30 January 2010

25 January 2010

A Dog's Life - Nearing the End

Today, Max should have had a bone biopsy but that didn't happen. 

On our arrival at the surgery, the vet showed us the x-rays, now returned by the other practice, and it was very clear that subjecting Max to another general anaesthetic was pointless.  I had seen Max's earlier, normal-appearing x-rays in November and the sight now set before me was astonishing.  Our discussions with the vet led us to the inescapable conclusion that we were dealing with osteosarcoma, not osteomyelitis, there being no signature symptoms of the lesser condition. 

The vet to whom the x-rays had been passed for review had also commented on the risk of fracturing the leg in the process of performing the biopsy.  Even were that not to occur, Max's already weakened bone would be even more compromised by the removal of enough tissue to make the ensuing tests reliable.  With such a strong diagnosis, there was no point making Max's remaining life any shorter or less comfortable by conducting a pointless investigation.  We also declined the offer of further radiography to look for metastatic disease which may or may not have shown up but which the vet had assured us would by now almost certainly be present.

All that remains is to take Max home, keep him comfortable, and spoil him (even more) until that saddest-of-times arrives.  It will certainly be sooner than we had expected, with Max being only about 7 years old, and he showed signs last night of being less comfortable...

22 January 2010

A Dog's Life - Update

We heard today that the other vet was quite concerned but could not come to a definite conclusion about whether it was cancer or osteomyelitis.  He suggested a bone biopsy, and Max is going in on Monday for that.  There is a risk that his tibia could be fractured in the process...  That could mean losing the leg below the knee - not the worst thing on earth for a domestic dog but, hey, let's hope for the best.

Looking at Max, apart from the horribly pronounced limp and unwillingness to stand on the leg when stationary, you would not know there is anything wrong with him.  He is just getting on with being a dog (I think there's a lesson in there somewhere), and still wants to play and go for walks.  Certainly, he doesn't seem like something with advanced cancer.  He's quite comfortable, being up to his ears in pain-killers.

The vet told me today that osteomyelitis, while serious, is treatable, and he could yet have a good quality of life, even though the bone will not regain its full strength.

We're not sure how long it will be until we get the results of the biopsy but when we do we'll let you know.

21 January 2010

A Dog's Life

I cannot really explain the intensity of feeling that grips me as I write this.  Suffice it to say that tears have been shed because events I hoped lay many years in the future now potentially lie only a matter of weeks away.

Those who have followed Max's story in this blog will be aware of the difficulties he has experienced with his knees, having had major surgery to compensate for the loss of both cruciate ligaments.  Those difficulties were visited on us again in November last year when Max started limping once more on his left leg, the first he had repaired.  We returned him to the vet who had operated on him, and he agreed with us that there may have been a problem with the metal plate that had been inserted, or the degree of arthritis known to be in the joint had worsened.  Since his bones were fully repaired and the plate redundant, it was felt that the best course of action would be to take the plate out and see what happened.  The procedure was simple, and recovery straightforward.

After ten days, the stitches were removed and normal exercise resumed, perhaps a little too quickly because Max started limping again.  We slowed him down for a while, and got him a course of anti-inflammatories from the vet.  We were pleased to see he improved and got back to his normal, active self.  X-rays showed no change, so we were confident that the plate had been the problem and his post-op lameness the result of soft tissues taking time to heal.

Then came the snow which, in our area, was quickly compacted to sheet ice.  Max began sliding about and limping again.  Even worse, he began holding up his leg when standing.  We suspected more ligament damage that was not getting chance to heal because of the icy conditions.  Back to the vet we went, and more anti-inflammatories were prescribed.  Ten days later he was, if anything, worse and so yesterday we went once more to the local vet for x-rays.

The news was not good.  The x-rays showed poor bone density in his tibia, the type of condition seen in either bone cancer or osteomyelitis, neither of which has a good prognosis.  The x-rays have been sent to the other vet for comparison and clarification of the diagnosis.  If cancer is confirmed, we can expect Max to have only a few weeks to live, due to the aggressive nature of the disease.  If the other condition, there is little that can be done to restore the strength of the bone, which grows more and more likely to fracture irreparably; however long that may be held at bay, his days of charging about are over.

We expect to hear more on Friday.

