Lessons of Love from Our Airedale’s Journey to Recovery

February 23rd, 2012 by Robin Reynolds

I know that many of you have been anxious to hear more news about Amber. In the four weeks since her first surgery, I felt that all I had time to do was to cook for her and hand-feed her to try to get her to eat, help her nurse her pain, and take her to various vet appointments to try to find a solution. (Oh yeah, and I had to work and take care of the usual chores, too.) Amber’s pain got so acute that she got into what they call “wind-up” and she would stand or pace for hours, even though we tried everything to get her to lie down. We also tried all sorts of medications, homeopathic remedies, and alternative treatments, but any results were either short-lived, didn’t faze her, or made things worse. All during this time, she stumped the surgeon and vets by not registering any pain when the surgery site was palpitated.

Finally, on Thursday last week, when I took her back to her regular vet, Dr. Wight was finally able to palpitate a knot on the end of the femur stump that made her register pain. Since Amber’s cancer had been confined to the cartilage, it had been decided not to amputate the whole leg, leaving the femur stump to give her more balance. Unfortunately, Amber was the rare dog who constantly moved her stump—in fact, our surgeon, Dr. Monarski, said that he had never seen a dog who moved her femur as much as Amber. In doing so, she built up fibrous tissue on the end of the stump that was believed to be causing her pain. Amber had probably been feeling it long before we could detect anything.

Now we were faced with a painful reality, we either had to put Amber through another surgery to remove the rest of the stump or we would have to let her go. As I sat in the vet’s office and watched her—in spite of her pain— “make her bed” with the big, soft comforter the techs had laid out for her on the floor, I knew she was still not ready to give up, so neither could we. On Friday, we took her back to the hospital and the rest of the femur was removed. The good news is that the procedure went smoothly and she does seem to be in less pain.

Amber’s second release from the hospital came a little slower.

But there is a lot of recovery to go and after another restless night, we are now confining her to a large kennel instead of just a room in the house because we think she tries to be too active just to be with us.

A difficult act of love–confining Amber to ensure her recovery.

That’s the things about dogs; they will do anything to please us—even if it means putting themselves in pain or harm’s way. And always trying to be good dog parents, we do our best to be worthy of their unconditional love.

Perhaps, Amber’s story will light the way for some other pet parent or canine amputee. Or maybe she will be that one atypical case that will help vets better understand how to anticipate and treat post-amputation complications. Or perhaps, Amber is merely enduring this to remind us what true acts of courage and love are all about. Last week, during Valentine’s Day—a time when we also typically mark Max’s birthday—I began to reflect on how recent events exemplify true acts of love. I never had time to finish that post until today. Here is what I have been thinking about:

There is so much hype and expectation around holidays like Valentine’s Day that it can obfuscate genuine gestures of love. Acts of love are actually much simpler than we humans make it as our dogs remind us.

  1. While treats are nice, it is not the flowers, chocolates, or jewelry that will be most remembered. It is the belly scratch, the run in the park, or just the sitting side-by-side in supportive silence that epitomize pure acts of love. In the four weeks since Amber’s first surgery, we have watched our younger Airedale, Krissy, do this for Amber. She has lain quietly outside of Amber’s kennel, just offering her presence, knowing without knowing. As humans, this is a lesson we should note: Love is shown more in a series of small gestures than in big, flashy gifts. Just being present for someone else is the greatest gift.
  2. Love is there when we show compassion. When we respond to another’s experience with patience and understanding, we can help heal the situation. If we simply impose our will, we will be met with resistance. Dogs are very sensitive beings and they know if you are coming from a place of true loving kindness. They may not like the Elizabethan collar, taking pills, or being kenneled, but they will cooperate more if they can feel your compassion. Could we be better humans if we showed more compassion for others’ experiences rather than judging or forcing our own perception on the situation?
  3. Even when we don’t fully understand or when we sometimes disagree, we show our love when we listen. During the last few weeks, we didn’t always understand why Amber couldn’t just lie down and rest and we often felt frustrated that the solutions didn’t seem more obvious. But because we were willing to acknowledge Amber’s experience and respect the veterinarian professionals involved, we could keep partnering for a solution. As humans, do we talk more than we listen in attempt to control the outcome? Sometimes letting go of our position is the most loving thing you can do.
  4. When things go wrong or in unexpected ways, it is an authentic act of love and respect not to blame. Approaching challenges with love rather than fear can keep us moving forward, knowing that each of us is doing the best that we can. As Amber’s recovery went sideways over the past few weeks, it would have been easy to blame the vets, blame each other, or even blame her. But having a scapegoat is a distraction from the ultimate goal of speeding her recovery. Conveying gratitude is a genuine gesture of love that keeps everyone looking for solutions rather than looking over their shoulders.
  5. One of the most heartfelt gestures of love is when we simply help each other. Over the past few weeks, I have talked with my vet as much as I’ve talked with my husband. Dr. Wight calls daily for updates and offers information, advice and support. We’ve laughed together. Cried together. And made and revised plans together. Consequently, I never felt alone or unsupported. And the same is true of my husband. He has partnered through this crisis every step of the way, just as he always has in our marriage. It is true what they say: When you help others, you actually help yourself.

