Balsamea’s new veterinarian, Dr. Nick Sherman summed up the change when he said of Buddy, Prince of Balsamea, “He’s a seizure dog now.” That was the night he gave me a supply of phenobarbital, because Buddy had four general (i.e., “grand mal” or full-body) seizures in one day, February 10, 2015.
So he’s “a seizure dog” now, but he retains his royalty, and reigns here as ever.
The drug is fully effective. No seizures since starting it. In a week we’ll see Dr. Sherman again to check for blood level of the drug. Maybe we can reduce the dose. If so, I hope it reduces his appetite.
He has a voracious appetite now, a drug side effect. I disappoint him every day by not giving him all the food he wants.
(Buddy is about nine years old.)
Since the seizures he has a new problem with his right hind leg. It’s a pretty violent scene when an 80-pound strong animal ejects itself from the bed and tries to tear the baseboard radiator off the wall with legs that he doesn’t know are “running” a mile a minute. Locker room talk says he pees like a girl now. He just can’t leg-lift like that any more, so he does a sort of wide-kneed pose. Maybe it’s something with the hip. We’ll see what the doc says about it.
He still walks and runs well, and still wants to play tug of war and does it as well as ever. There’s just a bit of a drag in that foot, and he limps up stair steps. We only have three steps into our single-story house. He hops in and out of the car easily, sometimes pausing to gather his wits just before the leap. He still bounds eagerly through deep snow. His gait is normal and straight. (Ahem … sorry, it’s not a car. It’s a canine motor home.)
They tell me that Buddy is unconscious during the seizures, so, supposedly he’s not “suffering” at that time. I’m unable to believe it when I’m fruitlessly consoling him in the crisis moments.
I suppose that’s more about consoling me than consoling my high-frequency convulsing pet. Doing something feels better than doing nothing even if your something is not doing anything.
(Today I read a vet’s article saying don’t touch them during the seizure because it could worsen the seizure. If I read enough authoritative Internet articles, I’ll be able to prove that dogs don’t actually exist.)
I’ve seen him also have three instances of “almost” seizures, with classic pre-seizure symptoms. In those cases, I did all anybody typically would do to console a suffering dog, and he relaxed and came out of it. Well, yeah, I did use a little of my super-powers as The Balsamean.
In those cases he was conscious but confused, and struggling. Maybe my effort made no difference and he would have come out of it anyway. The point is that he was suffering, in my book, in my mind, in my arms.
If he wasn’t suffering, I was doing it for him. It’s not a painful kind of suffering, except in the sense that my heart nearly exploded and the pressure stretched and contorted and transformed me into another creature, The Incredible Doggie Daddy. It’s emergency love rushing through in a torrent.
Emergency love discards ego, emotion and self-interest. In this state I don’t find it difficult to forcefully pull his rampaging body against mine to still it enough to push two little blue tablets of diazepam (Valium) — one at a time — way into his rectum to slam the brakes on the seizure. (The drug cuts the seizure short.) Under anything just a little closer to normal circumstances, I’d opt for the slower-acting oral pill stuffed into a slice of hot dog, and I’m pretty sure Buddy would prefer that, too.
In the midst of emergency, this kind of automatic, unconscious love makes me its ambulance, and knocks me out of the driver’s seat. Emergency love knows what I must do without my thinking about it, and it restrains me from emotional disaster in moments of peak crisis. So, no, I didn’t have a fit.
Love flows through me from a relatively infinite reservoir within human nature. I tap and draw from the reservoir in several ways, sometimes automatically in this flooding way for a crisis, and sometimes by a way that may be more important: by volition. That’s often hard for me to do, irrational as that sounds.
How can loving be a hard choice to make? As I choose to let it flow, the flow begins in me, so I’m the first one to experience it. It’s at least as good for me to choose loving as it is for my beloved.
What’s more, I suffer if I don’t choose to love.
I’m not saying that I have the power to always successfully uncork my pipes to the reservoir, just because I chose to love. There’s a lot of stuff in the pipes all the time, some of it really nasty, yucky stuff, mucking up the works. I fail at loving probably more than anything.
The point is that I need to see the choice more often and more clearly, and to make it, especially when I don’t want to. The point is that I need to be aware of the choice flying in my face.
