Our lives were forever changed on the Saturday of Easter weekend. 26/3/2016.
I was already a member of the IVDD group, not out of necessity, but because I knew Chrissy and had friends who’d had their precious ones go down to this and just wanted to support the group in any way. We’d also had a Dachshund go down with IVDD over 20 years ago and I didn’t know there were options then. I had also had spinal surgery just this past January, and had been a Paramedic for 30 years, so I had a good knowledge of spinal conditions and what to expect. I felt for these fur babies.
Then the (almost) unthinkable happened to us. Rocky had been fine. No previous injury or any indication of any prior events. We were careful about ramps up onto the lounges and onto the bed. No jumping allowed! We thought we had it covered. But there was a blue face heron that used to annoy our dogs (3 Dachshunds) by pecking at the window. Rocky had seen him this evening, and went racing out the door to let him know he wasn’t welcome! He scooted on the loose mat in front of the door and slid sideways but bolted out the door like lightning. There was much excitement and barking and a squeal. At first I thought he was just over-reacting to the heron, then came those words from Bruce, my husband “Rocky’s hurt! He can’t move his legs” Immediately my heart sank.
And just as immediately I knew what needed to be done. Immobilise and keep calm. (Him or me?!) A quick check over soon showed me he certainly had extreme pain and deficit of lower limbs and tail. A call to Rosalia James. “Rocky’s just gone down with IVDD” and she straight away put the processes in place to get him to the optimum care place for best outcome. We live at the Sunshine Coast and nothing was open that weekend! So Rocky was placed in a washing basket with pillows under and around to keep him aligned and cushion the road trip bumps and off we set for Gatton UQ. Fortunately, we had a friend staying. She doggy sat out other 2 for us. Coco, Rocky’s best mate, was beside herself. She wasn’t going to let us take him away. She made such a fuss.
We arrived at Gatton 2.5 hours later, driving through storms! (What’s that about it don’t rain but it pours?!) The team were already expecting us, and after a quick consult, it was decided that emergency surgery was indeed required. We left him in their capable hands. Dr Jayne McGhie rang us at 0430 to say they’d finished the surgery. It had been an explosive disc at T13/L1 (yeah..that’s when I found out they’ve got a few extra vertebrae in there, than we humans have!) The spinal cord was quite purple and there was no response to nerve stimulation. He’d had deep pain sensation prior to surgery.
Then a word I’d never heard of came into my vocabulary. ‘MYELOMALACIA.‘ It’s a haemorrhage into the spinal cord and causes a softening of the cord resulting in permanent paralysis. The risk is, it can spread up &/or down the cord and the nerve supply at each level is affected as it progresses. Rocky was high risk for this because of the sudden catastrophic event that led to haemorrhage and disc material out of place in the spinal canal. His wasn’t a slow degenerative condition, which generally recovers better, as the nerves have had time to move and compensatory efforts from the dog, have protected the area. The further away from surgery date we got, the less the risk became until after a couple of weeks, we were finally given the all clear. It was a worrying time. Rocky had to stay down at Gatton for nearly 4 weeks having intensive therapy and teaching them that if you come close enough, with your mouth open, I can get my tongue down your throat!
We felt sad and guilty and mixed with “we know he’s in the right place for now, but what if he thinks we’ve abandoned him?”, and yet sure, and every emotion in between! If you’re reading this and have just started on your IVDD journey, then do yourself a favour. Allow yourself to feel EVERYTHING! Yes! It’s YOUR IVDD journey too. It’s ok to be strong one moment and a melting moment the next!
I’m not going to give a blow by blow account. It’d take too long. But I do need to say, the staff at Gatton UQ were nothing short of amazing. Everyone, from the admin to the students to the physios and surgical team a huge THANKYOU. They gave regular (daily or twice daily) updates and accepted calls for every little query at any time. And trust me, being Nurse and Paramedic and spinal patient, I wanted to know everything. I asked for surgical reports and scans etc etc and they were most obliging.
Our first time of seeing him after 4 weeks was just so awesome. For us all! Including Coco. When we brought him home he was still on strict crate rest. Thank goodness we’d already taught him that crate was a safe and happy place. And he was just so pleased to be at home again. We immediately started the physio and hydrotherapy sessions. There was still NO deep pain sensation.
Some status reports on Facebook read that their daxie was making incredibly fast recovery, some were taking longer. What I knew from my own spinal problems and subsequent surgery was, that each case is SO individual. There’s no set pattern. You just don’t know how much, how fast, the progress, if any, will be. The other stories are all encouraging, and this is why I am writing this for you! Rocky didn’t walk out of there. His progress is S-L-O-W! He gets frustrated. I get frustrated. (It certainly didn’t help my recovery having to tend to his needs. The lifting, the bending, the stress…) But I gotta say…Rocky has been an incredible inspiration to me. We really are on this journey together!
We got a pet stroller pretty well much straight away. For him, and for me! I needed to be able to manage him at a good height and try not to bend! (Yeah right!) The stroller is great. It’s sturdy and can take the constant off roading required where we live. He has his cuddle rug (thanks Pay it forward Dachshund team) and he can come with me to the yard, the chooks, garden, room to room etc. A real back saver for me and he just loves being a part of wherever we’re doing life this day.
We seemed to hit a wall at about the 10 week mark. The progress just fizzled to almost nothing. I was still doing all the physio at home as we were instructed to do. The nerve stimulation with toothbrushes and different sensations etc but this just seemed to be all we could get to. No Deep Pain sensation. No movement in hind quarters. Time for wheels. I researched and asked around about which ones would suit us best. Lisa Jayne from Story Book Farm is a great source of practical information and advice. We live on acreage, so they had to be sturdy. Not a hassle to put on and off. Easy to get hold of someone if I needed to adjust or repair the unit etc. And the least time of me bending to put him in the frame, or light enough to manage both dog and wheels on a workbench/sewing table!
See…this is where our IVDD community comes into its best. A simple question or status and you have the information instantly. There are files for information, but the hearts of the folk here are just beautiful. Everyone wants to help. What has worked for one; what pitfalls to avoid. And what I found is, that if everyone puts their 5 cents in, you’ve soon got a full bank account of treasure tips.
Then another Dachshund furmum suggested acupuncture. We now have this amazing vet come to visit us at home every fortnight and give Rocky acupuncture and physio and massage. (Yes! Paid for by Petplan!) I was blown away at the difference it made to Rocky. For a start it just zones him out for at least 30 minutes afterward! He’s so much more relaxed for days after it. Then he started to lift himself up on his back left leg. Then he started to stand while he was feeding out of his bowl or drinking.
The hallway that leads to our car garage has a mat at the lounge end. The other day when I came home, the baby gate was shut and the door open so I could see down the hallway and there’s my Rockstar standing up wagging his tail welcoming me home. What a welcome!! It was a very wobbly stand. Only one leg is really working. But he was so proud and wanted to show me. I was proud of him too. And now when he’s in his wheels, he uses that one leg to push himself along. The other one is starting to react a little too. This is still very much a work in progress. He may never walk or run normally. It may be a ‘spinal walk’ but he has such determination, that whatever he ends up with, he will make the best of whatever he has and be his happy self all the same. Thanks my little Rockstar. You’ve taught me well.
(NB We were so fortunate to have pet insurance. The total for the surgery and hospital stay was just over $9,300. So far, with equipment and ongoing physio and other medical help it adds up to over $11000.00. Cost to us has been the $150 excess! Phew!)
Sue & Rocky