Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bad News

Okay, so... The potentially devastating news is that Bella is sick. She might be very, very sick.

I mentioned before in a general, whiny way that she had an eye infection. I noticed her right eye was red and irritated over Labor Day weekend. I took the first appointment I could get the Tuesday morning after the holiday. There was a problem with another dog that kept us in the waiting room an extra 45 minutes, and I was going to be late to work.

The doctor saw us in a hurried way (at my request, because I really had to get to a story in another county), checked for abrasions, ruled out conjunctivitis, told us he wanted to see her again in a few days and gave us some expensive antibiotic drops. Bella and Fred had their yearly checkup a few days later, so we went back. This time we had the other vet in the practice, who gave them their shots, checked out the eye pretty closely, but declared them both in perfect health. The eye didn't improve, so a week later I called the vet's office. The doctor who saw us for the yearly checkup prescribed stronger antibiotic drops and mentioned we may want to see a specialist if it didn't get better, but "this will clear it right up."

And it didn't. Her eye started to get a little glazed and foggy looking, which I mistook at first for a possible sign of healing, since it wasn't so red anymore. The fogginess started spreading, so I decided, fuck it and booked an appointment with a veterinary opthomalogist.

We had our appointment on Friday. Bella's retinas are detaching in both eyes. As the doctor was examining her and shining special lights into her eyes, I could see something was really wrong. It's happening very, very quickly, and she's already experiencing noticable vision loss.  In the last five days, she's lost about 50% vision in her right eye.

You might remember when I posted the photo above about a year ago. The difference is really striking when I look at them side by side.


Deep breath... The worse part is that it's very likely only the tip of the iceberg. Sudden retinal detachment in relatively young dogs is caused by a variety of issues, some of which are quite serious, including hypertension, cancer, kidney disease or a serious, systemic fungal infection. The very first step is to conduct a variety of complicated diagnostic tests, starting with a full blood workup, which we did Friday. 
The vet gave me some information, and I've been doing a lot of research. It's all Internet based, but I'm trying to dismiss the really crazy stuff out of hand (Cure your dog with flax seed dog treats! Read Scout's Brave Tale of Woe and Painful Demise!) The most common kind of cancer associated with this kind of vision issue is lymphoma. Other symptoms would probably include palpable tumors, rapid weight loss, lethargy, etc., which are not presenting in Bella right now. 
The scary fungal infections are lethal, but she's not vomiting or having diarrhea. The infections are contagious across species, and Fred is fine. They share food and water bowls; he would not be fine, and Joel and I would probably have "cold-like symptoms." Also, the fungal infections are frequently misdiagnosed as lung cancer, because they cause shortness of breathe and cause shadowly white spots on the lungs in x-rays. Bella had her yearly checkup after the eye infection started, and her lungs were completely good and clear. All the other stuff- leukemia, kidney disease, etc- come with more symptoms (coughing, lesions) and things Bella doesn't have. 
Which leaves hypertension, aka high blood pressure, which I'm betting on, actually. She's 6 (45 or so in people years). She's about 5 pounds heavier than she should be, which means more when you only weigh 40 lbs. One of the symptoms of hypertension is a change in behavior, which would explain why Bella manifested some anxiety issues over the summer. In that case, she would take blood pressure meds, and as the blood thins and fluid drains from behind the eyes, the retinas usually reattach. I know this because I have a newly minted degree from Google Veterinary College.
Anyway. Step #1 is getting the proper diagnosis. Bella is outwardly fine except for the vision loss, which is only noticable to me when we play ball and I purposefully throw to her bad side. She is doing her Happy Butt Dance, bringing me toys (she put her ball in my camera bag) and behaving like her energetic self, except during my crying jags (daily total: 4), when she lays her head on my leg and tries to get on the couch to lick my face. 

Friday's appointment and lab work cost $700. There may be diagnostic x-rays and ultrasounds ahead, then expensive treatment, and maybe surgery. This is what credit cards are for. Bella is priceless. I've always believed that the only reason I would ever put her to sleep would be because her health was so poor that it would be unfair to keep her alive for my pleasure. I also imagined that decision would be at least nine years away.

And it very well could be nine years away. With the exception of the time she ate the metal end of a tube of cookie dough and spent the night at the fascist emergency vet in Florida, we've always been the dog-owner team who get to hop off the table with a clean bill of health, and that includes our yearly checkup two weeks ago.

