This is the whole story of how Ellie was diagnosed with intervertebral disk disease, also known as IVDD, and became Ellie The Wonder Dog. (WARNING: This blog post may cause something to suddenly appear in your eyes.)
MARCH 5 at 5:30pm: I noticed Ellie was being to herself, shaking, and making this throat-clearing noise. I thought it was weird, but we've gone through this before and last time we never really figured out what happened, even after seeing two different doctors. And eventually, it just went away. At this point, my thought process was to see how she does the next day, and left her at my parents.
MARCH 6 at 2pm: I went to check in on her, and to my surprise, I had to LOOK for her. This is not normal in any sense -- she's the type of dog who will run to you with all the excitement in the world as soon as she sees you. It wouldn't matter if you were gone for 10 minutes, or 10 days. She was hiding in between the couches, still shaking. I immediately brought her to the vet, who did a blood test and took x-rays. The blood test came back completely negative, and the only thing that appears in the x-rays was some constipation. They gave her a shot to ease her pain, as she seemed really tense, especially in the abdomen area.
MARCH 6 at 9pm: That night, I left her again at my parents because she was supposed to be separated from Kingston (he was diagnosed with contagious parasites). I was then told that she seemed to be limping in one of her legs. I pretty much shrugged it off, thinking maybe she's just sore from her injection.
MARCH 7 at 10am: Both of Ellie's back legs stopped working, and she was literally dragging herself to get she wanted to. On top of that, she pooped on the blanket. Again, this is NOT typical of her, as in I don't even remember the last time she pooped indoors -- we always took her out on a consistent schedule.
MARCH 7 at 2pm: My mom brought Ellie to the vet while I was away. I spoke with him on the phone, and honestly, it was all a blur, even right after the call. He mentioned her spine, and that they were looking for on-call neurosurgeons.
MARCH 7 at 5pm: We brought her to the hospital they referred us to. One of the doctors examined her, and broke the news that it is highly likely her disc in the back ruptured. There were two ways go about this -- conservatively, by crating her for months in hopes she'll get better (lower chance of walking again, much cheaper), OR putting her through surgery (much higher chance of recovering, much more expensive). Of course, I chose the surgery route, giving her 90-95% of walking again because she was still able to feel pain in the back. The plan was to keep her for the night, and schedule the surgery for the next morning when the neurosurgeon and his team are in.
MARCH 7 at 10:45pm: A doctor who was taking care of her called me to let me know that Ellie lost the ability to feel in the back. Let me tell you, my heart have never sank so much. Suddenly, her ability to walk again dropped to 50-60%. Before this, I've already cried so many tears, just random bursts of tears, thinking, "How did this end up happening?" I've pretty much lost it at this point. All I could think of is, "What if?" What if I brought her to the vet right away on Thursday? What if I just took her home with me that night? What if I didn't shrug off her one limping leg?
MARCH 8 at 9am: The neurosurgeon called me, explaining everything, including what could happen, what we may need to do (drive her two hours to get a MRI because they're the only ones open on Sundays), and what we can expect. They gave her a CT scan, and found pretty much exactly what they suspected -- inervertebral disk disease (IVDD). No need to do anything else, but to go forward with the surgery.
MARCH 8 at 12noon: Ellie finally went into surgery, and luckily, everything went perfectly as planned. Now it was just a matter of the waiting game. She stayed there for a few more days and gave her tons of pain meds to ensure she's OK before she goes home.
MARCH 9 at 6pm: My sister and I went to visit her. I think I was OK for the most part, until I actually saw her. I saw her stitches, I saw how out of it she was because of her meds, I saw how helpless she seemed. I just cried my eyes out. Since she is paralyzed, that meant that she couldn't pee on her own. I tried twice to learn how to express her bladder that night, but just couldn't get it down.
MARCH 10 at 10am: I went to the hospital again because the nurse called me and asked me if I wanted to try to express her bladder again, since it was much fuller now than the night before. I went in, and was able to do it, but it seemed much easier because it was so full.
MARCH 10 at 6pm: Another visit because I really wanted to get this bladder situation figured out. This time, I was successfully able to do it even though it wasn't entirely full. To express her bladder, I pretty much had to feel around her abdomen area, looking for something that feels like a water balloon, and just squeeze hard until urine comes out.
MARCH 11 at 5pm: Finally, I could take my baby home. She had tons of drugs I had to give her. And my oh my, it was not easy giving them to her. As soon as I figured out a way to do it (such as mixing it in banana, which she loves), she's totally over it. It wasn't until I was told about pill pockets, and that was SUCH a life saver. This was also the first time I was able to sit down with the neurosurgeon. I told him that what happened to her on March 5 happened back in September, and I wanted to know if that was a sign back then. He said that he wouldn't say it was a sign back in September, but it certainly was a vague sign when it happened in March because that kind of started the whole thing. He said it is just very common with small breeds, especially if they jump off of furniture a lot, which is typical Ellie. My only wish is that I knew about this disease earlier because then I would've definitely trained her to not jump on/off couches or beds.
