Monday, August 18, 2014

Another Goodbye

SUMMARY: A very personal goodbye, indeed.

I've had the illness commonly known as depression about four times in my life. After my divorce in 2000 (and a whole slew of other things at the same time), I was lucky to find a woman in independent practice who walked me gently through my grief and pain.

But when I switched to Kaiser, I no longer had access to her.

Two and a half years ago, when I realized again that the darkness and immobility had crept in, I asked for an appointment with a counselor and they assigned me to Dan Tindle.



He worked with me for over two years, both individually and in a close-knit weekly group. Gradually, with me resisting and even kicking and screaming (mostly metaphorically) a good portion of the way, he educated, prodded, joked, listened, prodded more, asked hard questions, provided deeper insight into my approach to life, and supported me in so many ways. By May of this year, I realized one day that I just felt--happy and contented. And again the next day. And again later that week--happy and confident. I came to realize that, wow, I had completely exited the house of depression and moved into a healthy mental and emotional state. 

I retired from the group and our regular sessions at that time because I had found my firm footing and was ready to go it alone.

I went back to talk to him once in May when the young woman I knew in agility dropped dead suddenly of a heart attack and I was struggling with the grief of that and of the sudden loss of a friend's small dog. He helped me through that in a single visit; helped me to find a path for my sorrow and pain.  
I most recently made an appointment to see him on August 5th because of the sudden and rather stunning developments with my spine. We talked and I brought him up to date on my back issues and how I'm doing, which, in fact, was very well. I'm functional and calm and, for the most part, avoiding the spinning-out-of-control "Why me" and "Life will be horrible" sorts of typhoons, which I doubt that I could have done a year ago, or even 5 or 6 years ago. 

Three days after that, he died of a heart attack. Very sudden. He's about 10 years younger than I am, a big health food guy, a runner. 

I feel lost. Grief stricken. Stunned.  And I feel for his other patients as well who are still in process. Shocked. 

I think the world of him. He shared of himself and his own journey to emotional well-being as well as bringing out our deepest fears and needs and angers and pains, and helping us to find a way through them. He was funny, smart, clever, intense, honest, direct, perceptive, determined, deeply caring, opinionated, oh so much fun to talk to (well, except when he was working hard at getting me to drag out the things that I didn't want to drag out, and even so, I found it fascinating at every step, how he just knew where to dig and what to say and when--to me and to others).

I -- am stuck at where to go from here. I had been comforted by the fact that he'd be there if I ever needed his skills again. I'm angry at the universe for taking such an amazing man who had so very much to contribute to the world.  I believe that he and others in the department gave me the skills to work through this. But--

I--

Goodbye, Dan. You were wonderful. I'll miss you. And thank you with all my heart for helping me to find my life again.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Must Be In A Singin' Kinda Mood

SUMMARY: More edited lyrics

Thanks, Andy Williams.  

Blue merle, lighter than a tri
Your eyes are like the sky, today
You toy chaser, you fast racer
However you're playing, I'm playing your way.

OK, that's it, you'll have to fill in the rest, I've got physical therapy things to do.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Smart Border Collie--Oh, Never Mind

SUMMARY: Where's your dish?

Boost is really a very smart dog, but some things don't prove it.

If I tell her to "Bring me your dish," or "Find your dish!" she will bring me her dish if it's within easy view, but if it's not, she kind of turns her head left and right and then just shrugs and looks at me.

I've been trying to train her to do better at the search by putting her into a down, clearly picking up her dish, walking into another room, setting it down, coming back, and telling her to find her dish. 90% of the time, she races into the other room and dashes around until she finds it (this is after a few weeks of practice). The other 10%, she looks around the room in which I put her in a down and then looks at me as if, "Well, I have no idea!" Really, she doesn't remember seeing me pick it up 30 seconds ago, carry it into the other room, and come back without it? Sigh.

