Monday, October 15, 2012

Wondering about Bear

There is no point, I tell myself, in wondering if things would be different had we started the medication like we discussed a month ago. The fact that I am stumbling around outside in the dark just before midnight in my pajamas following Bear as she cuts erratic, panicky arcs through the reaches of the dim porch light over stones and roots, across the deck and back again, ready to jump forward and catch her when she falls, does not change the way things have unfolded over the last four weeks.

And while I kneel on the cool, damp deck with Morgan’s face inches away from mine as he stands hunched over, Bear sandwiched between us in a precarious sit after her legs gave out again as though they had turned to rubber, I still think it was the right decision to make at the time.

A month ago we were given the option of starting Bear on a different medication for her seizures, one that would overlap the current medication she is taking. The idea being that smaller doses of two different medications could result in diminished side effects that Bear was experiencing from taking a larger dose of just one medication. It sounds like a great idea.

We hesitated at first because by the time we got the prescription filled, Bear seemed to be doing better on her increased dose of the original medication. We worried the double dose would put her right back where she started. It didn’t seem fair. So we held off, talked to the vet, discussed options. We decided to wait.

The discussion continued, off and on over the last few weeks until we were convinced Bear could handle the change. On Sunday evening, as the dogs ate their supper, Morgan and I considered starting the new medication right then. But we decided again to wait, just one more day, because we didn’t know how she would react and wouldn’t it be better to give her the medication when we could keep a close eye on her instead of pumping her full of a strange new drug and shuffling off to bed?

Five hours later just as I was slipping in to sleep, I was nudged back by thumping noises coming from the living room below, cushioned bone against wood; the cats wrestling across the floor. I heard a low, rumbling yowl and then a hiss and I knew Chestnut was picking on Cleo again. I considered getting up and chasing him away, but I knew they would stop soon anyway. Then I heard the squeak of the couch and a thumping tail and I couldn’t make sense of what was happening. Were the cats on the couch now, bugging Bear?

And then I heard Bear’s great thick claws scratching at her blanket on the couch like she does when she’s mad or uncomfortable and tries to make a nest for herself. When the loud roaring sounds started I knew something was wrong. I threw back the covers, turned on the light and bolted down the stairs.

“What’s going on?” asked Morgan. I didn’t completely know until I was part way down the stairs and could just see in the pale edge of light that poured down from the bedroom behind me Bear’s dark figure convulsing against the white blanket.

“Bear’s having a seizure.”

We sat with her until it was done. And then Morgan carried her downstairs because she was desperate to move and walk but she could barely stand. I followed with my stomach turned inside out, my hand over my mouth as I watched his feet, which can get tangled at the best of times, shuffle carefully but heavily on to each step, Bear’s close-to-90-pound frame in his arms, a bewildered expression on her face. They are not going to fall, they are not going to fall, I told myself, unable to voice a protest.

And then we are outside in the cold night air watching Bear bobble around on rubbery legs, fall over, look stunned. We tell her to stay down but she won’t, so we help her up again, she paces anxiously away, falls over again. None of us really knows what to do.

It is surreal in some ways because most of the time it is easy to imagine there is nothing wrong with Bear. Lately she gambols about like a three year old, stomping through the bush, skipping after Murdoch up the trail, throwing sticks enthusiastically at my feet and then jumping up to snatch them out of the air. She even leapt over a downed tree the other day to grab a stick I was preparing to throw gently in her direction.

I forget the medicine is just a bandaid, it is not really fixing anything.

When we finally get Bear back inside, half lifting her up the stairs to the kitchen, she nosedives onto her bed, and we decide now is a good time to start the new medication.

“I don’t think we should give it to her on an empty stomach,” I say and give her a handful of her food, which she devours as if she hasn’t eaten in weeks. The medication is a clear liquid and I stand with it in a syringe poised apprehensively to inject into her mouth. “How do I do this?” I ask, hoping Morgan will know more than I. He suggests we use some bread to soak up the medicine and let her eat it.

Morgan cuts a slice from the loaf and Bear is at the counter, suddenly very steady on her feet, focused, alert. She snatches the slice of bread from Morgan’s hand. “What else you got there?” her brown eyes ask.

The food seems to have helped, given her something to focus on, settled her. We sit with Bear on her bed in the yellow glow of the kitchen light, her eyelids drooping, exhausted now. Would she have been spared this latest seizure had she been on the other medication? Would things have been different? Perhaps. But perhaps not. It’s impossible to know and there’s no point, we tell ourselves, in wondering.


  1. Oh, Heather ... no, there is no point in wondering,but that doesn't stop us from wondering, does it? These helpless lives in our hands are so precious, mean so much, that we can't help but second guess these important decisions, and wonder "what if?" I guess it's just a byproduct of how much we love them, how responsible we feel. All we can really do, though, is the best we can, and somehow let it be enough. Sending lots of hugs!

  2. do not second-guess yourself. you're doing great in a difficult, difficult time. it's easy to give liquid medicine to some dogs (boscoe: easy. riley: impossible). you just put the syringe in the corner of the mouth and squirt it in.

    poor old bear. here's hoping the new stuff eases her discomfort. you are on a long difficult road.

  3. You write about sweet Bear with such clarity, such honesty, such force and I want you to know, Heather, that your readers have come to share both your joy and your anguish over the years of this blog. You bring us close to your latest trials with Bear, and I admit there are times when your thoughts permeate the spirit and the skin of my day. Give Bear a big hug from us all.

  4. Thanks everyone for your comments! I will pass on hugs to Bear. She gets lots of those these days. Well, she has always received lots of hugs anyway. I really do appreciate all your caring words, and all the personal experience behind them, it is nice to know Bear is in the thoughts of people she's never even met. There is something really quite lovely in that.