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Excerpt from BORDERLAND, chapter 8 “Magic Tricks for Puppies”

Here’s an excerpt from my manuscript BORDERLAND: A DOG, A LOVE, A DOUBLE-HELIX (or I might call the book AWESOME DOG, not sure). Anyway, the passages come late the book, from chapter eight, “Magic Tricks for Puppies.”

What you need to know:

Mick, before I knew he was mine.

Mick, before I knew he was mine. Note there is no Ash-Wednesday cross on his brow.

 

I had spent two years searching for my “soul dog,” the dog most perfect for me, and I found Mick, a Border Collie puppy. I was also writing a book about Border Collies, and Mick was supposed to be the happy ending. Shortly after I brought him home, he began to wither away–and so did my writing career. At nine months of age, Mick ended up in intensive care, dying of a disease no vet could diagnose.

In my manuscript, meditations on the power of language interlace with hospital scenes while the vets and I fight for my puppy’s life:

Enchant. En-, upon or against, chant, to sing, “to sing against,” to influence.  Enchant has the same root as “incantation,” which is to chant magical words in order to put a spell upon, to bewitch. Bippity-boppity-border-collie. The word “charm,” also shares the same root, Latin, canare, (canary!) meaning “to sing.” A charm is an object, action, saying, or song with magical power. Puppy.

The next morning, I woke before dawn to what might be called “a panic attack,” and called the vet. The good news was that Mick’s GI tract had begun to function again. The bloat was over. He was eating small amounts of Science I/D. The bad news was septicemia. They’d given him a blood transfusion and begun aggressive antibiotic treatments.

Despite his high fever, he was more alert. They let me take him out of his crate and walk him around Intensive Care. Hunched and uncertain, he stepped gingerly. He stood with his head low, blinking like Rip Van Winkle. My cell phone kept lighting up with notifications from his Facebook family wanting updates on Mick. “His fever’s come down a little,” I wrote. “His mind is clearing. They let me take him out of his cage.”

Mick and the Yorkie.

Mick and the Yorkie.

I posted photos of Mick greeting the tiny Yorkie with a cone around her neck and a bow in her hair, the beautiful black-and-white Border Collie posed as if for a hearth photo on a white towel, the matted Pomeranian who wouldn’t stop yapping. Their gaze and movements showed that none felt so sick as Mick did, and his chemistry profiles bore out the danger he carried inside him. Among humans, sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals. It kills within hours. It causes chills and confusion, and Mick shivered, but he did not seem confused. He moved solemnly from cage to cage. Hello, hello. Good-bye, good-bye. His neck had been shaved and thickly bandaged to protect his blood transfusion port. He bowed his head to each of his fellow patients, swished his tail, averted his gaze just enough. “It’s okay,” he seemed to say, with a kind of graciousness you wouldn’t expect from one so young, from one so not-human. “You’ll be okay,” he told them.

The nurses took notice.

What are you in for?

What are you in for?

Spell. The origin of the word “spell” has nothing to do with the so-called correct sequence of letters to make up a word. It comes from the Old English, spellian, meaning “to talk,” “to announce,” the same root as gospel, godspell, “the good news.” In its noun form, it still means “to speak,” only “spell” also indicates a sequence of words or syllables that, if uttered or written in the proper sequence, are themselves an act of magic. Hyperbilirubinemia, hypoalbuminemia! Sometimes spells hide within spells. They breach the membrane between witchcraft to religion: open sesame (from the Hebrew sem name, “in the name of Heaven”), hocus pocus (from the Latin Mass, hoc est corpus, “This is my body,” a magic spell that, presto change-o, turns bread into the meat of Christ); abracadabra, (from the Aramaic אברא כדברא, meaning “I create as the word creates,” or Hebrew, “It came to pass as it was spoken”), reminiscent of the Fiat Lux, from Genesis 1:3 “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” What the Creator decrees, He creates. The Fiat Lux is the original magic spell. The entire universe sprang from a magic word, which probably wasn’t “Big” and wasn’t “Bang.” If we knew what The Word was and we said it, what would happen? Would it tear us in half? Rumpelstiltskin.

Two nurses knelt and offered Mick tiny wet meatballs of dog food. He took them gently. If they knew him like I knew him, if they even knew him half so well as his Facebook friends knew him, would it make a difference?

“Can you say, ‘Thank you?’ Mick?” I said. “Shake.” And he did. Such a simple trick.

