Wednesday, March 25, 2015

After Surgery: From Wild and Wound Up to Wonderful Companion

There are many times and ways in which we are tested throughout our lives.  Those tests are often more interesting when it comes to the ways in which our dogs, our BFFs and life companions, are involved.  During the course of the last year, my life has been dramatically altered and we’ve been tested in many ways-including our daily endeavors raising Cinder.
Shortly after Cinder came to live with us in February 2014, as a wee little pup, I suffered traumatic and evolving, increasingly debilitating back issues.  At first, I thought it to be the result of straining to take care of my horse’s abscessed hoof-she jerked away from me while I was holding her hoof to dress it. I thought that I merely wrenched my back and I’d easily recover fairly quickly.  That was not the case at all.  Three months later, I was in horrendous pain regardless of what or how I did anything; and the act of breathing alone even caused horrible pain.  That was the beginning of life with Cinder-I was devastatingly hurt and increasingly limited by a growing loss of mobility and escalating pain.  Despite my limiting mobility issues, I continued to work with Cinder and taught her a number of tricks, basic obedience, swimming, and various outdoor retrieval games.  She progressed well despite my limits-and hers.

I discovered that Cinder was “reactive” during the spring (2014), when our 40 year record winter yielded to Spring and we were finally able to get out and do things away from home.  Her reactivity was somewhat a surprise and caused us both serious angst; and I sought the assistance of a behavioral specialist to guide us and teach me how to work with Cinder as a reactive dog.  It was one of the toughest challenges I’ve faced in a lifetime of training and competing dogs and horses.  I knew what reactive dogs were, but I’d never had one to need to know how to work with the special challenges reactivity creates for the dog and the dog’s handlers.  There are some key things to know and do-or not do- when your dog is reactive.  We had to isolate the things that make Cinder reactive so we could address them.  We spent all summer working on improving her reactivity and responses; and my handling her through her reactive periods.  We made great strides despite all the issues we had.  We made enough progress that I put her into an obedience class in the Fall and she ultimately did quite well; and went on to doing a tricks class too.  Our goals became broader as I saw her successes in class; and I’d hoped to put her through more obedience and ultimately, tackle agility.  But, alas, my back issues flared up in extreme, inexplicable ways and put everything, including Cinder’s training, on hold.  By Christmas (2014) I'd become almost completely immobilized-my pain was constant and my left leg was barely functional on my best days. I'd had numerous falls and near falls because my leg would suddenly lose all feeling and mobility as I was walking and I'd fall. I couldn't go anywhere or do anything without help.  Our Christmas was my greatest misery, unable go places and do things I'd normally love to be doing. Brian was taking care of everything including me.  It had to end so I got a new doctor and we began a new journey toward regaining my health and life.

In January I finally got in to see a neurologist and it was determined that I needed surgery. Now, March 25th, we’ve arrived at the point where I had major back surgery on March 9, 2015 .  One of what could be several depending on a lot of variables over the next year.  Many people undergo back surgery, but few tell the “gory details” of life immediately following.  I am only 2.5 weeks out of surgery, waiting to get the stitches out of my back this Friday. My restrictions are simple and in place for six weeks: NO bending, lifting, twisting, or laying on my back more than two hours; always “log roll” from side to side in bed; only sit upright with shoulders aligned over hips for 40 minutes, 3-4 times a day; walk as much as possible but only if someone can be with me.  Essentially the restrictions seem easy until you realize that they totally preclude a normal life.  Life is filled with bending, twisting, lifting, and sitting upright so life NOT doing those things is actually pretty limiting and very challenging.  If you drop something, you don’t think twice about bending to pick it up; but what if you’re not able to bend and pick it up?  The simplest things become total challenges.  Frankly, even going to the bathroom is a matter of some bending and twisting so imagine that process!  This is my life for now-I have no life.  I do have hope for a better life at the end of my recovery and rehab, but I have a far more thorough understanding of physical disabilities and their daily living challenges in doing things most people take for granted. Since I'm a specialist in both communication and disabilities, I hope my new-found comprehension will help me help others.
This is a time when, if you have dogs, they either rise or shrink and fail to meet the challenges of your inability to function normally and all the changes that accompany your life following a surgery or change in your physical ability to function.  Most dogs do fairly well adapting to things like that, but some don’t; and others are exceptional.  I’m going to brag that my Border Collies have been exceptional!  Gilley and Buzz lived through my knee replacement and rehab period, so they’ve already had some experience with the same sorts things as we're experiencing now. Cinder was the questionable one since she’s still young, high energy, and she’s reactive. She's never had to experience a my total inability to do anything; the myriad of home healthcare professionals trekking in/out; the long periods of me sleeping or resting, doing nothing; and the total change in life and lifestyle my surgery has caused us all.
Cinder’s been wonderful overall.  We had a few hiccups when my friend Andrea came to stay and help for the first two weeks.  Cinder liked Andrea, but Andrea’s constant presence seemed to truly rock Cinder’s world. Cinder essentially came out to greet everyone in the morning-she’s ALWAYS so totally energetic about greeting me BEFORE she goes potty.  After her breakfast, she essentially exiled herself to her hallway area, coming out only to go outside, eat, visit me briefly, and return to her hall.  Even when Brian came home after work, she remained hesitant to come join us in the living room and quickly went back to her hall. We didn’t lock her there, she went there on her own.  However, in the wee hours of the morning, when it was just us, she would come to me in my recliner and hop up onto my lap.  As I reclined, she would nestle in on top of me ever so calmly and gently; laying with me, snuggling for up to two hours.  

