Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Slow, steady improvement.

Food remains an issue. Bao craves cooked chicken, and treats. But if I give him what he wants, he's up and down all night, because he gets gas in his gut and thinks he needs to go out and poop. This happens every half hour on the half hour, from midnight until about 4 AM, when we both fall into an exhausted sleep.

So it's back to the special, veterinary food. I mix it with chicken broth until it's the consistency of thick soup (easier to swallow and harder to spit out) and feed it to him with a spatula, a teaspoonful at a time. He is not enthusiastic. Several times a day he "hoovers" around the kitchen floor, hoping to find the odd crumb from a dog biscuit. I feel so sorry for him!

But I think he's getting stronger. Today, he tried to sit up on his hind legs. He can't, of course. His once sturdy little haunches are now just skin and bone. But at least he's trying. And he's able to balance on three legs and lift his leg to pee. Small gains. But he has been very, very sick.

Your comments and emails have helped so much! Thank you, from both of us. This has been terrible, and it's not over, yet. But I almost dare to let myself hope that we really are going to see light at the end of this tunnel.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Slight improvement, yesterday. But we've still got a long way to go.

We still don't know what was wrong.

The big issue for me is his appetite, which is almost non-existent. Taking pills on an empty stomach upsets his stomach, but he's got to have the pills -- especially the heart medications. Dr. Mike wants him to eat a special, veterinary food formulated for gastrointestinal upsets, but Bao is not enthusiastic. He can't have his freeze-dried liver treats, or steak, or any of the things he loves, lest they make the pancreatitis flare up again.

Bao has lost nearly four pounds -- that's a lot for a little dog! His hindquarters are very weak -- he stumbles. His sturdy little haunches have just melted away. But he didn't eat anything at all for nearly ten days, so that's understandable.

Even so, the word "better" crossed Dr. Mike's lips yesterday. Bao is doing better, and I'm deeply, profoundly grateful for that.

He's comfortable, sleeping a lot. (But he always sleeps a lot) He's alert, interested in what's going on around him. Now, if I could just get him to eat!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bao is holding his own.

The big worry now is that it's all been too much for his heart. Although we seem to have beaten back the "perfect storm" of infections, this was truly an ordeal and there's a very real chance that Bao's dear little heart -- overly stressed by everything he's been through -- will simply stop. There's nothing much to be done about this. Atropine might help, but given his existing heart condition, it might also make things much worse. All we can do at this point is wait, and hope.

He's eating boiled chicken, and drinking diluted Gatorade, and tolerating medication. He's comfortable, and I think he's enjoying being pampered. He's still very weak. After all, he didn't eat for ten days! Improvement will be slow, I've been warned. But he does seem a little stronger, and little bit more alert. We've got to take it a day at a time.

On Friday night, I could barely feel his heart beating. That's when I truly thought he might slip away.

So I'm grateful he's still here with me. Every day is a blessing.

Friday, February 18, 2011

On Wednesday, the wheels fell off. Dr. Mike thought Bao's heart sounded a bit slow, so he did an ultra-sound -- which showed a large amount of fluid around Bao's heart.

We went straight to a cardiologist, and Bao underwent a surgical procedure to draw off the fluid, which was already affecting his heart. There was a lot of it -- 175 ccs. But nobody could figure out what it was. I've never seen anything like this, said the cardiologist. They've sent it off to a lab, to be tested.

When Bao was stable, they sent him home -- and he promptly began coughing and panting. So back we went. They put him on oxygen and did an x-ray. Now, his lungs were "wet" and he was going into congestive heart failure. Why? Nobody knew. But an injection of lasix helped.

There wasn't much else they could do, so we came home. I didn't want him to die alone, in a cage. If this is the end, I thought, let him be in his own bed, with me. I wasn't sure he'd make it through the night, but he did.

Dr. Mike is now wondering if the underlying cause might be Valley Fever, a disease that afflicts dogs and people in this area. We're waiting for those tests to come back, too.

