One sick puppy

Diego, our dog, started limping a little, so naturally I assumed he was suffering from advanced hip dysplasia or some other severe genetic abnormality brought on by something I did or failed to do.

“Why?” I wailed to the universe, as Diego looked at me with his head cocked to the side, “Take my hip, please, just not the dog’s!” We don’t have pet insurance.

Unlike my father, who said he would only save Pepper, our sick family cat, up to $300, we would likely take out a second mortgage just to get Diego premium kibble. (To save my Dad time in commenting his defence, the cat was really old and wasn’t going to make it).

The vet thankfully disagreed with my diagnosis, saying he thought Diego had a sprained knee from “playing too hard.” Apparently my old Hebrew school teachers were right after all, there is such a thing as too much fun. (I still maintain  they were wrong though about stoning people who don’t keep Passover).

In addition to anti-inflammatory medication, the doctor prescribed a week’s worth of bed rest. For my dog.

“Did you hear that Diego?” I said, “You’re on bed rest.” Well, not officially until we get home. It’s a five minute walk from the vet and he weighs thirty pounds. We can’t both be immobilized for a week. Who is going to chase our fat cat around the house?

Opening the door, I immediately assumed my pack leader status and asked Diego, if, maybe, it wasn’t too much trouble, he wouldn’t mind taking a seat on the couch and remaining completely still for the next seven days. He looked at me, proceeded to run circles around the dining room table, backwards then forwards, finally stopped, and barked at the wall. It was going to be a long week.

“It sounds to me like he has a torn cruciate ligament,” said the dog walker, when I called to cancel Diego’s walks. Seeing as the dog walker only walks Diego twice a week, has not seen or felt his knee, has no experience with torn ligaments, and absolutely no veterinary training whatsoever, I went into complete panic mode.

While Diego moped around on three legs and dropped a ball repeatedly at my feet, I read every word ever written on cruciate ligaments. I have a profile on every single canine cruciate ligament forum and have commiserated with cruciate ligamented dog owners around the world.

“Our dogs are young,” I reassured Brindle Baby17, “they could still find a cure.”

I became the pre-eminent North American authority on cruciate ligament damage.

With all this research under my belt, I was ready to talk nitty gritty details with the vet when Diego continued to limp for another two weeks. He wasn’t just dealing with an average pet owner anymore, now he was dealing with an expert. This time, my little guy was not going home without a concrete treatment plan. I had written down questions on specific medications, diet plans, exercise regimes and surgeries I wanted to consider .

The vet again felt Diego’s outstretched knee.

“Ah, there it is,” he said. Just as I suspected.

“I don’t know how I didn’t feel this before.” Thank goodness I was on top of things.

“There’s some good news and bad news.” I know.

“Diego has a luxating patella.” Wait, what?

What the hell is a luxating patella?

“It’s a dislocating kneecap. He limps when it pops out of the socket.”

“What’s the good news!?”

“Right now it’s only grade one out of four. In a grade four, the knee can’t be popped back in and the dog may never be able to walk again,” said the vet.

“Yeah, I don’t think you sold that very well. How do we stop it from getting worse?”

“Go home and hope for the best.”

Seriously? I was completely unsatisfied with this answer. Were there no preventative measures to be taken?  No exercises to be done? No vitamins to be eaten? Nothing at all I could do to ease his discomfort, make sure Diego wasn’t in pain?

His advice was as lame as Diego’s knee and entirely unacceptable. Good thing I came prepared. I took a deep breathe. “Thank you soooooo much for your time and patience doctor. I really appreciate all your help.” Is it possible I have a luxating backbone?

As I walked Diego home, fixated on his troubled leg, my heart began to ache. How can I help him? What if eventually he can’t walk? What am I supposed to do? I love my pets and every new addition to my life with friends, nieces and nephews, but the more the circle expands the more people you have to worry about.

Years ago, one of my little nephews was diagnosed with a rare condition before he even turned one. My incredible brother and sister-in-law spent an unimaginable amount of time in the hospital with him, caring for him and comforting him. They never once complained. I wondered how they did it and how they continue to find the strength. I thought about all the people I know going through difficult times right now with health issues, grief and disappointments. My heart hurt for all of them and I marveled at their courage. I had been through some difficult times before and I worried that I maxed out my coping abilities. I worried that I already used up all my reserves of fortitude and should bad things happen, should I lose another loved one, suffer another big setback or should Diego’s knee permanently luxate, I would have nothing left to draw upon. I wouldn’t be able to recover.

Diego tugged hard on his leash pulling me forward and out of my thoughts. He wagged his tail, windshield wiper style, and looked ahead, his sign to go faster.

“Alright,” I relented, “I’ll race you home.”

We ran all the way, jumping over puddles and weaving around people on the sidewalk. Diego’s tail turned into a propeller, and as always, bad knee or not,  he beat me through the door. Out of breathe, I moved my computer aside and sat down on the couch. Diego jumped in my lap, sighed his head onto my arm and looked up at me.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if his leg is going to get worse. I don’t know how I’m going to face difficulties in the future.

I stroked Diego’s furry head until he fell asleep. I stroked his head, and hoped for the best. What else could I do?