I am stretched out on the floor beside my massive black lab mix, Jack. He’s sprawled across his foam dog bed, his long head resting on my right thigh as he sleeps off the anesthesia from this morning’s dental cleaning.
Neither one of us was keen on a cleaning.
Jack doesn’t like our neighborhood vet. It’s nothing personal; he’s just been suspicious of vets since the first one neutered him, and treats all subsequent vets as though he could be neutered again.
I like our neighborhood vet. But I was still skeptical when she proposed a dental cleaning. Jack is 11 years old. He weighs about 100 pounds. I’ve seen dog morality charts: the bigger the dog, the shorter the lifespan. At his age, at his weight, Jack should be prancing off the edge of that chart.
I don’t want to become one of those pet owners who goes on a spending binge fueled by mortality denial.
I don’t want to be one of those owners who denies preventive health care to a perfectly healthy animal.
Our vet observed that Jack doesn’t walk like a dog on the verge of death. True enough. At age 11, he still likes to take long walks, preferably off leash in the park. He still likes to run after deer, even if the probability of his actually catching up to one is ever more laughable. He still likes to lead me uphill to the home of his friends, a pair of robust chocolate labs. It doesn’t matter that one of these labs has predeceased him. The other one is still alive and sniffing. There is always a chance that their owner, Joanne, will happen to turn into their driveway, and let us inside to play. This happened once, over a year ago. Those odds are good enough for Jack.
Our neighborhood vet wasn’t promising Jack would live forever. She just thought he looked healthy enough to last a few more good years. She said it all came down to lifestyle. All those walks were paying off. She implied the dental cleaning would pay off, too. I signed Jack up for the cleaning, knowing the procedure would cost over $300. Knowing my husband wouldn’t give the matter a moment’s hesitation.
Indeed, he did not.
The dog’s health wasn’t the big issue for him. He is more concerned with my health. I am down to one vial of MS medication. Once I inject that last 150 ml of DAC HYP , the effects will last another 28 days.
He asked, Did I have a plan?
I did not. Which isn’t really like me.
I’ve been waiting to see if the NIH (National Institutes of Health) study that supplies me with the drug will be extended. DAC HYP is the only drug that’s stabilized my MS. The FDA approved medications I’d taken before haven’t helped me. I’ve got very few options left.
Which must have been why yesterday I finally found myself turning to the books I knew I’d only open once I was feeling desperate; books that were lent to me, in good faith, by a friend of a friend, a woman who claims she’s “cured” her MS through crystals, and has the MRI’s to prove it. Part of me responds, crystals? Really? But if this friend of a friend is cured, and I am not, then the joke is on me, right?
I started to read.
I read that I ought to give up all but the scarcest servings of meat. I thought, I can do that. And then I remembered that I have done that. I was a vegetarian when I got my first my MS symptoms. So much for vegetarianism as a treatment for MS. I put down that book a second time.
It offends me, to my core, when people treat MS as a lifestyle choice. It is not a lifestyle choice. It is a disease.
Rather than research the healing powers of crystals, I emailed the NIH about the travel arrangements for my penultimate visit. And then I shut down my computer, turned off the ringer on my phone, and went off to yoga.
Because, you see, I do believe that lifestyle choices are necessary for good health. At the same time I adamantly do not believe lifestyle choices are sufficient to combat MS. Of all the things I do or have done to take care of myself: yoga, swimming, dog walking, weight lifting, and lately, lots of Pilates…I would recommend none in place of treatment with DAC HYP to a person with MS.
After a session of gentle yoga and a meal of delicious sushi, I opened my email. I was prepared to finalize a date that would mean missing the opening night of my son’s play, but I figured that was just the price I had to pay.
I got some good news about the travel arrangements. I would be flying down to Baltimore a week later than I’d expected. I would get to go to opening night, after all.
This made me happy. But the email contained news that made me happier still.
Elated, I took Jack out for a walk. He pulled me up the hill to his friends’ house. Guess what? Joanne pulled into her driveway. She invited us in. Jack reunited with the remaining chocolate lab, and his younger replacement companion. And while the dogs sniffed each other’s butts and wagged their tales and ran from room to room, I told Joanne my best good news.
The principal investigator of DAC HYP trial, Bibiana Bielekova, had managed to convince the drug manufacturer to extend access to DAC HYP to all of us who have had success with it, for another three years, which ought to be enough time for the FDA approval.
My dog Jack and I, we are lucky. This week, we’ve each been given an extension. I’m going to use my time to raise awareness of the limited options currently available to people with MS. My dog is going to spend his time making sure my husband and I take enough walks in the woods.