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Young, Sick and Invisible

My illness has shaped me,
But it does not define me.

We’re Both Lemons


“Some angels choose fur instead of wings.”

When I was at the vet with my pup Nikki for one of her exams this past year her vet said to me “you know she’s actually doing really well and you’ve taken great care of her, especially with her being kind of a lemon.” If almost anyone else had said that to me I would have been extremely hurt, upset, and angry. Say whatever you want about me, but my four legged crew?!?! Nope, no way. But I knew exactly what Nikki’s vet meant when she loving and jokingly referred to Nikki as a lemon. Her vet had been with us through Nikkis’ rough and scary heath issues and what she said during the exam that day made me smile. I was worried and asking questions, like I always do. Trying to predict the future and plan for the worst possibilities. Nikki’s vet was trying to help me see the positive and I often need to remember the good parts of life because, despite the many scary uncertain storms, there are so many rainbows and blessings. Like having my little Nikki.


I adopted Nikki from a classmate seven and half years ago when she was just three. I’ve always thought Nikki must have been the runt of the litter because she’s only about six pounds. Normally a female Bichon Frisé will weigh around 10-12 pounds so Nikki is really small. But she has the biggest attitude and best personality all packed into her tiny body. A graduate school classmate of mine had taken Nikki after her mother in law got remarried. My classmate and her husband already had a rescue dog though. Their dog Charlie didn’t like Nikki much and, probably due to his past experiences, didn’t want her to get attention and would try to prevent her from getting her food. My classmate was pregnant and moving back to England when I asked about Nikki. I missed having a dog after my childhood Bichon passed away in my arms at the vet a few years before. It was the perfect timing and situation. I think Nikki was worried after bouncing around from different homes and people and having to compete with Charlie all during her first 3 years. I instantly loved her and we bonded right away. We’re always making sure we know where the other one is and are almost always together. We’re each other’s sidekicks and fiercely protective of one another too. We’ve been through a lot together and it’s hard for me to even imagine what I’d do without her.

I adopted Nikki during the month that summer when my second and last boyfriend ever (him#2), who was a total narcissist and not really any better than the first boyfriend I had, broke up with me for the second time. Him#2 and I got back together at the beginning of that fall and Nikki never liked him. I wish I would have payed more attention to that. She never wanted to be anywhere near him and would squirm if her ever tried to hold her. When Nikki met my cousin and my brother in law for the first time Nikki ran right over to them and crawled on their laps. I believe animals just know the truth about people and have some insight into their souls somehow. Nikki wanted nothing to do with my now ex boyfriend (him#2) and tried to protect me from him too. She was with me and comforted me when he hurt me and broke me over and over until I was finally done after almost 7 more years. She was with me when I was diagnosed with Raynaud’s and my sleep disorder. During panic attacks she’ll cuddle up tightly next to me in my bed for sometimes hours when I’m just paralyzed. I can’t call for help or do anything but ride out my rapid heart rate, fast breaths, and racing thoughts. She’s just there next to me, breathing gently, and calming me down.


I’ve been with Nikki through her many health issues too, hence the vet’s “lemon” comment. The patellas on Nikki’s back legs luxate badly, a condition common for dogs her breed. They don’t seem to both her and she’s never let them slow her down, but I try to always carry her up and down the stairs to spare her little knees. She has allergies and major stomach problems. We’re two peas in a pod or two lemons on a tree- me with my GERD. Now we’re both on anti acids. Nikki had a terrible bought of hemorrhagic gastritis a few years ago, then about six months later a nightmare dental cleaning that ended up with an infection from a tooth extraction that migrated behind one of her eyes that made that eye bug out like Igor from Young Frankenstein. She had another round of vomiting and gastritis about 9 months after recovering from the dental eye nightmare. Then Nikki’s vet found a heart murmur. It turns out, after a chest X-ray and echo that she has a degenerative defect in the heart value on her left side. Luckily it isn’t bad enough yet for her to need medication, but she does have some pulmonary hypertension as a result and we’ll have to keep monitoring it. It won’t get better, only worse. All we can do is manage it and try to slow the progression as best as we can.

What made me start thinking about what Nikki’s vet said about her being a lemon is this past Tuesday she had what we’re pretty sure was a seizure. I was so scared and thought I’d lost her. The same horrible feeling I’ve had during each of her health scares when I’ve rushed her to the vet as an emergency. The blood work came back normal but she’d going to need another X-ray and echo just to see if that seizure could be related to any changes in her heart. They also found that her urine sample was dilute. There is a small chance this finding could indicate the early stage of kidney disease. We’ll have to get more samples to know better and it wouldn’t have caused the seizure, but I’m worried about that too and hoping both the urine and seizure were both just flukes.

With my heath problems, conditions, issues, and what I half joke is “my baggage” I know I’m a lemon too. If I was a horse there’s no way I’d ever pass any repurchase exam. But if Nikki is a lemon with all of her health issues she is also such a blessing and I’m so grateful to have her- I wouldn’t trade her, health issues and all, ever. It is so hard going through this with her; I just want to fix it and to make her better. I’m worried and scared. I know I need to take it a day at a time and, like Nikki’s vet has also told me, “just enjoy her”. Nikki helps show me that “lemons” are special, worthwhile, and have so much to give. Knowing how much I love Nikki pushes me to see myself through the same lens that I see her and reminds me that while I may be a lemon I’m precious, worthwhile, and have so much to give like she does. We all need to know that and try to remind ourselves because life is too short to focus on the worries and the negative. It’s so much easier for me to say than do, but I’m trying to work on it and enjoy every minute I have being a sidekick to my cute little fuzzy white pup.


(Hard to believe she’s ten and half…she still looks and acts like a puppy)

Until next Friday,

Amy L.

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