This is what it’s like:
You wake up startled. You are startled because it always starts when you’re asleep. You are startled because when it starts it starts violently. The dog is on his back, legs flailing uncontrollably, crashing into things and himself and the floor and whatever is in the way.
You scramble out of bed, naked (because that’s how you sleep, which maybe is better because when it’s all over you just take a shower), getting untangled from the covers as fast as you can to get to him because it starts so violently.
You kneel next to him, right in the puddle of piss, because when a 125 lb dog unintentionally voids his bladder, there is nowhere that isn’t a puddle of piss and he’s rolling around in it so you do too. After it’s violent beginning it settles, but he’s still seizing. And so you talk to him, and tell him he’s a good boy, and that it’s gonna be ok, and you say his name because that seems to help. And you say his name again and maybe he jerks a little less, and a little less foamy spittle falls out of his mouth to join the puddle of piss that you’re all sitting in.
Maybe it lasts a minute or 20 but you talk to him and then the jerking slows and stops. And his eye is open and you see it go from totally Not Here to fuzzy to confused to There He Is. And he sits up.
Next comes the pacing. This is when one of you can go get a towel and start cleaning up the mess, and one of you tries to clean the mess off the dog, but he just needs to pace for a while because he doesn’t know where he is or what just happened but it is all Very Confusing.
So you keep telling him it’s ok, even though it’s not, and that he’s a good boy, because he is.
His pacing slows down and you have cleaned up as much as you can, so you crawl back to bed to try to salvage a bit of sleep. And you are calm and the lights are off so he settles down too, and finally lies down, and sighs a big dog sigh, and in a few minutes is snoring and you really can’t blame him.
An hour later Josh has gotten up for work, and the usual morning routine kicks in, and he jumps up into bed in Josh’s place, and a minute later he starts rolling around and doing his happy dog grunt-barks. And you totally give up on sleep and rub his belly, for as long as he wants, because that’s exactly the right thing to do.
This is what it’s like:
Last time I posted here, I told the story of Kubla and his Big Bad Spleen. We have now encountered the other major health issue Swissys can be prone to: seizures. The only thing that makes it slightly bearable is that we knew it was a possibility. Epilepsy is not common but is a known factor with this breed.
He had the first one at the end of August. In the middle of the night we were woken by a huge crash. In his thrashing, Kubla knocked a penny jar off the bedside table. We knelt naked on the floor amidst the broken glass and scattered pennies and piss and drool and tried to keep him from ending up under the bed; tried to tell him it was ok even though we knew he couldn’t hear us. It came in two waves – just as he seemed to be coming out of it, it hit again. His eyes are open, seeing nothing, mouth snapping, tongue hanging out, legs twitching, paws trying to hold on to something. Eventually it slows, and stops. His eyes refocus and you can see he is back to himself. He is panting and disoriented because he doesn’t know or understand what just happened.
He had another one last night. It seemed longer this time, but time is hard to measure in situations like these. One second is forever. Once he was out of the seizure, it took him about a half an hour to really calm down and come back to himself. He kept pacing around the bedroom, walking until he would come to a corner, then stand there with his head against the wall, then turn and go to the next corner. Eventually he jumped back in bed with us and laid down with a sigh.
We’ll take him to the vet on Monday. He’ll get blood drawn and medication and we’ll work on figuring out what the trigger is, if anything. We should have taken him after the first one, but a day goes by and then three and you are busy and he seems healthy and happy and maybe, just maybe, you hope it was a one time thing and it won’t happen again so why make a fuss.
It happened again. It will keep happening. All we can hope is to manage it and keep him comfortable and unhurt. Even when you know what is going on, it is so awful. To feel so helpless. To not be able to comfort him, or explain why he is hurt.
Now he’s napping in the sun. He’s gotten lots of bacon and skritches today. I don’t know if he remembers it. I hope not. I wish I didn’t.
Kubla is a dog, so he likes to eat things he shouldn’t. He’s also a Swissy, and Swissys are notorious for having gastrointestinal issues. There have been several times in the past when Kubla was sick or got into something. We would rush him to the vet, who would want to do an X-ray and more. The next day he would puke/pass whatever was bothering him and be just fine. After a few $400 stomach aches, we learned to just wait it out.
Last Saturday I hosted a baby shower at our condo. We often give Kubla a bone when we’re entertaining, because it distracts him from trying to eat babies. He happily stayed on the rug and chomped on his bully stick all afternoon.
