The following story is an excerpt for a web page of the website we created as a memorial for our little boy. His name was Blaze. You can read the whole story and see pictures and videos of Blaze at www.blazetribute.com

I guess you can consider this web page a continuation of the web page entitled “The Story of Blaze”. And for me, it is the hardest story I will ever have to put into written words. It is the story of the last 17 days of Blaze’s life. My family and I just finished living this period in time a little over a week ago, (as of this writing) and it was one of the hardest events my wife and I have had to face in our fifteen years of marriage. Every day was an emotional roller coaster. Every day was filled with hope and fear. Every day brought new questions and decisions that needed to be made. And every day brought new financial challenges. So as you can imagine, reliving this period of time all over again by writing this web page was not easy, but for us, it needed to be done. We felt compelled to tell anyone who is interested in the story of the effort to bring Blaze home and how the emotions generated by this valiant effort overflowed to the doctors and technicians caring for him. Therefore, let me take a deep breath and with a heavy heart I bring to you, “the last 17 days”.

Day 1 (The day of surgery):
Assuming you have read “The Story of Blaze” you know by now that Blaze was definitively diagnosed with a Portosystemic Shunt (aka: a Liver Shunt). After talking to the doctors, and doing some of our own research we learned that the survival rate of the surgical procedure using an ameroid constrictor for dogs in Blaze’s known physical condition was listed at about 95%. We thought that’s pretty good odds, considering if we did nothing, his chances of survival were almost zero. You simply cannot have blood coming for the digestive organs and being returned to other organs such as the heart, lungs, and brain without being filtered of toxins by the liver. Blaze was put on the medication, Lactulose, about 10 days before surgery. While on this medication, all his server symptoms seemed to dissipate. We were cautioned by the vets that the apparent improvement of Blaze’s condition by the Lactulose was not a cure. This was backed up by the research we did on our own. We were just trying to get him in the best physical condition we could before the surgery.

Now, I must admit that during the pre-surgical meeting my wife and I had with the surgeon, for a moment I was tempted to reconsider the procedure. Surgeries and their inherent risk scare the hell out of me. I thought to myself, “Why don’t we just wait and see how he does continuing on the Lactulose?” But then I thought that if I procrastinated on this and something bad happened, I would never forgive myself. The thought of finances also came into play here. I was concerned that subconsciously I might have wanted to hold off on the surgery due to the cost. A $20.00 bottle of Lactulose (about a month’s supply) sounded much better than a $3,500.00 – $4,000.00 surgical procedure. Ultimately, I never expressed these apprehensive concerns with my wife (or anyone else for that matter). I came to the conclusion that the surgery was low risk and was Blaze’s best chance of living a longer, healthier life. Therefore, the decision to have the surgery was made. It’s a go! Little did I know that a few minutes later my wife would have her own moment of apprehension. It was the moment they carried him into the operating room. They brought him out into the hallway for us to see him. She told me that the look she saw in his eyes was that of not understanding why we were doing this. Now many people may chalk this up to pet owner guilt, but I have come to learn not to underestimate my wife’s ability to communicate and understand feelings without the spoken word. She is the most empathic person I know.

We both sat nervously in the waiting room during the surgery. It took longer than expected, but when it was done everything seemed to go fine. They let us into the recovery room to visit him. He was still under the effects of the anesthesia, but we were relieved that all went well and we were thrilled to see him. After our visit in the recovery room, my wife and I went home and returned that evening during visiting hours. He was still very sleepy but all seemed to be going well and we enjoyed our visit. We left the hospital that evening looking forward to taking our little boy home soon.

Day 2 (The last good day):
Day two was really uneventful. My wife went to the hospital during visiting hours and really enjoyed her visit. By this time Blaze was recovering for the effects from the anesthesia and was definitely aware of her presence. He saw her and wagged his tail. She picked him up and held him in her arms for over two hours. I unfortunately was not there this time. I was taking a class for a new field of business that I wanted to pursue. All seemed to be going as planned, and we were planning on taking Blaze home the next day; and I knew my wife would be there, so I didn’t give it a second thought. As it turns out, I regret the decision to go to class that evening because unbeknownst to any of us, tomorrow Blaze will suffer a setback he would never recover from.