Everybody knows this. Why we don’t do it is a complicated issue — something about being human and all that — but when the choice involves Buddy, it becomes clearer that I need to make it, and it’s easier to choose to love him.
My relationship with Buddy coaches me to be more aware of the choice when I most need to see it, even when it has nothing to do with him, and when I really don’t want to choose.
Many kinds of relationships can do this. This one is mine.
The relationship has improved me. Isn’t that mainly what we really want from our relationships, to improve on what we are without them?
Maybe parents should thank their children for improving them.
A relationship is the product of the union of souls, an offspring. The relationship takes on a nature of its own, and it needs love to survive. In return, it becomes a seaway of love between its parents, carrying ships of joy and dolphins at play with them. (Well, make up your own image.)
(There are toxic relationships, and ones that should be dissolved, and ones that are dead but we carry them around anyway. But that’s a matter for a psychologist, not a philosopher.)
I suffer more from not loving than from not being loved. Life loves me all the time. To not choose to love is to get in its way … in life’s way. That hurts everybody.
My selfish unloving invites a world of too much pain for me to want to live in (not to mention others not wanting to be there, either). When love runs out, death moves in. It’s a simple fact. You know it if you’ve ever felt the love dying out of a relationship that was crucial to you, that is part of you and you part of it, that might have left you feeling helpless beyond helping even by the help of the entire reservoir of love, that might have left you feeling as if you were dying, or wanted to die.
I sometimes think that it takes strong doses of complete helplessness, more for some people than for others, to strengthen the capacity to choose to love and to receive love, to know love.
Buddy’s illness presents lifelong consequences and costs that challenge my grasp of volitional love, lately every day. The training to choose loving has moved up a level.
There’s not enough openness to the reservoir in me to keep the relationship healthy, not without Buddy doing his part, and he does it all the time, except when he’s gone in a seizure. Then the ambulance comes.
My relationship with Buddy swims in a bigger one, in the form of a forest, not a seaway. Buddy knows better than me about the strength in our relationship contributed by Forest Balsameans in every flora and fauna and more. He makes sure that I meld my loving with his and with the forest’s every day to feed Balsamea, our relationship, the offspring of our union. There is no solitude in a forest, and no lack of inspiration to choose loving.
One of the Balsameans feeding and enjoying this relationship lives 26 miles away, not here in this particular patch of forest. You can find the canine motor home parked there about fifty times a year. Balsamea is big.
You find this description of Balsamea merely fanciful, an illusion (or delusion)? Take a look at the philosophy of Biophilia in my blog post about it.
In the short term, I didn’t have the option to choose loving as I cleaned the sodden feces from the carpet, the urine sprayed seemingly everywhere, the white drool that came like an avalanche. I was still in ambulance mode.
In the long term, relationship with a seizure dog has new needs, new challenges to volitional love.
It’s not hard to see how to do it, the mechanics of volitional love. The obstacles are complicated, so it takes practice and time, but the kind of effort needed is straightforward.
Erich Fromm identified five elements present in all forms of loving: Giving, Caring, Respect, Responsibility, and Knowledge. Choosing to love is choosing them. Look at any particular situation in the life of a relationship, or in the creation of one, using these five elements as focusing tools, as looking-glasses to study the situation. You’ll see what to do. The only thing in the way is you, as with me, lately especially me.
It’s always worth trying to work on one of the five things. A little progress in one of the five elements helps all the other four to succeed, because they are integral to each other, not separate things, just five aspects of one thing. So when one of them looks too daunting, pick another one for the moment.
Just don’t tell that other soul in the relationship that he or she is not giving enough, not caring enough, not respectful enough of you or the relationship, not taking responsibility, not looking deeply enough for the necessary knowledge and understanding. They usually don’t choose to love you for that. They may divorce you.
It really goes badly for both of us when I blame Buddy for not doing his part in our relationship. It shrinks his confidence to do his part. It makes him lie down with his chin on the floor and his eyes searching for a good word. It beats the crap out of me with a big stick of guilt.
He also knows without my saying when I’m fighting against myself (the primary obstacle to volitional love) to make the choice, especially if I’m looking at him. In his language, an instant of eye contact says more than I want to say, and things I should not say.
He reacts to just a sigh. A deep breath and a pained face will send him moping back to his bed as if I had said we ran out of Dentastix (you could lead him off a cliff with one of them). When I fight myself, he winces.
