Life in Time of COVID

In this time of COVID everybody’s got to do what they got to do, but we’ve all got to do it a bit differently than we have before.  Turns out social distancing is easy when you live where and how I do.  Being a hermit kind of person, I hardly ever see another human being anyway, so practicing more of that now is no biggie.

Getting the mail is one of those things that has to get done on a fairly regular basis.  The mailbox cluster where my mail is delivered is twenty-five miles from town and five miles from my property.  Lots of people in my county have to go much farther for their mail, so I’m pretty happy about how close mine is.  I like to sometimes hike out for the exercise, but not on a day like today.

It’s springtime in New Mexico.  That means the weather can present itself as any one of the seasons — at any time.  This morning it was a normal spring day, which is to say clouds were scudding across a blue sky and the wind was blowing like a !@#$%^!

My friend Laura, who lives about four miles from me, was going to pick up her mail and asked if I’d like her to get mine.  She’d leave it in a tire that’s not far from the county road, less than two miles from my gate.  We’ve left stuff for each other in that tire in the past.  It’s almost equidistant for each of us, though she’s got a lot more of a climb if she chooses to hike it instead of drive.

So, beautiful spring day?  Good day for a hike.  I sneaked out of the house, leaving Rosie behind because that’s a bit of a distance for her stubby legs, and started off for the tire.  The temperature gauge said it was in the mid 40s but I knew with that brisk wind it would feel colder, so I dressed appropriately.  I had a silk wild rag around my neck in case I needed it for a hat or a balaclava, wore knit gloves, plus there were four layers on my torso, the bottom one cotton and not silk because hey, it’s spring, and I’ve been overly warm lately with my usual layers.  The top layer was a Purdey shooting jacket, lightweight but a decent windbreaker.  As you’d expect from a good shooting jacket. 

I was quite comfy.

Out away from the weather shadow of the mesas it was a different story.  The wind was clearly coming straight from the Arctic Circle without pausing to warm up between there and here.  It was blowing hard enough that it boosted my speed as I walked up the grade towards the county road.  I was still okay.  My hands were a little cold but my jacket was doing its job and my back was further insulated by my small pack. 

About half a mile from the tire, I saw the first flakes of snow.  Snow?  No way was I turning around.  Besides, I could see patches of blue sky — how bad could it get?

Never ask that question.

By the time I got to the tire the temperature had dropped, the snow had picked up, and the blue up above was hiding behind dark clouds.  I grabbed the plastic bag that contained my mail and headed back towards the wind break of a thick juniper tree before taking the time to stuff the bag’s contents into my backpack.  I also rearranged my clothes.  I zipped up my fleece vest to the neck, turned up the collar of my jacket, and buttoned it up to the top.  I tried pulling the handkerchief over my nose but I couldn’t breathe — never have been able to breathe through cloth — so I just pulled it up over my mouth.  Then I shouldered my backpack and headed out into the wind.

The difference in temperature between the shelter of the juniper and out in the open was a good lesson in wind chill.  My layers and buttoning up kept me not exactly warm but at least not cold.  I thought it best to get a move on since that would help increase my body temperature.  Hypothermia is a real thing.  Been there done that.  

The hike back home was not nearly as easy as the hike out.  I was walking into the wind now and it was ripping the breath right out of my lungs.  I didn’t let myself dwell on how uncomfortable I was — something I learned back in the day when I was endurance racing.  I just put one foot in front of the other and kept my mind blank, since thinking about writing (which I had been doing on the hike to the tire) was not happening anymore.

By the time I got a few hundred yards from the cattle pens even the wind shadow of the mesa wasn’t helping.  It was snowing heavily now, hard little pellets that stung when they hit my face, numb as the skin was. 

I noticed that the cattle had all taken shelter in the lee of junipers and pinon pines, and were watching intently, their white faces giving away their hiding places in spite of the white stuff being shot from the sky.  I envied them their shelter. 

They were mooing.  How odd.  Was it the weather?  Certainly they wouldn’t care about me, a hiker they’d watched go by many times before.  

The cows started to heave themselves up.  They left the trees, headed for me.  I couldn’t understand what was going on, until finally I turned around to see a truck hauling a trailer, moving at a crawl behind me.  The wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t hear the engine.

It was my neighbor ranchers.  They had come to pick up a cow, one I’d not really paid attention to as I walked by earlier.  She was lying down not far from the pen, but not near enough to be sheltered by the fence or anything else, either.  The rancher said she’d been there for two days.  Something was wrong with her back legs or her hind end, and they were going to try to get her in their stock trailer or, failing that, leave her food and water till they could figure out something else.

