Things didn’t feel right. Hadn’t for weeks.
We’d just arrived at our spot for the summer – a small, no-frills RV park near the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains.
It took a couple of tries before we got the rig in a position where the slides would clear the water and power connections. Complicating the matter were a drop-off in the back of the space, and a weird little hill beside it.
Then, we couldn’t get level. In the process of trying, one of our jacks stopped working.
Brian is usually great at troubleshooting and fixing RV problems. This one eluded him. We feared we’d have to get the rig on a lift somewhere.
As the RV baked in the Tennessee sun, we sat inside sweating, Googling and calling for help. John Lee – our 10-year-old Greyhound – panted.
The weeks preceding our arrival in the Smokies were some of the most stressful for John Lee, or Buddy as we often call him.
The sounds and systems involved in moving a big rig like ours are scary as hell if you don’t understand what’s going on. I’m not really sure there is any way to convey to a dog that everything’s going to be OK. We tried.
Day after day as we traveled from Georgia to South Dakota and then back east to Tennessee, the anxiety-inducing routine repeated.
I felt awful for Buddy. But the trip was necessary to establish domicile in South Dakota.
Every day the walls closed in, jacks and airbags shifted the coach underneath him, a long, obnoxious warning beep sounded and our giant diesel engine rumbled.
Buddy wasn’t a fan of actually riding down the road, either, but it seemed like a walk in the park compared to preparing for travel.
Fluoxetine (a.k.a. Prozac) helped his anxiety. As much as moving days still visibly stressed him, before Fluoxetine he was more anxious in more situations.
Our vet in Georgia gave us a few months’ worth of refills that saw us through until we made it to South Dakota. There, we visited a new vet for refills, vaccinations and a general checkup.
During the visit, I told the vet that John Lee’s appetite had been bad of late. I mentioned all of our travel days and wondered whether he was stressing over that or it was something more. Normally he’d finish every bit of kibble, then look around for more.
I had a gut feeling something was wrong, but I didn’t want it to be. The vet suggested it’d be smart to redo his bloodwork. We agreed.
Everything came back looking fairly normal. Brian and I were relieved, and hopeful John Lee would be back to his usual chowhound M.O. once we quit stressing him out with travel days.
In the interim, worry gnawed at me. John Lee ate less and less, and grew visibly thinner. The day after we arrived in Tennessee, we took him to the vet again.
This vet offered basic services. No high-tech scans or anything. Even though I wanted to throw whatever I could at whatever the problem was, it’s better on the dog and the budget to try the simpler treatments first.
So we did. The vet treated John Lee for GI distress. If he didn’t feel better pretty quickly she told us we’d need to go somewhere with imaging capabilities.
“At that point,” she said, “we will be looking for cancer.”
It wasn’t what we wanted to hear. But the vet only said what we were thinking. What was going on with Buddy reminded us of a road we’d traveled with Sara, our first Greyhound.
We’ve got to get out of this place
Alongside dealing with our sick boy, we grew increasingly uncomfortable with the RV park we’d chosen.
We came to the area because Brian wanted to add to our savings account with a workamping gig. However, the RV park we’d chosen was a half hour away without traffic.
This meant that Brian would be driving at least an hour per shift. It’s not a minimum wage job, but it’s not big bucks, either. I didn’t think it was worth the drive.
There were many long-term residents at the park. Honestly, though, that didn’t bother me as much as the…I don’t know…vibe of the place.
I’m pretty sure our kind of people weren’t there. Or if they were, they stayed inside with their doors shut.
One fifth wheel was adorned with multiple signs proclaiming its owners’ affinity for both Jesus and guns.
Way to be neighborly, guy.
I mean, fuck – we are libertarians and used to own a gun-related business. If we can manage to (mostly) avoid alienating people, anyone can do it.
Beyond Mr. Jesus Guns was someone flying a Confederate flag.
