The first health issue was mine. On the second day of 2015, I got a migraine that didn't respond to medication. While I constantly have new migraines cropping up, most do respond to my medications or, at the very least, I'm able to sleep them off. This migraine, though, didn't budge. My meds didn't make a dent. It was of the type that I call a "brain-in-flames" migraine, which feels pretty much like how it sounds. I also had a nasty black ball of migraine pain behind my right eye. Add fatigue, cognitive fogginess, and the usual sensory sensitivity, and then next thing I knew, I was spending 20 hours a day in bed, unable to do anything more demanding than read children's books.
Imagine that the light in this video of the sun is pain and you have an idea of what a migraine is like.
That went on for a couple of weeks and then I finally contacted my neurologist. You'd think I might have contacted the headache clinic sooner, but I'm pretty much at the limits of what can be done for my migraines, so I wasn't sure there was any point. But I was getting scared that this unending burning migraine with the ball of pain behind the eye was going to be my new normal, so they checked me out and set me up with three days of DHE injections and though the injections didn't really help dramatically at first, eventually the migraine sort of dribbled off. It was followed by an equal number of weeks of postdromal (post-migraine) symptoms, including serious fatigue and unusual sensitivity in my peripheral vision. While the migraine did ultimately go away, it definitely spooked me. There's nothing more alarming when you have a chronic condition to have some new (and worse) wrinkle appear!
|He spends most of his time sleeping now.|
|Mr. Gorgeous also has laryngeal paralysis, a condition not uncommon in large, geriatric dogs. As vocal cord function decreases, his bark has been reduced to a whispery "hoo! hoo!"|
Degenerative myelopathy causes progressive, irreversible damage to the spinal cord, eventually resulting in total paralysis of the hind end. Mr. Gorgeous' case has progressed much more slowly than I'd initially feared it would and while he walks with a flat-footed waddle and can't swing into his old trot without tripping over his feet, he's remained surprisingly mobile and still tackles the stairs on most days, albeit with a bit of a bunny hop. But the paralysis is still creeping onward and when I saw that he'd had diarrhea without even waking up, I was worried that I was looking at the first signs of loss of sphincter control. There's nothing less dignified than a grand old dog with poo-soaked fur and the idea that this is what it had come to really broke my heart. That vacant look, his loss of pleasure in his food, his lack of interest in having his ears rubbed, and that possible sign of the relentless progression of paralysis made me fear for the worst, and when I said good-bye to him when the gig was done, I said good-bye for real, in case it was the last time I saw him.
I've wondered before now how I would fare when Mr. Gorgeous' time came. I'm enormously fond of him, sure, and get a big kick out of him, but have never had that soul-to-soul connection like the one I have with my own dog or with Sweetheart the German Shepherd. I've been taking care of Mr. Gorgeous for five years, the longest of any of my dog clients, so I know him intimately, and I knew I'd miss him, but would I grieve for him? The answer is yes. I cried when I got home that evening and cried again in subsequent days as I faced the possibility of the world without Mr. Gorgeous in it. Maybe I didn't have that magical one-being-to-another connection, but this great-big, good-looking dog had clearly claimed a piece of my heart.
I was relieved, then, to learn that all this heartbreak was premature. That vacant look, the accident in his sleep? It was all the result of an upset tummy. However, when his owners took him to the vet for a checkup, the vet did find a serious problem: Mr. Gorgeous needed twelve teeth removed. I had wondered if his lack of appetite (and therefore his thinness) was the result of tooth decay, as is very common among elderly dogs, and his owners had switched him to a softer diet, but the mess in Mr. G's mouth went way beyond some sore teeth and into the realm of impeding disaster. He was scheduled right away for oral surgery, and as it happened, his people had to go out of town shortly after the surgery, so I was called in to play nurse.
|Mr. Gorgeous, minus a dozen of his teeth, including all of his lower front incisors.|
|He's not what he was in his prime, but Mr. Gorgeous is still one handsome beast.|
|A black light revealed a flora infestation.|
|Overheated from prednisone and wearing socks to prevent paw-licking, Abbey tries to get some rest by sprawling flat.|
|Stylish in baggies over socks.|
|My poor anxious girl hating every second of her daily foot soaking.|
|Socks? Check. Cone? Check.|
Seatbelt? Check. Let's ride!
|She may look like she's smiling, but prednisone made Abbey hot, restless, roughish, and voraciously hungry and thirsty.|
|A pretty Pyrenees.|
|There's mischief in those eyes.|
|A wide angle lens has distorted Cutie's size as she stands on the console, but she really is huge!|
|Trying to rub off her head halter.|
|A happy, tired Cutie after a walk.|
Of course, it's easy enough for a dog to like you when fun stuff happens every time you come over, so I'm actually very excited about a new client of mine, where the investment is going to be very different, but very rewarding.
