My times are in your hands.
I experienced a slight detachment from reality as I listened to Dr. Stewart describe the picture that the x-rays painted. Our family dog Buddy, at eleven yeas old, was experiencing internal bleeding resulting in a pooling of blood and possibly other fluids in his abdominal cavity.
Our visit to our veterinarian yesterday came at the end of a week in which our previously healthy and active canine companion progressed from sluggishness to lethargy. Dr. Stewart was clear in presenting the only option for treating the condition. We would need to run him down to the emergency animal surgical center in Fort Pierce and spend the night testing, prepping, and submitting Buddy to abdominal surgery. He advised us that, because of his age, surgery would tax Buddy’s system and that recovery would be longer than would be the case for a younger dog.
Referring us to the x-rays, he pointed out the large mass in Buddy’s abdomen and told us that it could be the spleen, the liver, or just a large tumor. He told us that Buddy’s low platelet count indicated that there was also internal bleeding.
Feeling overwhelmed, my mind quickly found refuge in the thought that this was an occasion which seemed to point to only one end. That end being to euthanize Buddy. It was difficult to process that thought, but it seemed to be the only way to avoid subjecting our beloved family member to a difficult and in no way guaranteed operation.
When I expressed this thought to my wife, seeking her concurrence, she was of the same mind. Dr. Stewart said that he understood, and explained how the process would unfold. As his office was going to close for the day in about an hour, he asked if we would like to take Buddy home and bring him back today. Knowing that his situation could take a turn for the worse in a matter of minutes at any time during the night, we decided that it was worth taking the chance to allow us to spend one more night with him.
I took Buddy to the car while my wife completed the necessary paperwork. Our plan was was to bring him back around eleven thirty this morning for the procedure.
And so off we went.
It was maybe an hour after arriving back at our home that my son and I got together for our daily bible reading. Our text for the evening would include 2 Kings chapters 20, 21, and 22. We said a short prayer and I began reading chapter 20.
I am somewhat embarrassed to confess (and maybe I have already done so in a previous post) that, even though I have been an avid sermon/book reader and watch more than my fair share of sermons online, I have never undertaken to read the entire bible since becoming a Christian in the 1990s.
I say this only to say that I am amazed at how much better I understand God and his unfolding plan of redemption since taking this task on 9 months ago. Our current journey through the books of Judges and Kings has been painful as I learned the details of failure after failure of the Israelites and their leaders (especially their leaders) to honor God through their obedience to his law.
But the present chapter along with the two previous chapters was like an oasis appearing for a man in the desert dying of thirst. We were introduced two chapters ago to King Hezekiah. Finally, a king that honored God fully. I’m no theologian, but to me it seems that he could be classified as a type of Christ.
Here is what we learn of him in 2 Kings chapter 18:
5 He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. 8 He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.
But yesterday’s reading in chapter 20 interjected a sad note into the life of King Hezekiah.
1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” 2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3“ Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
And following King Hezekiah, God responded as follows:
4 And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: 5 “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, 6 and I will add fifteen years to your life.
Now I am not one to confuse the life of a man with the life of a dog. Nor do I fail to grasp the lack of a moral component to a dog’s behavior and/or decisions. But I am of the belief that the bible speaks truth to us in the conditions in which we live our lives. And while I was reading this chapter, it was an undeniable reality that the above quoted passage, or at least a portion of if, bore a striking similarity to our situation with Buddy.
Not two hours prior to reading this passage, my wife and I had decided that Buddy would live for another 16 hours and then be put down.
So my next question was to the Lord, and it was this, “Almighty God, is there something in this text that I should apply to our current situation?”
As is always the case, there was no audible answer.
After my son and I completed reading our three chapters, I went into my bedroom to pray. I asked God for wisdom in this matter. I reminded him of the tears that had been shed as a result of the examination and subsequent decision. I acknowledged that I could not be seen in the same light as King Hezekiah, but that I stood before him in the righteousness of his Son. I asked God if this was to be a time of healing. And finally, I expressed my willingness to accept the course that, by his sovereign will, he had ordained in this matter.
I shared the story with my wife, and suggested that perhaps we should reconsider our decision to have Buddy put to sleep. We agreed that if Buddy made it through the night we would call Dr. Stewart in the morning and request a referral to the surgical center. We joined together in prayer over him and acknowledged to God that our desire was to learn his will in the matter.
Buddy did make it through the night, my wife laying on the living room floor beside him. At 9 a.m. I called Dr. Stewart’s office and told them that we had reconsidered and reversed our decision. The receptionist told us that she would contact the surgical center and that we should expect a call from them within 15 minutes. That call came and ten minutes later we were on our way with Buddy to Fort Pierce.
