Friday, January 20, 2012

Nick's Diagnosis, the Official Version


I got the report from Dr. Richardson, detailing his opinion of Nick to my vet. Here's what he said:

"He does appear to have some mild expression of Transitional Vertebral Segmentation as evidenced by what I believe is a small vestige of soft tissue at the juncture of S1 and S2. The LS (lumbosacral) Spondylosis is also evident and I would correlate that early development to this transitional aspect of the L-S anatomy. Consequently, ruling out the hips as you have his radiographs and my evaluating his knees by physical exam, we are left with a clinical diagnosis of Cauda Equina, with episodic expression by his bursts of activity.

I have informed Ms Atwater that this will likely worsen in time and thereby prepared her for possible surgical intervention when deemed necessary. I have had more success than not in helping such patients by dorsal decompression, guided by an in house CT scanning immediately before entering the OR. Many of our law enforcement dogs have returned to work, and I would expect an athletic outcome for Nick, providing neurologic damage does not ensue before decompression."

So ... it looks like he's saying that the early onset of the spondylosis is due to the TVS in his sacrum, and that Nick's physical exertions (he uses himself like an Abrams tank!) trigger his painful physical symptoms. And apparently he feels surgery will halt the whole nasty mess.

It's going to take time to get money set aside for any operation, and in the meanwhile ... I guess I'm just going to keep an eye on Nick. He's still laid off of work for at least 2 more weeks, so he'll have had a minimum of 1 month off at home. I'm kind of curious to see if the lay-off will make any difference in the recurrences of his symptoms, or not. Sounds like I should expect "not," though.

Here's an article that makes me feel a little better about Nick's situation:

It's kind of hard to tell, from reading Dr. Richardson's note, if I should expect Nick to collapse or ruin himself at any moment, or if this is a vague sort of condition that could manifest over months or years. Anyhow, I'm going to get another set of x-rays and another opinion, just for my peace of mind.

Speaking of which, think I'll have a glass of wine to chase my cookies. I want to SLEEP, tonight. :-/

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vet's diagnosis for Nick

Well, guys ... I've had a good cry, now I'm trying to shake my brains into some useful order. Dr. Richardson called this evening with a diagnosis for Nick, having received and viewed the X-rays. (Which I forgot to bring with me on my visit, last week!)

He's saying Cauda Equina. He's saying surgery. What he saw in the X-rays *did* show the sacrum pressing on places it should not.

Guys, I'm devastated. Nick is everything to me, my first open-quality border collie and the vehicle for so many dreams. More, he's my best friend, my partner and my pal. He is my heart dog, in every sense of the term. I look in those big golden eyes and see so much love. He gives me everything, every ounce of his strength and every beat of his sweet, gallant heart.

But my Nick is not sound. He's not even 4 years old, his trialing career has barely begun, and he faces a debilitating problem.

Oh, there WILL be surgery. At some point in the fairly near future. He's not in dire shape - heck, right now, you'd never know there was a thing wrong with him! I've been able to work him and trial him with never a mis-step. But if he overdoes it, there's pain.

So ... now we manage our finances and plan for that surgery within the year. Meanwhile, I try to wrap my mind around the fact that my beloved Nick will have to go under the knife. :(

Dr. Richardson did seem to think Nick's prognosis would be good, with surgery. (He mentioned Spondylosis, but then went to the Cauda Equina thing. Not sure how that relates...?)

What he would do, Dr. Richardson said, is go in and remove just a wee bit of bone, no more than a thumbnail, to remove pressure on those nerves. He said he's done this same surgery for this same condition on working K-9s, particularly Malinois police dogs, and they are able to return to service. And ... that's encouraging.

But I'm not easy about this. My first border collie turned out to have severe hip dysplasia and a vet advised a Femoral Head Ostectomy. This was done, but she was never really sound, again. By age 6, she was pretty much retired. Thus, the idea of someone whittling on my dog's *spine* scares me to death!

I'm hoping that Nick's youth and the apparent intermittent nature of his condition means it's not as dire a case - (yet!) - as it could be, and that his outlook will thus be good. But it's still scary. And I still wish it wasn't so.

Now I'm gonna go hug Nick and then eat some chocolate chip cookies. I already cleaned the house today, so baking is the only stress relief I've got ....

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thanks, Wolftown! :)


I have been so blessed throughout this scare with Nick, and one of those special entities was the non-profit called WOLF TOWN. Directed by my friend, T Martino Yamamoto, they are an active force in both wildlife rehab and sustainable agriculture.

Wolftown stood ready to assist me with finances, if Nick needed an MRI, and thankfully, it turns out he doesn't, at least not at this time. However, my gratitude for them is boundless, and so I would ask that, if you can spare a few bucks, please consider donating to their emergency fund. Just click into the site and look for the Donate button.

Today they stood prepared to help a good sheepdog. Tomorrow they may save an injured falcon or wounded fox or baby seal. Whatever the need, your small donation will be a big help. Please think about it. I'm going to go hug Nick again, and I'll be saying some pretty heart-felt prayers, tonight. :)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nick - Back Injury!


