When Brain Surgery Suddenly Seems Like a Good Idea… Part 1

Never one to do things in small measures, is my knucklehead.

For a few weeks he had complained that his fingers were numb, and it quickly spread up his arm all the way to his neck and the side of his face.
We went to our usual doc, and she quickly referred us to a Neurologist. Thursday we saw the Neurologist, and she examined him and found he had lost feeling in his arm and chest, as low as T4. She was concerned so she sent us to book an MRI.

Friday morning he spent a couple of hours in the MRI, and the Neurologist phoned us a few hours later and said it was what she had suspected and she was going to try and get hold of a Neurolosurgeon. We went back on Monday morning for a quick chat with her so she could explain what the MRI showed.

The knucklehead has Chiari 1 Malformation and Syringomyelia.

In the simplest terms, it means that the base of his brain protrudes from his skull, putting pressure on the brain and spine.
He was born this way.
Some people can live with Chiari 1 and never need treatment – the complication for the knucklehead was the formation of a Syrinx inside his spinal column, which extends from the base of his brain to T8. This is a fluid filled cyst caused by the Chiari, and it has been growing in his spinal column for years. It is this cyst that is causing the loss of feeling.

We saw a Neurosurgeon on Tuesday, and he has booked the knucklehead for surgery on Friday afternoon. Its called a Decompression, and this will relieve the pressure on his brain and spine, and the Syrinx should then be reabsorbed over time. This takes months, and its different for everyone.
The important thing is stopping the progression of the nerve damage, and hoping for no further complications.

Its fucking scary. I am battling to keep my brain from spinning out of control because I have been reading up on it. My darling Glugster is my rock, and keeps me sane.

My precious knucklehead is like me. We tend to clam up and want to hide away when we’re dealing with something big and scary.

I am terrified. We are terrified.

Being Mom to an Epileptic Dog

Our dog is epileptic.

This is not news to us.
Our five year old Labrador, Riddick, was diagnosed with Canine Epilepsy a little over a year ago.
This is also not the first time we’ve had an epileptic dog – our mixed breed rescue, Louise, crossed the rainbow bridge just over a year ago due to cancer, but she was medicated for epilepsy for a few years before she died. She was fairly stable, with occasional general seizures, but she picked up weight – a common side effect – and we had to put her on a strict diet.
Thankfully Riddick did not gain weight on the Phenobarbitone medication (AKA Phenobarbital, Pb), but he did experience a few of the other side-effects of the AED – lethargy, sedation, loss of coordination, increased thirst, a bigger appetite, and an increase in urination.
Long-term use of Pb can also affect the liver, and this concerned me as he was only four years old when he started on the meds, but we monitored the levels of Pb in his system with blood tests.
The “fun” part about treating our Riddick (he’s diabetic and epileptic) is that he doesn’t EVER react to meds the way the vet expects him to! He even has professors baffled! This means we have got to know our vets very well, and Riddick loves them.
Riddick hit an especially rough patch this month, where he seemed to develop a rare sensitivity to the AED that severely affected his mobility – it made his hind end completely weak and it was about two weeks before he was strong enough to get up, walk, and busy on his own without assistance – we had to lift him and carry him as he got stronger every day. During that time we weaned him off the Pb tablets (the only way to fix the hind end weakness) and started him on a new AED with fewer side effects, but it was really rough on all of us!
We were exhausted from helping him up and helping him walk, and he was frustrated from being unable to move properly but not knowing why.

Living with an epileptic dog has proved to be really stressful, even when their epilepsy is relatively under control. And when you are going through a rough patch where their meds needs to be changed or they are having seizures, it can be exhausting. And finding the right meds can be a challenge – especially if your dog is like Riddick! The majority of dogs are successfully treated for epilepsy with Phenobarbitone tablets (about 20c a pill), but as our Riddick has now shown he may have a sensitivity to the Pb, we have to switch to an imported option, Pexion, at R12 a tablet!
With the last month having been so difficult for our Riddick, it has made us reluctant to leave him at home without someone to watch over him. I find myself watching Riddick’s every move to look for his “aura” – the little signs he shows when a seizure is pending. I don’t sleep too deeply because I am listening for him… And as he can’t go everywhere with us, we have become quite home-bound…

Yes, I know – he’s a dog, not a child – but he’s my dog, and I love him very much.

