Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

The Girl is not feeling well. I hope this is not something serious.
The Christmas season is difficult for me. About this time six-years ago, Wife knew that she had residual disease and we were making a daily trek to-and-from Truckee, California for radiotherapy treatments. I could tell that she was winding down, as I put it. We would learn in short course that the cancer had crossed the blood-brain barrier.

One evening as we sat together watching television, she said to me “I’m afraid this will be my last Christmas.” This absolutely broke my heart because I feared it was true. It was an articulation of the thought that had been running around in my head for some time.

We celebrated Christmas nonetheless and did our best to enjoy the time together as a family. But is was a deeply poignant Christmas and one that remains indelibly imprinted within me.

Christmas passed, the treatments continued for awhile, but ultimately they sent Wife home to spend her remaining time and energy on her family. We spent the time together as she worsened and eventually succumbed to her illness.

I continue to struggle every Christmas to hold onto the hope that the birth of the Christ child represents. That hope and joy is tempered with the recollection of the last bit of time spent with Wife before she died and left us. It remains a struggle.

Friday I was working at my table and took a business call. About 1500h, The Girl stood and fell over. She was agitated and confused. I called her to me and reached out for her. She shuffled back and forth, unbalanced. Her eyes shifted rapidly left-right. I started checking her, wondering what-the-hell just happened, fearing a stroke.

My caller broke the connection, saying “you better deal with this.” I immediately called the vet, carried The Girl to the rig, and left.

Our regular vet shuffled us into his schedule. His wonderful assistant checked The Girl and took some information. Dr. Ross came in, examined my love, and told me that this is most likely something called ODV for “Old Dog Vestibular Disease.” (It is really Idiopathic Vestibular Disease, a neurological disorder of unknown cause.) He said it is an 80-percent probability. He also said “you do not want to know about the other 20-percent.”

I looked at him. This is not my first rodeo and I know what that means. If it is IVD, then it should resolve in a few days (he said four or five; the Internet says 72 hours). All sources say to give it time. If it is IDV, then a residual head-tilt might be permanent.

I would be lying if I said that I have not wept a great deal the last 24 hours. The rawness of Wife’s death does not go away. My friend Jim told me that it never will; that you just learn to live with it. Truth… I am not ready to say goodbye to The Girl. I am praying that it is IDV and that we have at least a couple more years together.

I made some scrambled eggs for myself for breakfast, late. I added an extra egg, think she might eat that after she turned up her nose at her normal fare. I was right — she ate the eggs when I hand-fed her. Doc said I might have to hand feed her for a couple of days.

I have to be careful she does not fall and break a bone. The bed is off-limits unless I am in it with her. She moved last night and I spooked and grabbed her. We went out once and then snuggled back in for the rest of the night.

After breakfast I decided to get her out for an outing. I had a couple of errands to run and wanted to offer her a walk. We drove over to one of our favorite parks. I got her out and leashed her (which I rarely do). If there is a neurological problem, then I figure that one of the best ways of restoring the circuitry is to get her exercising the pathways. There is no reason to keep her down if she is willing and able to move.

So, I followed her stumble-drunk gait around the park for a half an hour. She sniffed plenty, peed a couple of times, and acted more-or-less like herself sans her usual athleticism. She seemed pleased that we had been out.

Now she is snoozing on her mat on the sofa. I am not worried she will hurt herself getting up and down from that low piece of furniture. She does not seem to be in pain, but is uncomfortable that her vision and balance are not right. She retains that sweet personality and loving spirit.

I am so reminded of how I could tell that Wife was trapped in her failing body. The disease took her ability to move and her ability to talk. But I could see her in her eyes. I see the same thing in The Girl, her love showing through even when she is less able to demonstrate it through our physical playtimes together. I continue to pray that the vet is right and that it is just IVD.

In the end, I find myself back in that struggle to not be the bitter, cynical old man who lost his Wife around Christmastime and loses the greater significance of the celebration. I want to remember the celebration of the Christ-child’s birth and what that means to all of us.

But, to be honest, this is hard. It is difficult to remain positive. But then I am reminded no one ever promised it would be easy.

A Breath

On evening walkies, Older Son, The Girl, and I paused for a moment as the sun illuminated the clouds.

There are many ways to interpret the title of this entry. There are many stories to tell as well. The image is a capture from this evening’s walkies, up at the old state school where orphans used to live.

A couple of consulting projects buried me for the last couple of months. One of them is finished. The second has its report in review and will be finished next week. A third is ramping up and there will be a push to get it done over the next couple of weeks. It will get done.

I am not complaining; I appreciate the work and there should be enough money to pay my bills for the remainder of the year. I expect the workload will abate and I will have time to go back to my training regimen and be able to spend time reading and making photographs.

So, this week I had a chance to take a breath. I took some time off and took that breath. The break was a respite I desperately needed as the push to get the work done was taking a toll on my inner and outer health. The breath was good.