Day 3: (The first bad day):
Day three was planned to be a busy day for me. My job had me scheduled for a service call that would take all day. After leaving my office, I stopped at Home Depot for some supplies. It was then that my cell phone rang; it was my wife. I could hear in her voice that she was crying and immediately I went into “alarm mode”. “What’s wrong?”, I asked. She told me that Blaze’s doctor just called and informed her that Blaze had a seizure. I immediately diverted my route to meet my wife at her office. Once there, she explained that the doctor had stopped the seizure by administering anti-seizure medication. When we arrived at the hospital later that day, we learned the name of the medications used was the anti-seizure medication Keppra, and to reduce brain activity, the anesthetic, Propofol.

After seeing him on this visit, he did not look too much different from the last time I saw him (remember, I did not see him the day before). I also knew that seizures were a known possible complication after this surgery and the doctors seemed to get right on the problem. I was hopeful that this was a minor setback and the worst case scenario was a few more unexpected days in the hospital. However, this was not to be the case.

Day 4:
Day four brought some concern to us. One of Blaze’s doctors made the decision to try to ever-so-slightly reduce the dosage of Propofol to see how well he would do. The doctors observed small movements in his legs and / or paws that they determined were signs of another seizure. They immediately increased the Propofol back to the original dosage and stopped the seizure.

Day 5:
Day five was relatively uneventful. It was a Saturday and we were at the hospital most of the day to visit Blaze every chance we could get into the ICU to see him.

Day 6 (The wakeup call):
Every morning since Blaze was in the hospital, my wife would wake up and call there between 5:30AM and 6:00AM for an update on his condition. This morning’s update was different from all others. The doctor attending to Blaze told her that he was having problems breathing and that they put him in an oxygen cubical. We got out of bed, and fifteen minutes later we were on the road back to the hospital.

When we arrived, I was very alarmed at what I saw and the report we received. They explained that he was having trouble breathing. Seeing him in the oxygen cubical, I noticed that his breathing was very labored. My wife’s self defense mechanism kicked in. I noticed that though she was very concerned; see did not seem to “hear” what the doctor was telling her. She didn’t seem to understand how serious the situation was at this moment and I didn’t know how much to push the topic. Later that day we received a call from the hospital informing us that they had to insert a breathing tube into Blaze to protect his airway and if necessary, help him breath by assisted means.

When we returned for or next visit that day, we were introduced to Dr. Patterson. She is the critical care doctor at the Animal Special Center of Yonkers, NY (the hospital where Blaze was). Dr. Patterson had two unpleasant tasks to undertake with us that day. One was to explain to us that Blaze was in very critical condition, he had pneumonia and his life was in imminent danger. Two was to explain that from this point on, because of Blaze’s extremely fragile condition, he was going to need a dedicated technician around the clock to monitor his vital sign and intervene if necessary to help him breath, and that additional test were going to be needed to monitor his condition (such as x-rays). This of course was not planned in the expense of the original procedure and we did not have pet medical insurance. We only discussed the expenses for the next two days and they were staggering but we had hoped that this level of care was only going to last two days. It didn’t matter. Both my wife and I were far from giving up at this point and we were on the same page. We will take on the addition expenses and proceed with whatever treatment and care Blaze needed to get better and come home.

At this time I would like to pause the story to make one quick personal note. Out of all the doctors and technician that treated Blaze at the Animal Specialty Center of Yonkers, New York I chose to mention one by name. The reason for this is that this is a rather long web page and I do not pride myself as being a writer. I did not want distract the reader by jumping back and forth between names. However, my wife and I feel that Dr. Patterson’s expertise, professionalism, and compassion for her patients and their owners far exceeds that of your typical veterinarian. In fact, it was this compassion that helped my family and me through the last two days of Blaze’s life. Yes, Dr. Patterson is far more than a vet in our eyes, and my family owes her a debt of gratitude. To read more about the very special staff at the Animal Specialty Center in Yonkers, NY, please visit the web page entitled, “Special Thanks to The Animal Specialty Center of Yonkers, New York” by clicking here.