These are the acts of love that have filled my life over the past few weeks and I am grateful that these experiences have reminded me what love really feels like. While it’s true that I enjoy an occasional present, these are the gifts I truly treasure. And I’ll take that over a dozen roses any day. I think Amber would agree.


Why Keeping Amber in Stitches Was No Laughing Matter

February 9th, 2012 by Robin Reynolds

The way in which Amber greeted us upon her release from the hospital did not prepare us for the rocky road we have traveled over the last three weeks. Just the day after bringing her home, her stomach turned bright red.

Yikes! Is she bleeding internally??!!

Not wanting her to have to endure the long trip back to the hospital unless absolutely necessary, I emailed a picture of her stomach to the surgeon. He told us that some bruising was to be expected from the surgery, but the picture showed more than he anticipated. He suggested that we mark the area with a marker and if the redness spread, we would have to bring her back in. We did as we were told and the next day the redness subsided. We breathed a short sigh of relief.

But as soon as it came time to remove the Fentanyl pain patch, Amber just couldn’t seem to get comfortable –despite the fact that she was receiving other pain medications. We tried everything to try to make her more comfortable—upping the pain-reliever, Tramadol, which only seemed to make her more anxious; lowering the amount of Tramadol, but giving it more often; treating her with acupuncture, which had no real effect…

I feel like a pin cushion!

…and adding in Gabapentin, an anti-seizure medication that is supposed to help with phantom pain, which made her sleepy, but did not stop the constant twitching. Every day, she just seemed to get a little worse—she didn’t want to eat; she didn’t wag her tail when she saw us; and she pretty much stayed in one spot, except to shift restlessly. Direct palpitation of the surgical site, however, did not seem to register pain with her. We are sure that we drove our vet crazy with our daily calls, trying to figure out what to do for her.

Finally, one night as my husband remarked how enlarged her one hip looked in comparison to the other. I had noticed it, but just thought it was typical swelling from the surgery. Nonetheless, the next day we took her back to our vet, who figured out that Amber was allergic to her sutures and had developed a couple of seromas. Unfortunately, the stitches were not ready to come out yet, but Dr. Wight was able to drain some of the fluid and gave Amber a laser treatment.

Ohhh! That feels good!!

The laser treatment was like a miracle. By the next day, the swelling had reduced substantially and she seemed much more comfortable. Dr. Wight also discovered that Amber’s liver enzymes were elevated, so we started her on a liver cleanse and started to cut back off on the pain medications. Since that time, Amber has had a series of laser treatments and we weaned her off all pain medications long enough for her liver enzymes to be back in the normal range. Amber continues to have issues with twitching and muscle spasms and we have put her back on a low dose of the Tramadol and are going to give Amantadine a try to help the spasms. She has turned a corner for the better, but she has taken the road less traveled.

What alternative pain relief methods have you tried and what’s worked for you?