Saturday, February 28, 2015

Day 1901

Although the weather got even worse overnight, Dot continues to get better. I was amazed that Dot's medical team even managed to get to the hospital today, since roads throughout the area were a sheet of ice when we woke up this morning. We were a little nervous when we didn't get our usual morning progress report phone call from the neurologist, but I imagine that things were pretty hectic at the hospital today. When we did get the call, everyone was all smiles. Dot continues to beat the odds with her amazing strength and determination. The neurologist told me that she and and others at the hospital find it hard to believe how old Dot actually is, since she continues to act like a much younger dog.

Dot is using her legs more than she was yesterday and appears to be in good spirits. Her appetite is good and she is sleeping well without strong sedatives. The hospital has already discontinued narcotic painkillers like Tramadol because Dot doesn't appear to need them. I'm glad they did this. I've never liked Tramadol anyway. It can be very addictive and has been responsible for many more accidental overdose deaths in humans than most people realize.

If Dot continues to improve at her current rate, she may end up being one of the lucky dogs who begin walking again in two or three weeks. Her nurse says she is already trying to put weight on her rear legs, although she still receives support from the Help "Em Up Harness whenever she tries to move. When I was using the harness with Dot before her surgery I could easily tell when she was trying to walk. There is a handle on the rear part of the harness just above the dogs hips and you hold it so the rear legs touch the ground without having to bear much weight. It feels a bit like being a puppeteer. As you get better at using the harness, you can sense when the muscles are working and when to provide more support. You can even encourage natural leg motion with subtle movement of your wrist. I think it is fantastic that Dot is already tentatively trying to walk, because I have heard that it can take up to three months before this happens.

The weather is so bad that Dot is much better off at the hospital that she'd be at home right now. Our yard is still slick and icy and the house is a bit chilly. Luckily, our furnace is working great this winter and there haven't been any problems with roof leaks. I'm used to spending lots of time in the house, but Janet is already getting cabin fever. She was determined to get out today and decided to go do her usual Saturday errands anyway despite the bad roads.

As the day progressed, the traffic in front of the house began to move faster and faster until I eventually became convinced that the roads were safe. I bundled up in a warm coat and left to do my errands as well. This was probably a mistake. The first thing I encountered was an enormous downed tree that had fallen across the road, blocking all but a single lane of traffic. When I successfully navigated this logjam, I quickly discovered that everyone in town had cabin fever. The roads were actually crowded today.

Most roads were clear and dry, except when they weren't. There were still patches of black ice here and there and they often caught people driving fifty miles an hour completely by surprise. Even though most of the ice had melted by mid-afternoon, I still saw quite a few wrecks. I drive slowly in this type of weather, never braking hard and coasting to a stop wherever I can. I'm always keeping an eye on my rear view mirror. I learned to drive in Alaska where the roads were icy all Winter. Ice is seldom the problem. It's the driver behind you who ignores the ice that causes most of the wrecks.

Dash has already appropriated Dot's special new dog bed. This is a minor problem though. Dogs are just like children in many ways. Tomorrow we will work on getting the house ready for Dot's return. If her progress continues, she could come home as soon as Monday afternoon.

Connor is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day

Friday, February 27, 2015

Day 1900

When Dot's neurologist called this morning to give us a progress report, she seemed pleased. Dot is already eating and drinking water on her own, so she was taken off of IV fluids today. When the nurses help her out to pee using a special sling under her belly, Dot moves her rear legs and even squats fairly normally. She can't support her own weight yet, or walk unassisted, but the neurologist assures me that this is normal at this stage of the game. Dot is still very weak and on a lot of pain medication, but everyone at the hospital thinks she's doing even better than expected. Her doctors are optimistic that she will learn to walk again.

I'm glad Dot is safe and warm at the hospital now, because the weather in Dallas has turned cold and nasty. It snowed most of the day and the temperature never got above freezing. Traffic was a nightmare and there were lots of wrecks all over the city. Janet and I both canceled afternoon appointments when we saw how the traffic was inching along in front of our house. It just wasn't worth trying to get out in this mess. You don't really worry about snow or ice when you venture out on days like this. You worry about the other drivers. A single idiot who doesn't know how to drive on snow can snarl up traffic for hours.

Dash is such a baby about walking in the rain that I didn't think he'd go out in the snow at all. Much to my surprise, he seemed to enjoy the stuff. We took a long walk where he hopped around in the small drifts, smelled the tracks left by other animals in the snow, and peed on everything. I think I got cold long before Dash did. I took some pictures while we were out to document the rare snowfall. The one I liked the best captured a single perfect snowflake caught in a spiderweb. If you look carefully, you can see the six sided flake suspended in the web.

We were going to visit Dot this weekend, but that will depend on the weather. It could get better tomorrow, or it could get worse. I think even the weather forecasters have given up trying to predict things. Two days ago, they said it was going to be sunny today. UPS delivered Dot's new rehabilitation dog bed this evening. It looks like it's about the right size and can be easily repositioned around the house when needed. Now we've just got to figure out an easy way to quickly assemble a secure fence around the bed when we have to leave. A friend said that that we could use some of the rubber backed rugs she'd used when she had an older dog who had difficulty walking. Slowly but surely, we're getting the house ready for Dot's return.

I'm glad I went to my favorite restaurant yesterday, because I certainly didn't feel like venturing out in the snow today. Apparently, not everybody shared my aversion to the wet stuff. Schools closed early and children were enjoying sledding down hills all over the neighborhood. I guess I've lost the fascination with snow I had as a child. I didn't build a snowman or even make a snow angel. It was fun watching Dash cavort around in the snow on our walk, but even he was glad to get back inside again where it was warm. I've got my fingers crossed for another sudden temperature reversal and a quick return to warmer weather. With the fickle Winter we've been having, it could happen at any time.

