February 14, 2005 ~ Don't You Die on Me
Saturday night. Late.
"Morgan, it's happening again," I yelled, heart in my throat, as Monty started to tumble off of the bed, and I ran to him and eased him to the floor. He attempted to get up again, took a few dizzy, stumbling steps, banged into the desk before I could stop him, stumbled, and fell to the floor again by the doorway, eyes twitching rapidly back and forth. He tried to turn to me, nuzzle my hand. I held him, soothed him, and made sure he didn't try to get up again. That time, though, it didn't stop. Ten minutes. His eyes continued their rapid movement, his head tilted and swayed, and he whimpered a little, confused and disoriented. Twenty minutes.
Thirty minutes, and it had eased some, but still continued. For the first time, I feared that Monty would be leaving us that night.
Something was seriously, seriously wrong. There isn't a more powerless and desperate feeling in the world than holding a suffering creature in your arms and knowing that there is not a thing in the world that you can do to save him. "I love you, I love you, please Monty, get better." You pray, you hope, and every ounce of your soul is focused on the creature in your arms, you hope that he takes comfort, at least, in the warmth of your hands.
It had started harmlessly enough. Thursday afternoon, I got home from work. Monty laid next to me on the couch as I read my book, and Rose played with one of her chew toys on the floor. After about a half an hour, Monty looked back at me, over his shoulder. I looked up from my book and saw that his eyes were moving rhythmically back and forth. It was odd, but I figured that perhaps he was having trouble keeping his focus on me at such an extreme head angle. He stopped, and I went back to my book.
Later that night, after dinner, Morgan and I sat at opposite ends of the couch, reading, and Monty laid curled between us, his head in my lap. "Huh." Said Morgan, at one point. I looked up. "Monty's eyes are moving back and forth."
"Really? That happened earlier... Monty!" I called his attention back to me. His eyes moved rhythmically back and forth.
"It's like the room is spinning for him, and his eyes are trying to catch up," Morgan observed.
"Try calling him off the couch."
Morgan called him off the couch, and he wobbled a bit on his way across the room. But then his eyes stopped their movement, and he seemed to have no problem walking. "That was really weird," Morgan said. "Wonder why he's dizzy?"
Friday morning, it happened again. Morgan wrote an email to the people at the Rescue, wondering if they knew what it was or if they'd ever seen anything like that in Monty before. Nancy called me, put me on speaker phone, and Tam Nancy and I conferenced about it. They'd never seen anything like that in him before, yet it was so subtle, it's not the sort of thing anyone would notice unless... well, unless he was sitting right next to her on a couch, and she happened to look in his eyes just at the right time. Not the sort of situation he was ever in at the rescue. I admitted that it was entirely possible that it has happened all along, and I'd just not happened to look at just the right instant. And Monty is pretty clumsy. I'd never thought to look at his eyes when he'd stumbled before.
It was certainly something to be concerned about, though. We decided that I'd keep a log of it over the weekend if he had any more episodes, and then take him to the vet on Monday to see what they said. The rest of the morning and midday passed without incident, but then he had three more short, mild episodes that afternoon, and another that night. They always passed within thirty seconds, and he was perfectly normal and happy in-between.
I was worried sick, though, and spent most of my day getting opinions over the phone and reading articles. I read a few articles about cataleptic seizures (related to narcolepsy), and they were very close, but not quite right. I kept an eye on his other signs. Gum color was fine. Fever? No, so he's not sick, dizzy with fever. Eyes seemed fine. Everything seemed perfectly normal. He had no pain in his ears, and hadn't shown any other signs of ear infection. Besides, he'd been on so many antibiotics for so long due to the wounded paw, it was doubtful that any sort of infection could have survived that. Perhaps some sort of seizure related to hypoglycemia or diabetes or something? But if they were seizures, they were not a common sort, for he was conscious during. It was so odd, so unsettling.
Saturday morning, not much changed. Three episodes, except that one of them lasted for several minutes, rather than the customary thirty seconds or so that we'd seen before. We began to doubt, though, that this was something that we could have missed before. It was definitely new, and a bad, bad development.
