It’s a given that we self-edit to some degree on social media. The face we present rarely reflects the whole picture. By way of example, in early October, I was posting updates and images during a trip to Italy, effusing over delicious food and life-changing experiences. On the surface, life was good. What I didn’t talk about was that our dog was dying.
We’ve known that Reese has a heart condition for over a year now. Last September, during a dinner party, she was barking out the front window, as is her wont. dpaul went to shoo her out. I heard him call my name, frantically, from the living room. As I dashed in, I saw Reese on her side on the floor. Her back arched, and she let out a strained wail. And then she was still. As we lay there on the floor, comforting her, we were bracing ourselves for the possibility that we were about to lose her right then and there. Slowly, she began to rally, and 20 minutes later she was back to her normal self.
We chalked it up to an isolated incident, a flash in the pan that would hopefully never repeat. But about two months later, it happened again, and again. A vet referred us to a canine cardiologist (yes, this is a thing), who determined after some tests that she had an enlarged heart brought on by a leaky valve. These episodes were not seizures, as we thought, but syncope, fainting spells brought on by rapid shifts in blood pressure. This would inevitably eventually progress into congestive heart failure, at which point there were some treatments we could explore that might extend her life. But we were talking increments of weeks, maybe months.
Not long after, we came home from an event on a Sunday night. Reese was short of breath. As I walked her, she collapsed. We whisked her off to the emergency vet, who kept her in an oxygen crate overnight and dosed her with diuretic pills. This was followed by another visit with the cardiologist, who ran more tests, and who wanted to run more tests in a few weeks. This was getting expensive, and we didn’t feel like we were making progress.
Four years ago, we rented a house in Bodega Bay for a weekend getaway. After a visit to the beach, we thought we saw a tick on Reese’s belly, but couldn’t seem to remove it. A quick search revealed that there was a vet in Bodega Bay, so we brought her in. It turned out to be nothing, but we were impressed with the veterinary facility, which had only recently opened, as well as the doctor himself. By the grace of a dear friend who since bought a house in the area, we’ve been spending more time on the coast, so we decided to work with him.
He put her on a regimen of medications, and educated us on how to treat symptomatically, enabling us to manage her condition better, to the point that he began to refer to us as “junior cardiologists.” She improved and stabilized. For a while.
The night before I left for Italy, Reese began to manifest symptoms again. There was little I could do; I was leading a group. dpaul upped her medications, and we hoped for the best.
Two days into my trip, Reese tanked. Along the urgent drive to Bodega Bay, she was vomiting and having more fainting spells. During a sonogram, the vet and dpaul could see her valve fluttering. Her heart was failing. He maxed out the dosages on the medications and, on a hunch, put her on antibiotics. Patients, human and canine alike, who have a heart murmur can sometimes develop bacterial infections in the atria, which can exacerbate symptoms. It couldn’t hurt to try, anyway.
Reese was a zombie, too lethargic to walk or eat. The next day, everyone, including the vet, expected that she would be put down. Friends came to see her, thinking it might be the last time.
Meanwhile, I was 6000 miles away in Emilia-Romagna, making pasta and piadina, and preparing to head to a truffle festival. To the outside world, and to my guests, life was good. They didn’t know I was crying myself to sleep every night.
Reese began to rally. Her energy improved, slowly. There was hope.
By the time I returned home a week later, she was nearly back to normal. As the antibiotics took effect, she not only stabilized, she regained a vigor we hadn’t seen in months, maybe years.
Three weeks later, while I was again traveling for BlogHer Food, she took another turn, coughing and short of breath. dpaul brought her back to the vet. Dr. Trapani felt this was a normal occurrence. Plaque from the infection was sloughing off from the valve, throwing into the lungs. For humans, this is a dangerous condition, but dogs’ pulmonary systems are different, more adaptable. As long as the vascular system could adapt at least as fast as the clots were hitting the lungs, she would be fine, and the clots would eventually dissolve. This continued for a week, what he referred to as a “storm” of detritus being cast off from the heart. Eventually, it would stop, when all the dead tissue was gone.
To see her today, you’d never know she’d been to the brink of death and back. She’s not entirely out of the woods — she does still have a heart condition, and this can ultimately only go one way — but for now she’s stable and happy. There’s little doubt in my mind that Dr. Trapani’s hunch to put her on antibiotics were the turning point. I also have little doubt that had we stuck with other vets in the city, she wouldn’t be with us today.
So I’m thankful. Thankful for every day that we have Reese in our lives. Thankful for having found a vet that thought beyond the obvious to look for other potential treatments. Thankful for the friend who affords us access to a house where we can see the vet (and, of course, enjoy the coast.) And most of all thankful for my husband, who endured the darkest days and managed a difficult situation when I couldn’t be there to support him.