Thanks for keeping Dot in your thoughts and prayers. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's report from her medical team and I'll keep you posted on how she's doing. This remarkable dog has beat the odds again and again. Dot has been an inspiration to me for many years and it looks like the old girl is not ready to relinquish her role as the head of the household yet.

Princess is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Day 1899

I've been on pins and needles all day. Time passes very slowly when things are completely out of your control. We got up early this morning and drove Dot to the veterinary specialty center in Lewisville so she could be admitted for surgery. We filled out a bunch of paperwork, said goodbye to Dot, and then we waited. It was very quiet in the house today without Dot to warn us of cats and squirrels in the back yard. Even Dash could sense that something was wrong. I could tell Dot was scared when we were admitting her to the hospital this morning. I tried to reassure her, but I don't think I did a very good job. I was scared too

I tried to keep myself busy while I waited for the all important phone call from the surgeon. I went out to breakfast, even though it was almost lunchtime when we arrived back in Dallas. I finished a couple of writing assignments and sent them off to the client. I took Dash on a long and somewhat cold walk and then did a lot of pacing around the house. Finally, about 4:30 PM, the call I'd been waiting for arrived. The surgeon had good news. The arduous three hour surgery has gone well. The surgeon felt that she had been successful in removing the broken disc fragments in the L1 vertebrae that had been pressing on Dot's spinal cord. Now that the spinal cord is no longer compressed, the nerves will have a chance to heal and if we are lucky, Dot will walk again. Sometimes when a spinal disc ruptures, the fragments become attached to, or embedded in nearby blood vessels and are very difficult to remove. Dot was lucky. The fragments that had broken off and caused her paralysis were still clean and the surgeon was successful in removing all of them.

Dot is still not out of the woods yet, but she survived the surgery. That's the important thing. When the surgeon called, Dot was just waking up from anesthesia and was still under heavy sedation. She will be watched carefully tonight and for the next several days until her condition stabilizes. On Saturday, Dot's physical therapy vet will come to the hospital to give her acupuncture. This, along with cold pacs and laser treatments, will help reduce inflammation and speed healing.The best thing I heard from the surgeon today was that while Dot was waking up from anesthesia, she moved her rear legs. It was just a reflex action, but it means that there is still a nerve connection between the legs and the spine. There is hope.

Dot will spend the next five days in the hospital. While she is recovering, Janet and I will try to prepare the house for her return. We will need to connect the rooms with rubber backed carpet runners so Dot can safely move about without slipping on the brick floors. We will construct a "safe" area where we can leave Dot for short periods of time when we have to leave the house. It is very difficult to crate a large dog with leg injuries, so I am envisioning something that can be placed securely around a dog bed, so she cannot attempt to get up and move about on her own without supervision. Even if things go very well, we will have to continue to support Dot using the Help 'Em Up Harness for quite a while.

Our very first Dalmatian had spinal surgery to remove a tumor when he was eight years old. Spot's recovery was difficult for all of us, but he did learn to walk again and continued to live a happy life. I'm hoping that Dot can do the same. Spot's spinal surgery was the first. I'm hoping that Dot's will be the last. After dealing with nine difficult surgeries on five different dogs, I'm not sure I have the stamina to do this again.

Bingo is today's Dalmatian of the Day

Watch of the Day

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Day 1898

I'll never get used to Texas weather. There was rain mixed with sleet when I woke up. By the time I finished breakfast, the rain had turned to snow. By lunchtime the snow had already melted. By the time I took Dash on his evening walk there were clear blue skies and sixty five degree temperatures. This happens frequently. Actually, I think we are supposed to repeat the whole schizophrenic weather pattern this weekend.

I spent a big chunk of today retouching a photo for a client in Photoshop. It amazes me how much Photoshop has changed the way we look at things during the past twenty years. Photoshop isn't just for Sports Illustrated swimsuit models these days. Everybody uses it. We have gotten so used to looking at idealized perfection that people can't seem to tolerate images that show anything less.

Against my better judgement, I climbed up on the roof and cleared the accumulated water off the roof as soon as the skies cleared. There was an enormous amount of standing water on the roof and I didn't want it to freeze. Yes, within 48 hours another cold wave will arrive and we will have sub-freezing temperatures again. I wish I could just ignore the water, but it is so heavy that the longer I leave it, the sooner it will cause the roof to settle and buckle even more. I think the low spots are already sinking lower, because less water seems to drain off the edge of the roof than it did a few years ago. At least the roof doesn't leak anymore, but my fear is that the roof leaks will start again if I leave four inches of water on top of it continually. In July this water would just evaporate after a rain. Not in February.

I wish I could report that Dot had miraculously started walking again, but she still spends her day laying in various soft dog beds scattered around the house, waiting for me to move her around, or take her out to pee. She is in remarkably good spirits, considering her lack of mobility, but this is no way to live. I really hope that the surgery provides some relief and allows the healing process to begin. If I could ask Dot if she wanted to go through major surgery again, I'm sure she would say no. If I could ask her if she wanted to walk again, I'm equally sure she would say yes. I hope we made the right choice.

I called the hospital again today to confirm our check-in time and continue to hope that Dot will stay strong and be able to cope with the difficult days she has ahead. The surgeon told me that some dogs begin walking on their own within two weeks after her type of surgery. Others of course, require months of physical therapy. I hope that Dot is one of the lucky ones. She has been my friend and constant companion for over a decade now and I don't want to lose her. Please keep Dot in your thoughts and prayers tomorrow as she goes through this difficult but necessary surgery. The surgery itself will take about three hours, which seems like a very, very long time to me.

It feels like there is still a lot of unfinished business today, but it is getting late and we all need some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a very long day.

Cookie is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Day 1897

Another cold, grey day. Although the temperature hovered around freezing all day, a lot of the ice melted anyway. I'd say the worst is over, except that I'm hearing we are supposed to get snow tomorrow. Our Winter is so mild compared to what people are experiencing on the East Coast, but it's still too cold for me. I'm ready for Summer. Truthfully, I think I'm always ready for the next season, never fully appreciating the season I'm currently experiencing.

