Saturday, February 14, 2009

The stroke

It was tempting this morning to make yet another futile attempt to help half of America, most of them part of the rabid right, understand that the passage of the Obama stimulus package isn’t the end of civilization, or the start of some sinister, socialist takeover of the United States. I made the mistake of turning on our local right-wing AM blowtorch, WGAN, and John McDonald’s Saturday program. As a Maine storyteller, McDonald is quite compelling. But his weekend alter ego sees morph into just another right-wing shill, a poor man's imitation of Rush Limbaugh. I even called in, but then I came to my senses. It’s Valentine’s Day and Mary and I are headed out later, to learn the tango. Tohell with politics, at least for now.

Instead, I think I’ll update you about Bernie. For those of you new to my blog, Bernie, my trusty 13 and soon-to-be 14-year old Sheltie is doing remarkably better. For those who don’t have a dog, or aren’t dog people, you won’t understand the bond that develops between dog owners and their pets. It’s no accident that saying “dog’s are a man’s (and woman’s) best friend” is accepted as canonical.

Four weeks ago, Bernie had a stroke. It happened in the middle of the night. He had been restless all night and woke us about midnight, by throwing up, first in our son’s former room (now my office) across the hall, and then next to our bed. When we got up, and turned the light on, it was obvious poor Bernie (aka, “The Mayor,” or “Mr. Schmellie”) was in obvious distress. He was disoriented, stumbling badly, and quite agitated, breathing heavily. All we could do was clean up his mess, try to comfort him as well as we could, pat him and then take turns on the floor with him. It was a long five hours until the alarm notified us of another day of work.

I heard one time that most dogs recognize about 30 words. Bernie, before he lost his hearing completely about 18 months ago, seemed to know twice that many. When he was gradually going deaf, our biggest fear was that he’d lose his gregariousness and personality. In order to ensure that didn’t happen, Mary and I spent more time interacting with Bernie than ever—patting him, giving him hugs, and letting him know he was loved and doing our best not to startle him, which is hard, when you have a dog that is deaf.

[Bernie, sound asleep on the couch]

Bernie sleeps alongside our bed, on the carpet. Now, when he wakes up in the morning, often about 4:30, he’ll shake his head, stretch, walk out into the hall, and then make his way back into the darkness, going first to my wife’s side of the bed, nosing alongside the mattress to see if she’s awake. Being a heavier sleeper than I am, given my “bionic” ears, I’m awake and eventually Bernie makes his way over and gets his head rubbed, which he usually expects about five minutes worth, and then he’ll go back to sleep for another 20 minutes, or so, until the alarm goes off at 5:00. While Bernie was always friendly, and enjoyed being rubbed and spending time in close proximity to family members, his deafness has made him much more affectionate in a way that he wasn’t before. Now, like a cat, he rubs up against our hands, and arms if we cease with the affection as if to say, “please don’t stop—I like it.”

Just after Bernie’s stroke, we read as much as we could about strokes in dogs, and one of the common threads we found was that dogs often recover and show improvement in 2-3 weeks. Given that Bernie was struggling to stay upright, and even struggled to eat, one of the things he lived for that didn’t seem very optimistic, but we clung to that timeframe with hope.

A vital dog with limitless energy, and one that loved being outdoors, even during winter’s coldest and snowiest times, now, it was a struggle for Bernie to not topple over on the ice, or get blown over in the wind.

Our son, Mark, Mr. Everyday Yeah, actually posted a couple of humorous takes on Bernie’s situation. Mark, in his inimitable way, took something negative, or sad, and made Mary and I both laugh with his section he called “Dear Bernie,” written as letters to his dog.

I’m happy to say that four weeks after Bernie’s stroke, he’s made remarkable improvement. Just after suffering his stroke, his head had an odd cock to one side, and he was unable to navigate the stairs, without falling back down. This necessitated some alterations, like carrying him up and down the stairs every evening and morning (the things we do for our pets) and installing a gate at the top, as well as barricading the bottom of the stairs, so he wouldn’t injure himself trying to go up and down.

I’ve been walking Bernie up and down our 300 foot driveway, as well as taking a few strolls on our road. Given the snow conditions and lack of shoulder room, and the usual assortment of speeding drivers, I was hesitant to take him out on our roadway in the morning, in the dark, or after work during the week. Last weekend, we walked a ½ mile and Bernie did quite well. His gait has been getting steadier, and in fact, he has started going up and down the outdoor steps, which are three in number, with a semblance of his old self. Just the other night, he made it up the stairs to the second floor landing, on his own, without hesitation. Yesterday morning, he came down with little difficulty.

This morning, we took a walk of just over a mile, after sunrise. Bernie had his swagger back, walking rapidly, doing his usual investigations along the sides of the road, and at times, forcing me to walk rapidly to keep up. He seems to be 90-95 percent back to normal, pre-stroke.

Closing in on the 14-year mark, we know that Bernie won’t be with us forever. But we’re thankful that he’s recovered from something that we feared might be the end for him.


Mark LaFlamme said...

I had no idea that dogs suffered strokes or that John McDonald is a conservative. One is sad while the other is... wait. Okay, both are sad.

Jim said...

Over the years, I've listened to JMcD regularly since he's been on WGAN, although less of late, mostly because I'm now rarely in my car on weekends. If out on errands, however, I'll tune in to see what he's talking about.

Of late, it always seems to be about the politics of the day, filtered through his own conservative lens. He may have always leaned that way, but it wasn't as obvious as it is now. There also seemed to be a smattering of callers who didn't receive the RNC's conservative daily talking points. If they are still listening, none of them made it through, yesterday.

Bernie and I took another walk this morning, our first back-to-back lengthy walks since his stroke. It's apparent his strength is coming back.

Anonymous said...

Zeus OS, my two-year old yellow lab, slumbering in my reading chair, sends Bernie best wishes for a prompt and full recovery.

Jim said...

Bernie appreciates the positive karma coming his way. Today was another day of progress.