|The tiny poodle.|
|Imagine being swept up and squeezed by a squealing giant standing more than 50 feet tall and weighing more than a ton and a half: that's what it's like to be Pipsqueak. No wonder people unnerve her!|
Pipsqueak and I hit it off right away when I consulted with her owners, so much so that she did me the honor of letting me pet her belly before I left. Apparently, I'm only the fourth person she's ever bestowed that privilege upon! She was much more timid when I came by the first time to spend a day with her, just the two of us, but she stayed in the room and on the couch (versus under the couch in a different room), which was a great start, so I just let her be. She pretended to ignore me and I pretended to ignore her. Eventually, she fell asleep. At one point, I looked up and saw that she had edged closer to me. I knew that this was a big display of trust on her part, and honored that trust by continuing to work quietly in her vicinity. She never felt quite comfortable enough to get off the couch during that afternoon, but we did progress to the point where she was wagging her tail when I offered her a treat (and eating the treat, too) and she did solicit some petting, including another offer to let me rub her tummy. I'm going to continue to do some short visits with her before doing overnight work, but I have confidence that as long as I take it slow, respect Pipsqueak's autonomy (and minute anatomy!), and move the relationship forward at her pace, we'll come to be good friends. As much fun as it is to be around a dog that loves everybody, meeting the needs of a dog that is scared to trust anybody is, to me, an honor. It's something that I can do that not everyone else has the patience or know-how to accomplish. Just as I felt is was a privilege to hand-feed Mr. Gorgeous slimy pieces of baloney if that's what he needed in order to recover from his surgery, I feel it is a privilege to work with Miss Pipsqueak and I hope to do right by her.
|Pipsqueak rewards me for my quiet patience by licking my hand while letting me rub her belly.|
During all this time, there was more migraine chaos. Some of it was caused by turbulent spring weather. I was driving out to Cutie's one afternoon, storm clouds looming and nausea rising, when I thought, "If I don't pull over RIGHT NOW and take some nausea medicine, I'm going to be pulling over in a mile to throw up." After stopping and taking the meds, I thought, "You know, if I'm going to be in danger of puking and likely get a nasty, weather-induced migraine to go with it, I'd prefer to be puking at home." So I hastily cancelled my walking duties, drove home with gritted teeth, paused to dry heave when I got in the door, and then went to bed for three days while the thunderstorms continued. Thankfully, Cutie's owners are very understanding and didn't expect me back until I was fully recovered.
|Thunderstorms bring rainbows and migraines.|
Some weeks later, I developed swelling in my neck around my throat. I was sure that it was related to a nasty too-much-blood-in-the-head migraine and stiff, sore neck I'd been having, but it was definitely weird. The swelling was sufficient enough to be visible and to put uncomfortable pressure on my throat when I swallowed. I was checked out by a nurse practitioner at my primary care doctor's office, where it was determined that my lymph nodes were fine, which seemed like the only other possible culprit. In the end, an injection of DHE, an erogtamine vasoconstrictor used to treat migraines, cured both the migraine AND the swelling, so I felt vindicated in my belief. I've had it thrice since. I'm thinking that exercise is an important contributor, because after doing research about histamine (an antihistamine helped bring the swelling down the second time it occurred), I realized that I've long had what is known as an exercise-induced histamine response. It's what causes my exercise-induced asthma, makes my nose run profusely when I exercise, and causes occasional episodes of itching. In simple terms, I'm allergic to exercise. Histamine, though we think of it as being solely associated with allergies, is actually what is known as an inflammatory mediator and is at work when there is swelling associated with injury and infections, too. In an effort to bring more white blood cells to an area where there is a legitimate injury or infection, or, in the case of allergies, when there is not a legitimate injury or infection but the body thinks there is, it causes blood vessels to dilate. Migraines also cause blood vessels to dilate. I think there is some interplay going on here when I exercise while I have a migraine, especially one with a lot of swelling, so my body is swarming with histamine and all those great big blood vessels in my neck get the message that they need to expand. I could be wrong, but my hunches when it comes to migraines have a pretty good track record. I'll be discussing all this in detail with my neurologist when I see her in a few weeks.
And finally, a very old, very sick cat that I looked after for a few month passed away. It was his time, but he was loved dearly by his family and will be missed.
So, between collies with oral surgery, paws with fungus, owners with hip replacements, poodles with anxiety, and some migraine weirdness, it's been a very busy spring. Undoubtably, there are more of all of these things to come!