In 2010 we had no idea that there was anything wrong with Madeline. Aside from a lack of social grace, she’d always received good checkup reports from the vet. I don’t remember if it was R or myself that first noticed her jowls were drooping a bit, but we quickly arrived at our conclusion: “Aww, Maddie! You’re getting fat as you get old! Fewer treats for you!”

I was dropping Madeline off for her dental exam when the technician asked me about her jowls. “Was she stung by something? Eat something unusual?”

“No, not that I know of.”

“Huh, I’m just wondering why her jowls are a little swollen.”

“Oh, that’s not swelling, she’s just getting old and fat,” I replied with a smile.

“Uh, well, I think that’s swelling, but I’ll have Dr. Morris take a look.”

Dr. Morris called later that day to let me know Madeline’s sedation was wearing off and that she was able to be picked up. I asked about her face. “Yeah, I looked at that, and it definitely looks like it’s swelling.” We had recently moved, so he thought perhaps it was an allergy to something new in the environment, or that she had been bitten or stung while rooting around on a walk. He suggested we give her Benadryl, and see if that addressed it.

I don’t remember the exact procession of tests and diagnoses now. I know that the Benadryl didn’t make it any better. That we thought maybe there was an issue with her lymph system, and at one point mast cell disease was suspected. Eventually we realized her pleural cavity – the space around her lungs – was filled with fluid, and needed to be drained.

Madeline by Nathan Yergler, on Flickr sb_float

I always sort of thought that’s when this started, but who knows how long it was going on. I found this photo taken in 2005 – five years earlier – and her jowls are definitely swollen compared to what I think of as normal for her. Maybe we just didn’t discover it until I’d moved to San Francisco.