Work was slow today. I think I finished all my assignments before noon. On days like this, I usually fret. What happens if it snows when we have to take Dot to the specialty center for surgery? What happen if my teeth start to hurt again before I get Dot's surgery paid for? What happens if the water heater starts to leak? What happens if I fall off the roof? The list is endless.

In a lot of ways it's better when I'm overworked and trying my best to meet impossible deadlines. When I'm trying to meet a deadline, I don't have time to think about anything else. I seldom fret when I'm really busy. I think this is one of the reasons that Janet wants to go back to work. Having time to think can be a dangerous thing.

I made a list of questions for Dot's vet and neurologist. I feel a little better now that most of them are answered. I actually learned a few things by asking questions today. Does Dot get her heartworm pill on March 1, while she is still in post-op recovery at the hospital? Nope. It's better to wait until she comes home again and is a bit stronger. Does Dot continue taking prednisolone while she is at the hospital. Yes. Actually the dose will probably be increased right after the surgery to minimize inflammation. Will Dot became incontinent again? Maybe. She will have to be on fluids for a few days.

I got a call from an insurance company in Indiana this afternoon, asking me about the accident in California. I told them that Hertz was handling the entire thing, but they didn't seem to be aware that Hertz's insurance was taking care of this or was even involved. I have a feeling that this is going to be like dealing with Medicare problems. I'll have to explain the entire story to ten different people before the whole thing gets resolved.

A few people in Dallas are looking forward to snow tomorrow. Most of us have more sense. We didn't move to Texas to deal with snow. When you've got rattlesnakes, tornadoes, and 110 degree days in August, you don't need to be throwing snow into the mix.

I must not be sleeping well. For the past several days my fitness band app has been asking me if I was actually asleep the night before. Apparently, I've been sleeping so lightly that the UP band can't tell whether I'm awake or not. When I say say "yes" of course I've been sleeping, the app prepares a pitiful chart that shows three or four hours of light sleep. I'm sure that the sleep deprivation and fretting are connected somehow. It's weird. It's so easy for me to just not care at all about so many things, but I really do care about these dogs.

Nora is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day

Monday, February 23, 2015

Day 1896

The dreaded ice storm wasn't as bad as everyone expected. There was certainly a fair amount of ice and sleet on the ground when we woke up this morning, but we still had electric power and a few brave souls were even out on the roads. I had no desire to join these people. Driving on black ice is just asking for trouble. I started the car to make sure the battery still worked in the sub-freezing temperatures, but I never left the driveway.

There was plenty to do around the house anyway. Taking care of Dot is almost a full time job. She's starting to get cabin fever, so I try to walk her around a bit using the harness whenever she appears restless. Neither of the dogs wanted to be outside for long today. It was just too cold. Dash has become a model of efficiency about doing his business lately. He used to take forever to poop on his evening walks, but for the past two days he poops and pees almost immediately. We had completed our walk and were back in the house within five minutes this evening.

There were no writing jobs today, so I took care of my usual website updates and began editing another video. I can edit using either the laptop or desktop computers, but I've got to choose one or the other. Dot must have thought I picked the wrong one, because almost as soon as I began the tedious editing process in the office, she wanted me out in the living room with her. Even though Dot mostly just sleeps, you can't really let her out of your sight. You never know when she'll try to get up on her own, and since she's still taking prednisolone, you have to be able to get her outside to pee in a hurry.

I'm so glad that our power didn't go out today. Ice and snow days seem to last forever anyway, but enduring frigid weather while trapped inside a freezing house is even worse. Dealing with all these things with a sick and very immobile dog would have probably driven me over the edge. Dot did surprisingly well navigating our icy back yard when I took her out to pee. She had lots of help of course, but it was still encouraging to see her front legs move so confidently on the slick ground.

There is already another NASA event on the horizon and it appears that two people in the group that joined me at Vandenberg Air Force Base are planning to attend. I'm a bit envious. I wonder how these people have the time and money to do this so frequently. This event will be the first test firing of the rocket that will eventually take astronauts to Mars. This is a static test, so the rocket will never leave the ground, but it will still be very impressive. The test site is located near Promontory, Utah, which is even more remote than Vandenberg Air Force Base. Lord know how expensive it would be to fly there from Dallas. Oh, well. Maybe in a year or so, when Dot gets healthy again, I can start thinking about attending these events again.

It's going to be another very cold day tomorrow, but at least the danger of ice is receding. I'm mainly worried about the weather on Thursday, when we have to transport Dot to the specialty center in Lewisville where she will have her spinal surgery. It would be nice if you could deal with all stressful things on clear, warm Spring days, but nature doesn't work that way. As long as we continue to have electric power this week, I guess I'll be OK.

Joey is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Day 1895

I took my morning shower armed with a plunger and drain cleaning tools. Before the hot water ran out, I managed to unclog the slow moving shower drain, do several of my shoulder stretching exercises, and wash my hair. This is as close to multitasking as I'll ever get. Later in the morning, I changed the furnace filters and discovered that, much to my surprise, there was nothing wrong with the Anton Bauer camera batteries after all. Silly me. For weeks I had thought I was going to have to buy new Pro Pac batteries because they would no longer power my LED lights. I completely forgot that the Gold Mount adapter I had added to the lights actually had to be plugged into something. Oops. When I plugged in a little cable I found in my camera bag that connected the battery adapter to the power input, the lights worked just fine.

It was nice to have a free flowing bathroom drain and some movie lights that actually work, but I couldn't rest on my laurels. As the day progressed, it kept getting colder and colder. The dreaded Icemageddon storm is on it's way. I did a big load of laundry to make sure that we didn't have a washing machine full of dirty towels if the power went out during the ice storm. I started systematically charging up my electronic devices. I wish there was a way to store up heat in advance, but there isn't. We have lots of single pane glass in the house and no fireplace. Once the power goes out, it gets cold almost immediately.