On Sunday, he seemed not himself. We figured it was a hangover from too much bully stick. Or something he pulled out of the garbage while I was cleaning. Either way, no big deal.
On Monday he wasn’t much better. It took several attempts to get him outside in the morning. He wasn’t interested in eating. But, he still seemed alert and wasn’t puking or anything, so we still just decided to keep an eye on him. I skipped our auditions that night to stay home with him. I sat on the floor and fed him ice cubes since he hadn’t had any water.
The thing that sucks about dogs is you can’t just consider their needs, you need to consider the immediate financial implications of any treatment you pursue. On Monday night, we knew we had a sick dog, but we didn’t feel we needed to take him to the emergency room right then. I hate it that this was partly a financial decision. But there it is. (I can also say, with hindsight, that our decision to wait overnight didn’t cause him any additional harm. His spleen just would have been smaller when it came out.)
Monday night Josh and I slept on the couches in the living room, so we would be near him and would notice if he did take a turn for the worse. We had already decided that we would take him to the vet first thing in the morning, unless his condition worsened overnight.
Tuesday morning…I have to be at work at 7:30am, and we are down to one car because the Volvo has a leaky tire. The plan: Get the dog in the car, Josh drops me at work, then goes to the vet.
The whole “get the dog in the car” part was easier said than done. At this point, Kubla wasn’t able to walk more than about 6 feet before he would stop and just lie down. We might have been able to carry him, but it obviously caused him a lot of pain when we tried to pick him up. So, we got a luggage cart. And put a blanket on it. And plopped him on top.
Normally this would become Kubla Khan and There’s No Fucking Way You Are Getting Me To Sit On That Very Scary Cart. But, as soon as I started pushing, he figured out that he was getting a ride down the hallway instead of the much more painful options. So he stayed put.
I get dropped at work, Josh heads to the vet, (where he has to anxiously wait in the parking lot for them to open) and finally Kubla is seen and they start to do tests.
The first blood work comes back, and this is where the vet freaks the shit out of us because most vets don’t know anything about Swissys.* Kubla’s abdominal x-rays came back clear (meaning he didn’t have an obstruction in his stomach or intestines) but he was very anemic and had a low platelet count. The vet started talking about cancer, or an autoimmune diseases, and things like “50% chances.” Josh called me, barely holding it together. I barely held it together. No matter what, Kubla needed more critical care than the regular vet could provide, so we prepared to transfer him. They had given him some fluids, so he was actually able to walk back to the car himself. Josh drove him to the U of M emergency clinic, got him checked in, and came to get me from work.
Dr. Tart (yup) at the U came to get a history from us. She said the next step would be an ultrasound to see what was going on. That was gonna take a few hours, so Josh and I went home for a while and waited for news. She called and finally we had a diagnosis: splenic torsion.
Splenic torsion is when the spleen flips over on itself, cutting off the blood supply in and out. This is where the Swissy factor comes in again. There are two types of splenic torsion: acute and chronic. Basically, acute is more severe than chronic. In most dogs, there are two ways you see splenic torsion. First, in conjunction with gastric torsion (or bloat.) In this case, the stomach flip causes the splenic flip. It is a serious and life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency surgery. The second way is most common in older dogs diagnosed with cancer – tumors on the spleen can cause a partial torsion.
Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, however, can be prone to splenic torsion all by its’ lonesome, without the help of stomachs or tumors or old age. But, unless you know the breed well, you wouldn’t know this. (“Check his spleen,” we said before the ultrasound. “Our breeder says with symptoms like this it’s usually the spleen.” “Your breeder doesn’t get a say in this,” was the answer, complete with rolled eyes. See asterisk below.) That’s why our vets were looking at everything except his spleen, and when they figured out it was the spleen, went looking for tumors and were surprised at how young he is.
Regardless of the cause, when a spleen torses it needs to come out. You can’t just untwist it, because the blood that collects in the organ during the torsion becomes toxic and shouldn’t be released back into the bloodstream.
So, Josh and I headed back to the hospital to see Kubla before he went under. We met with the surgeon, Dr. Kohler, who explained the procedure and risks. Kubla would need some blood transfusions since he was so anemic but otherwise it should be a simple surgery.