Day 7 to Day 13:
I am not going to bore you with the details of the next seven days other than to say it was a roller coaster of emotions. Generally speaking, Blaze’s physical condition seemed to improve ever-so-slightly with each passing day, but I do mean slightly. There was just one thing that concerned me that I was not mentioning to my wife because I did want to minimize the hope she felt with each apparent improvement. Blaze was not waking up. At one point within these seven days the doctors started very gradually reducing the anesthetic they were giving Blaze and I didn’t notice a significant change in his level of awareness. Ever-so-often, he would have eye movements and sometimes he would even move slightly, but nothing that in my mind I would consider significant.

Day thirteen was a Sunday. It started like any other day, my wife called the hospital at about her normal time and they gave us an update that was very similar to the morning update we received in the past few days. Later that morning, we hopped in the car for our morning ride to the hospital. When we arrived Dr. Patterson met us in the waiting room. (Did you ever get the feeling that something wasn’t quite right?) Well, she explained to us that Blaze was having some activity since we spoke to them last, but they were not sure if it was another seizure or if he was beginning to wake up. She said that she was interested to see if he would respond to our voices, so she immediately brought us into the ICU. As we entered the ICU, I was stunned at what I saw. It looked like every doctor and technician was intently watching Blaze and his vital sign monitor. It was then that I realized that Blaze was no longer just another patient at this hospital. It seemed like the whole staff became his cheering squad; but, I didn’t know whether to be enthusiastic or petrified by this sight. As we rounded the corner to Blaze’s ICU cage, my wife went directly to him (I always let her go first) and I looked at the monitor displaying his vital signs. Again, I was stunned at what I saw. His heart rate was up at 200 beats per minute. In the past we were told that they would like to see a rate between 90 and 150 beats per minute for a dog his size. During his stay, I had never seen it this high. When my wife finally looked at the monitor, she looked up at me and without saying a word I knew what she was thinking. Dr Patterson informed us that one tale-tale sign of a seizure could be an increase in body temperature. I happen to know that a dog’s normal temperature can vary around 100.5 to 102.5. Blaze’s temperature was solid at about 101.0 for the past few days, but now it was at 101.9, still within normal range, but it caught my attention. We remained in the ICU talking to Blaze and trying to get a response from him. Then, after about 20 minutes, Dr. Patterson asked us to leave because she wanted to work on Blaze. As we left for the waiting room, I looked at the vital sign monitor; his temperature went up to 205.5 in 20 minutes. We were not in the waiting room long before Dr. Patterson came out and verified our worst fears; Blaze had another seizure. Our hearts sank.

Day 14:
Day fourteen was fairly uneventful. There were some events and discussions with the doctors on how to proceed with Blaze’s treatment but in the interest of trying to keep the story on this web page shorter than “Gone With The Wind” there is no need to elaborate on them as they were not that significant.

Day 15: (Another ray of hope)
Day fifteen was a Tuesday. At first it seemed like it would be a normal day. I was at work in my office and my wife was at the hospital visiting Blaze on her lunch hour, like she had done every day. That is when I received a phone call from her. She told me that she was in front of Blaze’s cage in the ICU and he was “looking at her.” I almost dropped the phone. I was elated! I wanted to leave the office immediately and see for myself (but I couldn’t). All day I waited with anticipation to see him. When we finally got off work we went straight over to the hospital together. When they let us into the ICU, I must admit I was disappointed. Blaze didn’t seem to improve nearly as much as I had pictured in my head, judging by my wife’s phone call earlier in the day. Later that evening, she did tell me that he seemed a little more alert when she was there earlier in the day. Again, not do dampen her hopes, I didn’t mention my disappointment.