I dread taking Dot out to pee during the night if the ground ices over as everybody expects. It's hard enough to choreograph our short walks as it is. The goal is to keep Dot upright using the special harness without falling over myself. It's pretty easy to step in poop in the dark as well. Maybe we won't get freezing rain and sleet tonight after all. That would be nice. I'm not counting my chickens before they hatch though. It's currently raining outside and the temperature has already dropped to 32 degrees. This sounds like a recipe for an ice storm to me.

Even with her crippled legs, Dot is still better about doing her bathroom business in bad weather than Dash. When she needs to go, she takes care of her business quickly and immediately comes back inside again. Dash, on the other hand, freaks out whenever he gets wet. I tried to use a brief lull in the rain this afternoon to take Dash on a walk. It was still sprinkling a bit though, so Dash thought the sky was falling. He didn't pee or poop at all and we both came home wet. This means that he will probably whine at the back door tonight, but refuse to go outside when I open it. He still seems to think I have the power to stop the rain and gets mad when I don't make the bad weather go away.

Janet is listening to the Oscars in another room. I can't sit through these award shows anymore. They are just too long. The Oscars and the Grammys both make the Superbowl seem short. If you count all those red carpet fashion shows that precede the Oscars, you could easily spend the entire day watching this event. I did manage to see two movies that were nominated for an Oscar this year. That's two more than I saw last year.

Jeez, I hope we wake up with electricity and heat tomorrow morning and don't see any downed trees in our back yard. Ice storms have not always been kind to us.

Maggie is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Day 1894

I went to Home Depot while Janet was watching Dot to stock up on furnace filters, drain cleaners, plungers, light bulbs and other mundane items that never seem to be there when you need them. On the way home, I paid another visit to the storage warehouse and resumed my search for the Anton Bauer battery charger. This time I found the elusive gadget, although it remains to be seen whether this charger is any better than the other one at home which appears to be worthless. I'll give the batteries 24 hours on the charger before I declare the entire effort a lost cause.

Dot seems to have reached some sort of plateau. She's not getting better and not getting worse. When I lift her up with the harness, she will move her legs but they will not support any weight. I try to hold her at just the right height, so her legs just touch the ground and she can simulate walking. Nobody's fooling anyone though. She and I both know that this is not really walking. For those of you who have asked, Dot's surgery is scheduled for next Thursday.

Since life is kind of hectic right now, I didn't finish all my assignments before the weekend rolled around. Watching over Dot this afternoon gave me an opportunity to catch up on everything. I wrote another article and shipped it off to its destination. I completed the updates on two more websites and looked at a video link that a client sent me. When people e-mail me YouTube links with a subject line saying "beautiful example," it usually means that they'd like to do something similar. I guess if we need to copy something, this would be a good place to start. The video was quite nice.

I'm grateful that we don't have to deal with all the snow that people on the East Coast are getting, but our Winter has still been a bit strange. One day it will be freezing cold and the next day it will seem like Spring. The plants are getting very confused. I have already seen daffodils blooming in the park and some trees are starting to bud. This is unfortunate, because there is more cold weather on the way. We are supposed to have freezing rain and sleet on Monday and Tuesday. Freezing rain is just a code word for power outage to me. I hate freezing rain.

I've got everything I need now to unclog the slow bathroom drain, so I guess that's what I'll do tomorrow. Maybe something more exciting will intervene and allow me to postpone this loathsome task. I certainly hope so. I need to get the water off the roof too, but I'm a bit wary about climbing up on the roof these days. Seeing Dot's condition reminds me that these things can happen to people as well. The last thing I need right now are back problems.

Lizzy is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day

Friday, February 20, 2015

Day 1893

We have scheduled Dot for surgery. This was and will remain a very tough decision. Dot is an old dog. She doesn't know this however. Her irrepressible spirit has carried her through tough challenges before and I'm hoping it will again. Watching her progress this week, I am convinced that she is determined to walk again. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that prednisolone alone will ever provide a realistic path to recovery. After a week on the drug, she still can't stand on her own. Prednisolone isn't a long-term solution anyway and we have already had to reduce her dosage to avoid risks and complications. The real problem is that her spinal cord is still compressed and pinched by the herniated disc. Until this pressure is released, there is a real danger that she could damage the cord further, eliminating any chance for recovery.

If Dot could continue to make small improvements day after day until she eventually walked on her own again, I probably wouldn't even consider surgery. Both the neurosurgeon and my regular vet have already told me that this outcome is unlikely. The initial improvements we saw from giving her prednisolone have already slowed and we can't continue using steroids forever. I'm becoming more and more convinced that despite the risk, spinal surgery is the only alternative that will give Dot a realistic opportunity of walking again.

I really hate making decisions like this, but avoiding them is even worse.You've got to be able to make decisions to lead a normal life. I have known some genuinely indecisive people in my life and most of them were miserable. You simply can't stay sane if you are continually second guessing every aspect of your life. I know that Dot wants to walk again. I also know that Janet, Dot and I cannot continue living like this forever. Our current routine is unsustainable. When Dot finally realizes that she can no longer move, she will become depressed and lose her will to keep going. Janet and I will simply burn out at some point. The surgeon told me today that in the best of worlds, Dot could be walking again within two weeks after surgery. In the worst of worlds, recovery could take up to three months. I can live with that. Of course there is always the possibility that the surgery will fail completely. Everyone says this possibility is very small, but you've got to be prepared for it.

I'm glad I had an opportunity to go out and have my special breakfast this morning. The rest of the day was extremely busy and stressful. I spent the day trying to anticipate what Dot was going to do next while I was working on completing my writing assignments and fine tuning the new business presentation my friend and I are working on. There were some website revisions as well, but I haven't even had time to get around to them yet. I wish that Dot preferred sleeping right next to my computer, but she usually doesn't. The petcams work pretty well for monitoring Dot's activity in other rooms, but I have to act fast if I sense that she is going to try to get up on her own. We don't want her to do that! Dot needs to go outside and pee a lot more often now as well. That's one of the side effects of the prednisolone. So far, I am juggling all these activities pretty well, but it is exhausting.