After the preliminary exam, the veterinarian, Dr. Wasserman, told us that they would first conduct a 3D ultrasound to determine if surgery was appropriate. She told us that if the ultrasound revealed scarring of organs or other indications that growths had spread surgery would be of no use. And following the ultrasound we would need chest x-rays to ensure the same thing with regard to Buddy’s lungs.
Upon completing the ultrasound, Dr. Wasserman told us that things looked clean and that we could proceed with surgery. And then she gave us two estimates. The first estimate, the lower of the two, would be applicable if surgery revealed that Buddy could not be helped. In this case the protocol would be to then euthanize him while still under the effects of anesthesia. The second estimate would be applicable if the damage could be addressed with a degree of confidence.
After presenting the estimates, she asked if we would like some time to discuss the direction we would take. We said yes, and she left us in the room with Buddy.
My wife and I were of one mind as we talked about what we would choose to do. Our single focus since reversing our decision the previous night was a simple one: we want to give Buddy a chance to survive. Within just a matter of minutes, Dr. Wasserman returned with Dr. Phillips, the veterinarian who would be conducting the surgery along with Dr. Wasserman.
They asked if we had made a decision and we told them that we wanted to proceed with surgery. They accepted our decision and offered us the opportunity to give Buddy a hug before they took him.
We left the clinic about ten minutes later, knowing that we would receive a call within a few hours telling us either that Buddy had made it through surgery or that things didn’t turn out well. We’d been home for about an hour, and I was sitting in the living room watching a video. It suddenly occurred to me that I should be in prayer. And so I went to the bedroom, closed the door, and kneeled at the bed.
I thanked God that he provided the impetus for my wife and I to change our decision, and in so doing give Buddy a shot at being healed through surgery. I thanked him for the compassionate and competent doctors under whose care Buddy was. And I restated my position that I would accept whatever outcome God brought about.
As I was just closing my prayer the phone rang. I knew from the first word that
Dr. Wasserman spoke that things had not gone well. Buddy’s spleen was fine, but his liver was compromised with growths which had reached the point where there was bleeding from the liver. This situation could not be resolved. The large mass turned out to be a fatty tissue growth and was not a factor.
And so a chapter in our lives was closed. It’s now been about 18 hours since we received the news, and, as I’m sure some of you have experienced, there is a feeling of emptiness as we go through the motions of our evening and morning routine. We walked yesterday evening and received a generous rain shower that mingled with our tears. And this morning we took another walk under a beautiful blue sky.
My wife and I feel that we made the right decision. And had it not been for the passage of scripture on King Hezekiah’s illness, I don’t think that we would have had any reason to reconsider our decision to have Buddy put to sleep without surgery. God’s will is clear in this situation, it was simply time for Buddy to die. But by taking the route we took, we can rest assured that this is absolutely the case. And for us, that brings us a peace which would not be present within us had we continued with our plan to simply have Buddy put to sleep.
Soon we will be leaving the house and heading to church services. It will be a good day for fellowship and worship and to hear God’s word preached. We will return home from church and, over the course of the coming days and weeks, we will slowly become accustomed to life without the companionship of this creature who God so richly blessed us with.
Sometimes the purposes of God’s word do not immediately make themselves apparent, but it is only after a little time passes that we are able to comprehend what it is that we are supposed to glean from a particular passage.
And this is one of those sometimes.
It turns out that God’s proclamation through the prophet Isaiah, granting King Hezekiah a reprieve and 15 additional years of living life, was actually more relevant in Buddy’s life that I first realized.
And to understand why that is so you need to know a little more about Buddy and the life that he has lived.
In the summer of 2006, while on furlough (temporarily laid off with recall rights) from US Airways, my family and I relocated from Greenville, SC, to Prosper, TX (north of Dallas). Around the same time, 400 miles to the north in Kansas City and unbeknownst to us, a newborn black lab mix puppy who had difficulty putting weight on his hind legs was taken to an animal shelter. That shelter was Wayside Waifs, an amazing place. It is featured in the following video:
At that time, after recently having lost two long term canine companions to old age, I was reluctant to consider taking on another dog. My wife would have preferred otherwise, but she was willing to honor my request.
Then, in the spring of 2007, my wife went to Kansas City to visit a girlfriend from college. It was during that trip that she phoned me to say that she had found the perfect dog for our family.
We’d always had a preference for smallish lab mix dogs, and that is exactly what this dog was. Wayside Waifs had assigned him the name, Homer. Interestingly enough, that is my father’s first name.
And then she told me that there was only one slight issue. At 10 months old, something was wrong with Homer’s hind legs. His excursions were marked by an awkward gait and he was not comfortable in a sitting position. The shelter told her that, due to budget considerations which precluded exploratory surgery and even x-rays, he had been scheduled to be euthanized several times. But each time the date came, the staff was unable to carry out that procedure. They told her that he had woven his way into their hearts and that they just couldn’t bring themselves to carry it out.
