Oz and the Worst Week

4 years ago - #Oz

If I've had a worse week, I can't remember when. It started last Saturday night with Oz clearly having trouble at night. He had trouble not just a month ago at night, but we thought it had entirely to do with a ruptured anal sac (which is a standard problem that dogs get). But we decided there was something bothering him and it was time to check it out.

He seemed to have trouble getting comfortable at night. He would be in a lying down position and would jump up suddenly as if startled. As it kept happening, he would pace very quickly and nervously around the house. I saw it happen severely once in the morning and he immediately bolted around the room and ran up to the top floor for some unknown reason. There were times when it happened that I would let him in the backyard. He would pace around and explore, but wouldn't seem to do anything substantive. He was fine during the day most of the time.

On Sunday, we took him to Fifth Avenue Veterinarians to get him looked at. They did a full examination and couldn't find anything, but they prescribed rimadyl for pain relief. Sunday night was not good. He seemed to be refusing to lay down. He would stand and cry and seemed to be in a lot of pain. I made an appointment with our local vet the next day. I found a site in which you could ask a vet questions for a small fee, so I decided to enter his symptoms and see if I could get a lead on what it might be. The answer was canine cognitive disorder - which is essentially doggie alzheimer's. He didn't seem like he fit the profile. He wasn't confused when it happened - he was scared and focused. And he usually sought me out wherever I was in the house. Then I stumbled across this article: http://www.thepetdocs.com/articles/terrors.html. That article described his condition perfectly.

Oz has a lot of fatty tumors. He father died of cancer. So I know that he is prone to tumors. This article describes many situations in which a painful tumor looked sort of like canine cognitive disorder. So I took a print-out of the article to the vet with me. I asked for full blood work to be done. The vet asked me if it only happened at night, I said no. The vet asked me if he was disoriented when it happened, I said no. I could tell she was fishing for a diagnosis of CCD, but he just didn't match the profile. Then she looked me in the eye and said "It's canine cognitive disorder. I have medication for that but not in the office right now." I told her that he can't make it through the night in his current condition. She said she would call in a prescription for gabapentin. I pointed to the article that I had brought in. She clearly didn't read it. There were more medications listed in that article to treat the pain. She "didn't like" most of those options. I asked for an ultrasound to rule out something like a prostate tumor. We would have to come back for an ultrasound later that day, which we did. Everything came back normal.

Then starting around 4pm, his "bolting" started happening with regularity. We had guests on Monday night and it started happening every couple of minutes. Sometimes he would be lying down and would bolt up suddenly. Sometimes it seemed to happen while he was standing still. Each time, he became more and more afraid. He would stick by my side or congregate near the guests.

By the time David got home around 8pm, he was in a panicked state. His back legs were shaking. He was constantly crying. And he was often panting. David and I both agreed that it was time to take him to a more reputable hospital: The Animal Medical Center. I had fully expected that I was going to check him into the hospital so that they could take care of him.

We arrived at AMC around 10pm. The AMC waiting area is a sad but interesting slice of New York life. I talked for a bit with a Russian woman about her Chihuahua, Tommy, who appeared to have a lot of pain due to bad teeth. A very large man was there with the most friendly Pomeranian I have ever seen that would run up to all the humans in the room and wave her front paws for attention. Oz knew he was at some sort of vet and started with his usual bad behavior. He shakes worse than a broken washing machine. He cries non-stop. It took a bit over an hour for him to be seen by someone. They did an examination and said that they found an issue in the middle of his back. I asked if he was going to be admitted because frankly I didn't know how I was going to survive another night with him crying and unable to lay down. The doctor said that all they would do is put him in a cage. So I took him home around 2pm.

Oz continued to have a terrible time trying to sleep. I started sleeping in the living room with him. We set up an inflatable mattress that Gogo took an immediate liking to (I don't know how we're going to get that mattress out of the living room now without her throwing a fit). At one point during the evening, he ran up to the master bedroom where the door was closed and slammed himself into the door. I decided I would go back to the Animal Medical Center. The doctor that I saw during the day was much more sympathetic to the plight that both Oz and I were in. They couldn't find any evidence of back pain. She prescribed gabapentin (the prescription from my main vet still hadn't come through) and sent me home with codeine and gabapentin pills.

Oz does terribly on opioids. I told them as much. They assured me that codeine was strong enough to knock him out. That night we gave him a dose at 4pm and another dose at 10pm. Oz seemed to be problem free while on walks, so we went on walk after walk. That whole week I went on about 6 walks with Oz every day. Anything to not hear him cry.

David started seeing the toll is was taking on me. I was at the end of my rope listening to poor Oz cry and see him unable to sleep. I was talking end-of-life. David said we had to give it a couple more days.

We had another horrible night and I just couldn't take seeing him suffer. Oz would not leave my side. He was clearly petrified. I started leaving the bathroom door open so he could stand right outside the shower waiting for me. He would stand patiently next to me when I pooped. I took him back to Fifth Avenue Veterinary. We saw a new doctor that now said Oz had lower back pain. He told me to come back tomorrow to see a surgeon. He still could not prescribe anything to help Oz get through the night. That night involved many walks - one at 1:30am and one at 4am. At 4am, he finally went to sleep. When he would sleep, he would be in a laying position and his eyes would slowly close involuntarily. He would drop his nose down into the carpet and sleep with his nose smooshed. It usually didn't last more than 10 minutes. We were all up by 7:30am.

