Thursday, October 15, 2009

Old Legs

Last Wednesday morning, I awoke at 6am to the normal choo-choo panting of our Golden Retriever, Shadow, as he warmed up to the idea that if I woke soon I could take him outside for a pee. He began pacing so I gave up trying to sleep. In the dim light of a foggy almost-dawn, I stumbled down the stairs with no glasses on and held the door for him.

Shadow has begun balking at the stairs, especially first thing in the morning. He's 12 years old and has had trouble rising to stand and navigating the stairs. Picture a long body of a solid 100 pounds topping four toothpicks for legs and you might understand his hesitation. Our staircase goes down 11 stairs to a landing then two more at a right angle, aimed at the front door.

This time, he stumbled at the top of the stairs and slid like a heavy penguin all the way down the stairs. Loudly. He didn't say anything but at the landing he leapt up on adrenaline, panicked, and somehow made it down the last two stairs and out to the grass and back inside before collapsing. At this point the husband had joined us and demanded to know why I hadn't turned on the light. I pointed out that his legs wouldn't work any better in bright light.

He stumbled his way into the family room and we helped him up onto the air mattress we have out in front of the fire for the winter (it's not like the Queen of England is ever going to visit and wonder why we have an air mattress in the middle of our family room floor. It's comfy). I had to wait until 9 am to call the vet. They said bring him 2 pm. I gave him a Rimadyl and we kept him comfortable.

I cannot lift this dog. He refused to stand, let alone walk. Hubby (suffering from bronchitis at the time, and already home from work for illness) carried him to the truck for me. The vet techs lifted him out of the truck with a stretcher, but despite the straps he tried to bail out and they nearly dropped him. He pooped on the stretcher so they fetched a blanket and between the three of us we carried him into the office.

The vet checked him all over for breaks and injury and found none. She said his left side paw might have radial nerve damage from the symptoms he exhibited but to give him a few days to heal and become less sore overall. She kept hinting that we could choose to have him put down. I know she has to offer that but I'm shocked some people would do that rather than spend a few days nursing a beloved pet. She said turn him over every so often and massage his legs, flex them in a normal range of motion. I was concerned that he hadn't peed since 6am, so she tried to show me how to express his bladder...but couldn't find it.

Thankfully the vet visit was inexpensive--just office visit fee plus $11 for 6 days-worth of pain medication, a light narcotic he could take with Rimadyl. The vet techs and I loaded him back in the truck and we came home.

Hubby and I set up a twin-sized air mattress alongside the usual one for him to sleep on and I tended him as instructed. I cut his food to 1/2 normal rations due to inactivity but he had a good appeteit and was drinking water. 50 hours went by since his fall, and I had been unable to find his bladder either. Hubby carried him outside to the grass and we steadied him on his feet. As soon as his paws touched the cold wet grass he dumped his loads. Big heavy sigh as he settled back on the air mattress after that!

All through the recovery, Shadow was in good spirits. He perked up when Hubby came home from work on Friday and when Granny came to visit he practically wiggled off the mattress. By Sunday he could walk a little, putting the front paw down normally (vet was wrong in the initial diagnosis, thank goodness). He has improved daily in sitting up, rolling over and walking.

Today he was able to lever himself off the air mattress and walk to the front yard unassisted, a distance of ~100 feet. His long toes in the back catch on the carpet and his toes turn under so he does a little peg-leg hop-step some of the way. Shadow and I developed a system for getting down the wooden stairs of the back deck to the the pouring 3am...I lace my fingers under his belly just in front of his legs and lift so his hind feet are just touching the ground. I swing his back end down the first stair, he moves his front legs down to match, I move down the second stair, he does the same, then onto the grass. On the way back up I just lift the hind end and he "wheelbarrows" up the stairs.

I've been sleeping downstairs with him this whole past week, with the exception of one or two nights I switched with Hubby. On Monday we had to pull out the old baby gates and block off the family room at night and the base of the stairs during the day to keep him from trying to do too much. He seems to forget his gimpy legs and tries to move full-steam, then stumbles and sits down or falls down and gets frustrated. He really wants to go upstairs to bed like normal.

Today is eight days since his accident, and he's almost back to normal. Tonight he got off his mattress and came to the kitchen when he heard me preparing his dinner--and he ate it at his normal place instead of in bed. Good to know I hadn't spoiled him :-)

I researched some handicapped dog information websites and found a few exercises to try with his weak leg. Part of his problem is a gigantic lipoma under the muscle tissue of that thigh. He's struggled with that leg for quite a while before his accident and favored it a little too much.

Now I'm trying to convince him that going outside in the pouring rain at 3am is not something I want to do every night, thanks. For the past two nights he's gotten up and paced from 3-4 am. No sleep for me! Kinda like having another infant in the house. Kidlet has been forgiving of my divided attention and most of my grumpiness due to fatigue. She is reaching independance just as he is sliding toward dependance.

Those stairs aren't going to get easier.

Hey--my blog has been featured at this site: Dog Health Problems Who knew? I have been updating Shadow's status on Facebook and hadn't written here about it, so thought I ought to, with recognition from these folks. Thanks!