I'm glad that Dot is still happy. That helps a lot. I wish I could sleep all day tomorrow, but I suspect that tomorrow will be exactly like today. They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. If that's true, I should be pretty strong by Summer.

Odie is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Day 1892

The days are starting to run together. I get up at 4 AM to take Dot out to pee. I go back to sleep again for a few hours. I walk Dash. Janet and I figure out a schedule for who is going to monitor Dot during the day. I do some writing. I work on a few websites. I take a shower. I worry about Dot some more. Now, what day is it today?

During one of the periods where it was Janet's turn to watch Dot, I went to the storage warehouse to look for my Anton Bauer Quad charger. I couldn't find it anywhere. Did I throw the charger away years ago because it was defective? Is it really at home somewhere? Is it hidden away behind a cardboard box in the storeroom somewhere? I don't have a clue. What is the use of having a storage warehouse if I can't find anything anymore?

On my way home, I stopped at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. I was surprised to see that the price had doubled. "Has my coverage changed," I asked the pharmacist? It was a legitimate question, since insurance coverage is constantly changing. "No, your coverage is the same," the pharmacist said. "We just raised our prices."

I finished my component of the new business proposal that my friend and I are working on. He thought it looked good, but wondered whether we could deliver something so ambitious. I think this is doable, but we'll never know till we try. If we get this business, I'll be even busier than I am now. A lot busier. Busy is good though. At least I won't worry about vet bills so much. It's amazing how much better I've become as a writer since I've been forced to totally depend on this skill for a living. What I accomplish in an hour these days used to take me an entire day at the ad agencies. That being said, I had a lot more fun as a young ad agency creative. Work has been more of a chore than an adventure lately. That's what I like about this new proposal. If we get this gig, it is entirely possible that the adventure may return.

When my vet came over this afternoon to give Dot acupuncture and cold laser therapy, I asked her what she would do about surgery if Dot was her dog. "I'd probably go for it," she said, and then quickly added, "but only because I'm a vet." I wanted to ask "But what would you do if you were me," but of course she isn't me. This is a very rough surgery for a dog as old as Dot, and I don't have the knowledge or the resources that a good vet has. When she's having a good day I want to leave Dot alone. If she's only got a year left anyway, why make six months of that year an arduous recovery from major surgery? When Dot is having a bad day, I want to pull out all the stops and do everything possible. I need to remember that this go for broke attitude doesn't always work.

I still regret trying to intervene when we discovered Greta had liver cancer. The surgeon was very good, but the cancer had already metastasized and Greta was too old and weak to survive. She never even made it out of the hospital. Spot's second TPLO surgery was a mistake. The surgery on his left knew was so successful that we thought it would succeed equally well on the other knee when he tore a second anterior cruciate ligament. The second surgery failed. Spot was a lot older by then and even though the surgery was technically a success, Spot never walked again. It's hard to forget these things, even though many other surgeries succeeded brilliantly.

Janet is going to stay with Dot tomorrow morning so I can go enjoy my favorite breakfast. She goes to the gym almost every day now to stay sane. I depend on a great breakfast at least once a week.

Spot is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Day 1891

I got a call from an old friend this morning, asking if I'd like to work with him on a new business proposal. It was kind of therapeutic to have something to think about other than sick dogs. If we got this business, it would be fun to work on. Almost like old times. I gave my friend an enthusiastic "yes" to his proposal and will begin working on a budget for the project tomorrow.

Janet and I are having a tough time making a decision about spinal surgery for Dot. We have both talked to friends with back problems and some have opted for surgery while others wouldn't even consider it. Spinal surgery is very different from repairing broken bones or removing tumors. Even the surgeons themselves are very guarded about promising a successful outcome. All I know is that sometimes it works and other times it doesn't.

For the moment, Dot seems happy enough. She isn't depressed and doesn't appear to be in much pain. Dot spent a big part of her day sleeping before the injury and she still spends a big part of her day sleeping. She still very enthusiastic about eating her dinner and she can pee and poop relatively normally with my assistance. The only thing she really misses is her morning walk. I can see the disappointment in her face when I take Dash on a walk without her. If I walk Dash, Janet stays behind with Dot. If Janet walks Dash, I stay behind. One of the things I need to ask the neurologist before we make a decision is whether she will ever be able to take a normal walk again, with or without the surgery. Dot loves her walks, and if her walking days are already over, it might be pointless to put her through the trauma of risky major surgery for nothing.

This month's credit card bills took my breath away. The trip to Vandenberg Air Force Base to watch the satellite launch, the recent cancer re-checks and ultrasound imaging for Dot and Dash, along with Dot's recent MRI were all on the same bill. I definitely hope my friend's big new project materializes. One way or another, I'm going to have to step up my game a bit to pay for this stuff.

Dot's vet is terrific. She's going to make another house-call tomorrow to give Dot acupuncture and evaluate her condition. I've seen improvements in Dot's condition every single day, but I don't know whether these small changes will continue or ever be enough. Even with the prednisolone, Dot still can't stand up on her own. The question I have for all vets at one point or another is "what would you do if this was your dog?" Usually they're pretty honest.

All in all, today wasn't bad. Dot and I are working out a routine that gets us through the day. Janet already has a nice job offer on the table from someone she respects. For the past two days I've been able to take care of Dot while still completing my normal workload. Maybe we can get through this after all. It was even relatively warm and sunny today. By the time Dash and I took our evening walk, it was 60 degrees.

