Sunday, January 29, 2006

Butch - Part I

Before I stray too far from the subject of vision, let me tell you about Butch. My "little boy," a 7-year-old male dog of indeterminate (indiscriminate?) heritage, is blind.

The first sign of a problem came during the 2004 Christmas holidays. Butch had always had an amazing ability to snake his thick neck just enough to the right or left to catch whatever treat I tossed to him, but one morning I was tossing mini-marshmallows and he missed as many as he caught. That was odd. A few days later, a slice of cheese fell to the floor right in front of him, in plain sight, and he couldn’t find it.

At first I thought it was my imagination. Butch didn’t seem to have any difficulty at all moving around the house or the yard, going about his dog business, and his eyes weren’t watering or exhibiting any physical signs of a problem. I wondered if dogs’ eyes get worse with age the way humans’ eyes do.

Gradually, I started noticing that his eyes seemed to glow, not just outside in the dark, but almost all of the time, so I took him to the vet. The vet examined Butch’s eyes and measured the pressures in them and suspected glaucoma right away. He called a veterinary ophthalmologist at LSU, who said the symptoms did sound like glaucoma, but that with pressures as high as Butch’s were, he didn’t understand how Butch could see at all. He could see, though.

The vet prescribed eyedrops and made an appointment for Butch to see the ophthalmologist. My daughter went with us, and that appointment was frightening for all of us, with lots of bustling vet students and lots of tests, and ultimately a grim diagnosis of primary glaucoma. The ophthalmologist prescribed more drops and discussed the options available to us–all of which would only delay, not prevent, the inevitable enucleation
of Butch’s eyes.

For the time being, we would try medication. Butch needed two kinds of hugely expensive eyedrops, three times a day each, and not to be taken at the same time. My daughter and I set up a written schedule of what drops were to be given when, and we made it work. I stayed up late and got up early to give him the morning and nighttime medications, and my daughter came over every single day for months to give him the drops he needed while I was at work. We took him to the vet every two or three weeks to have his eye pressure measured.

I bought books and a DVD and read everything I could find online about living with blind dogs. I looked at pictures of post-surgery dogs and studied the hollow places in their faces where their eyes had been. I worried about my dog and worried about the money, got angry because I had to worry about the money, and prayed to God that I would make the right decision.

After a few months, it became obvious that Butch was seeing less and less of his surroundings and was becoming sad. He stumbled sometimes and bumped into things, which seemed to frighten and confuse him. He slept more and sighed a lot, and I slept little and cried a lot, and decided, with the vet’s help, that all we were waiting for was for me to be ready, and then it would be time.

to be continued...

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