Day 16 (The beginning of the end):
Day sixteen, like every other day started the same way, my wife’s early morning phone call for her morning status report; there was nothing new to report on his condition as compared to the night before, and off to work we went. I was in Manhattan on a service call that day and I also had my class to go to that evening. Since everything seemed “status quo” with Blaze, I planned on attending the class that night. Then, my cell phone rang. It was my wife calling after her daily lunch time visit with Blaze. Again she was crying, and I tried to psychologically prepare myself for what was coming next. She said that Dr. Patterson had a talk to her during the visit. She expressed concerned with Blaze’s lack of progress and with how this whole ordeal was effecting our family both emotionally and financially. She recommended an MRI of the brain be done on Blaze in an effort to perhaps get a better prognosis on his condition. Now, MRI’s are expensive tests. I cannot discuss the details of the financial arrangements that the Animal Specialty Center of Yonkers proposed that day for the test, but let’s just say they made it possible to have the test done and give us the information we needed to proceed with Blaze and our lives, and for that I will be eternally grateful to them.

The MRI was scheduled later that day and my wife was going to discuss the results with Dr. Patterson when she returned to the hospital after work. There was no way I was going to let my wife go through this alone, so I skipped class that evening and headed home to be with her.

Driving to the hospital that evening, we were trying to prepare ourselves for whatever the news may be. Basically, if the results were good, then we continued down the road we were on. If, however, the results were bad, then it would be time for us to consider ending this long battle. We both entered the hospital with our hearts in our throat. Though a promising MRI result meant our lives would remain on hold, more emotional anguish, and more financial hardships, this was the outcome we were praying for; we were ready and willing to accept all of it.

Dr. Patterson led us to an examining room to discuss the results of the test. Looking at the pictures, I saw a couple of small highlighted areas on Blaze’s brain. As it turns out, size is not the only issue here; location could be just as, if not more important than size. As Dr. Patterson was talking, I almost got the impression that the MRI results were inconclusive, and that we were right back where we started. But as she continued it became evident that she was telling us that Blaze’s new prognosis was not good.

After our consultation with Dr. Patterson, my wife and I went into the ICU to visit Blaze. My wife and I could not believe what we both saw. Blaze’s physical condition appeared much worse than it did even a few hours ago. It was like he was trying to tell us something. I have considered the possibility that this was in our heads; that his appearance had been like this for days and our hope would not let us see it. But no, my wife and I are convinced that there was a definite change in his appearance.

My wife formed a special bond with Dr. Patterson during our whole ordeal and we both believe that Dr. Patterson was trying to convey a message to her (or both of us) in the consultation that night. We also believe that Dr. Patterson might have been concerned that my wife didn’t quite get the message that she was trying to tell her without actually saying the words. During our visit with Blaze, Dr. Joseph one of the co-founding doctor of the hospital came out to talk to us. He spoke a little about Blaze’s condition and other cases he has handled in the past, and then he spoke about the role of a veterinarian when it comes time to let a pet go. I must say the conversation was light; maybe because he wasn’t talking specifically about Blaze at the time; but when he was through talking, both my wife and I knew that our battle was coming to an end. My wife believes that Dr. Patterson had something to do with the visit from Dr. Joseph. She feels that Dr. Patterson sensed that she still wasn’t quite getting the message she was trying to relay to us in the examination room earlier and may have send Dr. Joseph out to talk to us. In any case, after the discussion with Dr. Joseph, both my wife and I knew what we had to do.

We returned to the waiting room to discuss how we were going to proceed. We knew that we could not let Blaze go that night. We had other family members who would want to say goodbye to him. So we made the decision to wait until after work the next day, when we can get everyone in the family to the hospital to say their goodbyes. One problem was that Dr. Paterson was not scheduled to be working at that time. However, she told us that she was going to come in to be there for us. In fact, a number of staff members told us that they would come in though they were not on the schedule to work, or stay later than their scheduled time to leave work to be there for us when we let Blaze go. These are truly special people and we will never forget them. (Click here to see our Special Thanks to the Animal Specialty Center in Yonkers, New York)

My wife and I left the hospital that night knowing that without some type of miracle in the next twenty-four hours we would be letting our little boy go the next day.

