Saturday, June 23, 2018

Life With Chronic Conditions: What I learned From Caring for My Brain Injured Dog

Less than a month ago a car hit our dog Ida. Bred to be a cattle dog, her agility may have lessened the blow, as she evidently tried to jump away from the car. She  also may have a thicker skull (these dogs get hit in the head in their line of work) but not having been home at the time of the accident, I’m not sure exactly what happened. Regardless, she survived her injury without a fracture. Our vet did an incredible job, as did the special hospital where she spent three days.

Ida learning to catch a ball again.
When it was time for Ida to go home, a nurse brought out our dog, who didn’t know us, could barely walk, didn’t wag her tail, had lost considerable weight and looked ancient. They gave us a discharge summary along with a variety of pills for possible pain, heartburn and anti anxiety and off we went. It was a little bit like, "good luck with your dog."

Fortunately, I’ve worked a lot with head injured adults so figuring it’s a mammalian brain, I was only too happy to get her in the car and start rehab. She promptly went to sleep so there was little I could do until we arrived home.

 I took her off all meds to see just what we were dealing with. Turns out she no longer needed any of them. Since she would circle, both an issue with blindness and neuro involvement, I started walking with her on a short lead outside. We walked a lot figuring it was better to walk her in a straight line instead of letting her pace in a circle-take advantage of neuroplasticity and re program the brain.

 I decided that regardless of whether her sight was coming back or not, I would use a combination of treats and tapping on the steps to teach her how to walk up and down stairs. A day and a half of training and she was a champ.

Incontinence was a major issue initially so we used modified toddler diapers and took her outside every hour. Rewarding her with treats quickly helped to resolve that issue.

Besides food, she loved to play catch, so I let her mouth some of her favorite toys she liked to catch and her response was immediate. You could see the synapses firing. Within a matter of a few days she could get around and seven days after the injury she was playing a very modified version of fetch, wagging her tail, knew who we were and was on a good path to recovery. As my friend, who had a dog who would have seizures, it's a bit like starting over with a brand new dog.

Sleep was critical for her so she slept as much as she wanted. We were careful not to wake her as sleep helps to heal the brain. Because her sleep cycle was erratic, I’d try and nap as well since caring for her was a 24 hour job.

It has been a lot of trial and error, but we are so fortunate to see so much of Ida’s pre injury behavior return. It consumes a lot of my time. However, it’s been an incredible learning experience, which you can see from my observations below:

• Vets are very cost conscious and before they do anything they go over price breakdowns and possible outcomes. In fact, we had to pay up front for the vet hospital. Our vet sent records of everything they had done initially and the hospitals said there was no need to re do, x-rays as they would go with the referring vet’s results. Doctors and hospitals re do tests all the time justifying it with different labs and equipment can yield different results.

Because many people can’t afford MRIs for their pets, vets do a lot of observing and working to understand how an animal’s behavior relates to what are underlying issues. Sadly, the medical profession has moved more and more away from basic understanding of patients and relies very heavily on “what the tests say.”

• When you are talking to a several people about a patient, address them both. My husband felt left out of the conversations as the entire team caring for Ida was female. They only looked at him if he asked a question.

• It is very scary being a caregiver when you aren’t sure what to do. It’s very helpful to give families and caregivers websites and materials to help them. Found some excellent sites on training a dog that has suddenly lost their vision. It would have been nice to join a support group where I could talk to others who were rehabbing pets with traumatic brain injury.

• One of my friends that runs a farm with lots of animals, including border collies, said not to baby her. Protect her from getting injured but don’t over protect her. In short, don’t label her as a cripple.

• Sleep is critical for both patients and caregivers. Sleep when they sleep.

• In an effort to find the right items to help your charge you can spend a lot of money needlessly.  Keep receipts and return items when it becomes obvious they don’t work. On-line research can help make better choices.

• Life definitely changes when you are thrust into a caregiving role. However, there are opportunities. I’m now taking long walks first thing in the morning. While I’d rather be sleeping, once we’re out and moving, I can’t help but enjoy the rising sun, dew on the grass and other things that I normally don’t see.

• I so appreciate my friends that have sent treats for Ida and asked about her. It means a lot.

• While Ida is incredible, I find some days I wonder how she’s going to do in the snow, which hopefully wont be here for another four months. We had plans to go away but it’s no longer simply leaving her with friends. What if she develops seizures, a complication of TBI?  In short, I can become very overwhelmed by things that aren’t a problem at the moment. I’m having to remind myself to be in the present.

• Keeping a journal helped me note progress as well as reminded me of what I had tried, what worked, what didn’t etc.

• Accepting a lower standard of housekeeping definitely helped reduce stress in the first two weeks. I reminded myself that Ida was the priority and it was not a big deal if there were dust bunnies under the couch or dishes in the sink.

• Taking care of my own needs-like going to the bathroom before I take Ida for a walk-is very important. Just as she needs healthy foods to heal, so do I.

No comments:

Post a Comment