Trick, from the Old French, trique, meaning “deceit, treachery.”

The nurses lit up. They smiled at me. Never was Mick in more danger, yet suddenly, they no longer gave him up for dead.

He was too weak for most of his tricks. I had to show the nurses not just that he was in there, but who was in there. “He knows a lot of tricks. Hold up your hand like this,” I said, just the way I told little children. The one nurse held up the palm of her hand. Now say, “Touch.”

Head low, ears flopped to the side, Mick bumped her palm with his nose. She lit up again, just like little children do. He was keen, looking in her eyes, looking in mine. “Trick,” from the Latin tricari, meaning “to be evasive, to shuffle.”

“He’s so smart!”

“Flick your hand like this and say, ‘spin.’”

She did, and, still too tired to lift his own ears and tail, bandaged and weighted by the heart monitor strapped to his middle, Mick turned a little circle.

“Oh, my God!” the nurses gasped.

He loved their astonishment. He ate up their wonder. He wagged and dropped onto his side, clattering over his heart monitor. He gave them his shaved and bony belly to rub.

If they saw how extraordinary he was, saw him the way I did, maybe they’d care more, from the Old English carian, “to be anxious, to grieve.” I said, “Did you see the cross on his forehead?” An illusion, from the Latin, illusionem, “to deceive, to play with.”

Now, they hadn’t noticed, but now they saw it. They marveled.

“Of course he strolled around hitting on the nurses.” I later wrote to his Facebook friends. “He went from patient to patient, offering each an encouraging wag. He was particularly interested in what the other Border Collie was in for.”

“Trick,” from tricæ, meaning “trifles, nonsense, a tangle of difficulties.”

The familiar, if tedious, word grammar meant, back in the twelfth century, “learning, knowledge,” and by the fifteenth century, that learning included “magic, alchemy, astrology, even witchcraft,” wrote Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies (3). By the seventeenth century, in Scotland the word evolved into glamor, meaning “magical enchantment, charms, and spells.” The word eventually included the spell cast by beauty. “The bridge between the words glamour and grammar is magic,” writes Clark. “In popular gothic stories detailing the misadventures of witches and vampires, the word glamor (without a u)—as both a noun and a verb—describes a magic spell that puts someone in a trance or makes a person forget” (3).

The nurses forgot who he’d been to them before. Even so diminished, he was charming them. “Maybe you’d like a little walk outside?” said one nurse in her best baby talk.

The photo.

That picture.

Mick and I went into a small, muddy back yard. He knew the yard, I could see, he’d been in it without me. He walked a few steps, sniffing the ground. He squinted into the bright shade. Somehow, more than the fluorescent lights, the outdoors showed how dead he nearly was, bony shoulders poking through his yellow mesh tee-shirt, the yellow tube snaking from his nostril. The earth would have little to reclaim. Perhaps his performance had exhausted him, or the slight breeze was too much for his thin coat and high fever. Afterwards I posted, “Then he went out for a snuffle around the backyard of the hospital, sneezed, and asked me, ‘Do I have something on my nose?’” Publicly cheerful, I didn’t want the Facebook chorus to despair. If they lost faith, who would pray for Mick? With some effort, he climbed back onto the doorstep and turned to look at me, the very picture of misery and defeat. Hating myself a little bit, I took that picture too; something about it was truer than the others, the limp ears, the yellow tube, the heavy head, the world-weariness on the face of a creature who still had yet to hit puberty, and the strange cross stamped on his brow clear in the light he could not bear.

“He’s ready to come in,” I said.

Prayer, too, is magic, from the Latin precari, “to ask, to petition, to beg.” The word “precarious” has the same root, meaning “to be dependent on someone else’s will.” Thy will be done. “Curse,” from the Old English, curs, is just another kind of prayer, one begging evil to befall someone. For good or evil, prayer is a form of spiritual begging, and its power increases according the goodness of the prayer, the desperation and/or selflessness of the supplicant, and/or the number of supplicants all pleading the same plea, prayer chains and prayer requests, palanca, the lever, a rigid bar and pivot point and the cumulative force of supplicants moving the hand of God, the Great Puppet. Prayers often operate on the assumption that God, like an irascible genie or a worn-out dad, will break down and grant the noisiest wish, clamor, a call, an outcry, a plea, a claim, “to demand by virtue or right.” In some ways, prayer is sorcery, which influences fate by “sorting” lots, from the Old English hlot, meaning “portion, decision, choice,” deciding who should live, who should die, who should rise again. He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. Please, Lord. If You please. If it please You.

