I've been promising this post since late last year, partly as a way to explain why I got so quiet online between October and January (other than Twitter
, which was a lifesaver) and even canceled a few appearances, and partly as a PSA for other dog owners.
This is Meadow, for those of you who haven't met her. She's a retired racing greyhound who entered our lives on May 1, 2003. As you can see, she is a huge fan of teddy bears:
Forgive this post for being long and rambly, but at least I've shut up about my books for once.
Flashback, Fall 2004 (hmm, wondering if there's a presidential election tie-in to Meadow's symptoms--note to self: apply for research grant). Meadow was having mysterious pain that made her jump up and cry out for no apparent reason. At first we thought it was her stomach, but a veterinary internist palpated her spine and discovered the source of the ouch: a herniated (or ruptured) disc.
We kept her on "crate rest" for twelve weeks (I put it in quotes because it wasn't strict, which is probably why it took twelve weeks to heal), and she eventually recovered.
Last year she started having these symptoms again occasionally, and they got much worse after a particularly rigorous session of fetch on September 7. Same symptoms as before, but unlike before, she showed no response whatsoever to four different vets pressing down on her spine (not all at the same time). X-rays, ultrasounds, bloodwork showed nada, other than a possible Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever exposure.
The pain got worse. She would just be lying there, then suddenly jump up and scream. She'd run up and down the hall, jump on and off the couches, in a desperate attempt to get away from her own body. We took her to a neurologist, who examined her, then did an MRI and found four (4!!) ruptured discs. Since she had no neurological impairment (could walk, pee, feel her feet, etc.), he prescribed conservative treatment, i.e., crate rest.
Again the pain got worse. We tried acupuncture. Meadow hated
it--she cried and even snapped at the vet, something she'd never done before. We tried two more treatments, since acupuncture can sometimes take a while to succeed. She just got worse. She was on an anti-inflammatory, a muscle relaxant, and two painkillers (oh, and her allergy meds and an antibiotic for the RMSF, as well as some herbal calming stuff that didn't work).
Our vet was starting to murmur about "quality of life." He and Meadow's acupuncturist thought that if Meadow were this sensitive to pain, she would not handle surgery well. I was crying all the time, so angry that something like a ruptured disc could end up killing my eight-year-old dog, and so guilty over the mistakes we'd made in her care. The pain of losing Tiggy
was still fresh, and that had been after a long life and a normal disease of old age (kidney failure).
(Meanwhile, I'm trying to do a major rewrite on Bad to the Bone
, occasionally typing through the middle of the night as Meadow literally stood over me, wild-eyed shivering. There's a scene where Ciara goes half-insane with fear (in a funny way, of course), entirely inspired by those long, dark nights of my own soul.)
(A musical aside: During these weeks, I would put Loreena McKennitt CDs on repeat to help Meadow relax. I never
want to hear Loreena McKennitt again.)
But then...the neurologist
saved our lives. I took Meadow back to him and he scheduled her for surgery the very next day, November 21, and said she had a 75-80% chance of a full recovery (meaning not only no pain but zero neurological impairment). He put a pain patch on her (Fentanyl, which is like morphine) and said to bring her back in the morning.
So yay! We're on the road to Happy Days, right? Ehem. Little did I know the worst night yet was ahead of us. See, the Fentanyl patch started to kick in around 6pm that night, and man, did she look stoned. Called the vet, who said to peel half of it off to cut down on the meds. But it's sticky, right? Imagine the world's most adhesive Band-Aid, and someone's trying to peel it off your raw, furry skin. She wouldn't let us touch it. So in the car we go, back out into the boonies to the neurologist's office, where the overnight vet tech peeled it off while I held Meadow tight in my arms. She cried. It was heartbreaking. I looked at it the place where the patch had come off, and the skin had a thousand little cuts on it. She had literally been flayed! (Yes, I thought of Evil Willow from Buffy
We came home to the longest night ever. Whether it was the half-peeled Fentanyl patch or just the pain from her back, Meadow cried all night long. The only thing that would keep her quiet was me petting her and talking. I rambled on nonsensically for hours, just saying the next words that came into my mouth, which often had no relation to the words that came before them. I probably sounded like I
was stoned. Eventually I made Chris join me on the couch to help comfort her. Time has never moved so slowly. I kept telling Meadow, "Just four more hours, baby. Just three and a half more hours. Just three hours and twenty-seven more minutes."
Eventually daylight broke and we took her to the neurologist's. She gave me a look of panic as they led her back into the hospital, a look that screamed, "Mommy, nooooo!"
It's all good from here. The doc did dorsal laminectomies on five vertebrae. That means he sawed off the top protrusion of each vertebra (the bony part that sticks up if you're a dog, or out if you're a human standing up). This gave the swollen disc material some space so it would stop cramming itself against the spinal cord and causing pain/impairment.
She actually got up and walked
the day after the surgery. This is apparently unusual. Many dogs after this surgery can't walk and can't even feel when they have to pee and poop. But I guess Somebody had decided Meadow had been through enough hell. She came home three days later, her entire back shaven and two lines of staples (a long one on her back and a short one on her butt). Because greyhounds have thin skin, the razor had made a lot of cuts and scrapes. She looked pathetic.
But she was out of pain. I mean, other than from the surgery. Before she went in, she'd been on 6 Tramadol a day. After surgery, one Tramadol. And no yiping or crying, period.
So we embarked upon the eight-week Stage One of her recovery. Complete crate rest. I set up a very nice pen for her next to my side of the bed, with a big orthopedic dog bed and a few blankets for nesting (she likes big fluffy comforters, but I wanted her to lie flat). We stapled a dog bed to the wall to shield her from the cold air.
For the first few days, all she wanted to do was sleep. Our Thanksgiving was very quiet. We watched the Macy*s parade on the main TV, with a video monitor next to it featuring MTV (Meadow television). A week after surgery, Meadow turned back into Bratty Pwincess, barking when she got bored.
For the next six weeks, I relocated my office to the bedroom to keep her company. I listened to a lot of classical music, especially Christmas hymns. It was a peaceful time. I pretty much did nothing for the months of November through January except take care of Meadow (5-6 meals, a bajillion pills and several hot compresses a day), work on my proposal for the third and fourth vampire books, and then write the first half of Book 3. This is why I got so far behind in blogging, e-mail, contests, everything. Sorry (not really).
By the end of January, Meadow was off all her medications and allowed to go for ten-minute walks. By the end of February, it was two ten-minute walks a day. She had several hydrotherapy treatments (where she swam, or rather, floated
), which helped with her pain and muscle redevelopment. Here's one of the few photos we have of her recovery period (I put myself in her place and thought I'd never want to be photographed in that state):
Meadow turned nine years old today. She went for two walks, visited with the neighbor's kids and horses, and even chased a rabbit in the backyard. Seven months ago, we weren't sure if she would ever see this day.
For more information on canine disk disease, check out Dodger's List
. The group was a huge help to me during and after Meadow's surgery. But the biggest savior was the neurologist and his wonderful staff. If I had a million years, I could never thank them enough for giving us back our girl.
Hug your pups and kitties tonight.