Saturday, January 2, 2016

Scout (April 28, 2008 to December 29, 2015)

Scout passed away last Tuesday evening. The hopes we had that the pancreatic tumor could be surgically removed and that Scout would return to his old self were not met. The surgeon called us just fifteen minutes after beginning the procedure to tell us that the tumor was not on his pancreas but on a lymph node in the same area, that it had grown significantly since the ultrasound, and that it was located in an area where it would be impossible to remove it successfully. He said our options were to have Scout closed up and hope that he survived recovery to live out his final days as he was before the surgery, or to have him put to sleep on the operating table. In my imagined list of possible outcomes, this was the worst one possible.

Nan and I took a few brief, tearful minutes and decided that the most humane thing we could do was to request that Scout be put to sleep, as much as it pained us to lose him so suddenly. I couldn't believe that our wonderful seven-year-old dog could go from being healthy and happy to being gone from this earth in less than six weeks. That is the terrible unfairness of cancer.

To those who knew him, Scout was a special dog, so friendly and playful and goofy, more a big puppy than a mature dog. He was kind with adults, children, other dogs, even cats, but not with squirrels. We loved him and he loved us so much in return. He will live in our hearts forever.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Update on Scout

Scout and Nan at Harbour Town Marina last Saturday
The meeting with the veterinary oncologist instilled new hope for Scout's prognosis. Dr. Daters discussed the options with us and convinced us that surgery to remove the pancreatic tumor would be the most beneficial. He said it would immediately eliminate the symptoms associated with the high insulin and low blood sugar caused by the tumor, namely the partial lameness, lethargy, and occasional confusion. He cautioned that the cancer would return eventually but probably not for a year or two, which for a nearly eight-year-old dog is a considerable length of time added to his lifespan.

Instead of the Sandostatin medication we inquired about for lowering Scout's insulin levels, Dr. Daters recommended Diazoxide. Scout started on it last Tuesday and so far, there is no change in any of his symptoms. He is still taking Prednisone, and we have added the pain reliever Tramadol as a consequence of the groaning he emits when I lift and carry him.

Scout does not appear to be in pain but rather in a state of perpetual frustration. Inside the house, it is almost impossible for him to attain a standing position without assistance because his hind paws slip outward and put him into an awkward frog-like position. He will sometimes use his front paws to slide himself around on the tile and wooden floors, but he gets stuck and whines when he reaches a rug or can't turn around. We have been using a towel as a sling under his belly to lift him to a standing position and walk with him to prevent slips and falls. Outside, there is better friction and Scout can move around more freely, though his back legs are shaky and his back paws are turned in. He does not have the energy for a walk, even to the end of the block, but he enjoys the warmth and stimulation of lying out in the sun.

Surgery is scheduled for Tuesday. It will be less invasive than we first imagined, no more than the equivalent of a spaying procedure. I told Nan I am hoping for a small miracle. It would mean so much to us to have Scout return to his former self, if only for several months or a year. This may be a rationalization but I want to believe that Scout would want to be back to normal as much as we would want it for him.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Scout's health

Scout on Sunday morning, December 13, 2015
Scout has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. An ultrasound last Tuesday revealed the cause of his recent hypoglycemia and back-leg lameness: a ping pong ball-sized tumor in his pancreas. The tumor is causing Scout's pancreas to produce excessive insulin, which is driving down his blood sugar and causing the symptoms we at first suspected were related to his spine or hip joints.

His shaved belly from the procedure is the only visible sign in the photo I took this morning that anything is different with Scout. He still has the same wonderful personality he has always had, and his appetite is undiminished. We have been feeding him smaller meals more frequently to keep his blood sugar steady and augmenting his regular diet with high-protein foods like scrambled eggs and cooked chicken to give him longer lasting energy between meals.

Scout with Nan at Tybee Island on Saturday, December 12, 2015
We are still trying to accept that this cancer is terminal and that Scout will eventually die from it, just as Charlie died from terminal bone cancer almost eight years ago. As we did with Charlie, we are opting not to put Scout through surgery to remove the tumor. It would be invasive and traumatic, and it would merely slow down the cancer, not eradicate it, even with chemotherapy or other postoperative therapies. He might gain a few months but at the expense of a long recovery and a lower quality of life. We would be selfishly putting our desire to keep him in our lives for as long as possible ahead of his natural right to die with dignity in his own time.

Scout walking with John on Tybee Island - December 12, 2015
The best we can hope for at this time is to treat Scout's symptoms, particularly the lameness which has required me to carry eighty-pound Scout up and down the stairs and lift him in and out of the car. In addition to the feeding changes, we have him on Prednisone to help stabilize his blood sugar, and we want to look into an insulin-lowering drug called Sandostatin when we meet with a veterinary oncologist on Tuesday. Our thinking is that if we can lower Scout's insulin levels, which in turn would allow his blood sugar levels to return to normal, then he would be able to move around as before, resume the long walks he loves so much, and live out the time he has left as well as possible.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving in Savannah

Savannah Dan holding forth in front of The Olde Pink House
Nan, Scout and I have relocated to Savannah, Georgia. If you have read the few posts I have written since our sailing adventure to Isla Mujeres ultimately took us to Miami in October 2013, then you know that we were not especially happy in South Florida.