The vet we saw the next day seemed like he was going to help, but ended up being the worst of all. I had more drug possibilities and he wouldn't hear any of them. We had given Oz benadryl the past two nights to help him get to sleep, and he said we should stop that. He also wanted to do an x-ray because he suspected arthritis - even though I tried to impress upon him that the rimadyl didn't even touch the pain and should have if it was arthritis. They sedated Oz and took x-rays which showed that for his age, his bone structure was quite good. There was no sign of any trauma whatsoever. He suggested that I video-tape his episodes so that they know where to scan with an MRI. It was then that I lost hope. (side note: where are the vets in NYC that are over the age of 35? I hate almost every vet I encountered.)

He had great blood work, a good ultra-sound, and now a good x-ray. Whatever the problem was, it would only show up on an MRI which would mean more trips to the vet and more sedation for poor Oz. And if they could find the problem, it would not likely be treatable. And if it was treatable, it meant a very painful and prolonged recovery with lots more vet visits. None of those options resulted in Oz's happiness.

On the walk home, I decided want I wanted to have happen. I wanted to give him one last good day. If it meant that I had to give him a lot of codeine to get through the nights, then so be it. Or I would take him for endless walks. On Saturday, we would have a family breakfast with lots of pancakes or anything else he wanted to eat. We would go for a long, slow family walk. And I would schedule an in-home pet euthanasia service for Saturday afternoon. As I was going over this on the walk home, a burly construction worker said "Nice dog". I fully intended to say "Thanks" without any issue whatsoever, but upon opening my mouth, I started bawling. The man stayed with me for a few moments, comforting me. He could see that Oz was not doing well. I realized I had to pull it together or this man would not feel comfortable walking away. I pulled myself together and thanked him for his kind words. It took me a minute or two. Thanks, guy, wherever you are for helping me not feel so alone that day.

That afternoon was the worst. Oz still couldn't lay down. He stood there making the saddest sounds in the world. And I decided it was time. I would see how the night goes and then make a decision in the morning.

That night, Oz seemed to sleep through the night without bolting - though we never saw him actually sleep. Every time we saw him, he may have been lying down, but his head was up. I thought perhaps there was progress. I thought perhaps I wouldn't have to make the call. I made breakfast for him, fully expecting him to eat (he had stopped eating a few days ago). He refused to eat. I realized that his being peaceful at night had my hopes up and with his refusal to eat, it really was time to put him down. After 10 minutes of the loudest sobbing I've ever made, I called a vet specializing in pet euthanasia. She made sure that we had tried everything and when she saw the predicament we were in, she scheduled an appointment for the next day.

Then an hour later, he wanted to eat. He slept the afternoon away. He woke up for dinner and ate heartily. He slept through the night. He gulped down a breakfast. There was an occasional "bolt" but they seemed much milder in nature.

I was emotionally ready to go through with the appointment, but once I saw him making such a clear and inexplicable recovery, it was like the weight of the world lifted.

We cancelled the appointment. And instead, I spent Saturday doing this:

Oz seems to be getting better and better. His appetite is completely back to normal. I haven't seen a "bolt" in hours. He's gone back to demanding daytime walks and sleeping the rest of the day away. And lots of kisses again!

In hindsight, I think it took four days for the gabapentin to kick in. That's the medicine that is supposed to block neuropathic pain. I assume he has some disc damage, spinal stenosis, or a tumor pressing on a nerve somewhere. But I've promised him no more vet visits unless it's something easily treatable.

We understand that Oz is old and his health is not going to last forever. So from here on out, every day I get with my best buddy is a pure gift from heaven. I am eternally grateful.

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As fate would have it, in the summer of 2005, we adopted little Isaac, Gogo's younger half-brother. He was raised in the city, and seemed to enjoy coming back after living at Renee's place for a few weeks. We re-christened him "Oz", since that was the name we were going ot give Gogo if we had gotten a boy. We've since discovered that it's a good name for him, because he's got the courage of the Cowardly Lion, the clumsiness of the Scarecrow, and he's as squeaky as the Tin Man. He whimpers at just about everything.
Today, I decided to take Oz with me to Gogo's swim therapy. He paced aorund the edge of the pool the whole time. Then at one point, he got crowded by dogs and decided to jump on in. Boy was that a mistake. He splashed around in a panic and tried to climb out the wrong end. He soon realized that he was trapped and couldn't get out. The therapist and I eventually led him over to the edge with the steps and he made it out. He kept trying to shake water out of his ears and sneezed for about 10 minutes. Poor Oz.
David was taking a nap this weekend. He looked over at my side of the bed and Oz was in my exact position - head on the pillow, stretched out on the bed. He was being David's "Keith Substitute". So he took a picture with his cell phone.