Five years ago today Wife died. That left a hole in my life that has not been filled. The pain of grief is mostly abated — it still arises now and again and there is a ghost of it in me that I think will never go away. But I am OK with that. That small pain is a reminder of a life together, with all of the good times and all of the warts. It is part of what shaped me.

I recall her last breath vividly. The vigil that preceded her passing was a ramp up of intensity that culminated the moment she left. The gulf that followed was a second intensely emotional period that abated slowly over the next couple of years.

Therefore, today I recall a breath… the few days I took to recover and regroup and the last breath of Wife. Life is breath and each one is precious.

Spiney

I’m glad the Girl didn’t get into these!

There’s an old Wife story about “spiney.” I think we were visiting with my dad one afternoon, probably a Sunday afternoon because I recall there being ham and beans in the large pot simmering on the range. That means the weather was cool and there was probably football to watch, back in the days when I watched professional sports. (I loved watching football games with dad.)

Wife remarked something about my few-day-old stubble and couldn’t think of an appropriate descriptor. Somehow or another, she managed to say something about me being “spiney,” and it came out unintentionally.

Of course, dad picked it up and ran with it, much to the embarrassment of Wife. That was another great laugh and a great Wife story.

We were hiking on the Riverview Park trails a week or so ago and came across a patch of cockleburs. When I saw them, several thoughts ran through my mind in quick succession.

“Boy, I’m glad that the Girl didn’t get into those! Even with her short fur, she’d be an unhappy Girl when I had to pull them from fur, ears, and feet.”

“Boy, I’m sure glad I didn’t get into those. They’d be a bitch to get out of my socks!”

“I sure got into a lot of those back in Missouri, particularly when squirrel hunting in the fall. They were a bitch to get out of my clothes and are spiney as hell!”

“Those might make an interesting photograph. I’d better make one.”

At that, I pulled up the Panasonic Lumix G3 and got to work. I happened to have the Wollensak 25mm f/1.9 cine lens on the camera. It has an interesting, if a bit busy, bokeh.

Happy Birthday, Wife

Although I was very distracted by project work today, I had time to think about Wife and remember her birthday. She would have been 65-years old today and we would have had a grand time celebrating the day. I would have given her quite a hard time about “robbing the cradle” as well.

I miss you, old girl. I wish you hadn’t died.

Sick Girl

The Girl was quite sick for a few days. At least she is home and recovering.

The Girl is home now and recovering. She had a rough couple of days, which required spending some time in hospital.

I noticed last Thursday that she seemed off. She didn’t eat her breakfast, which is not completely unusual, but relative rare. Then while I was in a meeting, she vomited some grass she had eaten. Again, that was not completely unusual, if relatively rare. (She is a grazer and usually just passes the grass.)

Friday she again acted oddly, not wanting her breakfast although we had a nice walk. I noticed that she didn’t seem interested in food or water as well. I worried over her much of the night and she asked to go out several times.

Saturday morning she seemed lethargic and uninterested in much. When offered a walk, we went part way (just a hundred yards or so) before she expelled a very watery stool. She refused water when I offered it, licking a little from my fingers but refusing to drink.

I called the vet and took her in to the urgent care clinic. He checked her over, found nothing obvious, and recommended supportive care and some testing.

I left her in his care. When he called later in the day, he reported that she had an ileus with a lot of inflammation and bloating. He would continue supportive care, hoping the hydration would reduce the inflammation and restore some of the function of her gastrointestinal tract. I could tell he was really concerned for her.

Sunday he called with news that there was some improvement, but that she was still not eating, lethargic, and not interested in water (of course not, with the hydration). That evening I called and he reported that she had eaten a little, the inflammation was down quite a lot, and there was no physical blockage.

Monday she was much improved, eating a little and happy. By the afternoon he indicated that supportive care was no longer needed and that she should come home. That made me very happy. So I retrieved the Girl and brought her home.

But I learned she was still very sick. I coaxed her into drinking water by adding a little juice from a can of chicken to it. I also convinced her to eat a little by adding some canned food to her kibbles (or rather, some kibbles to canned food) and adding a little chicken juice to that). She slept the rest of the day and much of Tuesday.

But Tuesday evening she asked for food and I noticed that she had taken water from her bowl. So I fed her (sweetening the kibbles again) and refilled her water bowl. Tuesday night she wanted to sleep with me again. But OMG was she noxious! Whatever was disturbing her system made some very nasty gas!

And then this morning she acted much better. She again asked for food and to go out. After I fed myself, she asked to go walk. So I took her out to Riverview Park for a walk. The park is still in rough condition, but it’s walkable. There is less risk of her picking up some toxin out there, at least in my opinion.

I think there is a good chance she picked up a toxin while we walked here in town. Perhaps one of the lawns was treated with pesticide or herbicide. Perhaps another animal was sick. But my suspicion is that she picked up something on our walks. Therefore, I’m going to be more careful with where we go and what she nibbles on.

A Rough Couple of Weeks

View from the waiting area outside the Carson Valley Vet Hospital.