Bailey is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Day 1890

The hardest thing about caring for a sick dog is that they don't understand what's going on. Even in her weakened and very compromised condition, Dot still wants to go about her normal life. If I wasn't continually watching her like a hawk, Dot would attempt to drag herself around the house, further damaging her already fragile spinal cord. In situation like this you've got to confine the dog to a small safe space where they can't hurt themselves, while still providing enough attention and activity so they don't become terribly depressed. Since Dot is taking prednisolone, she doesn't even have the luxury of sleeping for long periods of time. The drug makes her drink lots of water and urinate frequently, so she has to go outside and pee every few hours. I have to be prepared to move her with the Help 'Em Up Harness on very short notice. So far, I think I'm doing a pretty good job with all this, but it's exhausting.

During the periods when Dot was sleeping today, I managed to write another new article and submit it to my client. There were also a variety of website management issues that needed to be dealt with along with some client correspondence that needed to be addressed. With my isolated, computer centered work environment, I imagine that my work life will continue pretty much as usual. I will still sit in a small room and stare at a large monitor for long periods of time. I can still do anything that can be accomplished using a keyboard and a phone. I just can't do anything else.

I was hoping the decision that needs to be made about surgery would become easier as I watched Dot's progress. So far, it hasn't. I see small signs of improvement each day, but they are very small. I don't know if it will be weeks or months before her condition becomes significantly better. The main problem is that I don't have months. If the prednisolone isn't effective at reducing the inflammation in her spine enough for Dot to stand on her own again, her paralysis will become permanent.

Dot's vet is going to come over to the house in a few days to evaluate her condition and give her another acupuncture treatment. I'm hoping that she is able to see something I might have missed. It was much easier to make a decision about Dot's abdominal and Dash's thyroid cancer last year. Even though the surgery was risky in both cases, they both had to have it, or they would die. The surgeon was also very confident about his ability to remove the tumors. Spinal surgery is a lot trickier. Removing a foreign object from the spinal cord without damaging the cord itself is a very delicate process and extremely difficult for the best of surgeons. The fact the Dot would have one of the best neurosurgeons in Texas doing the operation still wouldn't give her more than a 60% chance of success.

I've been through this before with other dogs, but I was younger then. I'm incredibly tired right now. I know it's just a matter of time before this crisis joins all the other traumatic moments in my past. Even the healthiest of dogs won't live forever. Janet will probably return to work as soon as this crisis is over. It's a mystery to me why she doesn't enjoy retirement, but it is an equal mystery why dogs don't live longer. Whatever happens, I'll still be here recounting the tiny details of daily life. Dot and Dash might not be able to make it until Day 5000, but I'm determined to hang in there.

Lexi is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Monday, February 16, 2015

Day 1889

If I were starting a blog today I would probably title it What New Kind of Hell Is This instead of Some Assembly Required. The current title is entirely too positive for my present frame of mind. I don't have a lot held in reserve anymore. Small setbacks are starting to bother me much more than they should. Case in point. Our power went out again last night. Actually, we lost power twice. Yes, it rained, but it was only a light rain. So far this year, the power has gone out almost every single time it has rained. You would think the power company could do better than this. Clearly, something in the system needs to be upgraded. We have had notoriously unreliable electric power ever since we moved to this neighborhood, but I think the outages this year are worse than ever.

I was dreading spending the day in a cold house with a sick dog that can barely more. Luckily, the power was restored this morning, the furnace kicked in, and pretty soon we were back to normal. Taking Dot out to pee in the rain was problematic. The ground was wet and slick and I had to be extra careful not to fall myself. On cold days I have to position things around the house so that I'm ready to go when Dot lets me know it's time to pee. Once I'm holding her hips up with the harness, it's hard to turn her around to look for a coat or a missing pair of shoes. I'm trying to remember to leave a pair of easy to slip on shoes sitting by the back door, but half the time they're still in another room when I need them most.

Dot and I are learning to establish the new routines and rituals that will get us through the day. She sleeps a lot anyway, and I've learned that if I'm patient and hold her up while she wanders around aimlessly for a while, she will quickly find a comfortable place to sleep and I can get some work done. It works better if I try to adapt my life to her schedule, rather than the other way around. Since she can't move on her own, I need to make the short amount of time when she still feels like trying to walk as relaxed and comfortable as possible. I've learned how to massage her legs and at least three times a day I manually work her leg muscles in a gentle bicycle motion to help prevent atrophy. When Dot is resting and lying down she actually seems to like this.

The Withings Baby Monitor only covers one room, but I've discovered that I can use the camera in my laptop as a petcam to watch her if she wants to sleep in a different room. I just move the laptop to wherever she happens to be. Despite the unfortunate power outage and my duties as a watchful 24-7 pet nurse, I was able to get quite a bit done today. My big objective was getting a major website update completed. There is a new team responsible for this website now and we are still figuring out the best way to work together. Since I managed to get the updates online, I guess we are doing something right.

I hope the weather warms up and dries out quickly. Rain certainly complicates things. I definitely don't want to get Dot's special harness wet, because she is helpless without it. I am already resigned to the fact that I'll probably have to replace a lot of the landscaping later in the Spring. As I tramp around in my work boots, holding Dot up as she looks for the perfect place to pee, I am destroying the bedding plants and ground cover. This happened once before when I was helping Petey walk during his final year with us. When Spring arrived that year, most of the Asian Jasmine was completely dead. It's easy to re-landscape though. It's going to be a lot harder to get Dot walking again.

Joshua is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Day 1888

How many dogs have a vet who is nice enough to make house-calls? I was delighted this morning when Dot's regular vet called and asked if I'd like her to come to the house so Dot could get an acupuncture treatment today. Acupuncture alone won't get Dot walking again, but it is very effective at releasing endorphins which can reduce stress and alleviate pain. Dot has always enjoyed her acupuncture therapy. It seems to relax her and leave her feeling better for the rest of the day. Even though she had one of her "stranger danger" barking episodes when the vet initially arrived, she quickly relaxed and almost fell asleep as the needles did their work.

