“There’s no such thing as bad luck,” my father retorted as I stood empty-handed in the toy store parking lot.
We had ventured to the local Toys “R” Us to get a Tamagotchi when it hit the shelves that year, but upon arrival found it had just sold out. At 10 years old, I already knew the cosmos weren’t on my side.
My dad reproached me on several occasions in both my childhood and during my teenage years when I would dramatically lament the poor odds I believed I had stacked against me. Of course, these were largely superfluous things in hindsight; I didn’t make the school play, didn’t have a boyfriend when everyone else seemed to, missed the bus even though I ran really fast. He didn’t, and still doesn’t, believe in luck. Especially not when it comes to unfortunate events in life.
You’d think I would have learned from his ever-present mantra, but I have to admit that I’m still guilty of this same thought pattern as an adult. When my hostel locker was broken into and all my valuables stolen after I first moved to Madrid in 2014, I largely threw my hands up and thought, I just have really bad luck. Currently in Madrid to teach a second time, I received my placement only to find I would be at a school 1.5 hours by bus from my apartment. Again, I eyed that pesky luck. It seemed like the only explanation.
Several weeks ago, after returning home from a Sunday night dinner, I noticed my dog of nine years, Louie, was acting strangely. When my boyfriend and I came into the apartment, he wasn’t his usual energetic self. I was immediately suspicious. I put him in bed with us, determined to take him to the vet in the morning. Shortly after turning out the light, he threw up twice so we headed to the 24-hour emergency clinic at 4:30 am.
The vet on duty didn’t do any tests, but instead gave him two injections for nausea and pain and handed me a bill for 110 euros. Several hours later, after sleeping on the couch with him beside me on a blanket on the floor, he didn’t seem much better. At 10 am we went to the neighborhood vet, where he was once again given a shot for nausea. I was told to feed him in an hour’s time. If he threw up again, I should bring him back.
After returning home, he ate, seemed slightly better, then once again was sick. We were waiting outside the doors when the vet reopened at 5:30 pm. After an X-ray yielded suspicious results, the vet proceeded to do an ultrasound. By chance, she passed the wand further up and his heart came into view on the screen. A dark cloud passed over her face as she asked to speak to my Spanish boyfriend over the phone.
“Es algo muy grave,” she said to him as I stood by concerned. Something very serious.
From what I understood with my intermediate Spanish, there was a large amount of fluid in the area around his heart. He would need to have it drained immediately. My boyfriend came directly from work to meet us and we got a cab to their partner emergency clinic. They performed the procedure and removed 120 ml of fluid from his pericardium. I went to see him the next afternoon and he was perky, seemingly on the mend. But why had this happened?
I was never given a name for it, but after doing my own research and proposing the condition to the vet, she confirmed. Cardiac hemangiosarcoma. A tumor inside the chamber of the heart.
After he stabilized, we picked him up and took him home on Tuesday evening. He seemed slightly confused, breathing a bit labored when he was laying down, but 100% better than he had been on Monday, barely able to walk more than a block. I felt guilty but most of all heartbroken. The prognosis for this type of cancer was not good. At worst, weeks. At best, a few months.
On the following Wednesday and Thursday mornings, I took him back to our neighborhood vet; to the doctor who had saved his life by finding what she wasn’t even looking for. Teary-eyed, I stumbled through my questions in Spanish. What was the cause? Genetic? Environmental?
“Es simplemente mala suerte,” she said sadly. It’s simply bad luck.
Thursday afternoon I hesitantly said goodbye to Louie and set off for Madrid-Barajas Airport to catch my flight to Dublin. I had an appointment Friday morning at the Spanish consulate to apply for my student visa which would allow me to remain in Spain to teach. My flight home was Saturday night. I told myself that once home, I would make the most of the time we had left.
Friday afternoon, I got in touch with the friend who had taken Louie to his cardiology appointment while my boyfriend was at work. The specialist found no additional fluid on the heart and was awaiting cytology results from the original sample sent off to the laboratory in Malaga. From there, we’d decide on further treatment or palliative care. The overall message was positive.
That evening, I lay on the hostel bed after an unsuccessful nap, pondering the excuse I would give to the old coworkers I was supposed to meet. I just wasn’t feeling up to it. Minutes later, a call came in from my boyfriend. Bordering on hysterical, he told me Louie had just passed away at home. I wailed into the phone. The only thought echoing in my mind was this: I wasn’t there with him and he would never understand why I had left.
The days and weeks following his passing have been painfully hard. Toys placed on the shelf, empty food bowls on top of the fridge, leash hanging on the hook by the front door; these are all that were left behind as reminders of a life ended so abruptly.
It took some time before I stopped expecting to see him behind the opened front door, to get used to hollowness of the apartment without the sound of his toenail clicks on the hardwood. It took some time before the tears stopped flowing.
I eventually got over the guilt but dealing with the bitterness was almost as hard. A healthy dog for the entirety of his short life, what were the odds he would contract this rare type of cancer? Even the vet said it herself: it was simply bad luck.
But after some tough reasoning, rather than use this horrible situation to bolster my perception of luck and why some things happen to some people and not others, I have to ask myself: was it bad luck that I adopted this wonderful dog 8 years ago? Bad luck to have had him as a faithful friend, traveling companion, source of joy and laughter?
Overwhelming, the answer is no. I miraculously found him among a sea of unwanted and abandoned dogs in the Baltimore City animal shelter and both our lives were better for the match. He was loved unconditionally and gave that love ten-fold in return. So while I may once again fall into the trap of blaming luck for future misfortunes, I have these enduring memories to remind me that the bad times are not always what they seem.