Riddick’s epilepsy is also different to Louise’s. Where she would have a general seizure every other month or so, and be absolutely fine in between, Riddick typically has what is called a focal seizure. He is wobbly and disoriented, his head and front legs twitch, but he is still fairly aware, and this is when he paces and walks into things. These fits can last a few minutes and take him about an hour to recover from, or he can have a few of them in a row and they absolutely exhaust him.
Occasionally Riddick has a general seizure. This is a full grand mal seizure and very scary – he lies on the floor, running and flailing, his jaws pulled wide in a grimace, and he pees himself. This kind of fit will exhaust him for half a day, and immediately after the fit he has no idea where he is, who I am, or how to navigate his house. This can last quite some time. At the same time he is super-hyper-excited, but also unsteady on his feet, and he wants water but he doesn’t know where the bowl is. He can be quite a handful until he is back to normal! And for several hours after this kind fit he is very insecure and will stay as close to me as he can get.
Hopefully his new medication will prevent him getting any fits at all.

With the help of many wonderful friends, we got a Holistic Vet disability harness for Riddick a few months ago, because when he is having a seizure – or recovering from a seizure – he tends to want to pace and walk around (also one of his “aura” signs). The worse he feels, the more he walks into things and falls over his own feet, so the harness helps us help him – we can stop him walking into things and I can keep him from losing his balance.
When he is having a seizure, the harness helps me pull him away from walls or furniture so he doesn’t hurt himself.
When we got the harness, we only needed the front half to steady him during and after a fit, but when we went through the days where he couldn’t walk on his own – the full harness proved invaluable in assisting our 35kg boy to walk and busy until he could stay on his own feet again.
I wish I could give each and every one of those dear people a big hug! I don’t know what we would have done without the harness!

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So here’s my two cents if you have an epileptic dog.

Whether or not they are on medication, keep a careful log of their seizures as this can be invaluable to your vet – or to a new vet. I have found this is a great way for ME to stay calm and focused during a fit, and I guarantee you won’t be able to remember every detail and every date when you get to the vet!

Try to note the time and duration of the seizures, and what your dog does during the fit. Note how long it takes for your dog to recover and how they behave after the fit. Try to note whether your dog was playing or sleeping shortly before the fit, or if something else happened that may have triggered it – maybe they were surprised by a sudden noise or some such.

Also record changes to your dog’s diet or environment (new house, new dog, new baby), as well as vaccination dates, vet trips, whether you missed a medication dose, even weird weather!

Make sure you know your vet’s hours, as well as where your nearest 24-hour emergency vet is. And if you go to the vet, take your log book with you.

If possible, get copies of blood test results from your vet that you can take with you if you have to go to a different vet.

Be aware of your other dogs while your dog is seizing. If you have more than one dog, a seizure may trigger an instinctive “pack” reaction causing the other dogs to try and attack the “weaker” animal.

He’s Not Going To Know Me…

I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks, and every time I start I get a couple of lines in and I start crying.
Every time I just think about it I start crying. Ugly, snotty, Claire Danes kind of crying. If I’m driving I can’t see kind of crying.
But I desperately want to write it down…
To get it out of my head…
To begin processing it…
Even the failures to finish the blog post have helped a little though.

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I have spoken before about my daddy darling’s health issues, which started steadily worsening in January 2006, eventually resulting in almost total kidney failure and dialysis. It doesn’t feel like its been that long.
And its more than just diabetes and dialysis – he has numerous issues that affect him physically, making him dizzy and/ or nauseous and weak, making my mommy darling’s life very hard…

So. Down to the nitty gritty of this post.

Some time ago, we started noticing little things. Having to repeat things during a conversation or having to remind him about plans we’d made or things he’d said, and for a long time nobody said anything about it. As if not acknowledging it would make it go away, like a schoolyard bully.

But it didn’t go away.

The bully got meaner.

Then sister C managed to get an appointment for my dad with an Alzheimer’s specialist in JHB. My dad’s diabetes, dialysis and family history are all contributing factors for him and the Alzheimers diagnosis was almost a foregone conclusion.

