Sunday, June 24, 2007

Velvet's Home for the Aged and Infirm

As my own neck and shoulder pain continues to improve, our family health issues took a new direction yesterday when sweet Kadi had a stroke. She's much better today, and I'm encouraged that she'll be fine, but it was definitely a frightening experience.

Kadi had been sitting beside me on the sofa when she decided to get down. She dropped her front legs to the floor like always, but instead of pushing off the rest of the way with her back feet, her whole back end seemed to be stuck on the sofa. I could tell she was trying to move forward, but nothing was happening.

I should have recognized that that was unusual, but I still didn't suspect a problem as I helped her scoot her plump bottom onto the floor. Once on the floor, though, she fell over against the coffee table. She stood again and fell again. By that time I was on my feet, trying to figure out what was wrong with her. I moved across the room, called her to me, and watched her feet slip out from under her. Oddly, Kadi didn't seem to be in any pain or distress about the situation. Everytime she fell, she'd pick herself up and take another couple of steps, slipping and sliding all the way, until she'd eventually end up where she wanted to be.

In the meantime, I ran to get Kim, who'd arrived at my house about ten minutes earlier and was outside turning on the A/C in her studio. When Kim came inside, Kadi smiled and promptly rolled over onto her back for a belly rub.

It was about 12:15 on Saturday, the day when our regular vet's office closes at 1:00, and we live a good half hour away from there. We weren't sure we could get Kadi in the car and get there in time, so Kim got on the phone and, after way too much time on hold, got them to agree to wait while we brought Kadi in.

Kadi loves to ride in the car, and her eagerness to get to it seemed to overcome her wayward limbs. We got all 65 pounds of her loaded without too much trouble. When we arrived at the vet's office and got her out of the car, we were shocked to see her walk without much difficulty at all.

Once inside, it was a different story. Kadi wasn't falling, but her legs were still wobbly. I'd try to lead her in one direction, and she'd turn and move in a direction 90 degrees to the right. After a couple of turns like that, she was literally walking backwards down the hall to the exam room. It was weird.

As soon as we explained her symptoms to the vet, he said he suspected one of two things: a slipped disc or a stroke. Either condition, he assured us, could be managed. He checked Kadi's body, feeling all along her legs and her spine. He'd pick up one foot, then another, and watch what happened when she put them down. When Kadi put her foot down with the top of it against the floor, pads facing upward behind her, the vet said that was totally unnatural.

Next, he asked his assistant to lead Kadi down the hall while he watched. On the first try, Kadi walked as closely as possible to the wall on the right side of the hall. "She's using the wall," the assistant commented, so on the return trip she walked between Kadi and the wall. That's when it became obvious that Kadi was veering substantially off course.

The vet checked her eyes next and pointed out that they were jiggling, subtly but clearly, and not necessarily at the same time nor in the same direction. I'd been so focused on her legs that it hadn't even occurred to me to check her eyes.

After the tests were done, the vet explained that little strokes are not uncommon in older Labs and Golden Retrievers (Kadi turned 10 just over a week ago), and that the good thing about a dog's body is that it begins to repair the damage almost immediately after the stroke has occurred. He gave Kadi two shots of cortisone and gave us a bottle of cortisone tablets to give her twice a day for the next five days. He said we could expect to see improvement over the next 36 to 48 hours, but to watch her closely so she wouldn't injure herself while her body was out of control. He explained that Kadi wouldn't realize her legs weren't doing what she expected them to do. (That explains why she wasn't distressed about the repeated falls; her brain didn't register a problem.)

The vet also pointed out the positive signs: the fact that Kadi was already walking without falling, that she recognized that an open door was for walking through, that she responded excitedly to the leash and the car ride. He said she'd be better off at home than at the animal hospital as long as she continued to eat well, maintained control of her bowels and bladder, and didn't exhibit any personality changes.

If you'd seen Kadi yesterday, you wouldn't believe she could appear so normal today. Physically, she seems fine. She walks--and even runs--without difficulty, and follows the straight path of the backyard stepping stones without veering to one side or the other. She seems a little more lethargic than usual, but no more so than her lazy brother, Butch.

