Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Caring for a Dog with Epilepsy

 Our little furry friends count on us for everything in life. When we adopted Shellie the Sheltie we had no idea the ride it would be. This little cutie got diagnosed with epilepsy at only one year old. The disease doesn't stop her from living her best life!

We got her as an 8 week old puppy months after losing our first Sheltie, Fred.

One day she started shaking, drooling, and would fall backwards. The first day this started it literally happened 12 times in that day. After a quick trip to the vet we were given some phenobarbital pills for her to take. Luckily, she is a pretty laid-back dog and will eat the pills right in her food. Our previous dog would sniff out pills and spit them out or leave them in the bowl, so we had to get creative whenever he needed to take one.

Unfortunately, the seizures didn't stop. Our vet tried adjusting the medication dose however it wasn't enough. We were sent to a neurologist. (Yes, they have a neurologist for dogs)

The neurologist ran some tests on Shellie and also offered an MRI. Unfortunately, an MRI costs thousands of dollars and ultimately you need to decide what you are going to do with the results. Will you subject your puppy to brain surgery? Given her age and her breed the neurologist agreed that an MRI was not required and instead try to control the epileptic seizures with medicine. At worst if we couldn't get the seizures to stop, she would need to be admitted to the hospital to give her an IV and get them under control.  We were also told that her blood would need to be checked regularly to check her kidney function and if the phenobarbital was in a therapeutic range.

The neurologist provided us with a new medicine called clorazepate which is a rescue drug. This is meant to stop clusters of seizures when they start. We started giving one pill right away and every 8 hours until they stopped for 24 hours which luckily was right away. Her brain needed a bit of a reset to stop seizing.

She started doing much better. We knew that the meds would not stop the seizures entirely, but the frequency was less. We also now knew the telltale signs. If she wasn't right next to us and we found her with her white fur under her mouth all wet she probably had a seizure. One day she had a very major seizure that lasted a few minutes. Even with giving the clorazepate she was stuck in a cluster. She ultimately got to the point where she could not stand for a whole day. Off to the vet we went, and the prognosis didn't look good. This happened to be the week my Dad passed away also so I was a mess and back and forth to the hospital with him too. I couldn't lose them both.

We headed back to the neurologist who put my mind at ease, and we added another medication, potassium bromide. This medicine is a liquid that we squirt on to her food. She also gave us another rescue med, Valium. This could be used in extreme circumstances like what had happened.

Luckily, she started walking again normally and recovered. I have joined many Facebook groups on dogs with epilepsy and learned a lot. It really is trial and error trying to find the optimal medication combination to control the seizures. An ice pack on the back during a seizure helps and calming words. I even hold her when she has them but is only advised if they aren't too violent. Now her seizures are quite mild and monthly, and we give her clorazepate when they start. During the last few years, she has had ones where she has bit her lip and been bleeding or peed/pooped on the floor while having it. 

The meds also have side affects. Phenobarbital causes excessive hunger so she wants food all the time. We have to monitor her food intake so that she doesn't get overweight. The clorazepate at the beginning would cause her to act drunk. She would sway side to side and sometimes fall over and be very sleepy. Those side affects have lessened but she does sometimes whine would putting her food like she is so hungry she can't wait.

I also learned we have to watch ingredients in treats. Specifically, things like rosemary extract which can trigger seizures. I read the ingredients on everything we buy her.

Despite her disease she lives a very full life. Here she is living her best life tubing on the Saco River in NH.

She loved the waterfalls.

She went to see the sunflowers.

She even went on the Conway Scenic Railroad for her birthday in NH.

She always dresses up for Halloween.

And she loves to ask Santa for gifts.

Here's to many more birthdays for this sweet girl!

They really are part of the family and we hope she is part of ours for a long time. We know she is a little extra work, but we have all learned to help her during seizures and respond quickly.

If you want to follow her adventures she even has an Instagram handle: shellie.the.sheltie

Monday, February 8, 2021

Grieving as an Only Child

It has been quite a while since I have written a post. There has been a real lack of opportunities with the pandemic as I generally blog about live shows, family attractions and travel. I thought it was time to share some of my own experience during this crazy COVID time related to loss. Over the last year and a half I lost both of my parents (not to COVID).