I was hoping to hear some encouraging words about Dot's progress, but truthfully any progress so far has been minor and rather subtle. Dot can sometimes move her legs, but the rear legs cannot currently support any weight. I have to hold her legs up using the special harness that she wears almost all the time now. She appears stronger when something excites her. When she saw a car in the alley behind the house this morning, Dot wanted to go investigate like she usually does. She walked all the way to the back fence with me holding her up with the harness. If I hold the special harness just right and encourage her to walk very slowly, she can make somewhat normal walking motions. She attempts to move her rear legs forward too when she pees. I have to supply all the muscle for these efforts though. Unaided, she cannot get up, or walk at all. As soon as she gets a bit tired, she starts dragging her rear legs behind her even when I am holding them up with the harness. It is very discouraging. I've nursed sick dogs back to health before, so I know I have to be very patient. Keeping your expectations low doesn't make the job any easier though. It's easy to get very sad.

Putting Dot's dog bed next to our low platform bed worked out pretty well last night. Dot slept soundly and did not seem disappointed to give up her regular spot in the middle of the bed. Since Dot is taking prednisolone now, she can't make it through the night anymore without getting up to pee. After all we went through to cure her incontinence after the cancer surgery, I'm back to getting up in the middle of the night again. Having her sleep on the floor does make this process a bit easier. I don't have to wake up everybody else and getting her outside in time is pretty easy when she sleeps with her harness on.

Janet went to help with a Dalmatian Rescue event this afternoon, but it was no problem taking care of the dogs by myself. Typically, they just sleep during the day. At first I though that I'd have to have Dot next to me at all times, but I've discovered that I can use the baby monitor to keep an eye on her when I'm in another room. I'm going to have to learn how to manage on my own anyway. Janet hates retirement and I feel like it's just a matter of time before she goes back to work again. She's very good at what she does and people in her field are already trying to tempt her with job offers. I would welcome retirement in her situation, but that's just me. At the rate we're burning through money trying to keep these two dogs healthy, it would probably be good to have two incomes again anyway.

I have lots of vet friends and I often wonder how they handle the stress of seeing sick and dying dogs everyday. Vets have seen everything. My vet was trying to cheer me up this afternoon and she said, "At least Dot doesn't have Degenerative Myelopathy." This is certainly true, but not very comforting. It would be like going to my doctor about shoulder pain and having him say, "Well, at least you've still got a shoulder." I'm a good writer, but I think I'd make a very poor doctor.

I think about surgery vs. no surgery all the time now. Both choices have a reasonable chance of good or terrible outcomes. Basically, it's just a crap shoot.

Lucky is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Day 1887 - Valentines Day

After viewing Dot's MRI scans with the neurologist this morning, it became painfully clear why she is having problems. Several spinal discs were visibly deformed, but one in particular was pressing directly against the normally round spinal cord, squeezing it into a squashed oval shape. There was a tiny shard or fragment from this damaged disk that looked like it was poking into the spinal cord itself. I was going to show you the image this evening so you could see for yourself, but unfortunately the DVD the hospital burned for me was another damaged disc. When I got home, my computer said the DVD was blank.

I typed up a list of questions this morning before we drove up to the hospital to pick up Dot. The neurologist was very patient, answering every question and much more. The only thing that she wasn't able to do was promise me that Dot's problems could be resolved. Could the little shard that had broken off from the disc be successfully removed without damaging the spinal cord? It is very likely that it could. Could something go wrong during surgery, making her condition even worse? Yes that could happen too. Could steroids alone reduce the inflammation around the spinal cord enough to allow Dot to resume a reasonably normal life. Possibly. This appears to be one of those things that you just don't know until you try. One of the keys to non-surgical treatment is 100% bed rest for up to eight weeks. Nerves are very fragile, are easily damaged, and can take a very long time to regenerate.

I felt a little better about the possibility of surgery after talking to the neurologist today. I felt a little worse about the whole recovery process after I read a website that described in great detail the many ways that dogs can screw up their own recovery by just being dogs. Dogs don't understand the concept of 100% bed rest and will do everything they can to resume their old activities. You have to watch them like a hawk at all times to ensure that they don't injure themselves.

As bad as it is, there are small signs of hope. When we took Dot to the specialty hospital her rear legs were completely lifeless. This morning, I could see small signs that she was attempting to move them. As I used the Help 'Em Up Harness throughout the day to get her outside to pee, I would often notice that her legs were attempting to move. Dot is a long, long way from being to support her own weight without assistance, but the fact that there is still a little feedback between the nerves in her legs and her spinal cord was encouraging.

I had to be the legs for my first Dalmatian during the last year of his life and it just about killed me. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this is where all my current shoulder problems originated. Spot had a different problem than Dot has now, however. With Spot, a combination of hip dysplasia and a late in life cruciate ligament tear caused most of of the weakness in his rear legs. Spot was very weak but was never completely paralyzed. It was still possible to take him on walks using a supportive harness. Dot's condition is more serious.

Helping Dot recover will test the limits of my housebound lifestyle. Even I need to get out sometime. Janet and I will figure out a way to keep Dot under supervision at all times. It's not going to be easy though. Dot has already tried to get off her dog bed unassisted three times today. She is not a good candidate for being crated though, so I will always keep her nearby and be her legs when it looks like she needs to move. So far there have been no accidents. She is pretty good about letting me know when she needs to pee. She's even better about letting me know when she's hungry, which is almost all the time.

Tonight should be interesting. Dot has always slept in the bed, but the neurologist says that she absolutely must sleep on the floor and not get in the bed with us. There is just too much danger if she inadvertently tried to hop off the bed while we were asleep. I'm such a light sleeper that I almost always wake up whenever either dog moves during the night. I don't want to risk anything though, so maybe I'll sleep on the floor with her. Dot is today's Dalmatian of the day. I took this picture on Valentines Day several years ago when she was feeling much better.

