Friday, February 08, 2008

faith, hope . . . and my spazzy little dog

About five weeks ago, shortly after Scout got sick, I was up on Mt. Hood snow-shoeing with some friends. I had hoped to take Scout with us that day--snow-shoeing is her favorite activity on the planet--but she was still limping so I left her behind. She'd been on antibiotics for only 3 days and I figured she just needed a little more time to heal.

As I plodded down the trail, I prayed for Scout to recover quickly. I really missed my little hiking buddy.

Before I'd even said my silent "Amen," a disturbing thought insinuated itself into my mind. The tone was matter-of-fact, the message clear: "Scout will not recover. No matter what you or the vets do, she will decline and finally die".

I was quite shaken. First of all, it made no sense. Scout just had a bacterial infection which made her made her hind legs stiff and sore, or so the vet thought. She was on antibiotics--why wouldn't she recover?

Secondly, I wondered where the "voice" had originated. Was God preparing me for what was to come? After all, I had been praying . . . or was the voice from another source, one that wanted to torment and confuse me . . . or just from my own fearful imagination? I tried to brush the whole matter aside and enjoy the rest of the outing. It didn't work . . .

When I got home, I checked on Scout--who was laying in the exact same position in her bed where I'd left her. By the following day, Scout had stopped eating, drinking and moving--which prompted a trip to the emergency animal hospital.

And began a very long and frustrating battle for Scout's life.

With every test the vet ran (they all came back negative except for the high white blood cell count) and every new antibiotic and round of IV fluids they tried, the voice from the mountain repeated its dire prediction: Scout will not recover. Nothing you try will help her and she will continue to weaken and die . . . I couldn't deny the fact that the "prophecy" was being fulfilled before my eyes.

Scout weakened visibly each day, much to the vet's consternation. For a week, I kept her alive by force-feeding her baby food and squirting fluids down her throat with a syringe. But her fever kept climbing and the night she started throwing up all the nutrients I'd gotten down her, I lost hope. Everyone I knew was praying for my sick puppy, but God didn't seem to be responding.

"Was that You, Lord, speaking on the mountain?" I asked time and time again, but never got an answer. The Lord had been teaching me a lot about faith lately--but what was I supposed to have faith in? That He'd pronounced Scout's fate and that I needed to just let her go?

As I prayed and wrestled with God, I began to understand that my faith couldn't be in the voice and what it spoke--or even in hope of healing for Scout. My faith had to be in the goodness of God, period. I had to believe that God was allowing this difficult situation and that He had good reasons for it. By His grace, I was able to believe and began to pray that the Lord would glorify Himself through this painful circumstance.

Scout didn't improve, but it was a turn-around for me.

As I determinedly put my faith in the character of God and not on the outcome of Scout's illness, hope began to spring up in the most unlikely places. A lady I randomly met during a visit to the vet told me she'd be praying for Scout. After I put Scout's predicament out on my Extreme Women email list (they all know Scout because we hike together), I received daily emails offering encouragement to hang in there. "Don't give up!" was a common exhortation. So I kept on keeping on . . .

(The video, "Be Joyful, My Children" brought me encredible hope. If you haven't seen it, the post is in the January archives. It will make your heart glad, whatever you might be going through).

One afternoon, however, Scout appeared to be curled up at Death's door. Greg held me in his arms while I sobbed my heart out--I actually asked God to take Scout and put her out of her misery. If she didn't turn the corner within the next 24 hours, we knew some tough decisions would have to be made. When I finally calmed down a bit, Greg prayed. He asked God to comfort me and give me peace, to give us wisdom about what to do next, and to show Scout mercy through healing. Nothing changed, but it was such a heart-felt prayer that hope revived for a moment.

That night, Scout's breathing was so labored and she was in such discomfort that I couldn't sleep. I got up and started researching her symptoms on the Internet. Within an hour, I was convinced I knew what Scout had: Immune-mediated, steroid-responsive polyarthritis. The symptoms (high fever, unresponsive to antiobiotics, high white blood cell count, anorexia, lethargy, unwilling to move, sore or painful joints) fit perfectly.

Now I just had to convince the vet.

The next morning, I carried Scout, limp and nearly lifeless, into Dr. Todd's office and gave him my diagnosis. "Put her on prednisone," I begged.

"I'm not convinced it will do any good," Dr. Todd replied. "Prednisone can mask underlying conditions--but it will make Scout feel more comfortable. My old instructor used to always tell me, 'It's a crime to send any pet to it's grave without the benefit of prednisone.' So, don't get your hopes up, but we'll give it a try."

Within 24 hours, Scout's fever had broken and she was up and walking around. And eating and drinking! She was still very weak and unresponsive and the vet remained guarded in his prognosis, but I clung to the hope that she'd turned the corner and was on her way back to health.

And three weeks later . . . Scout is a different dog! We actually took her snow shoeing today. It was a short outing and she's tuckered out now, but we had a blast. We still have to wean her off the prednisone, but even if there are set-backs or relapses, I now have hope for her healing . . .

. . . and faith that the Lord will continue to use Scout's situation for His glory.