I have a dog named Grendel. He’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and has the build of a Basset Hound; short, stocky, and heavy. I haven’t talked about him here for a few years; life’s just been rolling along for us. He’s my pet and I treat him like one…he makes my life better and I make his as happy as possible. I don’t expect much out of him. He’s more like a cat than a dog in that he’s usually sleeping when we’re home; he doesn’t need to play, he’ll let me pet him and hold him whenever I want, but he’s usually just fine curled up like a crescent roll, keeping a sleepy, hairy eyeball on me. Grendel tends to follow my schedule for sleeping and waking, but will put himself to bed if I’m pulling a late-nighter. He knows some words and commands, but also just follows my biorhythms. We’re just so very compatible. He’s named after the monster in Beowulf, something that couldn’t be more of a misnomer.
One night in March, I woke to Grendel having a seizure. The bed was shaking, the room was dark, I didn’t have my glasses on, but reflexively grabbed him before convulsed himself off the bed to the concrete floor. I blindly pulled him to the middle of the queen-sized bed so it was surrounding him with padding as he shook. Adding light and my glasses, I saw his little body shaking so hard, his mouth foaming, the bed being soiled. I said soothing things, hoping it would end as soon as it had begun. Looking at the clock, it took about two minutes for the seizure to stop, but he didn’t gain awareness for another few minutes. He was dripping with saliva, his eyes were so big, his ears were back, and my usually independent cat-dog just wanted to be held. Then, it was another hour of tending to him before he seemed to be Grendel again.
I spent the next hours before dawn scouring the internet for what could be expected next. Why did he have a seizure? What did it mean? Would there be more? Is he okay? Is he hurt? Do I need to take him to the emergency vet? Is my dog broken? I called my vet and made an appointment for as soon as they could get me in that day, once it was open. Nothing I’d read made it sound like it was an emergency situation and I certainly don’t have the income to go all-out for just any kind of care my fraying nerves seem to think is necessary. Later that day, I took him to see Dr. Mary Philippson at Ark Pet Hospital in New Brighton. What’s important in a veterinarian is not only what they know and how they treat your animal, but how they treat us, the owners. And Dr. Mary has this serenity about her that puts me at ease. She assured me that Grendel felt no pain during the seizure, something which worried me most. The sight was so horrific, but I was relieved that he didn’t even know it had happened. We ran a battery of tests, Grendel turned out to be really healthy, and she gave me the same explanation of what seizures might mean as given by Dr. McCarl in our Vet Q&A in this issue (pg. 33). We decided that it must have been a glitch, a “one-off” seizure. Still, it took both Grendel and me a few days to recover. We were both a little spooked.
Life went on, Grendel and I continued our happy life together, just loving to loaf around and be near each other. One evening in June, Grendel suddenly had another seizure. Like the other time, as abruptly as it started, it stopped, and my waggy-tailed dog was suddenly back and looking for love. He even seemed to be smiling.
Grendel ended up having four seizures in 18 hours. After the first three which kept us both up most of the night, I knew I had to take him to see Dr. Mary. That’s the thing, once her eyes were on Grendel, I would feel that much better. Handling the seizures solo through the night, I started to know what to expect each time, and had a routine by the end of them. But, not knowing what was to come was exactly what I needed from the vet. I’d been ugly-crying for hours by the time we saw her and I just gestured to my face and leaking eyes when I saw her calm expression, “Yeah, this’ll just keep happening. It’s not going to stop.” But, it was okay and we were okay. She took blood and checked him out, I sat on the floor of the exam room with my 48-pounder on my lap for a few hours, waiting for the results. I didn’t want to go home and be alone without knowing what was going on.
As it happens, what was happening is likely epilepsy. It wasn’t anything to do with the rest of his body, but something in his head was causing seizures. It was time to try phenobarbital. It was time to get up off the floor. It was time to go home. It was time to recover.
That was a month ago. Since then, Grendel’s gotten a half a pill every 12 hours to control his seizures. He’s slower due to the sedative effect, but seems to be getting faster every day, with the exception of a little drag in his hind feet. It was a rough recovery, but we’ve made it this far. What caused this epilepsy? We don’t know. What stopped the seizures? Medication. What stopped my fear? Dr. Mary and a whole lot of people telling me that they have dogs on meds and that everyone is doing just fine.
So, you might notice in our Vet Q&A that the questions echo what I’ve written here: seizures, what to do when it’s your pet’s time to pass on, and whether or not dogs smile. In those 18 hours of four seizures, those are the subjects that overtook my mind. From the heavy to the light…because, I swear, after each of his seizures, my blue-eyed dog gave me the goofiest grin when I gathered him into my arms. To me, he was smiling (just as I was, through the tears).
He’s my heart on a leash. Out there. Toddling along, curled up in the corner. Appearing to be more badass than he really is. My monster heart. My vulnerable heart. My epileptic heart.