Sunday, September 7, 2008

Medical Stuff

What's Popeye's favorite thing to do? Aside from eating. Aside from biting other dogs' legs. Rolling on the lawn!

Oh look, he found a grody old, half eaten apple.

Can you say tenacious?

Ok, let's get serious for a moment. Except for the first one, I have not mentioned Popeye's vet visits very much because they really were not able to determine much. But after reading some of the responses from my previous post, I think I should explain why Popeye isn't using a doggie wheelchair right now.

Even before Popeye arrived, after watching his first video, I already had in my mind the steps I would take in helping him to become better abled.

I remembered a video I had seen of an amazing 2-legged dog named Sugar, and in the back of my mind, I wondered if Popeye might do better without his hind legs.

But first things were first, I intended to get him an Eddie's Wheels cart immediately upon his arrival, as soon as we could get his measurements. When I picked him up from the airport, I was surprised to see he already had a cart, designed by a professor in Taiwan, I was told. It was a neat little contraption, very light weight, but it wasn't more than a few days before I realized it wasn't working for Popeye.

First, it was already too small for Popeye since he had probably grown since the cart was first made for him. It toppled too easily (the reason I stopped using it), and his hind paws dragged on the floor. At first I thought the dragging was due to a deficiency in the construction, that the hind support just wasn't built high enough. So I asked my father, who's a fair hand at mechanics, to raise it. But that didn't work either. The increase in height not only made the cart's stability even more precarious, but it greatly arched his spine, making it very uncomfortable for Popeye.

During this time, I took Popeye to the first vet, one in Brentwood. I was intending to get him xrayed because I was told that his spine was broken and that's why he was paralyzed. That vet examined him, said he had no feeling in his hind legs and wasn't in any pain but that his paralysis was permanent (something I had already assumed), and then suggested killing him to put him out of what she perceived to be his misery. Because in her mind, how could a dog who didn't have the use of all 4 legs be anything but miserable?

I guess she'd never seen Sugar's video. Or heard of Faith, the dog who was born without her front 2 legs (and was featured on Oprah).

Or Dominic, the greyhound with only 2 left legs.

Guess she'd also never heard of doggie wheelchairs.

The other reason she thought killing Popeye was the ideal solution was that we wouldn't have to deal with his incontinence. As if millions of dogs have not experienced incontinence. She said incontinent dogs are at a risk for urinary tract infections if their urine is not released from their bodies, and if the UTI is untreated, it could lead to kidney failure.

First of all, having had a dog who had a UTI once, I know how easily treatable they are with oral medication. Secondly, there is such a process called manually expressing the bladder. When I asked the vet about that, she admitted it could be done, but when I asked her to show me how, she did so in such a careless and offhanded manner that I got the impression she didn't think spending a couple of minutes to teach me was worth the effort. No, I'm sure in her mind, it was just easier to kill Popeye and just not have to deal with it at all. I actually did not learn how to express his bladder from her and had to rely on learning it on my own as well as the advice of another dog owner who had experience doing it.

And finally, although Popeye may not have control over his bladder, he does actually express himself as his pulls himself along the floor so UTIs are not a high risk for him. Another vet (a much more sensitive and helpful one in Antioch) I took him to a few weeks later confirmed this. So as it turns out, I don't really have a need to express his bladder at all as things are now.

Needless to say, no xrays were taken. That vet actually said she didn't see the point in them. I just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible so I didn't argue. I'll never be going back to that office again. In a way, it was a wasted $50 but it made me realize that just because a person works in the veterinary field does not automatically make them caring or sensitive or sympathetic towards the plight of their clients. I guess the rose-tinted glass I had always viewed vets through, while scratched and maybe even slightly cracked a little in the past, was finally completely smashed to bits, and I have learned to question more and to be more critical of their actions and intentions.

I then took Popeye to a neurologist. I explained about the broken spine and he examined Popeye. After several minutes, he said, "It doesn't look good." That made my heart skip a beat and my brain immediately had thoughts of, "He's in excruciating pain and there's nothing we can do about it. Or he has a degenerative disease and the paralysis is going to take over his whole body." That just goes to show how relative "it doesn't look good" can be because the neurologist then followed up with, "It's permament." I breathed a sigh of relief, because again, that had always been a given in my mind.