This evening she showed a particularly dense portion of her brain. She finished eating dinner in the kitchenette. I walked around the counter into the kitchen (all one room really), told her to bring me her dish, which she did, and I put food into it, which she ate. Then I walked back around the counter into the kitchenette and she followed me. I told her to bring me her dish. She went frantic all around me, picking up everything she saw and dumping it at my feet and then searching frantically some more--but never once taking 4 steps to go back around the counter to where she had taken her dish half a minute ago.

My mind boggles.

Anyone else have those odd blind spots in their dog's brain?

I love my border collie. It's probably too much to expect her to be brilliant all the time, but these don't even make any sense. Ah, well.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Chip the Almost Trick Dog

SUMMARY: Seminar.

Before my back went south, I signed up for a tricks-for-agility seminar with Chip. I've been considering my pain levels ever since, trying to decide whether to cancel and try to find a replacement for my spot.

But I've had several goodish days lately, so we went. A friend drove and picked up me and Chip after noon and helped carry stuff. That was lovely, about the only way that we'd have made it.

Chip lasted about 2 hours into the 4-hour session before he more or less shut down.That's actually good for him--when I first got him, learning new stuff was very stressful for him and he might last 2 or 3 minutes before stress signs started appearing and he'd quickly shut down.

Today that became obvious when he stopped accepting treats for anything except a couple of very familiar behaviors (nose touch to my hand, "shake" which is almost ready for primetime finally).  Also didn't want to try anything or do anything.

And my back had had enough at about the same time despite me trying to manage everything to avoid aggravating the nerves.  I spent several sessions, while others were practicing, lying on the lawn with Chip and stroking or massaging him. Lots of people thought it was cute and took photos (hope I get some). They didn't necessarily all know that we were both pretty much done for the day!  

Still, a couple of behaviors that were not too different from his normal life he was eventually willing to try, and he had some fun playing with very simple behaviors with a friend who kept providing different kinds of treats after my kinds fell from favor. So he did end up relaxing and enjoying himself again.

But the seminar was fun and I got a few new tips and it was excellent experience for him.  Maybe tomorrow I'll list the things that we worked on.

Tonight--pretty sore among my various aggravated nerves, and very tired.  Off to bed with me.

About My Back

SUMMARY: Bringing my blog up to date on this topic.

I had not expected my body and life to take a turn in this direction, but they have, so here we go.

I've mentioned my recent back pain over the last year a few times.



I have a bit of history of back issues related to spine problems--bad one back in 2000/2001, when I was on disability and couldn't do much of anything, then using a lot of caution since then or risk sciatic pain creeping quickly in, then the current bout that started early last year, got a bit worse, got a bit better so that I could start doing longer walks again, but up until 3 or 4 months ago it did not interfere with actually doing agility. Got slowly worse again to where I couldn't actually do agility, more than maybe one run a day.

Then abruptly one morning I couldn't stand up, I was in so much pain.

The short story is that my lumbar (lower) spine is suffering the effects from degenerative disk disease and arthritis and probably bad luck and is now so contorted that nerve pain is constant. I have discovered gradually that hobbling downstairs and using the exercycle for 5-10 minutes followed by basic core exercises and stretching allows me to operate in an upright position per my design specs, but the individual parts are wearing out and I can't get replacements. Icing helps temporarily. Heating helps temporarily. Stretching helps temporarily, but only to ease the pain, not make it go away.

I'm out on short-term disability again while investigating whether very serious surgery is my only solution and meanwhile trying to ease the pain a bit. Just being out from work I think helps a bit--not so stressful, no requirement to be on the computer any longer than I feel comfortable doing, and so on. However, I was enjoying my current long-term assignment and it was sad to clear out my cubicle and leave it behind for now. Hoping that's not long term, but still TBD.

There's no way I can do agility at this time. Any kind of training at all is hard when trying to avoid any kind of bending, and sitting hurts, and standing up hurts. Bah, I say.

