(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.