The journey started three years ago when my father was diagnosed with MDS (Myelodysplastic syndrome). It is a rare (fewer than 200,000 cases in the US per year) blood cancer. Even though it is a pre-leukemia the oncologist explained he would pass from it before it even developed into leukemia. I learned much more than I thought I ever would about it from the internet and trips to Tufts Medical to see an oncologist who is a specialist in the disease and visits to the Cancer Center. My Dad suffered through chemotherapy, many platelet and red blood cell transfusions and several stays in the hospital. It was difficult on me being an only child as all of the help rested on my shoulders. I would get calls at all hours of the night that he was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance or most times he wanted me to drive him. I could tell them in the ER the values of his blood and platelets in which they should transfuse. My father would kid around that I was a doctor, which is very amusing as the sight of blood makes me pass out.

Not only was this time difficult enough with my Dad's illness but my Mom also had a major stroke in the car on the way to my daughter's dance competition. She ended up going into rehab for a long time to regain her memory and relearn how to do things. All the while my Dad was still in and out of the hospital and dinners rested on me as my Dad didn't cook. There were times I didn't think I could do it anymore. I was trying to balance my family, work, and my parents who at the time felt like two more children.

After struggling with the disease for so long and two regimens of chemotherapy nothing was helping. My Dad was rushed to the hospital and he called me at 3 am to say he was done with chemo and transfusions and just wanted to let nature take its course. That message is still on our answering machine and I don't have the heart to listen to it. I ended up talking to him in the morning to hear of his wishes. I worked with the hospital to have him sent to a Hospice Facility. At the time they said he could possibly live a couple weeks but instead only lasted two days. I heard his last breath and called the nurses.

It was a difficult time. I had to sell my childhood home (which has since been torn down and rebuilt) and move my Mom in with my family. My Mom now had no will to live crying all the time and asking to die. It was heartbreaking. Things that she once loved like watching my daughter dance she was no longer interested in. It was difficult taking care of her. She would throw out visiting nurses, refused any medication for her depression, and was sometimes difficult. I felt like I was taking care of a toddler but one who was my Mom and could say no. She went unconscious at the kitchen table and ended up in the hospital only 2 weeks after moving in with us. I felt like a failure and even remember saying to the paramedics how she had recently moved in and obviously I wasn't doing a good job taking care of her. She ended up going to rehab as they said her blood pressure was dropping when she stood up too fast. My son was very sad as he had setup Thanksgiving to look like it did in my childhood home. Unfortunately, she spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. I remember how excited my Mom was to go to see my daughter perform in A Charlie Brown Christmas, pictured here. This was the last time she left the house before she passed 10 months later.

Ultimately about 10 months later in October of 2020 she fell in our house (after many falls) and went unconscious again and was mumbling random numbers. She went to the hospital who sent her to rehab the next day. She ended up having another major stroke in the rehab center and passed within a week. This was quite unexpected as I just thought her meds would be adjusted and she would be fine like before. With COVID it was difficult to see her. She was placed in quarantine because she had come from the hospital even with the fact her test at the hospital was negative and her not leaving the house since when the pandemic began. When she had the major stroke they allowed me to go see her with a N95 mask, face shield and gown. It was heartbreaking! She couldn't talk, move her right side, or even eat. Seeing her like this and discussing her wishes previously I knew she didn't want to live like this and though it broke my heart not to have her go back to the hospital with her DNR I needed to honor her wishes and let her go. I would call family and friends and put them on the phone with her to say their goodbyes. It was gut wrenching to listen to, especially her brother.

The last day I went to see my son play soccer and then headed to the rehab center. I was limited by the rehab center in how long I could spend with her. Unfortunately, when I arrived, she was already gone. The nurse said they had checked in on her 10 minutes before and she was alive. Those 10 minutes will haunt me forever. What if I had not talked to a couple parents after the game, if I had driven faster, I will never know. As I cried holding her hand all I could do was apologize that she passed away all alone. I will never forgive myself for this.

During this time it was so hard being an only child. Growing up I always wanted a brother or sister. I was so envious of people who had them. I had no one to hang out with on vacation, talk to about boyfriends or play with. As I got older I realized how much that want paled in comparison to the want now. Someone to help bear the brunt of drives to Chemo and blood transfusions with my Dad, to bring food to my Mother, help with cleaning out my childhood home, someone to go to rehab to help my Mother relearn everything after her stroke and someone to help with her care after my Dad passed. Someone to reminisce about the trip where the car broke down or keep me company for hours upon hours in the hospital. To help make the tough decisions at the end. As I walked out of the rehab center on the last day carrying the two bags of her belongings by myself, I never felt so alone and that I have no one that shares those memories with me of growing up with my parents. No one to call as I would call my Mother daily since the day I left for college. I always said I needed a calming person in my life (I have a lot of anxiety) and she was my calming person making me feel better when I got a bad grade or had too many drops in a baton competition.