Over the summer, I was able to negotiate an arrangement with my work that allows me to be on-site in Miami just one week out of every month, working from home the rest of the time, so we packed up and moved to Savannah at the end of September. So far, it is working out well. The three of us have made two week-long trips back to Miami and stayed on our sailboat both times. The boat is still at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club and is a more affordable alternative to staying in hotels.

Living in Savannah has been wonderful. They have actual seasons here, and the last few days have been crisp, clear and warm, a regular Indian Summer. There is very little traffic and plenty of inexpensive parking, so we feel almost obligated to drive downtown and explore the city's renowned Historic District.

Savannah Dan leading his walking tour across Reynolds Square
On Thanksgiving morning, Nan and I did just that, taking in a guided walking tour with Savannah Dan (savannahdan.com), who was recommended in Savannah Magazine's annual "best of" issue. We met him at Johnson Square, along with eight other people, for a two-hour tour of six of the historic downtown squares and their surrounding areas. We strolled through the live oak and Spanish moss festooned squares and listened intently as dapper Dan regaled us with tales of Savannah's colorful past. He is a natural entertainer and had us all laughing at his outlandish stories. When the tour ended at Wright Square and Dan asked if we had any questions, I wanted to know if he did tours of the other squares, thinking we would eventually want to tour all twenty-two with him. Alas, the tour we had just concluded is his one and only, but he mentioned that he is available for private tours, something we will definitely want to consider for the future.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Wisdom on Parade

Back in the late 1980s, The Aspen Daily News ran a nationally syndicated weekly column titled "Wisdom on Parade" by Joe Bob Briggs. It presented a satirical look at social and political issues, and I couldn't wait to read it each week. Joe Bob was fearless in his skewering of all things stupid, and though he could sometimes take it a little too far or get a little too weird, his opinions were mostly right on the money.

I still think about Joe Bob once in a while, and I have been known to say out loud, after seeing a particularly stupid act: "Wisdom on parade!" I was reminded of this today while Nan, Scout and I were out for an afternoon sail on Biscayne Bay, something we try to do almost every weekend, weather permitting.

Getting out into the Bay requires us to motor through Dinner Key Channel, which should be a straightforward operation, but we have close calls and borderline ugly encounters with power boaters almost every time. Last weekend, we were heading out while a family in a power boat was heading in. I was at the helm, hugging the green markers that designate the starboard/right side of the channel, and doing about three knots. Despite having plenty of room and a much shallower draft, the oncoming power boat was aimed directly at us, like we were in some kind of an impromptu game of chicken. I held course, because to deviate farther to starboard would run us aground. As we closed on each other, the operator of the power boat must have finally realized that in order to avoid a head-on collision, he would need to steer to his right slightly, which he did. As the boat passed, the entire family gave us indignant looks, signifying that we had somehow disrespected them. I ignored them and continued on, chalking them up as yet another group of boaters who do not understand the rules of the road.

This type of behavior is rampant here. Instead of granting right of way and offering a little common courtesy, it's might makes right, as power boats go absolutely as fast as they can, every which way, while pretending not to see the sailboats they are barely missing. I think I read in the news that South Florida leads the nation in fatal boating accidents. No surprise there.

The scariest experience we have had so far was when one of the water sports concession operators pulling two people in a parasail rig passed us with the power boat on our starboard side and the parasailors on our port side, the thin rope connecting them just barely missing the top of our mast. We shuddered to think of the potentially fatal accident that would have resulted. I reported the incident to the Coast Guard.

This afternoon, it happened again. The parasail parachute you see in the photo passed directly over our boat. I can't figure if the guy driving the boat doesn't know what he's doing, or if he is trying to give the couple up in the rig an extra thrill. Either way, he's risking their lives. "Wisdom on parade."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Happy birthday, Scout!

Scout at seven years old
Look who just turned seven today! And he's still just as much of a puppy as he was when he was small enough to nap on my lap. Our years together as constant companions have passed quickly. Here's to many more, my good boy.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Morality and Practicality Revisited

Curbside trash pit in Coconut Grove (Note English/Spanish warning sign)
Back in April 2008, I posted a blog entry titled "Morality and Practicality" about how issues evolve over time from being matters of morality to being matters of practicality. I used the examples of divorce and abortion. Both have evolved in my lifetime from being considered immoral options to being considered undesirable but practical options.