When Andrea left last week, Cinder’s self-imposed exile ended.  As I am currently all but living in our recliner, including sleeping there instead of the bed with Brian, Cinder’s set up a zone of her own around the recliner from which she doesn’t move away.  Rather than playing and wrestling with the boys or running through the house jumping on everything like a maniac, she’s become a very calm, quiet little therapy and assistance dog.  If I sleep, she sleeps on or beside me.  If I get up, she walks calmly beside me. Her only deviations are to ask to go outside or eat.  She’s become the best little companion dog an invalid or disabled person could hope for.  Even my Gilley, also the epitome of awesomeness, has relented and allowed Cinder the position of closest guardian over me, while he remains close but a bit more removed to stay out of the way, but always in reach and eyeshot.  Buzz remains normal-always looking for the light and shadows dancing, but when he’s not, he too is a very gentle soul and companion. However, when Buzz jumps on me in the recliner, he's not nearly so graceful and artful about his positioning as Cinder!

Overall, Cinder’s training hasn’t really stopped, but rather, evolved from focus on obedience, tricks, and agility to a focus on life manners, therapeutic behaviors, and service.  She’s learned to retrieve things I drop; open and close doors, cabinets, and drawers; her ability to read and interpret my movements when walking has greatly improved and enables her to position herself better so she’s with me but not in my way. Innately, she seems to know when I’m worn out or don’t feel well, and she responds with gentleness and affection I can’t actually explain.  She’s learned that quiet is golden and the time for rowdy is during playtime or outside, but not any time she wants.  She’s learned to sit or lay down out of the way as I clean up and dress; or do things in the kitchen.  When she hops on me in the recliner, she’s learned exactly how, when, and where to land so she doesn’t hurt me; and then lays quietly with me instead of squirming.  She’s blossomed into an excellent companion, guardian, and generally therapeutic friend.  Considering she’s a young Border Collie, these are very difficult things to learn when she’d much prefer running full tilt through the house and outside, jumping on and over everything; and definitely playing and wrestling the boys in the middle of the floor (which they now only do when Brian’s home).  She’s a very different and helpful dog now, despite all our set-backs in the training and things I wanted to be doing with her.  She’s more than passed the tests life has thrown our way from the time she arrived as a two month old pup.  If anyone had told me my feisty little ball of energy would be the epitome of calm, quiet, and helpful, I may truly have questioned that, but the proof is in our current situation and the ways she’s adapted.  The boys are excellent, but they’ve had a lot of time and experiences on their side.  For a yearling pup, Cinder’s proven a smart, sensitive, loyal companion with many great qualities.  She’s still got all the energy of a young Border Collie, but she’s learned to harness and control her energy to fit the current situation.  The big deal about all of Cinder's recent advances is that none of the behaviors were actually taught. She instinctively learned them all on her own and I've merely capitalized on them.  To me, her adapting so well and willingly is a testament to the amazing abilities of animals to know and understand far more about us than we will ever understand about them.  How has she known what she's needed to do or not do without anyone teaching her?  It is some truly God-given gift of understanding.  To me, it's nothing short of amazing.  
It’s taken me three days to write this post since my restrictions are so limiting and I don’t juggle the laptop in the recliner very well.  But that’s the update on things as we endeavor to continue life Raising Cinder.

Hopefully I will start updating the blog and Facebook page soon, but right now, my focus is on healing from my back surgery and regaining my mobility.  Meanwhile, be well and be good to yourself, your dog(s) and others! 

Cheers and God Bless You!

Chris (aka Hu-mom, Cinder’s mom)

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