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When I Was Diagnosed With the Same Condition as My Fur Baby

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There he was. Romeo. A sweet little guinea pig in the pet store. It was an instant connection. While he ran from most everybody who tried picking him up, he came to me, curled up on my shoulder and started squealing in my ear. Sold! I loved him from the moment I laid eyes on him. He was always so happy and cheerful, and loved popcorning. Until the day he stopped. I knew something was wrong when he stopped eating and drinking, lost weight and started to shed a lot of fur. The weekend my dad was out of state for my uncle’s funeral was the weekend mom and I took him to the vet.

“Romeo has delayed gastric emptying. The food is not moving through his digestive tract, causing a blockage in his intestines.”

He spent some time in the hospital overnight, and in the evening, I got a phone call that simply said, “Romeo may not make it through the night.”

Sleeping was just about as futile as trying to stuff a square through a circle!

When Romeo came home he was on several medications, and on a special formula for syringe feeds. He was on metoclopramide and several other pain and nausea meds. I set it up so I was feeding him and administering medications to him every four hours or so. I could barely leave him for fear he would slip away.

I nursed him until he started feeling better but within a couple weeks he was back to being really sick and not eating. I took him back to the vet and was offered the option of putting him down. Something I could not imagine doing, something that confused me. I tried and tried to help him feel better. I wrapped him in a towel and administered his meds and fed him through a syringe. I still remember the sound of his teeth chittering away as I fed him, and the calming feeling I got from holding him and nursing him.

About six months in I had to make the hardest decision of my life yet, whether to hold on or let him go knowing he will always be sick, that there is no cure for him and even if he does get “better” he will never truly get better. The day I let him go I cried. I hate crying in public but I did that day! My heart was broken. I had lost two uncles, my mentor and another father figure: three of whom passed away from cancer. Now I lost my baby to delayed gastric emptying – and all in nine months!

I take that back. My heart was more than broken, it was shattered, and it’s never been the same. Right after he crossed the rainbow bridge and the stress hit me, I started losing weight, couldn’t eat or drink much of anything. After months of struggling (about two years to be more specific), I was sitting in my doctor’s office and heard, “Delayed gastric emptying.”

OK. As unheard of as this is, I already know what it is. My baby had it, and I was nursing him during a flare of my own. Anyone who has fur babies knows how close you can get to them. You know that fur and four legs is not trumped by a little one who shares DNA. Our fur babies’ lives are precious, and it is heartbreaking to watch them suffer, or to have to let them go. I cried in public that day, and even though it’s been over three years, I still miss him. Perhaps one positive to all of this is that I can also relate to him in that I now struggle day in and day out with this same illness, and I have a feeding tube because of it.

A few months after I let Romeo go I went to the animal shelter to find a new therapy pet and met this handsome, amazing, energetic and strong min pin mix (mixed with Doberman Pinscher) named Xavier. He was in an accident as a puppy and had his back left leg amputated. I fell in love with him instantly, and I think he felt the same way just from the way he watched me and jumped in my lap when I sat down. He makes me smile and laugh, and amazes me every day, but it was hard letting go and letting Xavier in because it felt at times as though I was replacing Romeo and at the same time I was wondering, “How can I do this?”

Anxiety over whether or not I should even have new fur babies was difficult because I thought about how Romeo got sick and how I let him go. I was afraid the same thing would happen to Xavier or Starlight (though especially Starlight as he is my new white fur, red eyes guinea pig). I was afraid of the loss again, but more than that I was afraid I wouldn’t be a good mom to these fur babies because of how Romeo died, and how I couldn’t prevent him from getting sick.

It can be hard getting through the anxiety, but I remind myself that Xavier and Starlight are not Romeo. In a way I think my experience with Romeo has prepared me for my own pain and struggles, to serve as a reminder that just as he had someone watching out for him, so do I.

I’m a mom to three fur babies: one in heaven and two living. Sometimes I have anxiety that I am not a good mom to these babies. Other times I look at my babies and know everything will be OK. It was just a really strange feeling to be diagnosed with the same condition my fur baby had, just two years after he crossed the rainbow bridge, the condition I nursed him through even as I was having a flare of my own from the same condition.

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Photo via gsermek on Getty Images

Originally published: December 11, 2017
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