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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My other caregiver role

(Meathead in 2004 - his more "buff" days)

This morning at 5:00 am, I awoke to the sounds of heavy breathing and restlessness ... only to discover that one of my granddog's, Meathead, was having a Grand Mal seizure.

As some of you may remember from a previous post, Meathead has canine epilepsy! His seizures have been part of our lives since he was 3 years old. And over the last 5 years medicine management to control them has been an ever increasing and challenging responsibility.

For those who have not experienced seizures, it can be a frightening situation to view. For Meathead, he falls to his side, legs are extended in a rigid position, there is strong jerking movements, sometimes his head is arched back, he drools extensively, heavy labored breathing, and sometimes he loses stool and urine control. He has no awareness of his surroundings. For Meathead, that state can last about 60 seconds - which feels like a long 60 minutes when it is happening to a loved one.

Post seizure disorientation can be almost as unsettling. He seems to come awake, but doesn't know his surroundings and cannot focus on any one thing. He paces quickly around in circles and pants greatly like he is overheated. Stairways need to be blocked because he can not safely manage to descend them during this period. Eventually he pulls out of this disorientation, able to focus on you when you say his name. The panting slowly subsides and usually he falls asleep. This period can last from 15 minutes to 2 hours.

How do we manage this condition?

Meathead is on 2 seizure drugs given twice a day. Since the age of 3 he has been on an ever increasing dose of potassium bromide. When that medication alone couldn't prevent seizures (as frequent as twice a month), he was started on phenobarbital. That combination of meds reduced his seizure activity to occasional strange behavior and extended his grand mal seizures episodes to about 6 months apart. A big improvement. But epilepsy is never cured, just controlled. There are breakthrough seizures, like we had this morning - always heartbreaking to watch.

Managing the actual seizure has become almost second nature for me. I try to remain calm (although my brain and heart are in overdrive), I administer 1 cc of Valium rectally to ward off any repeat seizures (cluster seizures are also a part of his history), stairways are blocked, noise and lights are reduced in the area, and an ice pack is placed on his lower back. Otherwise, we are just calmly present for him waiting for the episode to pass. It always does.

So here I sit, now 6:40 am in the morning, wide awake with a morning coffee, trying to work off the Adrenalin that shot into my system at 5:00 am. Meathead is peacefully asleep on the couch trying to catch up on the rest he missed for the last 90 minutes.

In moments of reflection I often wonder how is it that some people get a life time of care giving for others, while some folks never have to care for anyone other than themselves. Is it because I can, that I was born with a predisposition to help and assist others? If my nature was less wired in this fashion, would my caregiver load be less? Or is it something that is common to all humans? Is it an element of our natures that is developed and refined by practice?

I don't know the answer, but I know I have had my fair share of experience in this role. I held the traditional role of caregiver to our children. Mom is my third elderly relative to require extended assistance. My cat has degenerative kidney disease and needs subcutaneous fluids every other day to live. My husband's eyes are failing (my next care giving assignment, I am sure). My son's dog has epilepsy.

I have had a lot of practice in this role.

So now it is 7:30 am, the coffee isn't keeping me alert. I would really love to just take a morning nap. But in an hour, mom will be up ...

Better get a second cup of coffee.


  1. My folks had a black lab with epilepsy. I never witnessed a seizure but apparantly it was quite frightening.
    You have your hands full my dear. You have a heart for caring for others.

  2. That is frightening. Many years ago, I worked in a nursing home and we had a resident with epilepsy. She didn't have seizures very often, but when she did it was hard to watch.
    You must be a very good caregiver as you are "chosen" over and over again.
    Some people end up only caring for themselves because that is all they will open up their lives for. Themselves.
    But you do wonder how others' lives just fall into a "perfect little place" with nary a stress or interruption to their routine...

  3. Oh my goodness that is a heavy duty job - good luck. It is scary.

  4. So sorry that you have to care for sick pets too. I hope Meathead is feeling better, as well as your cat. You do go above and beyond for everyone. I hope your husband's eye condition is treatable, and that he's not suffering. In addition to being such an amazing caregiver, I hope that you are able to spend a little time taking care of yourself. Julie

  5. I do think some of us are gifted (at birth?) with a special thing that will come in useful later on. I was always an extremely light sleeper. Mother could come to the doorway of my bedroom to look in on me and I'd wake up (tho' I didn't let her know). So I always heard my "patients" when they roused in the night or needed something. I used to say that someone could merely turn over in their bed and I'd wake up!
    Yes, I think you have a gift for caregiving. That doesn't mean, tho, that it's not a challenging job.
    God bless you. He's certainly blessing those in your care, too.

  6. Oh poor Meathead.
    Maybe because you are caring and loving and so well at the job of caregiver, God has put these people and animals in your life. You have certainly made all their lives much better.

  7. Thank you all.

    I am really not amazing. I make plenty of mistakes, I get angry at mom sometimes, I get down about my lot in life at other times and I just sometimes wonder what it would be like to just take care of myself and no one else. Would that be just too boring? :-)

    I joke with my husband that at times that I want to get in the car and just drive away. He looks at me and says, be sure to call your sister first to come and get your mom. :-) I wouldn't leave, of course. But the thought has crossed my mind more than once.

    And Happy One, as for God putting people and animals in my life that need me... well, I hope he is sometimes listening to my request to "Cool your jets! I am at my max right now, so send problems somewhere else for awhile." Maybe he hears and maybe he just ignores.

    Believe me, I am far from perfect, but I do try, everyday, I try.

  8. Oh my. I worry about the toll that all this takes on the caregiver. I know firsthand that there is a toll so do take care of yourself whatever that may mean. Time off is what it would mean for me. Time off to do what you enjoy. My little poodle has seizures and I hate to give her the meds because she's loopy every day on them. I watch her carefully and if she is tending toward a rough patch, I start giving her the phenobarb again. Thankfully, there have been no seizures for months now. It can't be easy to watch your sweet granddog go through one of these as he's so much larger. Sigh.

  9. that is so sad about Meathhead with the seizures. I'm sure it is frightening for all, but it seems like you have it under control. Care giving is hard work, I do hope you have a chance every once in awhile to do something for yourself or get some needed time alone; definitely essential for one providing care!


  10. Head scritches to Meaty - hugs to you, Linda


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