In yesterday's New York Times, in the Sunday Review section, there was an article, "Is the Environment a Moral Cause?" by Robb Willer, that has me revisiting morality and practicality. The article presented this idea: "Where liberals view environmental issues as matters of right and wrong, conservatives generally do not." This had never occurred to me--not the part about conservatives--but the idea that for some, the environment is not a moral issue. As a liberal, I am normally on the practical side of potentially moral issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. But on environmental issues, I am always on the moral side, to the degree that I didn't even realize there was another side.

Take littering, for example. To me, it is unquestionably, unconscionably wrong. I would no more consider throwing a piece of trash out of my car window than I would consider doing something deliberately hurtful to someone. The guilt would kill me.

The idea that there is another viewpoint on the environment helps to explain what I see every day here in Miami, easily the dirtiest city I have ever lived in. The streets and sidewalks are littered with trash, even in the nicer residential neighborhoods, and nobody seems to care. My wife and I had chalked it up to a different sensibility, a lazy one in which it is acceptable to simply drop something, like a soda can when it is empty, rather than make the effort to find a trash receptacle. Now I see that it’s not laziness but rather an absence of guilt that makes littering an acceptable choice. And that just kills me.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Rocket Johnny

John Glenn has nothing to worry about!
The company I work for held its annual four-day meeting a few weeks ago. The theme was "One Team. One Mission." and featured screen graphics and t-shirts with NASA-related images. On the last day, along with eight other employees, I was given a Circle of Excellence award. As we were each called to the stage, images of us as astronauts were flashed on the auditorium's screen, mostly to appreciative laughs since the images were so well done.

At the closing party that evening, I asked the designer if I could have a copy of my astronaut image. He emailed it to me the next day. I emailed him back a thank-you and added: "My wife will get a kick out of it since I already told her I was volunteering for the one-way mission to Mars!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas 2014

Scout aboard Whispering Jesse in Biscayne Bay
Dear Family and Friends,

Greetings from Miami, where it doesn’t feel much like Christmas, even with all the strings of twinkling lights wrapped around the palm trees. Nan, Scout and I have been here for over a year now, long enough to experience all the seasons, and there isn’t much of a difference from one to the next. We’re enjoying the cooler, drier "winter" weather right now but dreading the heat and humidity just a few short months away. Maybe we need a trip to Colorado or Wisconsin to regain our perspective.

It has been a transitional year. Nan’s mother, Mary Claire Mullins, passed away at the end of May at the age of ninety-one. She lived a fully engaged life, dedicated to her family, her church and her many causes. It was her wish to live out her days in the home she and her husband Jim shared with their twelve children in Manitowoc, and she was able to do so with the love and support of her family.

John has continued as a software engineer for CareCloud, an up-and-coming healthcare information company located here in Miami, and Nan has volunteered her time and talent at Baptist Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables. Scout still gets plenty of attention, with morning and afternoon walks through shaded neighborhoods to the bayfront and the local dog park.

Our sailboat, Whispering Jesse, has been moored at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club since late May, after an uneventful six-day sail up from Isla Mujeres, Mexico with friends Mike, Kevin and Paul. Newly added improvements make the forty-foot boat more easily sailable by a small crew, and we have been taking advantage on weekends, exploring Biscayne Bay and trying to give Scout his sea legs. A few weeks ago, we boarded Scout and sailed to no-dogs Boca Chita State Park for an overnight, but all the tie-up spots were already taken, so we sailed farther south and anchored off Elliott Key. It was such an enjoyable experience that we’re going back on Christmas Day for a two-night stay, and taking Scout this time.

June 2 marked our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. We celebrated in September with a trip to Ireland for sightseeing in Dublin, followed by a week-long Wayfarers walking tour of the Ring of Kerry. With her Irish heritage, the Emerald Isle was a place Nan had always wanted to visit. Her sister Monica and Monica’s partner Vicky shared the adventure with us and chronicled it in photos. Many are in a slideshow on our blog at whisperingjesse.com.

We’re off to Isla Mujeres again in a few weeks to celebrate Nan’s milestone birthday. Not to say, but you can guess which one this is. It was her choice to return to Mexico, and she already has her big day entirely planned out, if we can squeeze it all in. It will be fun to visit in January after learning about Mexican summers during our three-month sojourn there last year.

These are interesting times, and it is easy to lose sight of what really matters. We wish you peace, prosperity, and the time to reflect during this holiday season.

Love,

John, Nan and Scout

Monday, November 24, 2014

Trip to Ireland

Our Wayfarers guide Alan, with Carrauntoohil, Ireland's highest peak, in the distance
Nan and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Ireland in September. Nan's sister Monica and her partner Vicky joined us for a few days in Dublin followed by a five-day Wayfarers "Ring of Kerry" walk in southwestern Ireland. We had a wonderful time, drank too much Guinness, and took too many photos. It has taken me almost two months to put the best ones together into a slideshow. Click the photo above of our Wayfarers guide Alan hiking along a country lane, with Ireland's highest peaks in the distance, to launch the slideshow.