I'm not trapped at home: Driving is comfortable. Places where I can sit immobile for a while (e.g., movie theaters with good seats) are OK, as are places where I can lean forward onto a table to take the weight off my spine/backside are OK. Hard to work under such restraints.

Also on assorted meds trying to ease the pain, so I spend a lot of time just sleeping.

But I've been in a good state emotionally all spring and into summer, and despite the challenges, I'm still there, just occasionally whining to myself and having a brief self-pity party. Then I'm off and running (figuratively) again, setting up appointments, doing research, gathering data, and so on.

People have been very helpful and understanding. It's amazing how many of my friends have had some kind of back surgery or have avoided it but still have problems.

I might need that deeply involved and complex surgery. We'll see--but if I do, it'll probably be sooner rather than later. Oh, boy, something to look forward to: Being out on disability and in a lot of pain for up to a year. But if it fixes the problem...

Yeah.

Hope all of your backs are doing well.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Rumors abound--is the song about Tika? Or Boost or--?

SUMMARY: It's altered lyrics day!

Oh we started several years ago when I was still quite naive.
You said that you'd do anything for toys and that you would never eat.
But you've turned into a big food hog and now you want all my treats.
I had some treats, they were Zukes in my pocket, Zukes in my pocket and--

You're so trained, you prob'ly think you've earned all those treats
You're so trained, I bet you think you've earned all those treats, don't you, don't you?

(For reference: Original music, ref. verse 2 (at 1:10))

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tika staggering

SUMMARY: Just a note for myself.

This evening, when Tika was partway through dinner, she started to walk away from her dish. Not unusual; she walks away from her dish partway through almost every meal lately. Oftentimes just to enjoy having me feed it to her a handful at a time onto the floor or onto the bed or whatever.

But this time, she staggered, as if about to collapse.  I grabbed her and held her for a few seconds. She seemed to be breathing OK, so it wasn't kibble caught in her throat. I let go, and she took a few more steps, staggering/reeling.  I grabbed her and held her again for a bit longer, and stroked her, and then let her go--and she was fine. Went onto the deck, one of her favorite places, and lay down.

I just want to remember exactly when this happened.

This was very much like what happened that day in November at the agility trial when we discovered that she had heart problems, and after which she pretty much retired.

In the month or so before I lost Jake, he had a couple of brief episodes like this, which I chalked up to too much exercise or some such. After it was all over, it seemed more likely that these had been ministrokes or tiny seizures.

With Tika, sure, it could be a little stroke, or another instance of her heart not pumping properly and not enough oxygen in the brain. A tiny heart attack?

I'm trying not to be sad and scared.  It's been almost 2 years since the heart disease diagnosis, after which I thought I might lose her any day. She could still hang in there.

Or not.

Time will tell.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Aftermath and analysis

SUMMARY: In which Human Mom dons her sleuthing hat and tries hard not to feel horribly guilty.

The master bedroom has a walk-in closet with sliding doors. There's a bed in the corner there--put it there for Tika one night a long time ago and she used it for a while but then stopped. Chip often snoozes there, at least for a while, at bedtime or after.


This is where I found him, way back at the end of May, on a hot evening after I had been out, nearing heatstroke after hiding here from the Dang Fireworks. The windows were closed because it was hot out. The room was hot. No air movement. And no water within reach.  But apparently it was the best place to get away from the noise.

Since then, I've had a water bowl in the master bath (not the closet), just in case.

On the 3rd, all the windows were open to let the evening air in because it wasn't quite that hot. Evidence said that he had in fact sought shelter here for a while: The bed had a large wet spot on one side. Either he peed there or he lay there, panting and drooling, which stressed dogs do.

At some point, probably because the windows/drapes were open, he realized that this was not a safe place. I'm guessing that he first went to the other end of the hallway to the renter's room, as it was the only other door open on that floor. That's where he tore apart the miniblinds and left smears of blood everywhere on the blinds, windowsill, windowframe, and window.

I was sure that he must have sliced open his pads on the narrow metal slats of the blinds.