This morning, Bao ate real food and enjoyed it. This is a good sign. There's no fluid around his heart, either. But his blood work now shows elevated white cell count and something going on with his liver. (If it hadn't been for the blood work, I'd be dancing in the street, because he seems so much better)

Dr. Mike thinks the liver involvement might have been caused by the build-up of fluid around his heart. In that case, it should sort itself out. Here's hoping.

But we're not out of the woods yet.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What an ordeal!

Bao's spasms eased, but he continued to refuse food. Then on Friday, a second test for pancreatis came back positive. At that point, Dr. Mike decided to do an ultrasound, which revealed some upset in the pancreas (but nothing major) and an enlarged adrenal gland. Suddenly, the pieces fit. Bao has Cushings.

Cushings can be subtle. Signs are a pot belly, and increased hydration and urination. Over the past few months, Bao has indeed developed a little pot but I thought it was just Christmas overindulgence. Has he been drinking more than usual? Perhaps. But it's been unusually dry this year -- everybody's drinking more water. So no alarm bells rang.

Here's what Dr. Mike thinks happened. The Cushings (which attacks the auto-immune system) made him vulnerable to whatever bug got into his gut, which then inflamed the pancreas. So it wasn't just one thing, but a combination of things. That's why the test results were so confusing. When Dr. Mike finally did test for Cushings, it came back positive.

I'm telling you all the gory details because Cushings is subtle, and can do big damage. I never even knew about Cushings. Apparently, it's common in older, small dogs.

Bao didn't eat for a week (fasting is the treatment for pancreatitis) and yesterday he was so weak he could barely stand up to pee. Although he's been showing an interest in food, he's only allowed to have diluted Gatorade, chicken broth and mashed potatoes -- and thus far, I have not been able to interest him in the mashed potatoes.

Meanwhile, I've got the flu. So it's been a rough week.

Thanks for the comments, and the emails. They've kept our spirits up.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Bao has been terribly ill since Sunday. Three days -- and nearly $1000 later -- we still don't even know for sure what's wrong.

He has periodic, wracking stomach spasms. His whole little body wrenches. He hasn't eaten anything since Sunday night, although he's drinking water. But every time he takes a drink it sets off more spasms.

The x-rays showed nothing amiss. The blood tests came back negative for everything. Kidneys, liver, lungs, all doing what they should. His electrolytes are good. His blood pressure is excellent. No neurological symptoms, either.

The spasms are painful but because of Bao's heart condition, Dr. Mike doesn't want to use pain killers, because they'll raise his blood pressure. Infant anti-gas medicine and juvenile Immodium seem to be helping with the symptoms. But what's causing this? At the moment, the best guess is some kind of extremely nasty, anaerobic bacteria in his gastrointestinal tract. He's taking medicine for that, but so far the bacteria -- if that's what they are -- are winning.

I am beside myself. I'm afraid that if I leave him alone, he'll stop breathing and die. This is irrational, but after three sleepless nights the ghosts and goblins come out to play.

Any ideas? Help!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Bao and I have had some great rides, but last weekend's excursion on the Grand Canyon Railway topped them all.

Even if you've seen the Grand Canyon (and we have) the vintage train trip from Williams to the Grand Canyon is definitely worth doing. We made a whole weekend of it, staying at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams (famous for being the last town on Route 66 to be bypassed by the Interstate highway) and enjoying sumptuous, all you can eat breakfast and dinner buffets.

Before you board the train, there's a Wild West show, staged by three very authentic looking and sounding cowboys on a Wild West set that provides a vicarious experience of life in the back blocks of Arizona 100 years ago. (As you can see, Bao and one of the cowboys really hit it off)The show is good fun, and witty. Disneyland for grownups.

They serve pastries and muffins and coffee (and champagne) on the morning train. Coming back in the afternoon, there was a cheese platter, and raw vegetables and dip (and more champagne) Plus a surprise encore when the three cowboys stopped the train in the middle of nowhere and staged a "train robbery".

You get to spend several hours at the Grand Canyon, too. But the real fun was the train.