They said it should only be an hour or so, so Josh and I waited in the lobby. And waited. And waited. After a while Dr. Tart came out and told us it was going really well, just the spleen was large and they needed to make sure to get all the little blood vessels closed off so he didn’t have internal bleeding. We waited some more.
Finally, after 3 hours, the Dr. Kohler came out. Everything was fine, except for the ELEVEN POUND spleen they removed from our dog. A normal spleen is around a pound. Kubla was 14 lbs. when we got him as a puppy.
That’s a big spleen.
We gave the surgeon Lil’ Brudder to pass along, so Kubla would have something that smelled like home with him.
He had a good night in the ICU and spent the next day (Wednesday) recovering. By Thursday morning he was ready to come home.
He’s got a completely shaved belly and the incision runs the entire length of his belly. I guess the spleen was that big. Or, in dogs, they don’t really care about how cosmetic a scar is. We can tell he’s on the mend, but nowhere near himself yet – neither the UPS guy knocking on the door nor us cooking dinner got the usual responses. We just hope that Evil Cat doesn’t mess with stuff, because we’re pretty sure that chasing her across the condo falls into the category of “restricted movement.”
Today, Friday, he’s almost back to his old self. He’s still a little hesitant on stairs, but he pulled Josh’s arm off on his walk. He’s still not eating, but we think it’s half “hasn’t regained his appetite” and half “he got spoiled on canned food in the hospital and now he’s picky.”
And that, dear readers, concludes the story of Kubla Khan and the Very Scary Splenic Torsion. Luckily it has a happy ending.
*I am in no way trying to be disrespectful of vets or to be an armchair quarterback about my pet’s health. I get that these days anyone with an internet connection thinks they’re an expert. However, the reality is that we have a rare breed of dog that most vets never see. This breed also has some specific health issues that are rarely seen in other breeds. We, like most Swissy owners, often have to fight to have it recognized that we (or our breeder) may actually know what we’re talking about medically when it comes to breed-specific health issues.
Addendum: Some people thought the above comment meant we were unhappy with the vets. This is not the case and I in no way meant to criticize the care Kubla received. The vets at the U of M are world class, and he could not have been in better hands. I was merely trying to point out something that Swissy (or any rare breed) owners have to deal with. We are eternally thankful for the amazing professionals who saved our dog’s life.
The other night I was telling Josh about a friend who was struggling to lose weight, who had expressed frustration at reducing calories and still gaining weight. Josh and I got talking about the various things both of us have learned about weight loss in the last year, and I realized some of this might be useful insight to pass along. I don’t in any way claim to be an expert, these are just things I learned that worked for me. To me they now seem common sense, but given how messed up many of our relationships to food, exercise, and our bodies are, maybe some of this can be helpful to someone else.
A note: I’m gonna throw it all out there and use real numbers. Shocking, I know. But I’m doing this for two reasons:
1. Women need to get better at being honest about this, and not being bitches to each other about it. If I’m heavy I don’t feel good about myself so I’m ashamed to say how much I weigh. But if I lose weight I’m reluctant to say a number because other women get snarky about it. Can we knock it off?
2. One of my main points is that numbers are relative. 150 lbs. on my frame is too much. 150 lbs. on someone else is perfect. This is all about what’s right for you, not what some vague standard of “health” or “thin” is.
I started putting on weight in 2009, when I left an active, on-my-feet retail job for a desk job (and quit smoking at the same time.) At my heaviest I was 155 lbs, and I was miserable with it for several years. I not only had to buy all new clothes, I decided that I’d never fit into my size 4 jeans again so I gave it all to goodwill. I was pretty miserable with my size but not able to find the motivation to do something about it.
Something finally tipped the balance last summer, and the weight started coming off. I managed to keep steady through the holidays, and I’ve actually lost more weight through this winter – the jacket my mom gave me for Christmas is too big now.
I’ve lost 30 pounds in the last 9 months. I’m now at 125, which is perfect. I not only fit into my wedding dress again, it’s a touch big. Any more would be too thin. Plus, I love that my dog and I are the same weight.
Again, I’m not an expert. I’m not a health guru. I smoke and drink and eat bacon whenever I get a chance. Every single one of these “rules” has an exception. But I do think it points to an overall philosophy that is useful.