So that was it. Officially.

The bully had pulled on a pair of brass knuckles.

I think what has frightened me the most is just how fast my dad has deteriorated. Sometimes he forgets to take his meds. Sometimes he gets lost while he’s driving. Sometimes he forgets to eat. Sometimes he forgets where he’s going.
When we see him, or spend time with him, he tells us he’s “Fine!” He works his tail off to come across as himself when he’s in company, but we know.
We see.

It breaks my heart.

Thinking about seeing him one day and him not knowing who I am, or who my son is… Fucking hell.

Today…

Today I am heading to my gynae for my annual check up. Although “annual” is a bit of a misnomer here since I haven’t been in a few years… Not since my Glugs and I knew for sure we couldn’t have a baby, so thats three years ago at least.
I loathe going for my gynae appointment, for all the same reasons women around the globe will cite and because she will tell me things I don’t want to hear out loud. In all honesty though, I find the doctor’s breast exam the most uncomfortable part of the whole appointment!
And I’ll probably have to schedule another mammogram today. I know I’m supposed to have one every year, and I am lucky in that I don’t find them all that uncomfortable physically (I think its easier with big boobs), but I do find them uncomfortable emotionally…
I love my cleavage, and I can make my big boobs look great in clothes, but my naked boobs… I think my husband is the only one who loves them.

And there are a few things that I really need to address with a medical professional of some sort for once and for all.
I am fatter than I have ever been which is fucking with my back, my feet and my already screwy sugar metabolism, so I need to get to a dietician… And maybe someone who can actually keep me on a diet since I have no self control (as evidenced by a year of paying for Weight Watchers with me gaining weight and going for maybe 6 weigh-ins).
I’ve started seeing small spider veins on my legs which is just depressing.
My hopelessly under-active thyroid is still untreated because I never get around to going back for a check up.
I suspect I have started developing arthritis in my right hand – in my pointing finger and my thumb. This runs in my family but I am sure I could do something about it…

And there are a couple of other issues that I’ve been putting off seeing to for a long time, mainly because when I think about possible treatments, all I see is a bedside table full of pill bottles and it makes me feel so OOOLD!

My Forked Up Knee…

It all started way back in about 2003… I think…

I was at a houseparty celebrating my BBF Gen’s 30th birthday, and shortly after I arrived I walked out onto the patio with a wine bottle in one hand and a glass in the other. I didn’t realise there was a small step leading down from the patio to the paving around the pool, and the platform heels I was wearing didn’t aid in balance when I started falling forward. I somehow managed to twist myself as I fell, landing hard on my left knee before I ended up on my bum, with one smashed wine glass and one undamaged wine bottle held high.

I limped around all night and apart from a bit of a graze courtesy of my jeans, there wasn’t much of a bruise or anything so I didn’t worry about it and I didn’t go to a doctor, but it was about two years before I could kneel on it without any discomfort though…

Then in 2009, I fell at Rocking The Gardens when I stepped in a hole- tearing the ligaments across the top of my right foot and once again landing on my left knee! My knee was bruised and I had extensive physio for the ankle, but my knee hurt as well- which I put down to the fall and then walking funny because of my ankle! Then the one day I asked the physiotherapist about my knee and she thought she could feel some damage, especially when I nearly kicked her and let out a yelp when she stuck her fingers in the side of my knee! I told her about the fall a few years before and she said I may have done some damage but without something like an ultrasound or an MRI she couldn’t tell for sure.

Then about a month ago I slipped on some water in my kitchen and landed on the same bloody knee! My language turned the air in my kitchen blue as I cursed in pain, and brought my poor half-asleep knucklehead running in fright (it was 5am)!

I finally went to the doctor a couple of days ago because it just isn’t getting any better. There’s a constant tingling, ache in my knee and now that I am baking all day again my knee is really protesting. The doctor sent me for for X-rays and they showed no damage to the bones (as I expected) so she gave me some anti-inflammatories and recommended physiotherapy.

If that doesn’t help and the knee doesn’t get better she wants me to see an orthopaedic surgeon… Lets not go there, shall we?