There have been a couple of minor incidents that make me think her brain is still misfiring a bit. Last night when I said, "Let's go to bed," Kadi ran into the living room and lay down by the coffee table. And this morning, when I asked, "Who wants to go outside?" she jumped up excitedly but ran into the bedroom. These are mistakes she's never made before.

The vet was quite optimistic about the outcome of this particular medical mishap, and I found his optimism extremely reassuring. We're supposed to call him at midday tomorrow to give him an update. So far, so good.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Is this as good as it gets?

Thank you all so much for the kind wishes and healing thoughts you've been sending my way. Today is the fourteenth straight day of this pinched-nerve thingy, and I'd hate to imagine what a miserable human being I'd have been without all the good vibes.

I spent most of last week in one of two modes: fighting back tears or under the influence. This week is better. Since Monday I've been able to go to work. My neck and shoulder have been very stiff and painful each morning, but moving around seems to loosen everything up so the afternoons haven't been too uncomfortable.

Evenings are worse. I haven't figured out yet how to get my blog fix while standing and moving around, and I'm now convinced that my computer set-up is the least ergonomically correct position in the entire house. I'm not even finished with the third paragraph of this post, and already my neck is tightening up.

Sitting still to watch TV is asking for trouble, so I've been going to bed early--yet sleep has been next to impossible. If you'd see the condition of my bedclothes each morning, you'd think there'd been some hot and heavy activity going on in that bed. You'd be right about the heavy and the activity, but there hasn't been anything hot about it. It's just been me, all by myself, rolling from right to left, tucking pillows first on this side, then on that, trying to find some position in which I could close my eyes and sleep for more than ten minutes at a stretch.

I have an appointment to go back to the doctor tomorrow. This will be the first time I've been able to see my regular doctor, and I'm hoping she'll have a trick up her sleeve or a magical potion that the others didn't think of. Right now I'm not too optimistic.

To keep you from feeling totally sorry that you came here only to be bombarded by all this negative crap, let me end by telling you about my visit to the after-hours clinic at the beginning of this entire episode. After a long wait (is that what "after hours" really means?), I got to move from the lobby to the tiny exam room, where I sat on their paper-covered table with my arms and legs wrapped around their big wastebasket. The pain pill I'd taken the night before wasn't supposed to contain opiates, but I was on the verge of vomiting to prove otherwise.

Finally, the doctor came in. He was snappily dressed, his bleached-blond hair spiked just so, and I'd bet money he hadn't celebrated his 25th birthday yet. He introduced himself by his first name and added, "I'm one of the new docs" in the same tone he must have used to work his way through med school: "Hi, I'm Steve, and I'll be your server tonight."

I'll have to give him credit for being thorough. He was clearly puzzled, but he checked all the important things to be sure I'd neither broken my neck nor had a stroke, then he seemed to settle on a muscle spasm. "Sometimes a muscle can just spasm for no reason," he explained, "like I got one once from carrying my laptop, and I carried my laptop all the time." He gave a go-figure shrug and continued, "Most of the time you can just stretch your way through it." He peeked at my chart again, then turned and looked me in the eye, screwing his face up into the most sympathetic and apologetic expression he could muster. "Unfortunately," he said, "you are sixty-four."

Thanks again for caring, folks. I appreciate all of you and will try not to grumble so much next time.

UPDATE 6/24/07: Thanks, everybody. I'm doing much better, just a little stiff and sore in the mornings now. Best of all, I'm finally sleeping again, which makes me a WHOLE lot happier.

I did get in to see my regular doctor. Based on the fact that my x-rays showed zero natural curvature to my neck--just one straight line from skull to shoulder--she's convinced the problem is all muscular. She recommended physical therapy until she remembered I don't have insurance, then she recommended a good massage therapist. I haven't done that yet, but I will soon.

As far as the young Dr. Glib is concerned, I just thought his remark was really funny in its cluelessness. I well remember being young enough to think I already knew everything I'd ever need to know. Real life will kick the baby doc in the head every now and then, just like it's done for the rest of us.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A real pain in the neck...

