would like, he enthusiastically asks for the caffeinated kind.  Yesterday he left Vermont at 4:30 AM to drive to the North Country where he drove around to farms and homes and saw patients for 14 hours.  Among them were the 30 horses of a local judge, whose stallions have quite some kick in them, and various barnyard animals and dogs and cats from around St. Lawrence County.  I happen to know that llamas are among his specialties, but I neglect to ask if he got to see any this weekend.

Dr. Thompson (Amy) arrives a few minutes later.  She has sent Don the original x-rays she took of Zoe's cancerous bone, and he now knows that the tumor first presented itself in the gallbladder meridian, which is a wood element, and that it needs to be "disciplined" by its "grandfather," two elements away, in metal, the lung and large intestine meridian.

This is an innovative treatment.  Don read a study in which a doctor in Norway claims he cured women of breast cancer with one needle.  He found the grandfather sites to where their tumors presented, and after his three one-needle treatments, the tumors disappeared.

I have an open mind, but I don't expect miracles.  I just want Zoe to live as long and as well as fate and medical intervention will allow.

Zoe with her stuffed beaver, near her person's notebook
Dr. Honung (Dave) arrives, and it's been so long since the two men have seen each other that I'm not sure they recognize each other.  But in a minute or two the thirty years collapse, and they are comparing notes about people they know in common and studies each thinks the other needs to read.  Dave has invited his former student to do a guest lecture in one of his classes this fall. 

It's very moving for me to sit back and watch these two things happening at once: the former teacher and former student reuniting on our kilim rug, the young vet who made the crucial diagnosis learning from and assisting the senior vet in treating my Zoe.

As for the dog in question, she grabs onto her squeaky toy and sighs, waiting for all the talk to subside so it can go back to being all about her.

Zoe's tongue is too purple: a sign of blood stagnation, which you might expect to see in a canine cancer patient.  But when Don "listens" with his fingers to her femoral artery, the pulse is steady and strong, not "slippery," which one often finds in a cancer patient.  His job today is to clear stagnation, bust up dampness, break the heat, and tonify her xi. 

Does Zoe know she's a lucky dog?  She now has three people tending to her at once.  Dave, whom she adores and walks with every morning, helps keep her calm and in place; Amy holds her upright and speaks soothingly to her; and Don puts in the needles.  Amy puts a needle into Zoe's front paw and checks to ensure all the needles are in position before she helps Zoe lie down again.  Zoe takes all this standing up and lying down and poking in stride.

Seven needles go in.  Stomach 36, TV 14, Intestine 11, Liver 13, these are among the places on the list today. 

We learn more about Zoe's yin deficiency, which makes her "air conditioning" system a little wonky (i.e., she pants a lot and is always looking for a cool place to sleep and hang out) and we learn that when a seasoned vet feels on the yin side of a patient's body, his or her own pulse will become fainter if the patient lacks yin.

Dr. Thompson (Don) thinks she looks good.  Dr. Thompson (Amy) remembers how even when Zoe was in terrible pain when she first met her last summer, how strong she seemed, and is still.  "I'm not even treating the will to live point," Don tells us.  "She doesn't need it."  Then he explains to Amy where that point is.

I feel at once honored and overwhelmed: I am writing things down, but I won't remember half of what I see.  Multiple conversations are going on at once.  Amy is studying at the acupuncture school for vets in Florida where Don does guest lectures once or twice a year and their talk gets fairly technical.  She'll be adding acupuncture to her practice when she's done, in August, and Don encourages her to add herbs, the Chinese herbal medicines that Zoe is taking, which we buy more of while he's here.

Don not only makes monthly house calls in his home community, but he brings dog food and medicines.

The visit was meant to take thirty minutes, but Don stays over an hour.  Reuniting with a former mentor and teaching new techniques to a young colleague can't be rushed, and even still, he doesn't get to finish his tea.

But there are more dogs and cats and horses and cows to see, and many more hours to go before this traveling vet begins his four-hour journey home.

And in this hour, three decades have collapsed, we've traveled by story to Vermont and Florida and China, and Zoe has been tended to by the vet who saved her life--she would probably have not lived to Christmas, were it not for Amy's diagnosis--and the vet who has added to our line of defense and who thinks Zoe's going to be with us longer than we first believed.

"I'll see you in a month," I tell him, as he leaves, and it feels good to think of time in this way.  Since August of 2011 I have lived with Zoe day by day, everyday.  I have loved every minute I have shared with my sweet dog, but now and then, it's nice to believe I can leapfrog forward in time, just a little. 

Dr. Hornung, Dr. Don Thompson, and Dr. Amy Thompson (clockwise)

Dave and Amy support Zoe while Don goes in

Here's the next spot

feeling for the point on Zoe's leg
just chillin' with the tiger, while the needles are in

This vet who makes house calls needed an indestructible laptop, and now he has one

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