Apparently when he got the window fully open and pushed out the screen, he thought better of it, thank goodness, and headed back into the hallway.

Bloody footprints led down the main stairs and after that it's hard to tell where first, but I'd guess across the carpet into the living room and to the front window to try to get out there. Bloody footprints then went into the dining room, through the kitchen, back out to the front hall, and down the minor steps to the lowest floor. There were bloody footprints on the carpet into my office, and into the downstairs bath and laundry room, and then the damage to the doorframe to the garage door.

Basically he went into every available room in the house looking for solace and didn't find it.

Finally went out the doggie door, which says that he truly felt the world was ending, because when I'm here and there are a lot of fireworks, he will not go out into the yard. It must have taken a tremendous act of bravery.

I don't know whether he tried any other ways of getting out... the east gate, which he's periodically been digging under and I've been refilling, was untouched. There aren't a lot of ways for him to try jumping the fences. which are 7 feet (2.13 meters) and are reasonably new and pretty solid, although I did check all along it for holes underneath or loose/damaged boards or signs of toenails on the wood. Found a few here and there, but could've been from dogs chasing squirrels.

It's possible that he tried climbing onto this pile of pipes, which used to be raised on supports at either end, where the remaining board and pipes are.


However, this is the smoking gun: The attention that he paid to the west gate. He clearly worked at it for a while. All along the bottom, there's this (that's about a one inch gap at the bottom above the concrete):



Then this, along and just above the horizontal board at the upper area of the gate:


If he had hit just to the right, he could've opened the gate and gone out, but I doubt that happened. I think that he gained purchase on that top board, dug rear claws into the cross-board, and went up and over the top.

He's just a little dog (not quite 20" (50cm) at the shoulder) and the gate is 7' at the peak (over 6' at the low points). But he is agile.



And then he vanished.

Skip forward to the early evening of July 4th. Chip has been home with me since just before 1:00. He's lying there sleeping.  I receive two phone calls about 20 minutes apart from people who have seen my dog running down Blossom Hill (a major 40 MPH thoroughfare) and saw my posters. I explained that I had my dog, and they both said that's odd, it looks just like him, down to the red collar and all.

So I am revising what I think happened on the night of the 3rd: The "white dog" that people reported being near the VTA station over a mile southwest of me around one a.m. was not Chip--it was the same dog who was running down Blossom Hill the next evening.  Because that's exactly where I was afraid that Chip had been headed (when I thought it was him) if he had continued in the same direction. Which means that Chip didn't travel *quite* as far and had probably headed northeast from the very beginning--the direction in which we picked him up.

As it turns out, his only injuries were a deep but open, not-too-wide scrape on one knee (he's showing you where it is here) and one damaged toenail--I could see the blood in it still when he got home. No damage to his pads at all, thank goodness.


On the 4th, he was clearly one exhausted doggie. Lay around all day, never going out into the yard unless I went. In fact, stuck within a few feet of me wherever I went all day. In the yard, he showed some interest in the toy that I threw for Boost, but trotted a couple of steps and then stopped. Probably very sore from all that running and traveling.

Starting in the late afternoon, I played a long fireworks video on my computer. Didn't seem to bother him at all, so I just gradually upped the volume, what the heck.  (This is not the first time 've done this, but mostly it was after his initial scare a month back.)

In the evening, when we started hearing the first few booms, I went out onto the porch with all 3 dogs and a ton of chopped-up hot dogs and we did tricks and Chip got a treat every time he alerted to a boom. Eventually it was too much for him and we went inside and that tiny effort was over for the evening.

He paced a bit--from one room to another, then stood there waiting for the next sound, then moved again. Often to stand next to me, then to leave again. I'd pet him when he was near and talk to him quietly about the loud booms. Around 8:30, he finally wanted to climb into my lap.

So we sat there like that for a while; I draped the corner of a lightweight afghan over his ears and eyes and he seemed to relax more.