First, I apologize in advance for what is going to be probably the longest, most rambling post I've ever made. But I'm struggling with panic, here, and I posted this very same post on the border collie forum, so don't feel obliged to read it twice. ;)

Here is Nick's story. In the latter part of October, I was doing yard work while the dogs were free to play around the place. At one point, Nick ran down to the bottom of the property with his sister, as they often did. He came back up a while later, walking like a 90 year old man. He was visibly in pain, and it appeared to be in his hips or lower back.

Scared to death, I got him in to the vet the very next day. As best my vet could figure, he'd suffered an injury to the base of his tail, right at the bottom of his spine. My vet's guess was that he'd either tried to jump up somewhere and missed and fell back on his rump, or someone ran into him.

I'm inclined to think his little sister, Gael, probably collided with him from behind.

For whatever reason, the vet didn't prescribe X-rays, but we laid Nick up for about 3 weeks, and put him on some Rimadyl. With that rest time, he seemed to recover and his movement looked normal, including leaping lightly into the truck.

But then I ran him at Dunnigan Hills and at the end of the day, (after two good runs on those big hills) I went to put him in the truck ... and he didn't want to jump up. He was hurting again. When I got him home about 4 hours later, he was kind of hitching on one hip.

Of course, I laid him off again. During that time, I got him to a local holistic vet who does chiropractic. She adjusted him and while doing so, she showed me how an off-kilter tilt to his hips revealed that his back was out. When she had done the adjustment, it really seemed to help him.

A couple weeks later, I put him back to work and tried to go easy on him. There was one day of practice when we got home and he again got out of the truck seeming a bit ouchy and stiff. But some more time off, and he seemed good as gold. I finally put him back on the work roster and he seemed sound.

Well, last weekend, I spent 2 days at a friend's house, building fence and working on her arena, and the dogs just ran around and played. When I got done on the 2nd day (this past Monday) ... once more, Nick couldn't jump in the truck. There had been no wreck, no collisions, no wild leaps, just ordinary running around on a flat field, but two days of that was clearly too much.

I got him in to the vet for X-rays today.

We still have no real answers. What I do have is a whole lot of fear.

The X-ray was indeterminate. What it seems to show is that the disk-space between the last vertebra and the base of the tail (I can't remember what L this is) may be a little bit wider than the others, which may indicate there is swelling pressing the bones apart. But my vet said she did not think the disk was herniated or ruptured. (He can walk and trot normally, it just hurts him to perform any upward lifting movement, and his lope looks a bit tucked-under at the rump.)

Another odd thing, on the X-ray, there seems to be a ghostly image of what could be some calcification, a "flaring" at the bottom of the last vertebra and also the first bone of the tail. My vet said this could be Nick's body's attempt to compensate for an injury, by creating this calcification. But she said that if so, that bone would not be smooth, it would be rough, like granite, and that could cause him pain.

However, she's unable to diagnose any further, so she's referring me to a vet in Sacramento, Dr. Bob Richardson. She's sending me with Nick's X-rays, both the "before" image from when we OFA'd his hips and the "after" image of his lower back that we took today. And she said I might want to get an MRI done, but anyhow, to consult with Dr. Richardson, because he's handled this sort of thing for years and has more expertise than her.

This ... is where I start to panic. Since my vet can't pinpoint just what is going on, all we have are maybes. And those maybes range from Spondylitis to Spondylosis to arthritis to surgery to ... we don't know what.

People, I am scared. to. death. I made the appointment to see Dr. Richardson next Thursday, but his office said the visit and consultation will be $130, and an MRI runs from $1,000 to $2,000 !!!

I don't HAVE that kind of money! I just don't. God help me, I work part time in a liquor store and make $93 a week. My husband is self-employed, so he gets paid for when he works, but this time of year ... things can get slow. Plus his old corgi boy is sick and we need to get HIM in to the vet, because it looks like he's either suffering a return of his bladder infection or maybe something worse.

So ... I'm panicking. I'm terrified. I'm looking at this beautiful dog who isn't even 4 years old, yet, and who carries all my hopes and dreams in his gallant and loving heart, and I'm scared. The unknown scares me. The uncertainties scare me. And the financial aspect simply devastates me. An MRI will wipe out my bank account - and that's if it falls on the lower end of the quote range. There will be nothing left if this vet recommends further treatment.

But I'm trying to be useful and think how to help, in at least some small way. I've got rimadyl for Nick. He's already on MSN, and I've got a big tub of Synovi G3 that I've started him on. He'll be laid off for at least the next 2 months, no running, no playing, no nothin'.

And I'll pray. A lot. Fervently.

 My world is wrapped up in this dog. It's probably pretty pathetic, but that's how it is. So the complete lack of financial resources is more frightening than words can express.

Thanks for listening, anyhow. Some prayers would be welcome, too.

I realize I'm guilty of perpetuating this injury, by not laying him off long enough, in the first place. Belatedly, I know this. I just hope I haven't ruined Nick for life.