However, between the car disasters (did I mention I spent $1100 repairing the oxygen sensor and more in the Nannymobile just days before it was totaled?) and vet bills, I am hemorrhaging money. I know it will be okay. I know my parents won't let me fall. I know, should we have to help Bella get to the proverbial "Rainbow Bridge," it certainly won't be for economic reasons. Joel is kicking in $$$, which is nice since he's technically "only my boyfriend" and Bella is still "my" dog.

I'm trying to stay positive. We'll get the blood test results by the end of the week. We go back to the vet specialist on Friday. I gave Bella a bath this weekend, and we went for lots of long walks. She climbed into the flannel sheets and did her ghost dog routine while Fred tried to step on her through the covers.

Joel and I did some serious "fall cleaning," which is calming to me, even though I screamed "I hate you!" at the stubborn shelf in the (now sparkling, thank you) fridge. We found this lobster hat in a drawer, which Joel kept putting on and casually walking into whichever room I was cleaning to cheer me up.

Then Fred got a hold of it and lovingly rubbed his face on it for a few hours this afternoon.

"I love the feel of your cloth antennae on my whiskers. Me-OW!"

I love our eccentric little family. I can't imagine my life without my girl.


Cara said...

I'm so sorry. I know how horrible the waiting is after all we have gone and are going through with Sammy. I have my fingers crossed that it's high blood pressure and she'll be okay.

Chunky Photojournalist Barbie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chunky Photojournalist Barbie said...

Thanks, Cara. :) We've had all our paws and fingers crossed for Sammy, too. Do you think Casper looks a little like Fred? That thought has crossed my mind before. Anyway, give them both a scritch behind the ears from me.

Oh, and the ominous "Comment Deleted" thing above was me trying to fix the fact that I originally said I thought Fred looked like Sammy, which he doesn't, because Sammy is orange. I plead sleepiness and preoccupation!

cindy w said...

Oh, this sucks. I'm so sorry. Is it weird that I'm hoping that it's just hypertension? Because that doesn't sound too horrible compared to the other scenarios you mentioned.

Also, sorry about the money stuff. These things always seem to happen all at once, don't they?

The lobster hat, however, is totally awesome. I want one so I can freak Dave out with it (oh dear husband of mine who's squeamish about all forms of shellfish).

And I'm really glad that you screamed "I hate you" at a shelf and not at, say, Joel (which is how I thought that sentence was going to end). Because that would be a lot worse. Go ahead and take out your frustration on the inanimate objects, they can handle it.

Hugs to you. Keep us posted.

Jillian said...

Oh Ang. I'm sorry. Poor sweet little Bella. And poor you and Joel. Seriously, reading this made me cry, and I haven't seen Bella in quite a few years now. Believe in the hypertension. It sounds more than probable. Twixy, my dog growing up was on blood pressure meds for a long, long time. And she lived to be 15. (She was on the same medicine as my Dad- of course different doses, but we always some how found that funny!). I'll have to ask my Mom what prompted her to be on that medication.

In the meantime, sending you all lots of hugs and pats, good thoughts, and hugs. Did I mention hugs. And if you guys need anything- let me know, okay?

shannon said...

Geez, Joel in the lobster hat helps cheer me up, and I am in one serious funk. (and possibly procrastinating writing the three stories I've got due today -- and I hate them all)

Poor Bella. Poor you. My parents' dog has been completely blind for more than a year now. It sucks, but the good news is that Dusty gets around just fine, and milks it for all it's worth. Perhaps Fred can be Bella's seeing eye cat, if the vision doesn't come back when they put her on the hypertension medicine (which I'm optimistically hoping it is).

Cara said...

I do think Casper looks like Fred. Fred has blue eyes too, right?

I forgot to add that I feel your pain about the money situation. Sammy's expenses ran up to almost $4000 by the time we were done. Assuming it's high blood pressure, you might want to look into pet insurance. It's a lot more cost effective.

Fingers crossed, hugs to all of you. I understand the crying, wishing, and praying bit. Let us know as soon as you hear, 'kay? Take care of yourself. I'm glad Joel is such a good boyfriend.

kelly said...

Bella is such a trooper and so are you! I know how difficult the part of not knowing is and I'm sending you lots of mental hugs and smooches to the pooch.

lauren said...

Sending lots of healthy doggie vibes to Bella...

Judy Gaul said...

Bella is so lucky to have you! Just think....she's my first born granimal! Love, Mom