Next to us was a park model (essentially a mobile home) occupied by a lady with a barky Chihuahua that tried to attack John Lee. After the attempted assault, the woman scooped the dog up and smacked it with her purse.
Not. Our. Fucking. People.
Surrounding the park was mostly just pretty scenery. I did like that part of it. But we’re a one-car household now.
Meaning, if I needed something from the grocery store, wanted to work outside the RV, or wanted to visit family in the area, I’d better plan ahead. Or, more likely, forget about it. It would be stupid to spend two hours driving Brian back and forth just so I could have the car.
We argued about it. Brian said if I didn’t like it I could find a place and we’d move. I planned to do that just as soon as I could make sure Buddy was OK.
Somehow, though, Brian began to see my point. Or he just wanted me to STFU.
We were all stressing out.
While I searched, called and compared parks from the RV, Brian drove through and videoed several.
In the midst of our search, the owner of the park we were trying to leave let Brian know she’d put us in the wrong spot.
She was apologetic, but said “regulars” had reserved the spot we were in. Within the next few days, we’d have to move over next to the Confederate flag guy.
If you’re going to move a big rig 100 yards, you might as well move it 100 miles. It’s not that much more trouble.
Movin’ on up
Thanks in part to friends from the RV Entrepreneur Summit group, we found an RV park we’d initially dismissed.
The place was half the drive to Brian’s job. Grocery stores, restaurants, a library and practically anything else we’d need would be within walking distance. A trolley service put even more within reasonable reach.
We planned to move on the first of the month to whatever park we picked, since we were paid up ’til then. But when we went to visit the park we decided we’d move to, Brian impulsively said “Fuck it. Let’s move Friday.”
It’s not a resort. It doesn’t have a pool. The spots aren’t the tightest we’ve seen, but they are…cozy. What it does have is good vibes.
And that’s something we desperately needed.
The B-12, anti-nausea, and antibiotic injections the vet gave John Lee seemed to help initially. He liked the prescription food she sent home with us. After another day or so, though, even that wasn’t enough to stir his appetite.
While Brian prepped and moved the RV, Buddy and I made the trip to the veterinary specialist in Knoxville.
I’ll just share the vet’s notes:
Abdominal Ultrasound: There is a large mass in the left cranial quadrant which is suspected to be left adrenal gland but could be a severely enlarged lymph node. There is significant mottling throughout the liver and spleen. There is abdominal effusion present.
Client communication: Discussed all the above findings with the owner. This is very likely a primary tumor that has metastasized to the liver/spleen; other possibility is a metastatic mass with primary liver or splenic neoplasia. The abdominal effusion is also typical for a neoplastic process. After discussing the diagnosis, owner requested to euthanize given his grave prognosis and current level of illness.
There’s a hole in my heart
Brian and I are grateful for the many ways life is good for us right now. I recognize that, at least on a head level.
We’re parked in a better location. When Brian was ready to move the RV, that damn jack came right up. We’ve been going out exploring on foot regularly. We have family nearby we’ve already hung out with, and our kids are within half a days’ drive.
However, so much about our lives changed when we lost Buddy.
I could always count on him being there. Brian and I would joke about how close up in our space John Lee liked to be (“He needs comforting”), but it was just as comforting for us to have him near.
Yes, parts of living without a dog are more convenient or carefree. We don’t have to worry about leaving a dog for too long, whether moving days stress him out or whether he’s welcome where we want to go.
For those reasons, we don’t plan on getting another dog anytime soon.
Anyway, we want our boy. Not ‘a’ dog.
The morning after we let John Lee go, I stood staring at his stuff in the RV. His little ‘mancave’ and bed. His dishes. His blanket. Obviously, painfully, empty.
I washed everything and packed it up, hoping to donate it to a local Greyhound rescue group. I called last week to inquire about the donation, after I felt like I could discuss it calmly.
Ha. Nope. Basket case.
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Read John Lee’s post, “Sometimes humans confuse me.”