Sunday, March 10, 2013

Weekend Update: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Oscar has been doing really well lately.  Just like when caring for an older relative - some days are good and some are not so good.  Some days start out good and end badly or vice-versa.  I'm learning to roll with the punches and appreciate the good days.

We judge our days on these parameters:
1) Did we sleep?
2) Do we seem to be out of pain?
3) Are we walking well?
4) Did we fall in our poop?

We have scored gold stars for most days over the last 4 weeks.  We've been sleeping, we have not complained of pain, we've reduced our pain meds even!  And we only fell in our poop once!  Oscar's back end has been getting stronger, he's been able to do more.

But then (and there is eventually a "but") last night he started wandering, getting up and down off the bed a million times, barking (this means general discomfort, not usually severe pain).  I did not sleep but about 3 hours and this morning he was panting a little more than normal.

So we get in the car for our scheduled "underwater treadmill" therapy and on the way the Oscarmonster was not looking good.  He was panting more -- with a few high pitched sounds -- this usually means increased inflammation in the airway.  When Oscar has severe pain he starts to breathe badly.  And this is the time where I have to start watching him closely to make sure his breathing does not deteriorate.

But the worst thing was he started shaking!  The only time I have seen this is when they suspected he had a herniated disc and he ended up at the ER because he started to breathe badly.  This shaking definitely means he is in acute pain.  We were already on our way to the appointment we had scheduled.  So, I took this video so that the Physical Therapist could see what I was talking about.  I also called ahead to tell them what was going and to prepare them in case he got any worse on our trip.  The video is not that bad, but for the super sensitive soul - you might not want to watch. It breaks my heart but was important to show what was going on.

So when we got to the vet, Oscar was no worse and he did not appear to breathing as badly as he had in the past but I was happy that the vet techs were right there when we got there to assess him and try to figure out what was going on.  We determined that Oscar could not do his scheduled "underwater treadmill" and we would just put him in some warm water to relax him and then do laser therapy and massage.

By the end of that he was happy and relaxed.  No more shaking in pain, no more panting.  Oscar responds really well to basically "warm bath soaks" and I swear the laser therapy works instantly.  

This is Oscar after his bath and laser treatment, much more relaxed:

His treatment plan changed a bit -- more rest, more meds for a few days and then a recheck with the vet and some acupuncture on Monday.  My theory is we over-did it with swimming this week.  He was doing so well I think I just thought he could do more than he could.  It's such a delicate balance of increasing strength and not stressing out his old little joints.  I feel the same way at the gym sometimes.

This process is generally two steps forward, one step back, especially with an active dog that does not like to rest. But as long as he is happy (as he is 85% of the time), I am good with his treatment plans as laid out by GVR.

On Sunday (after 3 days of rest), Oscar is relaxed and does not appear in pain and very happy to cuddle in the sun.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

When Things Get Hard, Remember This...

When things get hard... and at some point they usually do... take a breath and remember some of the best advice I have ever received:

live in the past (focused on memories of your young dog frolicking, running and jumping with not a bit of grey around the muzzle) and in the future (worrying about what catastrophe is going to happen next).

Am I hungry? Am I warm?  Do I have water?  Am I in pain? Where's my toy?  What's that smell?

Oscar enjoying some ice-cream

Even when Oscar was walking as crooked as he has ever walked, tripping, falling, and at the point that he would prefer to lay on the ground and drink with his head IN his water bowl rather than bother to stand over it -- he couldn't care less! Seriously.  He didn't care.  As long as he had his basic needs met, he was content.

I remember times where I was laying on the floor with Oscar because he was walking crooked or in pain.  Sometimes, I was able to ease his pain or get him to settle.  Sometimes, I was only able to steal short naps throughout the night.  Those were long nights.  Such long, long nights.  They happen and they are going to happen.  But the sun rises in the morning, you talk to the vet, you change your treatment plan, try new things, alter medication schedules and usually it gets better.

In the beginning, my poor vet once got a desperate email from me that I wrote in the middle of another sleepless night when Oscar has having a lot of trouble walking.  I was blabbering saying stuff like "is this going to be it?  Is this going to be the end for Oscar?  He's not walking much at all and I'm so afraid that this is IT!" I am sure I sounded like a lunatic.  But I was convinced 'this' was it. That was 18 months ago.  Oscar is fine today.  And my vet probably still thinks I am crazy.

The thing is -- they are our babies and like the mother of a toddler: you feel every fall, every stumble and every pain -- probably more than they do!

I still worry that each fall is going to be the one that is irreparable.  But Oscar has had MANY falls and each time he heals.  Sometimes it takes a few hours, sometimes a few weeks.  But each time he has healed with rest, meds and his treatment plan.  This isn't saying that that ONE time may come.  It may.  It could have happened already.  But worrying about it is NOT going to do anything.

Some nights when Oscar's pain is keeping him up I have learned to "let go" a little and to literally say to him "honey, there is nothing else I can do tonight, but I promise I will call the doctor in the morning."

I am so lucky that on only one occasion was Oscar's pain so bad that we had to go to the Emergency Vet.  That night they believe he herniated a disc and he was so upset he immidiately when into respirtory distress and almost stopped breathing -- from the pain!  He spent 2 days in the ICU on oxygen and pain meds.  He was in SO much pain that that night was the first time I seriously thought to myself if his pain did not improve I would have to make the most difficult decision.  It was so bad. I was a basket of emotions and I was convinced that he would not get better. But after two days he began to heal and he was ready to come home and he DID HEAL!

Oscar with his IV catheter in at Georgia Vet Specialists

So remember dogs have an amazing ability to heal.  Give them time to do so!! I repeat that GIVE THEM TIME TO HEAL!  You will be surprised at what they can do!

Give them rest, medications (sedation is often useful), whatever therapy you can give them and TIME! You can try to limit their chance of re-injury, but just like a teenage kid, know you can not prevent everything!

And remember, you may be heartbroken watching your baby walk slow, really crooked or not at all.  But they live IN THE MOMENT and are usually a lot less bogged down by the emotional stress we feel so deeply. If they are excited about treats and still want to cuddle, let them enjoy that and turn your "human" brain off and enjoy your old dog!