Wednesday 31 August 2011

Dusty the Brave

Tuesday, 30 August

Yesterday evening, Dusty ended her precarious descent of the spiral staircase in a somersault, landing on her back at the bottom. I rushed to her aid and she seemed to recover quite quickly. But it was not the first sign of something wrong. A week or two ago, Lily noticed her swaying and nearly falling over when out walking. She'd perked up and continued as normal. The village vet said she was stiff and arthritic, and that must have caused her to collapse. It happens in older dogs, she said. We put her on arnica and a herbal concoction, which Dusty refuses to eat.

During our trip to London, I heard a scrabble and a flump at the top of the stairs and found Dusty lying there, her paws over the edge of the top step as if she'd stopped herself in the nick of time. She looked affronted and bemused. I sat on the step below her, wrestled her 25kg onto my lap and bumped us both down the stairs, step by step. At the bottom, Dusty lay looking confused, eyes darting back and forth, popping and twitching. Next morning, I took her to our old London vet. She looked like she was drunk, I said, and keeled over and couldn't get up and her eyes were twitching like mad. I'm worried she's had a stroke, I said. Of course, she was fine again by the time he saw her, so he agreed with Village Vet, that it was most likely the arthritis causing the collapses and subsequent disorientation.

Last night, she had another episode, this time lasting longer, scrabbling to get up but swaying and falling, lying there looking crazed, head bobbing up in the air to left and right as if desperately seeking something, eyes bulging and threatening to pop out of her head. This morning, I called the town vet. They said come in at 4.30pm. Minutes after putting the phone down, Dusty went into a crazed spasm again. I called the vet back and said she was shivering and convulsing and in distress. Bring her in now, they said.

Lugging a 25kg convulsing dog with popping eyes is not something I'd want to do often. All I could do was grasp her around the waist and waddle along with her like a sack of dog food, her four legs sticking out at right angles. Somehow I transferred her to the back seat of the car. Her head was swaying up to the left, up to the right, as though she were blind and could hear a piercing noise and was desperate to find the source.

Town Vet said immediately she was having what we would call in human terms, a stroke. The darting eyes were a classic sign, he said. She's desperately trying to get her balance. For her, it's like she's had 12 Scotches and her whole world is turning upside down. So much for London Vet. As Town Vet talked me through the options (further investigations... is it worth it... quality of life... 15 years ago we would have euthanized... ), I was getting flashbacks to Dr Death telling us about mother's options as she lay in intensive care, dosed up to the hilt and having intermittent mini strokes. When Town Vet said that her (Dusty's, not mother's) gums were healthy, and her heart didn't sound bad, and she was 'a light dog' (not quite how I would have described her), and she quickly righted her legs when he placed them out of position, I was trying to work out whether this meant that she might recover completely, or that he was offering me a little shred of hope to cling on to in an otherwise hopeless scenario.

He remained equivocal yet encouraging, but kept urging me to call him the next day to let him know how she was. Which reminded me of the doctor who saw Lily when she was running a raging fever and urged me to call him later that evening; he later admitted he'd feared she had meningitis. Is the Call Me treatment a very bad sign? It seems so. When I left, TV handed me just enough Vivitonin for a week, and I said was this a short-term medication then?, and he said no it was long-term but he was being conservative, or some may say pessimistic. It was Dr Death all over again. So he's giving her a week at most. The problem is, Dr Death was correct in his assessment.

But Dusty is fighting back. What she needs now is nursing and TLC, said Town Vet. She hasn't needed anything different from normal so far. Food. To be let out. You may have to bring her food to her, said TV. At suppertime, Dusty was standing over her bowl, waiting expectantly.

And now, as I write, Dusty is trotting up the spiral stairs to her station at Lily's side. I, meanwhile, envisage a second night of broken sleep of the kind I haven't had since Lily was a baby, in standby mode, ready to spring into action when I hear pawsteps on the stairs. I'll have to get there first, to break any potential fall.

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