So, without further ado, here are the things I’ve learned:
1. This is so important – EAT REAL FOOD.
Cut out the processed crap. None of it is actually food and all of it will hurt you. It can take time to get yourself off processed food – it took me years. But when you realize how bad that stuff makes you feel it gets easier. I used to have to wean myself off fast food after every tech week. I would crave it for days after. Now I can’t imagine wanting to eat at McDonalds.
1a. When I say “eat real food,” I also mean the full version of things. Anything that has the word “lite” or “diet” in it is not good for you. Eat butter. Eat cream. Don’t go for the low-fat option. None of these things are inherently bad for you, it’s just all about moderation. If something is “lite” it has been processed. Butter is ok. Just don’t eat a whole stick of it in one sitting.
1b. Stop drinking soda. ESPECIALLY diet soda.
That shit is evil. Seriously. I know so many people who are addicted to Diet Coke. It is not good for you. I don’t know anyone who drinks Diet Coke in moderation. All you are doing is consuming unnecessary calories that don’t hydrate you and probably will give you cancer. Drink water. Don’t buy soda at the grocery store, and skip the “meal” when you eat out. Just ask for a cup for water. You’ll save yourself a ton of money. Which means you’ll have more money for beer.
2. Learn how to cook.
Again, this is something that started years ago, and didn’t come easily. But if you learn to love food, real food; good fresh in-season not-processed food, your life will be so much better. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. Baby steps. Stop buying Ragu. Buy a can of tomato sauce, an onion, garlic, and some fresh herbs instead. Figure that out before you move on. I think a lot of people are afraid of cooking because they try too much at once. I used to be utterly hopeless in the kitchen. I’m not any more. Teach yourself. You’re smart. There is so much pleasure to be had from food and eating, I don’t get why anyone would want to eat crap when they can have the real thing.
2a. This isn’t as much about weight loss, but stop limiting what you are willing to eat. I have very little tolerance for people who cut out entire food groups because they don’t like them. I used to hate olives. I kept trying them until they started tasting good. Now I love them. Same with sushi. And green peppers. Often people don’t like a particular food because they had a bad version of it. There is a huge difference between a frozen olive on a pizza and a fresh kalamata. This is why good, fresh, real food is important.
2b. In Season first, Local second, Organic third
I’ve pretty much stopped eating tomatoes unless it’s July, August, or September. I avoid asparagus unless it’s that magical three weeks in May. There’s nothing better than a grilled beet on an early fall day. Our food should be cyclical, and the unnatural expectation that we should be able to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, is messed up. Don’t get me wrong, I drink more coffee than God, and I love a good banana or mango. But if there is something that is grown in this state in a particular season, I would much rather binge on it when it’s available than have the mediocre version flown in from Mexico all year round. Once you’ve had a good, Minnesota-grown, fresh off the vine heirloom tomato, the mealy, sad things you can get at the grocery store just don’t seem the same.
3. Portion control
My eyes are ALWAYS bigger than my stomach. I also eat fast, so I tend to keep eating before my stomach can realize it’s full and tell me. Now, I do cut my burger in half. Or just put less on my plate. Slow down, give your stomach time to catch up with your brain. You’ll realize you don’t need to eat as much as you think you do.
4. Be ok feeling hungry
I am a snacker, and if there’s food around I’ll eat it. I had to train myself that just because my stomach grumbles, it doesn’t mean I need to instantly satisfy it. Josh and I both have this weakness, so this is our solution: we don’t tempt ourselves. We know that if there is snack food in our house, we will eat it mindlessly. So we simply don’t buy it. No chips, no pretzels, no crackers. No one forces you to buy things at the grocery store. Use your brain instead of your stomach.
5. Buy a scale. Step on it every day.
This isn’t about what the number is, it’s about gaining an understanding of the cycles of your body. Weight is not a linear thing – our bodies naturally fluctuate throughout the day and across time. As a woman, my weight changes depending on where in my monthly cycle I am. Stepping on the scale every day helps me keep track of this. Also, when you know where you are it’s easier to control it. These days I find it a lot better to realize I’ve hit a lazy patch and correct it before 3 pounds turns into 15.
6. Be active
I hate exercise. I despise the idea of a gym membership. Some people can do it, but I know it’s not for me. But any movement is better than none. Standing is better than sitting. Walking is better than standing. Etc. If you want to lose weight you MUST get your heart rate up sometimes. You don’t have to go jogging every day. But you have to do SOMETHING. I started riding my bike more last year – again, I do this only as transportation, not as exercise. This winter I decided to keep riding to work. My office is barely a mile from my house, there isn’t a good bus, walking takes too long and driving would be expensive and stupid. Biking is the option that makes most sense. I do believe that a lot of my weight loss this winter has to do with the fact that I stayed on my bike. But it’s not like I was hardcore about it. I rode less than a mile there and back three times a week. That’s it. It is barely far enough to get my heart rate going, but it made a difference. A big one.
