When I picked up a nearly eight-week-old puppy on June 10th last year I was hoping that was the first day of many years we’d share together. At Celie’s very first checkup, however, I learned she had a serious heart murmur, and shortly after she was diagnosed with a long list of additional congenital heart defects. Most recently, about six weeks ago, she began having seizures we haven’t yet been able to control.
Life with Celie looks a lot like life with any human with a chronic illness. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected, like emergency trips to the veterinarian at three in the morning. I’ve seen my ability to take a bizarre set of circumstances and make them part of our daily routine. I’ve figured out how to manage my expectations and not get too bummed out when I see signs that make me feel she’s getting worse. I’ve learned that the possibility of “what if” can’t dictate either of our lives.
While I was initially gutted at the news that my puppy wasn’t expected to live long, I’ve actually gained a new perspective on my own situation just by being around her. I know, I know, she’s a dog and doesn’t fully understand her precarious situation. If you will, however, bear with me and suspend your disbelief for just a moment, as there’s something to be learned from this special little pup of mine.
Celie doesn’t stop herself from doing what she wants.
If she wants to run, she runs. If she wants to play fetch for thirty minutes straight, that’s what she’ll [try to] do. She might take a long nap immediately after, but she seems to do whatever she wants whenever she wants. This was definitely the case when she clawed through my drywall…twice.
Celie lets me know when she needs a break.
If we get home from work and Celie goes straight to the back to lie down, we don’t go for a walk that day. If she’s particularly antsy at the office I do what I can to take her to a nearby dog park during my lunch break; some days my dad even takes her for a walk in the neighborhood. If I’m planning on leaving her alone one afternoon and it starts pouring rain I take her with me or drop her off at my parents’ home. [She has storm anxiety and I don’t want her stress level to get unnecessarily high if it’s avoidable.] I’m really fortunate that I’m in a position to try to understand where she stands each day and react to her needs.
It’s imperative to find a team of medical professionals you trust.
While I’m not a huge fan of most Western medical practices, I’m incredibly grateful for Celie’s medical team. A large animal hospital is practically across the street from my house, and they happen to offer 24-hour emergency services. I debated taking Celie there when I first got her because there are less expensive options. One of my friends, however, explained that if I went to another place I should make sure they always have Celie’s current records on file because that is where I’d go if we had an emergency. I decided then that I should just make a doctor there her regular veterinarian, and I’m so glad I did. During time-sensitive emergencies it’s nice to have them so close, and after seven trips during the hospital’s emergency hours I’ve gotten to work with a handful of their doctors, and each is trustworthy / capable / wonderful. Lastly, because it’s a larger hospital they have specialists on staff and we don’t have to go to another unfamiliar environment where she is unknown. All of these factors make her medical emergencies, and regular care, considerably less complicated and easier on us both.
Celie needs recovery days.
After something happens that sends us on an unexpected trip back to her veterinarian Celie doesn’t immediately bounce back. She sleeps a lot the first day or two and works out whatever deficits remain for sometimes a week or more. She goes at her own pace and slowly returns to her typical behavior. I think there’s this rush to “get back to normal” after people are sick, but that timeline is typically self-imposed. Setbacks are less likely to happen if you listen to your body and don’t get anxious about how you’re progressing at a rate you’ve predetermined is acceptable.
She asks for help when she needs it.
Most dogs leave their owners to get sick in private. Celie does not follow this trend. If I’m sleeping she wakes me up before her first seizure begins, and if I’m already awake she’ll come up to me and very clearly indicate she’s distressed. It’s as if she knows something is about to happen and doesn’t want to go through it alone. In those moments I also think she is asking for help. This is the exact opposite of what I’ve been known to do, and being secretive about my symptoms hasn’t gotten me anywhere!
You wouldn’t know she’s sick.
I hear this a lot about Celie. Most of the time it’s after she’s run full speed towards someone, jumping off all fours just so she can lick their face when they walk in the door. Of course, Celie doesn’t have an intellectual understanding of heart failure or seizures and that her prognosis doesn’t look good, but I believe she knows there’s something wrong with her. Just like when she wakes me up in the middle of the night before she gets sick, she understands that her heart is working way too hard and that her stamina isn’t as long as it was a few months ago.
Her life, however, isn’t about her chronic illness. It’s about making those she loves happy. Sometimes, it’s about figuring out a way to get me to share my dinner with her, but usually it’s all about everyone else.