I volunteered to help.  Of course I did.  “Something else” for a range cow isn’t always what the cow has in mind.

The next half hour or more was an exercise in patience.  Repositioning the trailer multiple times.  Attempting to get her to stand.  Attempting to pull her in.  It wasn’t my cow, so I couldn’t make any suggestions.  I did help direct the maneuvering of the trailer and occasionally helped roll her onto her side or upright again, but mostly I just held the gate open so the wind wouldn’t slam it closed on all of us. 

The neighbor ranchers had a plan, but the cow had not been consulted during its development.  She was not inclined to help, though she was not fighting.  She seemed more interested in being scritched on the forehead.  Unfortunately she’s a big cow, and a big cow that isn’t helping is a cow that one man and two women are not getting into a trailer, even with ropes, a make-shift ramp, and come-alongs. 

Finally I had to leave.  It was snowing like crazy, I wasn’t moving around enough to generate enough heat so I was freezing.  I had to leave.  I offered my phone at the house if they needed it.  As I left they said they’d probably just leave her with the food and water and come back with more people and  more help tomorrow.

Unfortunately, all the other cattle wanted that food and water just as much.  Poor cow wasn’t going to get much if she couldn’t get up.

The rest of the way home was tough going.  The wind was still blowing, the snow was still snowing, and did I mention the wind?  If I hadn’t been that close to a house with a wood stove cranking out heat, I’d have been in real trouble.  But I was that close and that made all the difference.  First thing I did after warming my stiff fingers was make myself a hot toddy with plenty of honey to warm me up from the inside as I warmed up from the outside.  

Since I’ve been back in the house the snow has stopped and started several times.  The wind notched itself down a bit, but the forecast is for gusts up to 40 MPH overnight.  The temp has dropped to 32° (before sunset as I write this), and it’ll go down into the teens tonight.  But at this very moment the sun’s shining again and when I went out to see if the cow was still there, I noticed my hops plants survived the winter and are already a foot tall. 

That’s springtime in New Mexico for you.  

Aftermath:

I brought the cow some munchies after I fed my horses.  Her herd mates had abandoned her, so she got a big pile of hay all to herself.  Of course I asked permission first, and in doing so I found out that they’ll be back in the morning with a new plan for loading her, along with more muscle.  

Not my muscle, mind you.  

 

Happy News in Trying Times (Rosie Update)

The recent new medical term for me was not corona virus — at least not last month.  Instead it was brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome.  No, not my airway – Rosie’s.

Brachycephalic means “shortened head”.  The syndrome goes by various acronyms.  I’ll settle for BAOS, which along with the others refers to a cluster of anatomic abnormalities seen in brachycephalic breeds that contribute to dysfunction of the upper airway.  

You’ve seen lots of dogs that are brachycephalic – pugs, bulldogs, boxers, Frenchies, and other breeds that have been developed to have shorter heads and noses than those of their ancestors.  They’re cute — but because of the changes in physiology brought about by those short heads and noses, they tend to have breathing difficulties. 

Signs and symptoms of BOAS in order of seriousness

  1. Breathing difficulty: Noisy/labored breathing.   Open-mouth breathing.  Extending head and neck to keep airway open.
  2. Stress and heat intolerance during exercise.
  3. Snoring/gagging/choking/regurgitation/vomiting/susceptibility to pneumonia.
  4. Collapse/death

The symptoms seem to show up when a dog’s around four.  Rosie came to me with the condition.  I thought at first she was panting so much because she’d gone from about 5000’ altitude to 7000’, but she never acclimated.  In fact, she got worse over the first several months, arriving here at level 1-2, and moving on to level 3 in short order.  I couldn’t sleep at night worrying that she was going to die.

In January I took Rosie to my vet to have her spayed.  We discussed her BOAS issue and the consequences of not treating it.  Rosie’s condition would be aggravated by heat come summer, and by being overweight.  She was overweight partly because she couldn’t exercise.  She couldn’t exercise because she couldn’t breathe.  She could never rest deeply, because she was always struggling for breath.  She was always starved for oxygen.  Her whole body was stressed with the effort of trying to suck in air. 

Not only all that, but over time the cartilage of her trachea could collapse and she would suffocate to death — if she didn’t die from pneumonia first.

What a horrible way to go.  My vet couldn’t do the surgery, so he recommended a veterinary hospital in Albuquerque.  I made the arrangements and in mid-February I handed the leash of my little dog over to a veterinary tech, worried as hell and not a little afraid for the outcome, too.