When we went up to bed shortly thereafter, I firmly shut the windows and drapes, set up a laptop playing the fireworks video. It didn't sound a lot like real fireworks, but it masked all but the loudest sounds, and actually worked like white noise for me.

I lay down on my side, invited chip up next to me, and we nestled like two spoons. I draped the corner of my comforter over his ears and eyes, my arm over his side and back leg, and we both settled quickly and slept.

Now everything's pretty much back to normal except that I'm concerned about leaving him home alone.  The evening of the 5th stayed quiet until about 9:30, and I dared to hope that that meant that everyone had used up their fireworks, but nooooo--started in again, and went until 1-frigging-thirty in the morning, off and on.   We made do once again, but it wasn't as intense and Chip didn't really want to spoon again and i didn't play the fireworks again and all was, well, as well as could be for the booms outside.

I hope that he never again has to have an adventure like this. Nor I.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Speaking of dogs being scared of fireworks

SUMMARY: Can laugh at it now--

Added a 3rd & 4th, July 5.

Comics of dogs and fireworks and being scared. What can I say?





Chip is home!

SUMMARY: He was missing only 14 hours or so, but it seemed like weeks.

[Oh, sorry everyone--I wrote this all up and then went off to eat and sleep without actually posting!]

I got home last night about 10, after a pleasant evening with friends. My renter, who had also just gotten home, said, "What happened to Chip?"

Me: "?"

She said that he had crashed through/knocked down the gate into her area, and there was blood on the windowsills.

Me: "?!?!?!*%*#" and a bit of calling Chip, which she had already done.

Her 2nd-floor windows--with the brand-new miniblinds that I installed with much cursing and fuming just 3 months ago--now look like this.  (This photo is today; she cleaned up all the blood smeared all over them and the windowsill. You're welcome.) The screen on the less-damaged window was pushed out of the window. Feared that he might have jumped.



Bloody footprints went down the main stairs and across my ivory carpet (not my choice of colors) in the living room...

...and all the way across the windowsill on the living room's picture window...


I felt like I was in a bad murder mystery scene.
All the way through the front hallway into the kitchen, then back down the lower stairs...

to the garage door, which he also customized some...


Now THAT is a dog in a blind panic from fireworks, because the dog door was available. I really assume that he finally went through there and over the very tall gate.

And then--no sign of him. I checked the entire house and yard to be sure.

Then the exact order of things is a little foggy, but this is the general idea.

I walked and drove around the neighborhood calling his name for maybe an hour. Came back home and dealt with things like finding good photos of  him for lost dog posting, posted on Craigslist, updated his contact info for his microchip (still had his previous owner's disconnected phone number), emailed his previous owner, posted a notice on NextDoor for all my surrounding neighborhoods, posted on FaceBook for all my friends in and out of the dog world.

Went back out for a while and checked Martial Cottle Park a bit and went farther afield, maybe half a mile or so.

Came home again about midnight, checked email (a few "hope you find him"). And a phone call from a dog agility friend offering to come help search tonight! I said that since fireworks were still going off, he was probably still running and it made more sense to wait until morning.

Then went to work creating a flyer that I could email around, post on facebook, and print up a zillion in the morning to go around the area. Checked email about 1:30 and OMG there was a note from someone on NextDoor who had nearly run into a big white scared/lost looking dog about a mile and a half southwest of me. Sure sounded like him.  I raced out there and walked and called and looked for about half an hour.

I haven't posted much about my back/nerve/muscle problems, but it hurt like heck to walk and those parts of me were pretty miserable.

Got back home and discovered emails from two NextDoor neighbors (whom I've never met) who were back out in the area searching for him, too!  If I ever doubt human nature, I just have to remember all of this.

One said that they thought he'd gone up the bike path, so I drove out to various ends of the bike path to call his name. (Boost accompanied me on a couple of outings, hoping Chip might smell her and come out.)

Poor Boost and Tika, with me racing in and out and giving them "guard the house goodies" over and over, were a little confused & worried, I think.

