3 Steps Forward, 2 Steps Back

What woke me? It was a pitch black Friday morning at 5:14 am. Rain was drumming on the tin roof. I was sound asleep… then I was instantly awake. Enzo was having a seizure. It would have been Day #50 without one.

Lasting a tad under one minute, there was no voiding of the bladder, no gobs of drool, no twisting or bucking. As grand mal seizures go, this was mild. I got him down the stairs quickly and to the refrigerator where his post-seizure medication is kept. It’s imperative he’s dosed as soon possible in an effort to prevent another. Next, we’re out the door, into the predawn chill and light drizzle. I watched over my boy as he staggered and stumbled around the garden. Unable to balance in order to lift his leg, he squatted like a girl to pee. This is the second worst part for us; called the postictal stage, it’s often more than a day before he is able to walk without falling frequently and bumping into things. But, I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for him–the 4th of July having just gone off in his brain.

As we entered the kitchen, Enzo crashed down onto the tile floor and began another seizure of epic proportions. I knelt down beside my beloved boy, my heart shredding. Two minutes is an eternity when a sentient being you love is violently convulsing and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. When the seizure freed him, I realized tears were running down my cheeks. I was gutted; I thought we had finally discovered the right combination of medications… until 10 days prior, when adjustments had to be made.

Enzo must have blood work every thirty days. In addition to not knowing the cause of epilepsy or how to cure it, the medicines available for treatment impact each patient differently. What works for your Bernese Mountain Dog may or may not work for my Spinone Italiano. The drugs have to be adjusted and tweaked in order to obtain the right dosage and combination. They must also build in the system; they do not work immediately. They must be monitored because while they work to prevent seizures, there is a cost. Over time, several of them have the potential to compromise the liver and how it functions. Enzo must be checked regularly to ensure the levels are therapeutic and internal organs are healthy. His most recent lab results caused concern; it was necessary to decrease the dosage of potassium bromide.

I left the vet’s office anxious about changing what had been a good thing. On an intellectual level, I knew it had to be done. On an emotional level, I didn’t want anything to mess with our winning streak. On the morning of what would have been Day #50, all was swept away and we were back to Square One. Following a telephone consult, Levetiracetam was prescribed and added to the already full basket of medication that sits on my counter. Given three times daily in addition to his twice daily phenobarbital and his morning potassium bromide, the possible side effects include dizziness, nausea, and migraines.

I knew it would take about a week before his body adjusted to the new combination, so until then yoga mats went down in an effort to help prevent him sliding and falling on the hardwood floors. However, when he tumbled down the stairs one morning, I was panic-stricken. This wasn’t working. My veterinarian suggested I cut back on the phenobarbital by 30 milligrams. I did, and Enzo’s coordination improved to the point where we began Tracking again. That was a wonderful Sunday morning for us–one we both sorely needed.

But the following Thursday, Enzo seized while playing with Aoife. At first I thought he had gone down into a play bow, until I noticed the hateful rictus grin that distorted his dear face before he stiffened and fell over. I quickly moved to scoop Aoife to safety, then called Finn into the den, before moving to kneel beside Enzo, offering comfort I doubt he could feel, counting off time he’s unable to gauge. He began to vocalize. Although I have been assured that this is not due to pain, it is difficult for me to remember when it happens. Enzo cannot tell me how he’s feeling or what he’s feeling or if it hurts. At times that haunts me.

My veterinarian recommended Enzo’s phenobarbital be increased to it’s original dose. His gait remains unsteady; the stairs blocked off. When we train–and we do daily–striving for normalcy and the peace it brings, Enzo will often slide into a down from his sit. I’ve learned the signs–barely imperceptible, a slight swaying of his head and upper body, then… the slow slide. He looks up at me, seemingly embarrassed and somewhat confused, ‘how did this happen?’ his eyes seem to say. Tears no longer well up in my eyes when this occurs; I simply help as he struggles up, then ask him if he wants to continue. I’ve learned to read his response and honor his wishes. Some days he’s eager to keep going. Other days, he is done and wants only to curl up and sleep.

As we continue down this road, we have set (and reset) our goals along the way. Currently, with our tracking training on hold, we have set our sights on the AKC Intermediate Trick title. Enzo has a hilarious commando crawl, an auto sit with heeling, and is learning “Order up”–a trick Aoife has down pat. He is also able to catch a toy tossed to him 95% of the time if he’s laying down, but only 75% of the time if he is sitting. With nothing in the rule book stating what his position must be when the toy is thrown to him, we’ll most likely go with the down when we test. We strive for fun when we train; there is laughter and love, side effects of medications be damned.

I am grateful for my wonderful traveling companions on this journey. Aoife brings hilarity and joy to each day with her comical nature. At night, she is my couch companion, warm and snuggled close. She has become Enzo’s beloved playmate. Finn provides us with his solid dependability and the reassurance that tomorrow is another day, with new offerings and fresh promise. He has also begun allowing Enzo to nap with him. I count my many blessings and strive to remember that each day is a gift. Today’s gift? Nine days seizure-free.

Walking dogs side by side