“He seems a little better,” I said, more as a question.

“He’s better when you’re here,” said the one nurse. “It makes a difference. Nobody else visits their animals.”

The other nodded.

“You’re kidding me.” I couldn’t imagine other people didn’t visit their pets. How could that be? But I realized, every time I’d been in that back room, I was the only person who didn’t work there.

How else can I speak our words to him?

How else can I speak our words to him?

“I have to come,” I said. “How else could I talk to him?” I was addicted to canine conversation, and Mick was my best partner. Who else would half-climb into his cage and whisper, “Come, Mick,” to make him see himself trotting toward me across our lawn? Who else would say, “Let’s go to school. Is that Minnie?” so his tail swished? That was how I conjured Minnie, from the Latin, coniurare, meaning “to swear together, to conspire, to command a demon by invocation or spell, to cause to appear in the mind, to call into existence as by magic.” I would whisper into his ear, “Let’s go upstairs,” and so raise our staircase in his mind. When I said, “Mew,” at the same pitch Audrey said it, Mick raised his eyebrows. His brain filled with the scent, sight, and sound of cat. That’s how I sent his mind’s nose scent-searching for her fluffy butt. “Let’s go downstairs. Want to go outside? Let’s get your collar, put your paws up, paws up, where’s your Frisbee?” Live, keep living, come home, Mickey, come forth! Only in the flesh could I perform this magic, be the magician, from the word Magi, the three wise men, followers of the order of the Magus Zoroaster, Magus Magusian, those who brought gifts to the baby Jesus and gifted us with the word “magician.”

I said, “Mick, my good boy,” from the Old High German guot, meaning “fit, suitable, belonging together.” Stay with me.

“Talk to him,” my stepfather’s hospice nurse had said. “He can still hear you.”

And so as John died, my mother and I spoke of Yosemite, his favorite place on Earth, the soaring vault of Half Dome, the dizzy view from Glacier Point, the summer snow, the sound and the scent of mist at the base of Bridalveil Falls, and the cry of coyotes against the valley walls. With a mighty spell my mother and I conjured Yosemite and teleported him there, but his backyard would have been good enough. If John were to have opened his eyes, he’d have seen the breeze tousle dappled shadows and light. Everywhere the confetti of flowers flew. Bluebirds and goldfinches sailed, blue and yellow, to and fro.

“I have to go,” I said to the nurses. “But before I do, Mick wants to show you one last trick. It’s just a trick, you know. But it’s all he’s got.”

And they agreed to see it. So I took a bit of the food, showed it to Mick, and said his name. Still squinting, he locked eyes with me, because he was keen, because he was biddable, because he was brave, because he was still Mick. I leaned forward and offered my arm for him to put his paws up. He was still game, even when his packed blood cell count was down to eighteen percent. With effort, he stood on his hind legs and placed his front paws on my forearm.

“Say your prayers.”

He bowed his head between his paws. Mick and I froze, and the tableau planted itself in their minds: the brave and dying puppy bowed in prayer. Unseen but right out in the open, I slipped him the treat under my arm.

“Oh!” cried the nurses. They marveled at what they had beheld, and pondered it in their hearts.

The team who saved Mick's life.

The team who saved Mick.

Mind Your Monks and Scold Your Dog?

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Mick at Four Months

Today I’m going to brave the taboo topic of getting angry at your dog. Nowadays, if you so much as breathe a word against your dog, people look at you like you’re Michael Vick. And take one look at my dog Mick and you’d wonder what is wrong with me that I could ever get angry at him?

Let me begin with a quote from one of my favorite women, Beryl Markham. In West With the Night, she asked upon the birth of a foal, “Will it breathe when it is meant to breathe? Will it have the anger to feed and to grow and to demand its needs?”

Mick at Eighteen Months

Mick at Eighteen Months

Because I am above all things anxious to be a “nice woman,” I’ve often wondered, do I have the anger to demand my needs?

Is that what anger’s for?

Few places is anger more taboo right now than when it’s directed at your dog. And yet, let’s be honest. Dogs can be infuriating. Read more . . .

 

101 Reasons You Can’t Have a Border Collie (But I Can)

Lisa Lanser Rose

If you’ve been researching Border collie adoption, you’ve read the warning labels on all the Border collie websites. They boil down to:

1780891_10203424378996126_2110332612_n#1. Border collies are maniacs, and no sane person wants one.

