Today I had to hit my "blog topics" note in my iPhone to try and figure out something to write about. I really want to talk about how my dog Scully dodged a bullet a few weeks ago, but the words and thoughts just aren’t flowing.

I think it’s maybe because I’m not convinced she’s actually dodged the bullet quite yet.

Scully, as you may recall, is my 14-year-old mutt. She suffers from a myriad of maladies, including, but not limited to, a bad heart and terrible arthritis.

A month ago Friday, we woke up to Scully in a puddle of pee and unable to get out of bed. Like she physically couldn’t roll over and get up. She just lay there with big eyes staring at me.

"Well, crap," I thought. The kids were home, and I didn’t want to make a big deal of things, so I carried her outside where she could stand. She painfully shuffled off and shakily urinated, then just stood there, still looking at me with the big eyes. So I carried her back in and took her to the water bowl. She drank, then took these slow, tiny, mincing steps and lay down.

The rest of the day went pretty much like that. She normally follows me from room to room, but that day she couldn’t. I could tell she wanted to by the look on her face, but it hurt her too much to get up. I looked her over, her nerve reflexes were fine, but she was definitely weak and in pain.

I told the kids she was in bad shape, and we packed her up and took her to work to have my coworker take a look at her. She pretty much found the same stuff, so we decided to give her some steroids and opioid pain medicine. These things promptly made her develop explosive vomiting and diarrhea. Stupendous.

So they treated that, and by that evening Scully could at least lay sternal (on her belly), instead of helplessly laying on her side, and she could walk around. She did well over the weekend, till the steroid shot started to wear off; by Monday, she was right back to laying on her side and I was back to carrying her around.

Even my husband, the non-dog person, was concerned. "What’s wrong with her?" he asked. "She doesn’t seem to be in pain, she’s not screaming or crying or anything." I knew better. She moaned when I picked her up, but otherwise, dogs usually don’t scream/cry till they are in excruciating pain. She wasn’t quite there but she was pretty bad.

I knew that if she didn’t get up and moving and out of pain, I’d have to have her put down. The logical part of my brain knew that without a doubt I was absolutely not going to spend $1000+ on an MRI, and was definitely not taking her to surgery. She’s 14 and has lived a good life. I can afford it but my pet philosophy is to not go there — based on her age and the fact that she’s got other health issues.

However, the emotional part of my brain quickly started to rear its ugly head when things were bad:

"What kind of pet owner am I?"

"I have the money, why wouldn’t I spend it to help my dog?"

"Would this be 'convenience' euthanasia because it’s easier to euthanize than to go to surgery?"

"Am I giving up on her?"

I decided that I need to make an end-of-life checklist for her, things that I will definitely not do (surgery, excessive heroics, expensive diagnostics that probably won’t change anything). I will hang on to this "logic list" and pull it out when that desperation kicks in to keep me grounded. (I got the idea from a story in The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande.)

There seems to be a "panic" mode that kicks in when our pets are facing death that makes it easy for us to make emotional decisions that might not actually be the right ones for us (as well as the pet). Could this be how clients suddenly get "talked" into last minute procedures for their pets against their better instincts? Maybe you guys should make a list, too, and discuss it with your vet when the time comes. Our job is to give you all the options, and yours is to make the decision based on the info at hand. The emotions can get all tangled up in there, mucking the decision process all up.

Anyhow, I started her back on steroids and within a few hours she was up and around again. Within 48 hours she was back to normal.

The thing is, I wasn’t sure how long the steroids would hold her. She couldn’t stay on them forever as she was peeing all over the place. I had to taper her off them the first week because the initial dose had her throwing up like crazy.

So that I could at least know I’d tried everything within (my version of) reason, I took her to an IVAS certified veterinary acupuncturist. Yep, some people may think its voodoo (I certainly get a lot of snickers and glazed stares when I bring this up to clients), but I think there is something to Eastern Medicine. I find it fascinating.

The goal was to wean her off the 'roids and see how she did with the acupuncture. It’s been a couple of weeks now and Scully is hanging in there. So far she’s doing great, but still on daily steroids.

Of course every time she’s not where she’s supposed to be I think, "Uh-oh, this is it," and I brace myself for the worst. But so far she’s OK. She goes in for her next acupuncture treatment tomorrow and she takes prednisone about every third day. Thus, for an undetermined amount of time, the bullet is dodged.


This is my last blog for petMD. This professional writing thing was a little more than I could handle from a stress level point of view, so I’m going back to a more low-key blogging schedule. My crazy life just isn’t conducive to deadlines, and my emotional tolerance isn’t cut out for hate mail from anonymous commenters. I tried really hard to thicken my skin these eight months, but to no avail, I’m afraid.

petMD is a great site with a wonderful staff behind it. There are lots of things to be learned there. This certainly has been a big learning experience for me.

Thank you for reading. Take good care of yourselves, and your pets.

Dr. Vivian Cardoso-Carroll

Pic of the day: 9mm, Bullet of Champions by Subspace

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