They proposed to my wife that if she could muster up a small donation from among friends and family, they would find the resources to attempt repair work to Homer’s hips. In the end, we were able to raise a little over $500 for the shelter and they in turn secured a retired veterinarian who agreed to do the surgery, and an animal hospital which was willing to donate the necessary surgical suite for the operation.
X-rays revealed that Homer was born with the balls of his femurs outside of their respective sockets. Under the circumstances, there was no way that hip replacement surgery (which would have cost upwards of $5,000.00) was realistic. So the surgeon did the next best thing. He opened Homer and shaved enough bone to allow him to pop the balls into the sockets.
About 5 days later, my wife drove to Kansas City and picked Homer up.
When I returned home from work on the day that she arrived home, Homer had undergone a name change. The vote was 3-0 in favor of Buddy.
My first view of him was in front of the couch with my wife and two sons sitting on the floor next to him. I pretty much knew in an instant that we had made a good decision to bring him into our family.
And so over the next few weeks we took him for progressively longer walks, happily seeing that as time progressed he was more and more able to put weight on his hind legs. At some point in the ensuing months, he was walking with absolutely no difficulty.
Looking back at this time in his life, I cannot help but see that he was given a reprieve and allowed to live a little longer. Was this the hand of the Lord? For me, the answer is a resounding yes.
Time moved on, and it was only a few months later that I received a recall notice from US Airways. I accepted the notice and, upon returning to work, I selected the newly acquired (through a merger) America West training center in Phoenix as my new workplace.
It was about two years later that we noticed a lump on the left side of Buddy’s shoulder along his neck. We would soon be learning more about a fungal infection known as Valley Fever that we would have liked to. Residing in the desert floor is a particular fungus which, when stirred up by agriculture or construction work, becomes airborne. Typically entering through the respiratory tract, the fungus is a threat to both animals and humans alike.
While we were still working with veterinarians, the lump had swollen to the size of a baseball and one day it decided to burst open. We rushed him to our clinic only to learn that he would not likely survive the release of toxins that entered his system following the bursting of this growth. Emergency surgery to remove the growth was performed that day, and after a few guarded days Buddy was able to return home.
A close call for sure, we were all relieved that Buddy was able to pull through this situation. And once again, I look back and see the providence of God at work in the life of this dog.
By this time, Buddy is now walking 2 hours a day. Of course, in the summer those walks have to occur either before sunrise or several hours after the sun has gone down. Pavement temperatures I think reach something along the lines of 130 degrees, which would obviously injure a dog’s pads if walked during the heat of the day.
In addition to his daily walks, we made several hikes on both sides of the Verde Valley and also in the area around Flagstaff. Buddy loved hiking in the mountains, we just needed to make sure and bring lots of water.
Several years later we moved to Florida so that my wife could be near her mother, who was nearing 90 years of age with the closest of her children living in New York. I stayed on with US Airways and commuted out to Phoenix (until I retired last year).
We were sad to learn that a former nemesis, the Bofa toad which we had dealt with previously when we lived in Fort Lauderdale, had made it’s way up I-95 over the course of 20 years to the county which we were moving to.
This South American native/invasive species defends itself through the release of neuro toxins which are sprayed from ducts on top of its head.
I’ll make a long story short. During one of my work related absences, Buddy had an encounter with one of these toads. My wife had just left the house with him and wasn’t aware that he had cornered the toad and was being sprayed with the neuro toxin.
With no warning, Buddy began convulsing on the sidewalk in front of our house. She didn’t know what to do with this 70 pound dog. Suddenly, and out of nowhere, a neighbor 4 houses down the street appeared. Richard, a disabled Vietnam veteran, helped Nancy put Buddy in the back seat of her car and told her to get to her vet as quickly as she could.
She dropped Buddy off at Dr. Stewart’s office around 9 a.m. They told her that he was in bad shape but they would call her as soon as they knew something.
At noon they called to tell her that Buddy had made it through the roughest part of his ordeal, but that he still wasn’t out of the woods. It wasn’t until much later that afternoon that they called and said she could come and pick Buddy up. They told her that he was walking around the office wagging his tail.
By my count, this would make the third time in Buddy’s life that, by all rights, he should not have survived to live another day. But in each instance, there was an intervention of some sort that was able to keep death at bay.
And just as certain as I am that it was according to God’s sovereign will and good pleasure that Buddy’s life continued in the face of these three situations, I am certain that the day of Buddy’s death was also appointed by God.
And so it is, even with heavy heart, that I praise God for his goodness. And I am grateful for having been given the responsibility of caring for a wonderful creature. Here’s Buddy in all his wonder 🙂
In the final analysis, this is more than a story about a dog named Buddy. It is a story about a God who has ordained from eternity past the number of our days. As scripture tells us,
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Our times are truly in the hands of an almighty and sovereign God.