Morgan figured out that the eye movement that Monty was having is called "resting nystagmus" (rhythmic horizontal eye movement, as if the room were spinning), and with that we were better able to research things that could be wrong with him.
The most common ailment that it could be (and we hoped with all of our hearts that it was) is called "peripheral vestibular disease." Which is basically a temporary disconnect between the inner ear and the brain, so that signals that are the dog's means of balancing are all thrown off, and attacks and then constant extreme vertigo result. His symptoms matched it exactly, what with the nystagmus, the lack of balance, the stumbling and falling, and how it had started out as attacks but was now pretty constant.
Pretty awful symptoms, so why were we hoping against hope that peripheral vestibular disease is what was ailing Monty? Because peripheral vestibular disease just goes away on its own after a few days. It is temporary.
If it wasn't that and was one of the more rare causes of his symptoms, well. Monty wouldn't be with us much longer, for most everything else was fatal. Brain tumor or degenerative brain disease. And nothing could be done for him, if that were the case.
I took Monty on a hike up Jones Mountain that day for an hour and a half, and he had no incidents. It was the first long hike he had been on since his paw was injured. He was ecstatic, happily rushing along the trails with me, sniffing everything in sight, stopping periodically to get loved on and scratched. I felt a glimpse of what life will be like with an uninjured Monty, a healthy Monty. And that life looked beautifully happy.
Once we got back home again, that vision of happy normalcy was ripped away again.
We returned from the hike in high spirits. Monty laid down on the rug next to me as I took off my shoes. When I got up to go to lunch in the kitchen, though, he wanted to follow. He stumbled, weaved his way to the kitchen, and, sure enough, his eyes were moving in that disturbing, odd way again. My heart sank.
Throughout the afternoon, the attacks grew closer together, and lasted longer. They also became more severe, to the point that Monty could hardly walk during them. And by late afternoon, the eye movement and stumbling had become nearly constant, becoming more serious in waves, but always present. When he tried to shake himself, he would fall instantly and heavily to the floor.
And by that night, we were seriously worried that we were going to lose him. It was incredibly disturbing, watching him like that. Utterly unable to balance whatsoever, falling if he attempted to move, and then those eerie eye movements on top of it all. Plus, he refused his dinner, and just looked so very, very depressed.
It was a long, anxious night. When I did manage to sleep, it was in fits, and I'd wake up, heart pounding, to check that he was still alive. We left the light on so that we could see him better, there, laid out on the rug, looking nauseous and occasionally whimpering.
We don't normally allow him on the bed; he's too big. But, when he tried to climb on, seeking comfort, then fell and crashed on top of me, I gently settled him down next to me, put an arm over him, and let him settle there. We slept like that, the rest of the night, me holding Monty, Morgan holding me, cramped but better comforted, and I woke every so often to check on Monty.
Sunday brought hope. By mid-morning, Monty was showing signs of getting better. It seemed that his vertigo was no longer constant, but was coming and going in attacks once again. By Sunday night, Monty was having long periods in which he acted like his old self, and his appetite seemed to be coming back.
I can't even describe my relief.
But Morgan and I were still wary. What if this were just a small attack, warning of something serious, bound to be repeated?
First thing this morning, we made a vet appointment for this afternoon. I took Monty, who was hardly stumbling at all anymore, and was no longer bothered by nystagmus, into a small waiting room, carrying with me a urine sample and stool sample. I handed over to the tech these two items and our written log and description of attacks.
Weighed him (still 113 and a half pounds, down a little but not much). Temperature, normal. Then the vet came in, after having reviewed our written log. He talked to me about all of the symptoms. Then the tech and I held and soothed Monty while the vet examined him, tested and looked in his ears, looked in his eyes, listened to his heart, and drew blood so that he could do the full blood panel that we'd requested.
After the urine and stool tests were complete, he came back in to talk to me. I was very relieved when he confirmed that, unless the blood panel came back from the lab telling differently, he believed that Monty had idiomatic vestibular disease, and, indeed, it would go away and probably never come back again, with the exception, perhaps, of a permanent head tilt. He said that he'd call with the results of the blood panel, and we should just watch to make sure that the symptoms disappeared entirely within the next two weeks.
I'm so glad that he will be fine. I've been worried sick.