So there’s less cussing and swearing at myself and things in the house these days. When I ram my toe into something so hard I want to puke, I clench my fists against my chest (the universal gesture for “somebody stop me”) and I say softly but seething through clenched teeth, “Oh, you dirty stinking rat,” while envisioning Jimmy Cagney saying it (except he said “dirty yellow-bellied rat” — see the video clip). Then I say it impersonating him, his tone, his voice, his face, and repeat it a few times until I get it right. That gets me laughing at myself. So I switch to Yankee Doodle Dandy, by George M. Cohan, sung and danced by James Cagney, but I can’t dance. The toe, remember? (See this YouTube Cagney video; double-feature includes Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland doing the same Yankee Doodle bit.)
Doesn’t work all the time. In fact, not often. That’s how I know he winces. Sometimes the automatic unconscious transformative force isn’t love and the result is Godzilla wrestling with himself.
Buddy spends most of his waking hours waiting for me to stop what I’m doing and do things he wants me to do (and doing them is really good for me). That’s a lot of waiting for some of my oh-so-precious-little time to choose to tap the infinite reservoir of love that sustains our lives and our relationship and our little world of Balsamea. Sheesh.
I was able to shorten Buddy’s third and fourth seizures with the diazepam.
When I look back at emergency love’s handling of the ambulance, it’s as if I only dreamed it. That’s because emergency love shoved me out of the way. Maybe this is why superheroes have alternate identities.
After the fourth seizure I called the doctor (around 9:30 PM) and said that whether this was tolerable for Buddy or not, I had reached the limit of what I could tolerate, there being no reason to believe the seizures would not continue, and I had only one more dose of Valium. I said, “I don’t care if you have to knock him out with general anesthesia. This has to stop!” Or he could just knock me out instead.
So he met us at the clinic and gave me the phenobarbital. I guess that earlier in the day the doctor could not know whether it would be an ongoing thing or just those two earlier seizures. A dog can have a seizure for no known reason and then go right back to normal and not have more.
Shortly after we got home Buddy had the first of those “almost” seizures. The drug was not in full effect yet. The next two times it occurred in the “trough” near the end of the 12-hour dosing cycle. First it was within an hour before the next dose, and the next day within an hour after it. Since then, no symptoms (unless you count mine).
Those trough episodes were probably because it takes a while for enough blood level of the drug to develop and stabilize. From what I read, if you miss a dose, it’s likely to provoke a seizure. So we live by the nines … 9 AM and 9 PM. I have timers and alarms to make me conform to this new strict schedule for Balsamean drugging. It’s got me taking my human medications on the nines, too, more regularly than before.
There are other medications we can use along with the phenobarbital, if/when it isn’t able to do the job alone.
There are three kinds of causes for general seizures. Metabolic causes, including toxins, have been ruled out with testing. That leaves brain tumor and epilepsy. Epilepsy means seizures without an identifiable specific cause. Just a misfiring brain, to put it in the simplest terms.
The cost of a CT scan to find a tumor is prohibitive and doesn’t need to be done anyway, because the medication treatment is the same whether tumor or epilepsy, and brain surgery is out of the question. I wouldn’t even get that for myself. Just shoot me. Donate my head to science. I’m sure it will amaze them.
The point is that I’ll just treat the symptoms, stop and prevent the seizures the best we can, and wait for whatever is next. It’s always something.
The prognosis for epilepsy is better than for brain tumor. He can live a long time with epilepsy, though likely not as long as without it. Longevity with a tumor is up to the tumor.
Now that his annual cost of ownership is the same as my car payments, and since Balsamea has a 2-mile trail network, I’m contemplating a harness for Buddy and a roadside sign, “Kids Dog Sled Rides with Campfire and Hot Chocolate.” I suppose wagon rides after the snow season. I’ll make sure he gets a living wage, and he’d love having the kids around, so he wouldn’t have to wait so much for me.
Thank you for reading all the way to here. Your participation makes you part of Balsamea, in a sense, in a reader-writer part of the bigger relationship. I assume you do it lovingly, by choice, of course. If not, see Fromm above. Or get the book, The Art of Loving (free download in any format from archive.org). It may leave you better than it found you. If not, get a good dog.