It was a rough couple of weeks for the Girl (and of course for me was well). She healed quickly after her surgery. Yes, the mass was a soft tissue sarcoma, but it was low grade and the margins were clear. She has a 15-percent chance of recurrence. I’ll take it.

I made the image on the day we returned so her sutures could be removed. I can do it, but the clinic gets pissy about it if I do. [Heh…] Her wounds were healing nicely and we were released to normal activity again.

However, that afternoon she seemed sick. Her symptoms were coughing and gagging and she ate more grass than usual. I was concerned.

She was not better the next day, refused to go walk, didn’t want any food, and seemed really off. So I called the vet and we returned for the urgent-care clinic that evening (at 1600h).

The vet found nothing obviously wrong and gave me a plethora of diagnosis/treatment options. I elected to go with some supportive care, left the Girl there, and returned to pick her up later in the evening.

She seemed better that Friday (a week ago), so I thought we had passed the worst of it. However, over the weekend I noticed she still wasn’t acting normal. Something was just off.

I struggled with the decision to return to the vet for another visit. It was partly cost and partly the uncertainty that anything definitive would be determined. I hate spending money on medical care with a null outcome. (I have a long history of spending money on medical care with no outcome.) So I thought I’d wait until the weekend passed and see if her condition changed.

Monday came and she refused to walk again. We walked to the mailbox and back, then I drove us up to the old orphanage and we walked the site. She was not feeling well. She kept me up most of the night wanting to go out and just feeling miserable. But, early in the morning she vomited up a bone shard (that I had not seen her eat) about the size of a half-dollar coin.

I thought that might be the problem. So I decided to wait until after the 4th of July holiday to see if another vet call was required.

By Wednesday she was her usual self once again — pestering me to go walkies, asking for play, asking for treats, eating normally, and generally being the pain-in-the-ass that I love.

Her wounds are mostly healed. The rough patches of scar tissue receded. Her fur is growing back (what little of it there is), albeit slowly. She is back to telling me what I want, once again, like most of the women in my life.

It was a rough few weeks. It was horribly expensive, in terms of money, time, and energy. But my constant companion is healthy and happy again. Life is good.

NDEP

The Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, NDEP, is housed in this building. We walk past it many days.

On many mornings, we walk past the building that houses Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, among others. The structure is rather striking from the old state school property, where we meet other doggies and chase ground squirrels.

On our way home, particularly on warm days, The Girl puts on quite a show on the grass landscaping outside the building. Our antics brighten a lot of mornings for folks outside for a walk or a smoke. I hear them chuckle and see them smile at our interaction and her crazy love of the cool grass and shade.

This is a good thing. I like this part of the route quite a lot.

Healing Nicely

This is a happy, if somewhat impatient dog. She’s healing nicely, although she still looks a bit Frankenteinish.

A couple of mornings ago I opened the inside door to let in some morning sun. The Girl immediately gravitated toward the warmth. (She was putting some not-so-subtle pressure on me to go on walkies.) The pose demanded an image.

Although she still looks a bit Frankensteinish, her wounds are healing nicely and the sutures will be removed tomorrow. They don’t seem to bother her and she leaves them alone. She’s really very easy to care for, unlike me.

Frankenstein’s Monster

The Girl came through her surgery fine, with the exception that she now looks like Frankenstein’s Monster. I didn’t photograph the hip incision/sutures… they are the worst and will take longest to heal.
Although I haven’t written in quite a while, it isn’t that I haven’t thought about it. I suppose I was in something of a slump, not making photographs and not doing much writing. Travel was hard and there is quite a lot of work at the moment.

In May it was time for The Girl’s annual. I had questions about some lumps and bumps that I felt on/under her skin. As Doc worked through her regular review, he decided to biopsy a couple of her lumps. The one on her left hip was particularly concerning to him.

He put the sample on a slide and checked it under the microscope. He called it a “Round Cell Tumor” and indicated that is is malignant, although the opinion of a pathologist would be required to confirm that diagnosis. So she was scheduled for a bit more than her usual skin treatment. The work was done yesterday.

She was whiny and clingy last night (can’t really blame her) but is back to herself today. We have not played rowdy because she’s on restricted duty until her wounds knit. A pathology report will be provided next week after the laboratory has time to process the tumor. Hopefully, the margins will be clear and she will be fine.

I f*ing hate cancer.

Happy Birthday, Wife

Wife and Pier at Crissy Field Today, Wife would have been 64-years old. She’s been gone for three years and change. Rarely does a day pass when her memory does not arise, often in the context of an event I think she would have like, a sight she would have enjoyed, or a song we shared.

I still miss her and think I always will. As I wander my way back toward Nevada, there are times when I think “Wife would have enjoyed that…” in the context of something I see or hear. The thought occurred to me yesterday when I was driving through Glenwood Canyon on my way to Grand Junction, Colorado. The light played on the rocks in the afternoon fall sun. The way the rocks were illuminated was interesting and we would have shared that sight.

Birthday celebrations are supposed to be happy affairs. I think when I settle in for the evening, I’ll raise a glass of wine to the east and salute Wife, her life, and her love. Happy Birthday, Wife!