Day 17 (Here’s to those who wait forever for ships that don’t come in):
Day seventeen started with my wife’s routine early morning phone call for a status report. Blaze’s condition had not changed any since the night before and it was apparent that there would be no miracles today. Later that day, my wife and daughter made their usual afternoon visit to see Blaze. After work, we met at the house to round up all our family members (including Kellie, our other dog) to take one last ride to the hospital to visit Blaze.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were taken to a “comfort room”. This was a small room with padded arm chairs and decorated to give a sense of tranquility. In fact my wife noticed one little knick-knack of a veterinarian with angel wings watching over a few dogs and cats. What made this amazing was this was given to a doctor there by my wife two and a half years earlier when they treated our other dog, Kellie, for cancer (remember Kellie is still here and was in fact, with us for this visit). Blaze was then brought into the room. It was the first time I saw him in over two weeks where he did not have a dozen wires attached to him. The only thing he still had was his breathing tube to protect his airway. We all took turns petting him and those who wanted to, was able to hold him. You can bet I took my turn at holding my little man. I held him for what must have been twenty minutes, petting him, telling him I loved him, and whispering in his ear little secrets that I would like to keep just between him and myself. When the time came, I passed him on to the next person so they could have their moment with him. At one point, my wife asked me if I would like to hold him again. I replied, “no”. I wanted everyone to have as much time as they needed with him. Finally, he wound up back in my wife’s arms, which is where he would remain until the end.

When the time came, anyone who wanted to remain in the room was welcome to do so. In the end, it was my wife and myself, my daughter Katie, Dr. Patterson and her assistant Donna, and Keri (a staff member who because very close with us). There were many other staff members who remain just outside the room waiting to be there for us when it was over. Most of these people became our friends over the seventeen days we spent at the hospital visiting Blaze, and many of them were off from work and on their own time while waiting to be with us.

When my wife was ready, my daughter and I took our positions next to her and Blaze. Blaze was in my wife’s arms, partially draped over her shoulder; and Katie and I were petting him, telling him we loved him. Dr. Patterson explained there would be two injections, the first one to flush the catheter out, and the second one would contain the drug that would let Blaze go. She said that he would probably be gone before the second injection was fully administered. She also said that she would tell us just before she started each injection. It was then, as I looked up at her, I noticed that she was crying. It was then, when I realized how hard this must have been for her. She and my wife had gotten very close over the past two weeks. In addition, she had spent the last two weeks utilizing all her knowledge of veterinary medicine to save Blaze and now it has come to this. She called out in a low voice, “The first injection” and administered it. She then picked up the second needle and called out in the same low voice “Okay, now the second one.” Just at that moment, before the second injection was administered, my wife hugged Blaze tightly and cried out, “Goodbye Blaze, I love you.”

I cannot find the words to accurately describe or do it justice to what happened next, but it was the most amazing thing I ever experienced in my life. The best I can say is the room filled with a feeling of love, a love on a level that I have never experienced before. It was something that went far beyond the five senses. And there was no doubt about it, it was coming from my wife. I am not sure at what level Blaze’s conscious state was at the time, but I know it does not matter; I know he felt that love at that moment; it was impossible for him not to. I now have a new respect for the power of a mother’s love.

Dr. Patterson then proceeded with the second injection. Immediately after she administered it, she checked Blaze with a stethoscope and in an even lower tone of voice than she had used before she said, “He’s gone.”

My wife continued to hold him for several minutes, and when she called for them to take him away she closed her eyes; she couldn’t watch them take him from her. We all spent several minutes in the room to regain our composure. We then, went back out to the waiting room to rejoin our other family members and to say our goodbye to the rest of the staff who were there for us. We left the hospital that night as a family, only we were one family member short. And it is a family member whose absence will be felt by us for the rest of our lives

Goodbye Blaze. We miss you and we will love you forever!

— Mark & Deborah from New Rochelle, NY