MARCH 14 at 4am: Ellie slept in the crate right next to my bed so I can keep an eye on her at all times. That night, I just kept hearing her bounce around, which was unlike all of the other nights, when she seemed to sleep through the night for the most part. The thing is that she had two back-to-back visitors the day before, got so excited, and we did hear a little yelp for her at one point. After calling the hospital three times starting probably around 2am, I finally decide to just bring her in. They took a look at her, and it turned out she might have just hurt her back a little. They gave her another patch (we took the one she had on before the day before, as instructed), injected some pain meds, and gave us another one on top of the three other meds she had to take orally. They recommended getting some sort of ice pack and place it on her back. We found a Safeway nearby that was 24 hours, but on the way there, she was just crying in pain.
MARCH 14 at 2pm: She was doing so-so between the time we got back and 2pm, but suddenly, she seemed to jump and squirm like she's in pain every time I tried to touch her abdomen. After another 2-3 calls to the hospital, I decided to bring her in again because I can't even express her bladder at this point and I felt horrible. We decided to do medical boarding (hospitalization, but not as intense -- they basically just gave her an IV, watched her, and gave her meds as scheduled). It was just terrible timing because I HAD to move out that same weekend, and all I could do was worry about her. By doing this, at least I know neither of us will be as stressed and she'll be as comfortable as they can make her.
MARCH 16 at 5pm: The neurosurgeon gave us the clear to take her home. From there on, she certainly seemed like she was doing much better, thankfully.
MARCH 19 at 5pm: There was a scheduled appointment for Ellie to take out her stitches. On the way there, she pooped (which she has no control over, but can do on her own), and it got SO messy. They took her in and cleaned her up for me, which I was so appreciative of. Other than that, no news, which I only assumed meant she was in the same condition.
MARCH 19 - APRIL 9: She was slowly getting back to her old self, not expressing much pain anymore (thankfully). During the week of April 9, she kept whining to come out because she had to be crated for the most part, and she was just totally over it at that point. I noticed that she seemed like she was gaining strength on her right back leg, and she would move her legs if I pinched hard enough. I was thinking these are all good signs, but I didn't want to get ahead of myself, especially because I looked it up and saw that reflexes do not mean there's neurological signs telling her to do so. The ideal indication would be if the doctor were to pinch her toes with a tool and she reacted like she was really in pain. I was hopeful, but knew that one should never get their hopes too high.
APRIL 9 at 11:30am: This was the big four week check up. No improvement meant it's VERY unlikely she won't walk again. And yep. That was the news. There's still a very small chance that she can walk based on her legs getting into a habit of movement and will walk naturally, but it won't be her brain telling her to, and it won't be the same. At the same time, this is a VERY small chance and that we shouldn't bank on it, according to the doctor. I let out a good cry, but then have just accepted it. I've cried all the tears I could've cried back in March. I didn't go in fully expecting her to recover, which meant I wasn't completely devastated. I've already adapted to her new lifestyle for the past month, like expressing the bladder, and cleaning up her random poop, which actually isn't too random anymore -- there seems to be some pattern. She is now randomly wagging her tail. Could it be a sign? I'm not sure, but again, I've learned to not have my hopes up too high.
APRIL 9 at 6pm: I ordered Ellie's wheelchair, which is going to be what she needs in order to go back to somewhat of a normal life.
APRIL 16 at 5pm: After receiving the wheelchair, I brought Ellie to the hospital so they can make sure it fit correctly. It was so nice to see her walk around again. I was also very happy and proud of the purchase. It isn't too bulky, and the pink came out really pretty.
PRESENT: We've been slowly trying to get her to get used to having a wheelchair - it's just a learning process that will take some time. We haven't brought her outside for a real walk yet, but it will happen one day soon.
In the end, it may seem like that surgery was a waste because she didn't recover, but I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to take the chance. She's my first baby and really one of the loves of my life. I was not and still am not going to give up on her.
For a good two or three weeks, I really beat myself up internally. All I kept thinking was just, "WHAT IF?" And honestly, I still think about that every once in a while. But then I realize there's no point in dwelling on it. It is what it is. Life throws you all kinds of curve balls and lemons, but you just have to learn to deal with it and make the most out of it.
You know, like getting a hot pink wheelchair and putting a license plate in the back.
There were three lessons to be learned for dog (and other pets) owners here, especially if you're new to this whole dog owning business, like I am.
LESSON #1. Get pet insurance, such as Healthy Paws. You just NEVER know what might come your way. I learned my lesson what now seems like the easy way, which was having to pay about $1,500 out of pocket to get two metal buttons out of her stomach. I spent approximately that amount on this whole ordeal, which could've cost me close to $10,000 out of pocket. I seriously don't know what I would've done if that was the case.
LESSON #2. I used to be very cautious with her and would freak out at every little thing that was wrong with her. I didn't take it so seriously this time, and this was the end result. So the second lesson is that it really is OK to get worried about everything and go to the vet with anything that seems out of the ordinary (or at least give them a call). Because like I said, sometimes you just never know.
LESSON #3. If you have a small breed, please train them to NOT jump on/off furnitures. I've always loved it when I told Ellie to jump up on the bed or couch, but little did I know, it could have a severe consequence such as this. Here's a great list of prevention points from Dodgerslist (the site is targeted toward dachshund owners, the information still applies to all breeds).
Now, I'm just looking forward to things getting somewhat normal again -- taking her out on walks in the neighborhood and eventually really take her out like I used to. Because she's Ellie and she's Ellie the Wonder Dog, and there's nothing I wouldn't do for her.