Monday, September 24, 2012
"A Heartbeat at My Feet"
Today's post was going to be about strugglew. Much has happened and it has - without a doubt - been a rough weekend in the Reinventing house. Jack has struggled and it was one of those weekends in which reality slapped us in the face. Coming off of a victory last week, we faced much more of the reality and the ugly side of autism this weekend.
What served as the bigger punch in the gut to me was not the challenges Jack faced this weekend, but the challenges that my sweet Mason encountered.
It was an unremarkable Saturday. Brian was up early taking his parents to the airport. Jack was up early as well, but that's just Jack. Due to some excessive Pinteresting - if one can consider that to be a verb - I made a breakfast of cheese danish. We took Jack to his special needs play and social skills group, dropped him off with his instructor, and came home to consume the product of my efforts. It was...well...unremarkable, too. Mason scampered at our feet, ever eager to be a taste-tester of anything coming out of the kitchen.
We cleaned up, picked Jack up from play group, and drove to his special needs music class. Music was a challenge today. Jack needed to be coaxed with letters to enter the choir room. Once inside, he was seeking input. I was constantly bouncing him up and down to give him the much needed joint compression. He was alternating between letters, bouncing, and crashing on a crash pad. At one point, everyone was singing about ice cream and he was asked what kind of ice cream he liked. When he didn't respond - as no one really expected he would - I prompted him to say "no ice cream", which was the shortest way I could think of to say that he doesn't eat ice cream. My heart sank a little.
We left with more transitioning struggles.
When we arrived at the refuge of home, Jack was still trying to come down from the struggle. I barely noticed Mason. I heard the familiar click-clack of his feet on the ceramic tile of our kitchen, but it wasn't until I looked over to him that I saw it. He was dragging the left side of his body. His front left foot touched the ground loosely. He was bearing weight with it, but on the side of his paw or the top. His paw was not reacting to the motions of walking as it should. While not as bad, his back left foot was dragging the ground.
I ran to him, but saw no signs of distress. No pain. He simply was walking strangely; it was as though he was like Jack - not motor planning his stride correctly. His foot wasn't reacting to the ground as you would expect. From my years of working as a veterinary technician in college, I knew this was a possible sign of a neurological problem.
Leaving Brian to handle Jack, I took Mason outside to see how he would react to walking on the grass, which might give him more traction than the hardwood floor and tile. Not only was he continuing to drag his left side, but he was walking in wide circles - another neurological sign.
This wasn't my first time seeing neurological signs in my pugs. Our very first pug - Skip - passed away at 12 weeks of age from what was either determined to be hydrocephalus, a congenital neurological defect, or encephalitis. He had a rapid neurological decline that included some symptoms like circling. Our second pug - Champ - passed away 2 years ago from a brain tumor that caused him to suffer for over a year.
Mason didn't seem distressed, but I remembered how quickly Skip declined. I scooped Mason up and took him inside. Brian and I agreed that he needed to go to the vet that afternoon. I called and made him an appointment for about 30 minutes later.
We went to the vet and were ushered straight into an exam room. The vet agreed that Mason was showing signs of some kind of neurological problem, but whether it was a stroke or not was unclear. It could have been trauma, but Mason hadn't had access to the stairs - which we keep gated for Jack's safety - while we were gone. He showed no nystagmus - or scanning - of his eyes, and his reflexes seemed okay. However, there was still the fact that he couldn't seem to place his left legs correctly in order to walk normally. It was causing him to stumble and circle.
Mason is 14 years old. Just 2 years ago, we tried everything to save Champy. In the last year of his life, he underwent 6 surgeries to correct what we believed to be a chronic ear infection and abscess. Instead, it was a tumor. He suffered needlessly at our hands to correct something that was - ultimately - not correctable.
Here before me was my Mason, my sweet Mason who has seen me through so much. He has seen me through getting married. He was there when the pregnancy test came back positive. He was there when I had a hemorrhage at 9 weeks and thought I was losing the baby. He was there when I was placed on bed rest for preeclampsia at 35 weeks. He was at my side all day. He would rest his head on my stomach, as though he was listening for Jack's subtle noises - his heartbeat.
He was there when Champ died. He was there when Jack's speech regressed and I felt more fear than I had ever known. He was there when Jack was diagnosed with autism. He has been there through the meltdowns, through the assaults with fists and feet, and he's stood vigil as Jack flailed, screamed, and was out of control. He stood by and watched, ensuring that Jack was okay. He's been there through my tears and the bruises. Through it all, he looked on Jack with nothing but love and understanding. It was as if he knew long before any of us. He's stood vigil ever since Jack came into existence, knowing that he was special and needed extra care.
He is my best friend. My heart. Suddenly, here I am facing the sad reality that my little love does not have the same lifespan that I do. He's aging faster than I and there is nothing I can do to stop it. In the vet's office that day, I did something I rarely do in public; I rested my head against Mason's and began to pray. I wasn't ready to lose my Mason just yet.
Luckily, that wasn't the decision I would have to face that day. We had the option of putting Mason through extensive testing to try to determine exactly what happened, but with no guarantees of getting answers or solutions. Our other alternative was to put Mason on some medication for a few days and reevaluate him early in the week. Ultimately, we decided it would be best to spare Mason the suffering from testing and to go with the medication trial.
He was able to walk, he wasn't in pain, and he didn't seem scared or distressed. If his condition stayed the same or improved, we could live with limited mobility.
As the day progressed, Mason was able to eat and use the bathroom independently, which was a big test of how he would manage. We felt better as we felt like we weren't facing the end. A couple of days later - fast forward to today. Mason's gait and mobility hasn't really improved. He can get around, but he stumbles a lot. Obviously, he can't really do stairs now, so I have 2 little ones in my house - Jack and Mason - who can't really do our stairs. It's working my upper arm muscles. We haven't seen any decline, which is a good thing. We'll know more tomorrow when we decide where to go from here, but I'm feeling much more optimistic than I was over the weekend.
I'm not ready to let go of Mason yet, but I'm glad that it doesn't appear that I have to in the immediate future. I looked at Mason last night and told him that I needed him to help me watch after Jack. I need him to take care of me. I'll never be ready to let him go, but I'll trust that he'll let me know when it's time.
Until then, I'm going to cherish each moment I have with my sweet Mason, the squishy, teddy bear of a dog whose heart is so wide that it takes on the troubles and challenges of the world and makes them all disappear with a nuzzle, a warm snuggle, and a kiss.