If you asked me how my Christmas was, I’d answer it like this: “oh yeah, good, I got a xbox, some Star Wars stuff, some socks, and the dog was divinely healed by God after coming down with a rare viral meningitis confimed by MRI and spinal tap, brought near-death, paralyzed and blinded, and then was miraculously better twenty-four hours later.
And you’d think that answer was either insane or the byproduct of some scorchingly dry sense of humor. Or you’d call it a Christmas miracle. Or you’d say dogs are just like that. The answer is some combination of all of the above, perhaps with the heaviest emphasis on the latter.
Advice from my dad, to be read in a monotone dad voice who has seen it all: “dogs aren’t like people — they go down real hard, come near death’s door, and then the next day they’re jumping around and playing like nothing was ever wrong.”
One day in the future, some desperate googling person is going to come across this post in a panic, seeking answers about dog encephalitis and viral meningitis. You’re going to be me eight days ago, searching for any kind of stories on the Internet, and only coming up with generic PetMD results and Yahoo Answers garble.
So I’m going to tell you every last detail so you can analyze and compare and fret. But honestly, that stuff gets you nowhere. It got me nowhere but deeper into a very dark place. I lost all faith in God. When my three-year-old dog, not-quite out of puppyhood, still very much becoming the adult dog she was meant to become came near death, I gave up. My mom died two years ago around the same time. Fuck this.
But God didn’t give up on me. God asked me to put all my faith in him. God showed up for me through the dog. My mother, a true dog-lover, always reminded me that dog is God spelled backwards.
So before you fret and compare to my dog’s story, which you will, I know, I’m going to tell you to pray. Ask others to pray. Ask me. Comment on this blog and I will talk to God for you. I’m not saying any of this will work, but I am saying that when people have a conversation with God, life is easier.
I’m not even a super religious person. I only put that paragraph in there because God is making me do it. Sometimes you gotta keep up your end of the bargain and spread some of the good word, ya know?
So two weeks ago, the dog got weird. A little off. Our normally-hyper, jumpy, kissy, slightly-embarrasing around-guests dog started acting withdrawn. She didn’t greet us as effusively. It was harder to engage her in play. She was tighter with her kisses and cuddling. But she still did all those things. Plus, a month earlier, she’d also had a weirdo episode like this, but then she’d gone back to normal.
I took her to vet for both episodes, but since she was still eating/drinking and not vomiting or anything, and since her temp was normal and she showed no pain, they told us it was anxiety. Anxiety made sense since we have a 17-month old kid who is constantly terrorizing her.
But this time the weirdo episode didn’t go away. Instead she got gigantically worse each day. She began shaking. Then yelping. Then barely moving. She refused to jump. She hated the walk I took her on. I took her back to the vet, who gave us an anti-inflammatory ibprofen-like med. He told us she might have slipped a disc and to keep her confined.
Two more days passed, and at 4AM, the dog awoke yelping in pain. She just sat in a miserable hunched position, panting. I rushed her to the emergency room. They gave her two stronger painkillers, but noted that it was her neck that seemed to be the worst of her pain.
That night I took her back to the regular vet for bloodwork and xrays. Both came back normal. The doc started the dog on a steroid. We were still treating her for the slipped disc, which wouldn’t haave shown up on an xray, but it seemed like that’s what it was.
A few more days passed. The dog didn’t get better, but the painkillers relaxed her a little, so we thought we’d just have to ride out the backpain before getting our girl back.
Then on Sunday, five days before Christmas, I went upstairs to see a disturbing sight — the dog was lying there stiffly with a wild look in her eyes. I carried her downstairs and began to fully understand what was happening. She was having a seizure. They were terrible, violent grand-mal seizures with foaming at the mouth. She had eight of them in my arms as we rushed her to the emergency vet. The dog’s body was limp and my shirt was soaked in saliva as I carried her in. It was a nightmare.
They admitted her to the hospital where she continued to have seizures and slipped into to a coma-like state. The docs floated the possiblity of meningitis, and that the dog would need to see the neurologist and get an MRI and spinal tap. We scheduled the MRI for Tuesday.
Then Monday night we got the phone call. I’d been down this road with my mom. I know there’s always the call. The dog’s blood pressure had spiked. Her heart rate had dropped. She was nearing cardiac arrest. The doctor asked if we wanted to resusitate her should that happen. Not wanting to drag a dying dog into a $3000 MRI, we said no. We desperately called around for one of our parents to babysit our kid, and the wife and I drove over to the hospital to say goodbye.
The dog was still non-responsive, seized in a rigid, unnatural position, twitching horribly and paddling her legs helplessly. She was blinded by the brain swelling. We held her for two hours saying goodbye. We told her what we’d gotten her for Christmas. We told her the story of her adoption day. We told her our favorite walks with her, and how we’d loved taking her on vacations. We said goodbye. The doctor gave her a less than 50% chance of surviving the night. Once home, I sat in the dark living room with the Christmas tree lights still on, late into the morning, sitting with the emptiness of the house. I slept thinly.
The dog survived the night. The neurologist thought she was still stable enough for anathesia, so we got the MRI and spinal tap. At 7pm on Tuesday, we finally had our answer: the dog had viral meningitis. Normal white blood cell count in the spinal fluid is less than five. Penny had over two thousand. It’s rare. The regular emergency docs had seen it once, twice each. The neurologist had seen it a few times. Would she get better, we asked? He shrugged. “It’s a crapshoot,” he said. 50/50. We started her on a steroid and antibiotics.
I knew I’d had other people praying for my dog all along, but until this point, I hadn’t said a single one. I thought to myself that all these other people had faith for my pup, but not me. So I prayed for God to show us his ability to heal my dog. It’s all I said.
The next day, Wednesday, the dog was still basically non-responsive. But she did attempt to stand — although she quickly fell right back over. It was something. She showed no response to me, no recogniton of any surroundings. But that tiny attempt to stand was hopeful. The doc pulled me aside and gave me the speech about quality of life versus existing. The doc told me this would take weeks, months — not hours, not days.
Then a few hours later, the dog could miraculously see, stood up, could walk, could run, jump, became super hyper, and came home on Christmas day and played like a puppy with all of her gifts.
WTF. (Oh yeah, see the above stuff about God.)
Penny is continuing to do well. We need to keep praying that the meningitis will stay in permanent remission once she stops the meds.
Me? How am I doing? Exhausted, somewhat depressed with a weird grief-hangover, thankful, grateful, ready to play my new xbox.