Dot is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day

Friday, February 13, 2015

Day 1886

After a long day of evaluations and tests, Dot is resting quietly tonight at a veterinary specialty hospital in Lewisville, Texas. Why one of the best veterinary neurological centers in the country is located so far away from one of the biggest cities in Texas is still a mystery to me. The journey to Lewisville normally takes about 30 to 40 minutes when traffic is light. Of course traffic is never light in Dallas. We spent over an hour on the road this morning, mostly because an accident on the freeway shut down everything but a single lane of traffic at one point.

The accident made us a little late for our appointment, but the neurologist couldn't have been nicer. She was thorough, professional, and patiently answered all of our questions. We had to leave Dot at the facility because the neurologist said their in-house CAT scan equipment wouldn't be able to adequately image her spine in great enough detail. After driving Dot all the way to Lewisville, the hospital ambulance then had to drive her back to Irving where she received an MRI at Animal Imaging. This advanced imaging center has an MRI machine large enough to scan a horse. Race horses are brought here from all over the country for diagnostic imaging. I have been to this center before. It is an amazing place and very expensive. After our initial exam, we left Dot in the capable hands of the neurologist and returned to Dallas to pick up Dash from another veterinarian where he was spending the day in doggie day care. Life becomes very complicated when you can't leave your dogs alone for long periods of time. Dash is still prone to seizures and of course Dot currently can't even walk.

Late this afternoon, the neurologist called us with the results of her MRI scan. It was worse than I thought, but not totally unexpected, especially considering her slowly deteriorating condition during the past year. Dot has multiple bulging disks, including one severely damaged disc that is already pressing against the spinal cord. Considering Dot's age and the length of time her spine has been injured, there is at best a 60% chance that surgery can correct the problem. That leaves a 40% chance that surgery will accomplish nothing or even make the situation worse. Spinal surgery is risky even with a younger dog. In the short term, treatment with cortisone or steroids has almost exactly the same rate of success as surgery, but the benefits aren't permanent. The hard thing with an older dog is determining exactly what "short term" and "long term" mean. If cortisone and anti-inflamatory drugs can keep Dot mobile for another two years, that might be all she needs. She is, after all, a very old dog. On the other hand if surgery is the only way she'll ever have a chance of walking again, it changes the equation entirely. It's a very tough decision.

We will drive to Lewisville again tomorrow morning to pick up Dot and take her home with us. We will also begin her cortisone treatment tomorrow and hope for the best. Usually, if anti-inflammatory drugs work, you'll see some signs of improvement in about a week. If the drugs don't work at all, we've got several weeks to make a decision about surgery. We can't wait three months to decide though. At some point the condition becomes irreversible. There is no way the neurosurgeons can even attempt to fix all Dot's bulging discs. It is far too invasive. The recommended surgery would only attempt to remove the pressure caused by the worst of these damaged discs. If the spinal cord has already been compromised, it will take a long, long time to heal even after surgery. Nerve tissue regrows very slowly. Again, there are no promises that the surgery will work at all. The 60% chance of success is as close to a promise as we are ever going to get.

All I can do at this point is hope for the best. Dot is very resilient and has bounced back from serious injuries before. The past two years have taken their toll however. The desire is still there, but I don't know how much energy she has left. We'll do the best we can. That's all anyone can do.

Tessa is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Day 1885

Dot suffered a serious setback today. The day started normally enough. Both dogs went out in the back yard to pee right after they woke up. Everything was normal. Dot and Dash wandered around the house while we got dressed to take them on their regular morning walk. Then Dot decided to stretch. I'm sure that many of you have seen dogs stretch their legs out behind them after they've been sleeping. Dash does this every morning and Dot used to stretch this way as well when she was younger. I don't know what made her feel like stretching this way today. Maybe she was feeling good. Almost immediately something went wrong. After stretching, she couldn't stand normally again and began to stumble. Within minutes, her rear legs were completely paralyzed.

An emergency trip to the vet confirmed my worst fears. By stretching this way, Dot had managed to rupture or blow out a disc in her spine. This is serious. If we are really lucky, cortisone shots might be able to reduce the inflammation enough so she could regain some limited mobility. If we aren't so lucky, surgery is usually the only alternative. We are seeing one of the best veterinary neurologists in the area tomorrow morning and are hoping for the best. Dot will probably have an MRI or CAT scan tomorrow to see exactly what is going on in her spine. We can't even begin cortisone treatments yet because she still has Rimadyl in her system and the two drugs can't be administered at the same time. She has to wait a minimum of 48 hours to clear the remaining Rimadyl from her body.

Dot is totally confused. One minute she was feeling great and the next minute her rear legs are paralyzed. She is still alert and has a good appetite, but she can't move. We still had a special harness that helped our first Dalmatian get about when his legs began to fail. Unfortunately, this harness didn't fit Dot. During her exam, our vet was able to fit Dot for a new Help 'Em Up Harness which is much better than the old Walkabout Harness that Spot used to wear. The harness can only do so much though. Dot has no sensation in her rear legs and doesn't even attempt to move them.

One of the most difficult things with a paralyzed dog is getting them to pee and poop. Our vet was worried that the injury might have damaged the nerves that control her bladder. I was worried too. Luckily, Dot can still pee. It's messy and it's difficult to get her into a squatting position, but she was able to pee after dinner tonight. A little later, she pooped as well, so there's still hope.

I canceled all my appointments, including my dental surgery, for next week. I don't know what lies ahead at this point, but I'm sure it will involve constant care and attention. You can't really leave Dot alone in this condition because she could easily injure or even break one of her rear legs without even realizing it. I've cared for a dog with a spinal injury once before and it was extremely difficult. Spot did eventually recover though and I want to give Dot every possible opportunity to recover as well. I don't know if she's strong enough for surgery, especially since she had such a difficult time recovering from her cancer surgery last year. Hopefully, the neurologist will be able to give us some hopeful news tomorrow. I'm a strong person, but this has really got me down.

Lucy is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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