...and the shoulder, and the arm, and the hand.

Here's a summary of my last five days:

One tentative diagnosis of a pinched nerve;
Two doctor visits;
Three injections in my big, white hip;
Four new prescriptions;
Five days of bedrest; and
Six cervical x-rays.

It still hurts to sit in this chair, and it hurts to stretch my hands out to the keyboard, so this post will be just long enough to say a public thanks to my kids. Their support has preserved my sanity when I couldn't stand, sit or lie down in any position that wasn't painful. Thank God for my girls.

And to my fellow readers/writers, I hope to be back to see you again soon. The past five days have produced some blogworthy moments. I look forward to sharing them with you when I can comfortably sit up straight again.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

In support of vigorous toweling

Something happened this morning that almost never does: Fifteen minutes before the alarm went off, I woke up on my own, feeling rested and alert. All righty, then, I thought, this is going to be a great day. I slipped on my houseshoes and kicked the morning routine into motion.

The first thing on each morning's list is to let the dogs outside. Only then can I go to the bathroom myself. I did that this morning, then washed my hands thoroughly and dried them, apparently not so thoroughly.

Next up was morning meds. I opened pill bottles and placed three little pills in my left hand, stepped up to the sink to get a small cup of water, slapped the pills into my mouth, swallowed and drank the water--and watched out of the corner of my eye as one pill, which had apparently stuck to my damp hand, fell into the sink and down the drain.

I tried peering down the drain with the flashlight but couldn't see anything other than drain sludge. There was no possible way to tell which pill was lost so I could just take a replacement. Of the three tablets, the blood pressure medication concerned me most. I know I'm not supposed to skip it, but doubling up on it isn't a good idea, either. Hmmm. What to do?

I considered my options while I brushed my teeth and finally decided to go on about my business and not worry about it. I figured if my ankles started to swell, or if everybody who came into the office ticked me off way more than usual, I'd know the blood pressure medicine was the lost pill. Fortunately, my day was quite nice.

In fact, I'd put the missing pill completely out of my mind until about half an hour ago. Following a quick supper from Taco Bell, the pill puzzle began to gradually solve itself. Now, thanks to a raging case of heartburn, I know it must have been the Prilosec that went down the drain.

It'll soon be time to go to bed. The bedtime routine calls for the nighttime meds and variations of the morning's health and hygiene activities. This time I plan to spend a little more time with the towel.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Love in a locket

This is the locket I mentioned in my last post, the one I'd stashed in a long-forgotten "safe place" and finally found, thank goodness. It's dainty, smaller than a dime, and its value is entirely sentimental.

I wasn't aware of the locket's existence until about ten years ago, when I found a small package from my mother in the mailbox. Inside the package was a tiny box, and inside the box were the locket and this folded, handwritten note:

My mother was barely 19 when I was born. If she were alive today, having had children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I'm sure she'd be the first to tell you it isn't a good idea to let a baby chew on something small enough to be easily swallowed. Fortunately, we both survived the experience, and the tooth marks made the locket all the more precious to Mother.

It's special to me because it was special to her. First purchased 64 years ago, the locket traveled with her from Missouri to Kansas and back, then to Illinois and back, then to East Texas, where she kept it for another 40 years before she mailed it to me here in Louisiana. Here, it rested in its safe place until a week ago, when I sat on my bed, chatting with my daughter and hers, and sewed it into the lining of my granddaughter's wedding dress. The locket is her "something old" and has just been elevated to a new level of specialness.

As I write this, my granddaughter, shown laughing with me in this photo shot 23 years ago, is in Negril, Jamaica. She flew there earlier in the week, along with her fiancé, her parents, brothers, close friends, and the dress with the sewn-in locket. Today at 2:00 p.m., on a beautiful Jamaican beach, she will marry the fine young man who came into her life a couple of years ago and eased into our family as if he'd always been there. I don't know if it's possible for them to find more happiness than they've already brought to each other, but that's what I wish for them.

My granddaughter was concerned about the possibility of losing the locket, but I'm not worried at all. There are far worse places than the sands of Jamaica to end one's journeys.