The transition of the season from October into November has always signified life change to me. Most notably so because my birthday is at the end of October. However; this October the universe decided to add kink in my normal birthday celebrations.
Since moving to Philadelphia the benefits of open space, affordable living, and starting my own business have been a blessing. But, life in itself can be difficult and with the stress of a pandemic, managing the many things that a home can come up with, we now have a new development. About three weeks ago our furry child, our dog Roo, injured her spine. We believe she basically over extended her spine when slipping trying to jump on to our bed. We didn’t know she was injured till three days later she didn’t eat breakfast much and started shaking and walking a bit off balance. Without any clear blood test or x-ray of injury the vet sent her home by lunch time with medication to make her comfortable. Truthfully this general diagnosis didn’t seem right. My wife was told she should have waited at least 24 hours before taking Roo in, as if not to rush her in.
Roo rested for the rest of the day and didn’t move more than three feet. By 6pm when I made her dinner. She got up quickly as she always does for food, but this time was different. She couldn’t get her feet under her. That’s when we knew something was very wrong.
That night we had to rush her to a 24 hour hospital 30mins away with a neurosurgeon that was on staff. Roo had the equivalent of a disc removal and cleaning of debri at 4 levels of her lumbar and thoracic spine. Prior to the surgery the surgeon asked if were we sure? The cost would be around $8000-$9000. It was a no brainer for us. She’s only 4 and was otherwise healthy. How could we not.
We are now three weeks post-op and due to the level and severity of the injury she does not have use of her hind legs. We have to help her with bowel and bladder things and we’ve got diapers so she doesn’t have an accident around the home. We went from having a 50lb active dog to a 50lb infant.
Here's what I have learned thus far from this experience. If we were back in NYC we couldn't have afforded the surgery. If I didn’t have my own business I couldn’t have afforded to reduce my schedule to get through these first weeks of recovery. And if I didn’t have my education I wouldn’t be as prepared as I am to provide all the post op and rehab care she requires. I do believe we were meant to rescue Roo. I know that despite the heartache we get when we know her life is forever changed I know that if it wasn’t for my schooling I don’t think I would be so emotionally prepared to manage her rehab.
I asked the surgeon was there something else we could have done to prevent this from happening. He said that because Roo has what’s called a spondylitis that it was more a matter of when than if this could happen. That we can only prevent so much when it comes to a dog and their natural intuitions to run, jump, and play fight. I took this message to further recognize that if we were in lesser financial states we couldn’t have afforded her surgery or the continued rehab and other added expenses. If we did not adopt her then another family may have not made the same choices.
How is Roo doing now? She’s getting fitted for a Wheelie Cart which is essentially a wheel chair for dogs. She’s not in pain. We hold her hind legs as we take her on walks, and honestly if we didn’t she’d scoot herself thru the grass and pavement. She’s begun acting like her original self but not herself at the same time. We have her in a rehab program with a water treadmill, canine rehab techs, and canine acupuncture. Of course I have all my rehab tools at home as well.
As the year is almost over and I think about how much more could happen and yet not happen because of the pandemic, how the choices we’ve made have afforded us a safety blanket of sorts, I think that I am still fortunate. The lessons I’ve learned from working with you all over the last 12 years have been amazing. One of the major things I’ve learned is that the body - Human or Furry child - has outstanding potential to rebound from injury. There are no absolutes when it comes to possibilities when we have a dedicated team of clinicians as well as patients working hard to improve themselves. Two week ago Roo couldn’t get across a room without help, now she independently pulls herself up, sits to eat dinner, roles around in the grass, and barks at anyone or thing that approaches the front door.
I know this particular email has a lot to share. I share it as an example for anyone to yes, admit that there are things we can struggle and feel saddened about. But, by surrounding yourself with the right team, environment, and being an advocate for yourself and your family, you can come out stronger from many ordeals.
As we get into the holiday season I want to again say thank you to you all for being a part of my circle. You have influenced my life in big and small ways, even if you didn’t realize it.
Here are two pics to show you how Roo is moving on with the new her. One from Halloween and one from just her being herself in the park.
During the first two weeks of recovery we spent much of our time keeping Roo on the first floor. We took turns sleeping on the couch to limit the stress on Roo for of being upstair and then down stairs. She can't ambulate on her own so stair by herself is out of the question. Plus she was on strict limited activity for two weeks to let the suture scars heal. During this time, and still to this day, she was regaining bowel and bladder control. Which means we were cleaning her so often, it felt like every hour at first. Now it has spread out to a more manageable time period, but those first two weeks really took a toll on our bodies.
I finally caught myself in the movements and positions I was putting myself into. I had forgotten the rule of ergonomics for any repeated lifting or reaching task. Your work space should be moved around you. Not you around it. Also, the best ergonomics may still not be the best for your body long term, and thus the environment must be adapted constantly to improve the relationship of your body to the tasks.
To manage the environment better:
I needed to bring Roo as close to me as possible to clean and change her.
We've not transitioned to diapers (size 7 if you're wondering), to manage her incontinence. This means less fear of messes and less accidents around the home.
I half kneel instead of sitting cross legged to reduce over reaching and over rounding my spine. I allow myself to take breaks when walking her, because until we get the wheelie cart we must hold her hind legs up with a harness.
I tell myself to breath. It can be extremely frustrating trying to clean, change, and manipulate a 50 lb, 30 inch. long dog. I remind myself I need to take a breath, that actually physically holding my breath is only increasing the frustration.
Continue to exercise, and rely on what works. For two weeks I was poor with my exercise schedule. But between my wife and I we made exercise an absolute necessity. Squats, deadlifts, shoulder shrugs, bicep curls. All of these are standard strength and conditioning exercises. By not consistently exercising for just two weeks our bodies began to fatigue quickly and the simplest of tasks became the most complicated.
What you can learn from my lessons is that all day to day tasks can amount to harmful positions and movements. When our body fatigues to maintain a neutral position our body will begin to compound its level of weakness and pain. Think about the things you do most often daily and weekly. Are they placing you in a repeated stress active (texting, typing, reaching) or passive position (slouching to watch TV, over reaching to manage laundry or garbage). How can you change your body position to decrease the stress on your back, neck, and shoulders?
If you're having pain and having trouble identifying what your body is doing throughout the day that is causing it give me a call or e-mail. The free consultation is a tool to discuss your options and to see if I or physical therapy as a whole is right for you.