Itâ€™s a hot, summer day last August. The â€œworldâ€™s championâ€ (not really, but we thought so) Frisbee dog, my 13 year old Border Collie, Cisco, is out in the back yard chasing squirrels with his two schnauzer brothers-from-another-mother, Wiley and Jaxon. This is their favorite game, and I am watching them from my glass- enclosed office, where I am sucking on some hypertonic saline. Cisco has been the most athletic dog I have ever knownâ€¦literally winning regional Frisbee catching competitions, running with me wherever and whenever I go, defying any and all attempts to contain him his entire life by either jumping fences or opening gates. I kid you not; he could star in his own television show with episode after episode of tales of his pure determination and ingenuity in fulfilling his lifeâ€™s work, never letting me out of his sight.
But this day, he knows I am safe, and his focus is on the squirrel above him, taunting him from the telephone wire. Another squirrel joins the game from the edge of the yard, and the schnauzers are off like lightening, tearing across the grass at a speed I didnâ€™t know was possible. Cisco starts to follow, and then I hear the most heart-breaking and terrifying scream emit from his mouth as he flops on his back and writhes in agony.
It takes me two nanoseconds to get to him, and less time than that to realize that he is in serious trouble. He clearly canâ€™t move his back legs, and I can literally smell his terror in the air.
Fortunately, the boys are with me, and we get him in the car and to the vet as fast as we can. One X-ray later, we are rushing to another veterinary office, where they specialize in back surgery. I get the news there: he has ruptured a disk in his vertebral column, and he needs immediate surgery to decompress his spine. He will â€œlikelyâ€ be able to walk again, but every second that passes decreases the chance of significant recovery.
There I am with two young and very upset kids and a dog that is like another child to me, barely looking at the price estimate. You canâ€™t place a price on my relationship with this dog. Heâ€™s been through thick and thin with me. For thirteen years, he has always been there for me, and now I needed to be there for him, big time. I call my partner, and we decideâ€¦weâ€™ll figure out how to pay for it later.
Days later, we take him home. The few weeks that follow are a bit of a blur. I nurse that dog like a baby. I learn how to â€œexpressâ€ his bladder because those nerves donâ€™t work at first. I put diapers on him, and â€œchucksâ€ under him, often to no avail. I get peed on and pooped on and even nipped when he was hurting, just like old times with the boys! I even put my pillow down on the ground next to him and sleep with him at night, holding his paw and stroking him so he knows Iâ€™m thereâ€¦otherwise he cries and neither of us gets any sleep. I carry him everywhere because if I leave the room for a minute, he starts yelping, â€œMommyâ€¦where did you go???â€ in dog. Forty-three pounds of limp Border Collie is a LOT of weight to move ten times a day, and I am very appreciative of all the dead lifts Iâ€™ve done at the gym.
Then, physical therapy starts (think â€œchingâ€). I learn to â€œwalkâ€ him using a sling for his rear end. He gets massages, and TENS, and learns to walk on an under-water treadmill. The therapists and I actually re-teach him how to walk again by moving his back legs over and over again in a bicycle motion and flexing and extending his bad leg over and over. Then, one day at therapy, he struggles to his feet by himself and sort of pulls himself by his front paws across the room toward me as his back legs stagger and slide. He moves about 7 steps before he falls down. It definitely wasnâ€™t pretty, but this is the first time he is able to move on his own accord and we cheer and scream for joy. I swear heâ€™s smiling!
Winter comes, and I have probably my worst cold season ever. Iâ€™ve got a PICC line in for many, many weeks and am having other health issues recovering from a DVT in my arm. Still, Cisco and I make our daily treks around the neighborhood. There we areâ€¦ Iâ€™m coughing and infusing, and my faithful boy is limping and sliding along at about the speed of a slug. Sometimes itâ€™s not clear who is taking whom out to walk, but nothing keeps us from our daily treks.
As I write this, it is summer again, and I am happy to report that Cisco is still with us, as a much older (functionally) and much lighter and greyer version of his old self. His back hips and legs have atrophied down to the bone. Heâ€™s recovered some of his strength, but still needs assistance with his â€œmorning constitutionalâ€ (which, by the way, is a total misnomerâ€¦ It happens at all times of the day). Every morning, afternoon, and evening, Cisco and I go for our stroll around the neighborhood, him hobbling slowly but with as much dignity as he can muster with me holding up his butt with a sling. When he sees other dogs, he still growls with the best of them, and, oddly, seems to forget that he is disabled as he tries to chase them down, dragging his left leg (and me) behind him as I desperately try to keep holding the sling.
This is similar to me doing push-ups and yoga with the PICC line in (Did I mention I developed a DVT?). Anyway, the point is, you canâ€™t keep us down. We are there for each other, and we are quite a pair! End of story.
Why am I telling this story? What in the world does it have to do with cool equipment and technology that makes life easy? Well, Cisco and I were chatting just the other day. It turns out that we are both getting rather tired of going around the same old area, the same houses, the same trees and plants. We both want to go new places, see new things, growl at new dogs. But he just doesnâ€™t have the stamina to go too far from home.
So I made him an appointment to get fitted with a K9-cart. These are so cool! They are â€œwheelchairsâ€ for dogs. You put the dogâ€™s hindquarters in a type of sling, and they pull themselves around on wheels! Heâ€™s going to be so happy. I canâ€™t wait to get it.
Finally, we are back to why I wanted to tell this story. I once told my partner, who was trying to convince me that long distance running may not be my best exercise option, that I had to runâ€¦.well, jog. I used to run. I ran until I couldnâ€™t anymore. Then, I started to jog. Then, the continuous jog became a jog/walk. This is where Iâ€™m at now. When I canâ€™t do that anymore, I will walk. When that becomes too hard, I will walk very slowly. When that becomes too difficult, I guess Iâ€™ll roll (but Iâ€™ll pull myself along).
Cisco is the dog model of exactly the way I plan to do it. He used to run like the wind. He could jump tall buildings. He could open any door. He could do crossword puzzles. He was Cisco, the Wonder-Dog. Now, he drags himself around, limping after me, wherever I go. He uses mostly his front paws and stumbles and falls quite a bit, but unless there is a need to squat (as I referred to above), he gets around on his own. Not only that, but he still tries to chase the schnauzers around the yard, squeaking his ball like crazy while they wrestle. Itâ€™s becoming hard for him though. Heâ€™s decided itâ€™s time for some assistance, and I agreed. Now weâ€™ll roll. Well, heâ€™ll roll. Iâ€™m still jog/walking for a while longer.
So maybe you canâ€™t run. I bet you can walk. I even bet that some of you, who think you canâ€™t run, can build up to a jog. Or maybe youâ€™d be happier on a bikeâ€¦or roller bladesâ€¦or swimming in a pool. If you are still breathing, you can do something! Even if your breathing is labored, or you have problems with desaturation with exercise, they make some awesome portable O2 tanks these days. Not only that, but there are portable O2 saturation meters that you wear on your finger so you know how much oxygen you need! There are heart rate monitors, portable blood glucose meters, GPS devicesâ€¦you name it! Check out Jerry Cahill on You Tube as he takes his oxygen tank for a run (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dT6aEuZKpC4). Take a cue from Cisco, and from me, and from Jerry: Keep moving, no matter how it looks, and keep squeaking your ball.