Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The terrible, awful night

I follow Bear as closely as I can down the path from our door to the driveway. The snow squeaks under foot like a sheet of Styrofoam. It is another bright moonlit night in the woods, the giant cold white disc casting silvery shadows through the trees.

I watch Bear’s feet for steadiness, her legs for strength. She has had another major, thrashing seizure, her sixth in the span of 26 hours. It has been a bad day and an even worse night.

The last three seizures came in precisely three-hour intervals, and by the end of it, she could barely stand. She whined in long wavering, whistles. She wanted to go outside to pee but couldn’t get up from her bed. We stood on either side of her and grabbed the four corners of the top blanket, one in each hand, and we walked hunched over towards the stairs to the entryway, dragging Bear across the floor. At the stairs we adjusted our grips on the blanket and lifted her down the six steps, carefully, taking our time and hurrying all at once beneath her weight. At the door, we helped her to her feet.

Outside, once she gets going, she is fairly stable and I wander around in circles behind her over the silvery blue snow and the slightly darker blue of the long shadows cast by trees and scrub. I wonder if the strange intersecting shadows and the otherworldly light throw her off, because she doesn’t seem to know where she is going, just walking in widening circles away from the house.

It is too cold for this. I worry about Bear’s feet freezing as she plunges into deeper snow and I try to steer her back towards the house and the yellow light pooling on the deck. I move in front of her and push on her shoulder, but she is surprisingly strong and determined and pushes past me as though I am only a gentle breeze. She heads towards the thick brush growing between the trees along the front edge of our property. On the other side is a deep, deep ditch, and then the road.

I hear the creak of the screen door opening and look to see Morgan poke his head around the wooden frame. “It’s too cold,” he calls to me, anxiety edging his voice. “She can’t stay out.”

“I know,” I say, exasperated. “I can’t get her to turn around.”

The door squeaks and bangs shut and then creaks open again and Morgan clomps out onto the deck, the long laces of his boots trailing behind him. He steps off the deck into the soft, deep snow and walks with purpose towards us as I step quickly in front of Bear again before she can plunge headlong into the scrub. Morgan carries a collar and a length of rope.

“I couldn’t find a leash,” he says as he clips the collar around Bear’s neck and slips the rope through the collar.

“Come on Bear,” he says and gives the rope a tug. She plants her feet and refuses to move. Morgan pulls harder and the collar slides up her neck, bunching the fur and skin around the base of her skull as she lowers her head and pulls back.

For some reason it makes me think of the time, years ago now, when we camped on McRae Lake near Georgian Bay, but it is nothing like that except it is dark and it is in the woods and we are worried about Bear.

Warm water lapped at our feet that night as Morgan and I sat at the edge of our campsite and watched a fireworks display across the lake, set off by another group of campers. We left Bear in the tent a few feet up a small path behind us, away from the water. We left her there because she was exhausted after a day of swimming and canoeing and playing and after dinner she’d asked to go to bed, lying in front of the tent door, looking longingly through the screen at her ruffled blankets. We never even thought about how scared she might be alone in the dark, awakened suddenly to the cracking and booming of some unidentified, world-ending catastrophe.

Of course it didn’t help that we accidentally set off a bear banger that night, mistaking it for a flare, to say thanks for the show.

Bear was gone when we got back to the tent. I crawled about in the dark, disbelievingly patting down every inch of the tent floor, trying to understand how it could possibly be empty, and then I noticed the hole in the screen.

Perhaps it was the rising panic of that night that is so familiar, and the uncertainty, the not knowing. Except that night on tiny McRae Lake, she came back at the sound of her jingling collar as I stood shaking it into the pitch black woods and shining a flashlight frantically in every direction, until I caught the flash of her eyes shining back as she trotted towards me.

I don’t know what we are going to do this night as I watch Bear stiffen and pull back, her feet disappearing into the snow. Then Morgan lunges forward and awkwardly picks her up as she tries to back away. He takes a number of struggling steps around some saplings, makes it just past our firepit, before he has to set her down but now we are within the far reaches of the porch light and there is some forward momentum, so Bear relents and follows me back to the house.

Inside, she stumbles up the stairs with one of us behind ready to catch her if she falls. We worry about her eyesight, which seems suddenly diminished, so we place a lamp by the stairs for more light and less shadow. She lies on her bed where she stares into the distance and her muscles twitch and she is there and then not. Tremors run through her body occasionally like the aftershocks of an earthquake.

We set up camp in the kitchen, cushions and blankets and sleeping bags and we bunk in beside Bear and wait for the next seizure, expecting it in the following three hours, but it doesn’t come.

Nobody sleeps that night. We lie in the dark and wonder what will happen tomorrow. We wonder if this is it, if tomorrow we will have to make that terrible decision. Every few hours we are up with her, our bodies aching and our heads full of cotton, and we strain to find any signs of improvement as we help her down the stairs and walk her outside.

“I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck,” I mumble to Morgan in the dark as I roll out from inside my sleeping bag and stumble to the light switch.

The days have passed quickly since then. It has almost been two weeks since that awful night and every day Bear has become steadier on her feet, less twitchy, her eyesight seems restored. You wouldn’t know now, looking at her, that we thought she might not make it through that night. She’s back to playing in the woods and skipping through the snow and taking the stairs with confidence. We are amazed and grateful, but we are still sleeping in the kitchen, the table pushed aside and our beds lined up on the floor beside Bear, and our conversations tend to be a little more serious these days, because we just don’t know what the next moment will bring.


  1. Moments like those are terrible, aren't they. I hope all goes well now.

    Your story reminds me of the time when Schi, my beloved female Münsterländer, had some seizures and we were dreading having to go to the vet. She had a final seizure as we were going to bed, so I slept the night with her downstairs on cushions on the floor. I kept waking and feeling the misery of what I would have to do the next day.

    When I woke in the morning, she wasn't in the room. I found her in the kitchen, playing with Tag, her Labrador companion! She was fine for several more months.

    1. That's awesome about your beloved Schi! What a relief for you, I'm sure, to see her so playful the next day. Dogs are amazing.

      Bear was quite weak for a day or two after that terrible night, but she quickly recovered after that, back to her old happy self of playing in the snow and obsessing about food and just being a lively, loving, part of our lives.

      We have found a new medication to try with Bear, so we shall see how that goes.

  2. Thinking of you and Bear....I love your Blog; you remind me why I got my old girl in the first place....your writing is beautiful! Sending you all the warm wishes I can!

    1. Thank you Kim for the kind words and the warm wishes! Much appreciated.

      Give your girl a hug from us!