He, of course, understands none of this.  We however, face losing our wonderful friend, a dearly-loved family member.  Oh, how painful that thought is.  Oh, how we shall miss him...

09 January 2010

Snow - Wonderful Stuff

Snow - wonderful stuff.

This was New Year's day 2010. Six inches of snow fell overnight.  We had been to a New Year's bash overnight and could not get our car back home.  The last part of our journey was on foot through this winter wonderland.  Mind you, the driving was a challenge...

Since then, we've had another 3 inches or so, and more is forecast.

04 January 2010

How to Drive in Snow

Since parts of the UK are gripped in the ravages of winter once more, I thought I would publish this sound advice for people who need to drive in icy conditions.  I've also followed these simple rules with explanations for their importance.
  1. Stay at home.
  2. Drive much slower than you would if there were no snow.
  3. Leave much more space between you and the car in front.
  4. Keep engine revs low.
  5. Use the highest gear possible without labouring the engine (1 is low, 5 is high).
  6. Don't brake, steer or accelerate suddenly or harshly.
  7. To slow the car, ease your foot off the accelerator and change down through the gears rather than using the brakes.
  8. If you skid, turn into the skid to straighten the car (i.e., if your back-end goes left, steer left, if it goes right, steer right).
  9. If you have skidded, you are going too fast.  Slow down by easing off the gas.
  10. Show other road users some patience.  Watch out for pedestrians.
  11. Roads that were ploughed and gritted yesterday may well be less safe today.
I have been prompted to publish this because of my experiences over the Christmas/New Year period.  People driving cars with four-wheel drive and ABS (Automatic Breaking System) seem to think they are immune to the hazards of snow and ice.  They are not.  In fact, ABS is useless on ice and, if you have four wheels on a sheet of ice, you have no guarantee that four-wheel drive will keep you moving in your chosen direction.  People get too close and drive too fast.  Even if you are immune, the car in front may not be; if the car in front gets into difficulty, and you are too close and too fast, you will hit it.

Here is some explanation of the rules.
  1. You are much safer in your home (unless your home is on a very icy bend!).
  2. You must do everything smoothly and slowly or you will lose control.  You must therefore reduce the chances of losing control by giving yourself time to act.
  3. Other people may lose control and you have to react to the situation ahead of you.  You must therefore give yourself enough space (and thus time).
  4. The point of this is to reduce the power being delivered to the driving wheels.  More power means more likelihood of losing grip.  For the same reason, it is a good idea to allow a cold engine to warm up before setting off so that the automatic choke is no longer raising your engine speed.
  5. This also reduces power at the wheels.  Get out of first as soon as you are moving, or even pull away in second.  If your car will pull in third once moving, use third as soon as you can.
  6. Steering, braking and acceleration rely on your tyres having grip on the road.  Move too suddenly and you will come unstuck.
  7. Using the gears in this way will keep your wheels turning but slow the car down.  Using the brakes will lock the wheels and slide you into the ditch.  You need space and time for this (see rules 2 & 3).
  8. Steering into the skid keeps the front of your car in front of the back.  If your car has rear-wheel drive you may like to put a couple of bags of sand in the boot.  This weighs down the back end, giving it more traction and inertia, making it less likely to slide about.
  9. Speed is your enemy.  Better to arrive at your destination late than explain your sudden appearance to your Maker.  Better late than 'late'.
  10. You may feel confident, others may not.  You may think you know what you are doing.  Be aware that others do not or are very nervous on ice.  If you lose patience, you will become a danger to yourself and others.  Pedestrians use the road because the paths are not clear.  They tend to wear inappropriate footwear and can slip into your path without warning.  They are soft and squishy. 
  11. Snow blows about.  More snow falls.  Salt washes away.  You never really know what you are driving on.  Never assume anything.
Here are some extra pointers.  Take a spade in case you need to dig yourself out.  Take extra clothing in case you get stranded; some boots in case you have to walk.  Take a phone.  Take some lengths of carpet with you: if you can't get out of a rut, put the carpets on the ground in front of and touching your drive-wheels (if you are trying to go forwards) and drive over them.  Don't leave them behind in case you need them again.

I hope someone finds this helpful.  Unless your journey is absolutely necessary, stay at home.  If you must drive, be a safer driver.