The neurologist then talked about a cart but recommended waiting until Popeye was older and finished growing. He also suggested amputating Popeye's hind legs. He pointed out that the muscles had atrophied so that his knees were incapable of bending. That's when it hit me. THAT was the reason his cart wasn't working for him. Since his knees couldn't bend, his hind legs were longer than his front legs, so either his rear paws had to drag a great deal along the ground, or his back had to arch up in order for him to stand.

Xrays were taken and I was in for another little surprise. There was nothing wrong with Popeye's spine. Nothing was broken. No bones broken at his hips or thighs either, which is what the neurologist thought might have happened.

I was shocked because I was under the assumption the whole time that his paralysis was caused by a broken spine. While that wasn't a good thing, at least it would have been a known cause. The neurologist then took a blood sample to check for a rare infectious disease called neosporosis, which would have been a very bad thing because it does progress. He told me it would take about a week to get the results back from the lab. 7 days!

In the end though, the blood results came back negative. So far, nobody knows what caused Popeye's paralysis, but it's assumed at this point that he was born like that. It would explain why he doesn't seem to know any differently and why he gets around so well using just his front legs. That he survived at all this way as a newborn puppy living as a stray on the very harsh and often cruel streets of Taiwan is simply amazing to me.

So, over $600 later, we know what didn't cause the paralysis. But I appreciated that the neurologist was non-judgemental about the quality of Popeye's life, which honestly, no vet could have any inkling of during the course of a single office visit.

Despite the neurologist's recommendation to wait until Popeye had grown more to order a cart, I was eager to do so right away. So I asked him to take Popeye's measurements and called Eddie's Wheels to make the order. They said the same thing the neurologist said, to wait. Keep in mind that this was all during the first week of having Popeye. I had that plan for him, and I wanted to accomplish it as soon as possible. I was still adjusting to caring for him and thought a cart would be the end of many of my worries (I realize now that's probably not true), and the thought of waiting the recommended several months for a cart was unbearable. I even considered purchasing him another cart later once he outgrew the one I wanted to order immediately even though money was tight. I was that desperate.

But then a very nice woman who has lots of experience with handicapped dogs and spent a few hours with me and Popeye one day pointed out something that changed my mind. She said that since Popeye's back legs were so much longer than his front legs, it would be difficult to customize a cart for him. I knew then that I had no choice but to wait either for the amputation or at least for an orthopedic surgeon's recommendation.

It all worked out though because I adjusted to caring for Popeye without a cart, and now it's no big deal at all. Popeye has complete mobility in the house, and with his mermaid sack, I don't have to worry about his legs or rear end getting hurt. Somebody commented that it made her cringe to watch a video of him dragging himself because it looked painful. I'm not sure why she thought that because Popeye has never shown any indication of being in the slightest pain from moving around. It may be vastly different than how most dogs move, but I think this is how he's been moving his entire life and comes just as naturally to him as walking on 2 legs is to most of us humans.

Outside, Popeye is able to play and do his version of running around in the grass. He can also walk around with the help of a harness. I use a Bottoms Up Leash, which I still had from the days of my german shepherds. It's basically a leash with 2 padded & adjustable loops at the end which the dog's rear legs go through. Good thing the leash fits dogs from 15 lbs to 125 lbs! It does still cause some arching on his back, but when he's still (ie. sniffing something), I lower the leash so that his hind paws rest on the ground. It's impossible to keep on though when he decides to wants to roll around in the grass, which is often and drives me mad. But he goes wild in it!

I've also been taking Popeye to a chiropractic vet. A chiropractic student came across one of Popeye's posts and wanted to help. She got me in contact with Dr. Burke, who has worked on Popeye 3 times now. I did not even know chiropractic was practiced on dogs and honestly did not have high expectations at first. After all, I had been to a chiropractor myself once and they gave me what appeared to be the routine treatment and had me on my way without any positive results on my back.

But Dr. Burke is different. She spent so much time feeling Popeye's body and pointed things out to me that neither of the other vets did. I got the impression that she actually cared about Popeye, that he was more than just another patient and this was more than just a job. I realized then that not many vets (or human doctors for that matter) really truly care. Dr. Burke performed some adjustments on Popeye and worked some pressure points to relieve the tension and strain in parts of his spine. She explained what she was doing the entire time and was very patient when Popeye turned feisty on her. Dr. Burke is what I always expected vets to be like.

Popeye has an appointment at UC Davis with an orthopedic surgeon on Wednesday. I hope there are no surprises. I dread the estimate on what the bilateral amputation surgery is going to be. I got one quote from a local specialist for $4,000, and after Bandit's $4,000 surgery not too long ago, there isn't much more to go around.

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