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Story of the Month - September 2007

"Gus" 

  

Gus was an unplanned addition to our family. In the spring of 2000 we had lost a wonderful black and tan miniature dachshund, named Flipper, to a number of medical problems and the house got awfully quiet. After a couple of months, we decided to visit a breeder in Kansas and see about getting another mini. Since Flipper had been a black and tan, we thought that's what we'd like again.

When the litter was eight weeks old, we made the trip to Kansas. There were only three puppies left. My wife, Sherry, picked one up, a brown-eyed dapple with a little blue in his left--a “party” eye, and handed him to me. I thought to myself, “I'll just hold him until she gets a black and tan.” The little guy must've read my thoughts. Gus, as he's now known, promptly peed all over me. I was sitting in the grass, cross legged, so now it looked like I had peed myself; thinking back, I'm sure I saw a smirk on his little face. Now he had my full attention and as I watched and played with him, I began to think that maybe I'd like it if he came home with us too. After deciding on one of the remaining puppies we had our new black and tan, a.k.a. Oskar, and left with two instead of one as originally planned. We have never regretted that decision. Gus became my dog and Oscar, Sherry's.

After awhile, Gus began to experience sporadic episodes of paralysis in his hind limbs. We would rush him to our vet but by the time we arrived, it had usually resolved itself and he'd prance in the door like he was visiting friends or something. That all changed a year ago.

Usually very active, we noticed that he had been spending more time laying around and didn't seem as interested in playing his favorite game—fetch. He didn't show any pain and his gait was fine so we chalked it up to playing outside on the hot August days. Still, something just didn't seem right. Finally, after a week or so, on a Friday, he began to cry when we'd pick him up and it became clear a trip to visit our vet was in order. He was clearly in pain.

Our vet examined him and sent us home with some pain meeds and orders for cage rest. On Monday, he was no better so we took him back. After looking at x-rays and consulting with specialists at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine our vet informed us we should take him there, a three hour drive. They would be expecting us. At this point, Gus was beginning to experience some ataxia in his hind legs and our concern grew. We had been told that permanent damage could result if the problem was not fixed within eight hours of going down--we now know this to be incorrect.

My sister-in-law is a veterinary technician in Kansas and is familiar with the K-State campus so she drove down to meet us. We walked in to the emergency entrance, told them we had Gus and were quickly escorted to an exam room. Dr. Statham and a senior student named Jeremiah examined Gus for deep pain and determined that he was still in good shape in that regard. After some question and answer time about treatment options it was decided that they would keep him for observation a couple of days and manage his pain. My wife is an RN and has a calm way about her when things are falling apart but I was deeply concerned that not enough was being done and as Dr. Stat ham walked with me to get Gus checked in, she showed me the greatest kindness she could have at that point in time. She said, “I can tell you still have some concerns,” and invited me to ask whatever additional questions I had. I told her I had assumed surgery would be the course of action but I trusted her and her team to do what was best for him. Just do whatever that might be and we'd pay for it. It was a quiet, lonely drive back to Sherry's parents' house that evening where we spent the night.

In the morning, we drove back down to visit Gus and then drove all the way back home. He was going to stay there until Thursday. Gus and I have a deep, mutual respect for each other and I hated leaving my friend there.

Twice a day the school would call with an update on his condition and on Thursday, I drove back to Kansas to bring Gus home. He seemed better and we were instructed to keep him on strict cage rest for six weeks. Friday he seemed to be taking another turn for the worst and by Saturday morning he had nearly gone all the way down. We got K-State on the phone and after visiting with Jeremiah and Dr. Stat ham, I began a return trip with Gus. Sherry was on call at work so I made the trip alone. Three hours is a long time when you're trying to get someplace quickly and I did a lot of praying.

Once again Gus was examined, this time by a team from the neurology group. The neurosurgeon was on call but, in their opinion, Gus's condition didn't warrant calling him in at that point. It was decided that he would stay until Monday, under constant observation in their ICU, until the neurosurgeon could see him. If his condition warranted, they would bring in the surgical team but they felt it in Gus's best interest if he could wait until Monday when the full team would be in. In the interim they would aggressively manage his pain. I still remember finding Gus sitting in the lap of one of the students in the doorway of the ICU when I went to say goodbye again. I told him I'd be back and I could see that he understood. Things were going to be okay.

That was a long weekend and we looked forward to the twice-a-day calls from the hospital updating us on his condition. Friends and family were praying for his recovery. They all understood that Gus and Oscar are our kids.

Monday, I waited for the promised call. Would the surgeon feel he was a candidate or not? It finally came and we were informed Gus would be going into surgery in an hour or so. I felt a wave of relief wash over me; at last something was being done. We understood the risks of surgery but felt they were better than the alternative. The student vet handling the case promised to call as soon as Gus was out of surgery.

“Gus is fine” were welcome words when the call finally came. They had found a sizable area of disc material pressing on his spinal cord, sizable enough that the surgeon was surprised that Gus wasn't in worse shape. He would stay in the ICU for a couple more days until they felt he was ready to go home.

Wednesday, our student told us Gus could come home on Thursday. I took off work at noon and drove down to get him. It was a much happier trip this time. He was to be confined to a cage 24x7 for six weeks with potty breaks on a leash and short periods of physical therapy consisting of short walks and manual manipulation of his back legs.

We purchased a wire cage and placed Gus on the coffee table where he could be a part of our life. If I was working in the shop, I'd take him out to be with me. Other times, we'd put him in his favorite shady spot outside where he could watch the goings on. Both he and his brother are used to sleeping in bed with us so, at night, we'd place his cage beside the bed where he could feel he was still with us. We tried to keep him as involved in our daily life as we could.

That was a year ago this weekend, and as I write this, the memories and feelings come flooding back. We are thankful for the positive outcome in his case and grateful to the staff and doctors at K-State who did such outstanding work. Today, Gus's hair has all grown back and if you didn't know to look, you wouldn't notice how it lays a little differently over the incision site. We have ramps for our furniture and he has taken to them very well. If it looks like he's going to jump up or down, all we have to say is “Gus, use the ramp” and he'll go to the ramp. With only a slight gait imperfection, he runs and plays like before.

Life is one big adventure for Gus and he seems to just soak up life. But then, that's always been his personality. I often think that perhaps there's a lesson there.

                                             Chuck Simonds