I still stay awake every night wondering if I should have done things differently in their last days. Their wish after passing was to be cremated and put in an urn together so they would be together forever, and they didn't want a wake or funeral. I personally feel like I missed out on some closure when they passed not having these normal ceremonies to grieve, see family and friends and celebrate their life. I never wrote a eulogy, created a picture collage of them or got to hug family and friends. This makes me sad beyond words.

This picture is from the last Christmas Eve we spent together. The following year my Dad was too sick from chemo to come over. The holidays this year were especially hard.

This was our last Thanksgiving together in my childhood home.

Never take a second for granted. I know it is cliché but say all you feel you need to. Let loved ones know how you feel. I know that I need to take my own advice and wish I had said more in my parents last weeks. I hope they are proud of me and thankful for all I did for them as they got older. It is amazing how things change over time and the people you counted on the most then count on you. I only hope I did all I could and made the right decisions.

I hope they are both at peace. I do wish they got to see their grandchildren grow up more as they were the light of their lives.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Cape Codder Resort and Spa Girls Getaway

Despite the crazy times we are living in now we were able to escape reality and enjoy some normalcy at the Cape Codder Resort and Spa! With the resort limiting capacity to the water park and not allowing day passes I felt very comfortable taking Lauren and her friend for a girls getaway!
The Cape Codder is taking all the necessary precautions by having guests wear masks unless they are in the water. Several times when seated in the areas around the water park, employees would come around and ask guests not eating or drinking to ensure they were wearing masks. Masks are also required when walking around the resort. We personally love the water park which is the first place we headed. As you can see it was very quiet there.
We love the lazy river. I personally love to float around in it. It is so much fun for kids and adults.
Watch out for the whale girls! Side note, the whale is not required to wear a mask.
The slides are also a big hit.
If you are a teen these water protective cases are also key for your phone for taking videos and pictures while in the water. They sell them at the Cape Codder Resort or buy them ahead on Amazon.
Such a great water park.
I love how the roof is open too allowing fresh air.
We also were able to enjoy the outdoor rainbow falls pool.
This pool is so lovely and sparkling clean every time we go to it.
It is a great place to cool off and relax.
We had a beautiful day so we spent several hours here at the pool. We did find that you need to walk through the resort. To limit entry points you can't cut through the courtyard as we have in the past. This way they can limit capacity as needed.
The girls relaxing.
So pretty!
A great place to beat the heat.
The hot tub was emptied when we were there and the Wave Pool was also not open.
The Gazebo Cafe was also open for some snacks, lunch and drinks.
The girls enjoyed smoothies.
Fried dough!
I tried out the Sangria which was really yummy!
There is also a lot of seating around the water park which I love. Check out this lovely area above the Gazebo Cafe. Perfect to overlook the water park and be in a nice quiet secluded area.
Here you can see a view of that area from below. 
We also ate outside at the Heart 'n Kettle for dinner. The outdoor seating area is beautiful. The Monday we arrived they had just reopened the indoor seating at the Hearth 'n Kettle also so we ate breakfast there.
The baked stuffed scallops were really good. There are so many options for dining as they also serve breakfast all day.
The rum punch was very good.
The girls enjoyed taking pictures outside and doing Tik Tok dances in the courtyard.
So many lovely areas to check out. 
We had a standard room, here is a picture to get a sense of the lodging. We also had a refrigerator in the room. For safety they do not clean rooms during your stay but you can call down for extra towels, soap, shampoo, etc.
Make sure you check them out! The Beach Plum Spa is open now and even has services for kids! We have never been but I would love to check it out sometime.
We always have enjoyed visiting the Cape Codder Resort and Spa and this time was no exception! These girls give it an enthusiastic thumbs up for a girls getaway.
There are also deals on their website so check those out! Remember that rates include the water park making this getaway a great deal!
Disclosure: I was provided with one night lodging for promotional purposes. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own.