First, Rosie had to be sedated for the surgical veterinarian to examine her to determine the position of the soft palate, checking for masses and/or extra pharyngeal tissue, and evaluating the laryngeal, tonsil, pharynx, and upper airway structures.  The good news was that there was no evidence of cancer as a cause, nor was there any evidence of tissue erosion due to regurgitation/vomiting.  To no one’s surprise, Rosie was a prime candidate for surgery. 

The bad news was that Rosie’s trachea is way small for her size.  Her airway structure was such that even with the surgery Rosie would always have breathing issues.  Still, the laser surgery to trim the extra tissues would mean she’d have a chance at a longer and more comfortable life.  So I gave the word to go ahead.  

The procedure

To cut to the chase, everything went swimmingly.  Within short order Rosie was coming out of the anesthesia.  Not that she was going to be released to come home.

Rosie needed to be under close observation till the next day, just in case.  Any swelling would close her airway.  Any vomiting in reaction to drugs, to the surgery itself, or any number of reasons, could cause her to aspirate into her lungs.  Any excitement or activity that would cause her to breathe heavily could cause bleeding that she might aspirate into her lungs.

When I picked her up I was a nervous wreck.  Rosie was still mildly sedated but even so she was panting and hacking and generally doing everything the vet told me to discourage.  She would not calm down.  Worse, the sedative I was supposed to give her was a prescription I had to pick up before leaving town.  My friend Laura was with me.  We took turns walking Rosie around the Wal-Mart parking lot very slowly while waiting for the prescription, during which time a new issue developed – Rosie couldn’t stop peeing.  Nobody had mentioned anything about this.  She was dripping pee all over the place, and panting, and gagging, and making all kinds of horrible sounds. 

I was beyond myself and I’m sure my agitation wasn’t helping Rosie at all.  In my defense I thought my dog was going to die!  I cursed the pharmacy for taking so long, cursed Rosie, cursed the veterinary hospital, cursed the Department of Transportation for every bump in the road as we headed for home, and cursed anything else I could think of to curse, including myself for having agreed to rescue this problem dog.

When the sedative hit her system and Rosie went to sleep in the back seat, I almost wept in relief.

Post-surgery at home

House training seemed to be a thing of the past.  Rosie pooped in the house.  She peed — big lakes everywhere on my floors.  This was a dog that just a day or two before had no problem at all using the dog door to go outside.

I emailed my vet.  He said it was the steroid, prednisone, that was meant to keep the swelling down but that also made her pee a lot.  But why was she going potty inside?  The dog door was the same one that had been there two days ago, that she used just fine.

Worse, Tux the tomcat started peeing in the house, too.

I may never know the reasons for that sudden failure of house training, but I did not allow myself to yell at Rosie and trusted that over time it would improve.  In fact, while it seemed to take forever for Rosie’s training to kick in again it was only a matter of a week.  Tux, it turned out, had a UTI and is on meds for that.  Thank the gods.

Meanwhile, I had to keep Rosie sedated if I couldn’t keep her calm.  I had to soak her food, couldn’t let her chew on bones, couldn’t let her out of the house or her dog pen lest she start to breath heavily, couldn’t let her get overheated lest she start panting, couldn’t let her bark.

Let me tell you, when you’ve got to provide a calm, quiet environment for a patient it’s just amazing how much happens to cause excitement.  People will show up.  Coyotes will come too close to the house.  Tux, Lili, and Rosie will bicker like kids in the back of the car on a long trip.  The metal roof will pop when the sun hits it.  All cause for barking and excitement.

It’s been just four weeks today but it’s been four weeks of hell.

The light at the end of the tunnel

I am happy to report that Rosie is doing very well.  She’s lost weight.  She’s breathing much easier.  She and the cats are working on a renewal of their truce.  No more accidents in the house (well, Tux hasn’t gotten the complete message yet, but he’s improving).  I’ve been letting Rosie out of the dog pen when I’m home during the day.  She’s been finding old bones and bringing them into the house (I think that’s a hint).  This morning she chased a rabbit and came back all dancing and proud, and she wasn’t gagging.  Pretty soon we can start going on walks again. 

Yeah, Rosie still snores, wheezes, and occasionally gags.  I guess she’ll do that for the rest of her life.  But she’s definitely the new and improved version of a BAOS dog, and I think she’s more cheerful for it.

I certainly am.

PS  Thanks go to Jack Duncan, DVM and to the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center, Albuquerque, for taking such good care of my Rosie.

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