7. Don’t diet
Diets are not healthy. Diets are about achieving unrealistic results on unrealistic timescales that aren’t sustainable. Change your life, change your habits. Realize that it will take time. Realize that your first goal should be changing bad habits, not losing weight. Losing weight sustainably takes time. But if you make small steps to change your habits, you will lose weight without realizing it.
8. Own it
Feel good about yourself. As I mentioned earlier, women can be horrible to each other about our bodies. I have found myself being bashful about my success because other women react negatively because they don’t feel good about themselves. And that’s not healthy for anyone. I am in better shape than I have ever been and I feel good about it. I have learned to look people in the eye when they ask and say “Yes, I have lost weight. And I feel great. Thank you for noticing.” There is nothing wrong with feeling good about yourself.
Ultimately, I think the way our culture has created this idea that being healthy means denying yourself things is really messed up. I rarely deny myself anything. Given, I’m lucky that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I definitely have a bacon-mayonnaise-cheese-whiskey tooth. If I want a piece of cheesecake, I eat a piece of cheesecake. I make sure it’s the best damn cheesecake I can get. The more I’ve gotten processed food out of my diet, the more I’ve come to appreciate real food and to realize that it’s not about how much you do or don’t allow yourself to have, it’s about quality and appreciation. Eat real food. Eat good food. THAT’S what being healthy is all about.
(I have joked that I should start writing a series of children’s books about Kubla and all the things he is afraid of. Last night was so ridiculous that I decided to actually write the story. I submit it for your enjoyment.)
Kubla Khan and the Very Scary Red Plastic Broom
Once upon a time there was a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog named Kubla. He was kind and loyal and brave…well, maybe not so brave.
One day, his master Josh was doing some cleaning upstairs, and got out the Very Scary Red Plastic Broom. Kubla had met the Very Scary Red Plastic broom before, when it had been leaning against the wall once and fell over and made noise. Kubla did not like the Very Scary Red Plastic Broom.
Finally it was time for bed. Kubla had had a very tiring day of eating snow and taking naps, and he was ready to climb into his masters’ bed and settle in. He sleepily started climbing the stairs when suddenly his doggy senses kicked in. There! At the top of the stairs! What was it? Oh no! The Very Scary Red Plastic Broom!
Kubla paused in the middle of the stairs to assess the situation. He was very tired and wanted to go to sleep, but getting upstairs meant walking by the Very Scary Red Plastic Broom. Kubla thought for a moment, mustered his courage, lowered his head, and slowly crept up the stairs and past the broom. His stealth won out and the Very Scary Red Plastic Broom did not notice him passing.
But now Kubla was in a quandary. The Very Scary Red Plastic broom was leaning up against the wall right next to his bed. This just wouldn’t do. Kubla decided to wait for his masters to come up and help, and he placed himself in the hall by the closet, as far from the Very Scary Red Plastic Broom as he could get while still keeping an eye on it.
Kubla’s mistress Liz came upstairs, and saw that Kubla was locked in a battle of wills with the Very Scary Red Plastic Broom. She tried to move it, but this only made noise, which Kubla rightly interpreted as a full-frontal attack. Then, for some unfathomable reason, Liz capitulated. She left the broom alone and climbed into bed, patting the spot where Kubla usually lay. She was mocking him! How could Kubla possibly make it to the bed with his nemesis, the Very Scary Red Plastic Broom, waiting to strike? He stood rooted to his spot in the hallway, eyes on the broom.
Kubla’s master Josh came upstairs just then. He quickly assessed the situation. “Should I take the broom downstairs so the dog can go to bed?” he asked. Laughing, Liz said yes.
Kubla’s ordeal wasn’t quite over – he watched very carefully as Josh grabbed the Very Scary Red Plastic Broom and carried it downstairs. As soon as it was out of sight, Kubla relaxed and quickly climbed into bed with Liz, claiming most of Josh’s space before he could get back upstairs. It had been a good fight, and Kubla settled in for a well-earned rest.