Finally I'd done everything I could think to do (looked for other online sites to post lost dog info, read some info on best ways to find lost dogs [which I was already largely familiar with from our escapades with our husky years ago]), scrolled through ALL the found dog photos at the closest shelter--they post them every hour 24/7! More good humans doing that work.

So got into bed around 3:30, managed to drop off around 4.
Tip: The only reason I managed to do it is because I have a tendency to catastrophize (what if he was hit by a car? what if someone steals him? etc.) so I have been practicing for many months to recognize that that's what it is: A form of predicting the future and of course you can't predict the future. So I concentrate on the here and now--I've done what i can for tonight. I need some sleep to be able to function. Chip has my phone numbers and a microchip, so it will be easy for someone to contact me.-- and this allowed me to drift off.
But woke up again at 6, only 2 hours later. Intended to just check email and go back to bed, but there were already emails from friends saying, "I'm here in the area and looking" and "what can we do, we're on our way over?" and my sister apparently saw my post when she woke up early and showed up at my door at 7 (lives half an hour away). So I found myself coordinating emails and cell phone calls and groups of people who were communicating with each other and me, largely with group texts which I had no idea how to do on the cell phones, but we made it work.

I searched for nearby vets and other dog-related businesses (pet stores, boarding, etc) and printed a zillion flyers and lists of addresses for people to post things at.

That sounds quite compact, but really was constant activity for me and them, no down moments to even think about food (although I did eventually actually get dressed).

It all culminated at about noon like the classic peak of a movie storyline when 5 people--two searchers in cars,  two searchers who'd hauled their segways over here and had been searching, and another person just arriving--all appeared at my front door at the same time and we stood there with my sleepless-fried brain trying to make decisions with arms and fingers all pointing in various directions and flyers flying left and right and then--

My home phone rang.  I had not been using my home phone in all of this. But it is the *first* number on the tag on Chip's collar.

I ran and grabbed it. Not a very good connection with a man who didn't speak English all that well. He asked whether I was missing a dog and I said yes! And we had some other conversation that was muddled--he couldn't stay, he had to go to work, etc with me saying, no! I'm coming over NOW, where ARE you?

When we straightened that out, he was at the social services building about 4.5 miles northeast--which would put him about 6 miles from where folks thought he was sighted last night where we were concentrating our search.  When he said, "there's something wrong with his foot," I was positive it was really him.

My sister stayed here to man the phones and whatnot, one friend tossed me into her car to drive over there, another friend tossed a bucket and bottle of water and bag of goodies into my lap from her car, and off we went.

Seemed like a 50-mile drive, and then there he was with 2 guys by the side of the road! She screeched to a halt, I ran crying down the sidewalk (oh, did my back and leg hurt? I don't remember that at all, just crying and running). They were smiling as I came. I handed them all the cash I had with me (they hadn't asked for a reward, but seemed like the right thing to do. Wish I'd had more.) and thanked them over and over, took off their leash and put on my friend's leash.

Chip? Oh, hi, Mom. Good to see you, I'm kinda tired. Can we go now? Very calm, very stoic as we examined the huge bloody spot on one rear knee. I think he'll live. Very low-key when we got home and didn't lie down for a while; thinking that he must've had a good night's sleep curled up somewhere.



So--thanks ever so much to all the people who gave up parts of their night's sleep to help search or to talk to me (some of whom I never knew before), who showed up unasked in the wee hours ofa holiday morning to spend it searching for my dog and posting flyers, who let me know that they'd be on their way as soon as their schedule allowed it, who blew off part or all of their Friday agility competition to help, who gave me emotional support, who organized the help while I was brain-fried, who gave my dogs their own treats when he got home, and I can't even think of  everything. My heart is filled with your generosity and kindness.

I'm going to list names later if people don't mind being mentioned publicly, but I want to be sure that it's complete, so that'll be after I get some food and sleep.

You are all wonderful. I'm grateful and honored and so much in everyone's debt.