#2. Border collies are the coolest dogs in the world, and you aren’t worthy.

By now you’ve concluded that only narcissistic know-it-alls get to have crazy-cool dogs, and you don’t. The reasons they give you look like this:

#3. You Don’t Have the Right Stuff

By now you know that in order to acquire a Border collie, you need to prove that you have:

  • a fenced yard,
  • eight to ten free hours a day,
  • your own sheep farm, or at least your own agility course,
  • a degree in law, veterinary medicine, ethics, animal behavior, sports management, cognitive psychology, and a minor in canine culinary science and nutrition,
  • no children, cats, computers, or other distractions,
  • six years of experience owning, training…

View original post 2,139 more words

Miracle Mick

by Lisa Lanser-Rose

Mick cheated death--twice.

Mick cheated death–twice.

It was déjà vu. In July, Mick got  sleepier and sleepier and then pitched into a nightmarish tailspin that whirled with terms like “sepsis,” “hemorrhage,” and “acute collapse.” The beginning of October, it all happened again, exactly the same way, only this time we were broke. And tired.

Back in July, Mick miraculously healed. He  found an appetite and energy like he’d never known before. In October, same turnaround, only faster, more vigorous, too good to be believed. His vet started calling him “Miracle Mick.”

Mick in intensive care, July 2013

Mick in intensive care, July 2013

Back in  July, the only diagnosis we got was hypoparathyroid disorder. His ionized calcium was rock bottom, and his parathyroid hormone levels confirmed the diagnosis. However, the doctor admitted, it explained few of his chronic symptoms, the lethargy and lack of appetite.

It also didn’t explain why, just two weeks previous, his calcium levels were normal. “I’m mystified,” she said. “But if I stretch it, I can make the hypoparathyroid story work. But I know it’s not the answer.” And she sent me home carrying a  feverish, feeble, and frail puppy, a sack of liquid antibiotic , a bag of syringes, and a prayer that it wouldn’t happen again.

We kept his ionized calcium up with medication, but it  happened again anyway–the fading appetite, the lethargy, the slow descent, and then the sudden free-fall.

September 30th, there was almost nothing left of him.

September 30th, there was almost nothing left of him.

This time, however, the new vet, Dr. Specht from the University of Florida’s Small Animal Hospital would not commit to any one “story.” He uncovered more mysteries. First, in the aftermath of the October disaster, Mick’s B-12 was normal but his folate was low–that made no sense. And Mick’s white blood cell count was low before the onset of sepsis. Had it been low before the sepsis last time? The new doctor gathered all the data he could. He had student interns make charts. He had lots of story lines to follow: pancreatitis, small intestine disease, trapped neutrophil syndrome, cyclic neutropenia, pyruvate kinase deficiency, immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, and more.

Then, in all his careful investigation, Dr. Specht discovered that, in a moment of crisis, the doctor on the night shift had given Mick emergency interventions, which included a B-12 shot. That would explain the discrepancy between his B-12 and folate numbers and indicated a possible diagnosis: Inherited B-12 Deficiency, or an inability to absorb B-12 through the digestive tract. It didn’t explain the white blood cell count. It also didn’t explain what happened to Mick in July. If the cause of all Mick’s problems was a B-12 malabsorption, why did he bounce back in July? There’s no record of him being given a B-12 shot then. “But it might have caused the low parathyroid numbers,” he said. “Maybe Mick doesn’t have hypoparathyroid after all.”

We started to train again. Mick loves showing off!

We started to train again. Mick loves trying new things–and showing off!

Dr. Specht ordered a month-long series of blood tests to watch how his B-12 and white blood cell levels fluctuated. In the first week, his B-12 plummeted. Bingo. Mick can’t absorb B-12 from his food. He’ll need B-12 shots the rest of his life. To my relief, his white blood cells held steady–so far. Right before my eyes, Mick got bigger and stronger. I began to relax.

Mick was a new dog. In two weeks he went from 24 to 32 pounds. Even his bones seemed to grow. Although he was a year old, his testicles  had stayed as tiny as spring peas, and his vet said we might as well leave them; “He needs all the help he can get.” Now, suddenly even those bulked up. His shoulders and hips muscled out. Best of all, though, I love watching him run.

Audrey couldn't believe her good fortune--the dog was gone again!

Audrey couldn’t believe her good fortune–the dog was gone again!

I used to take him outside and throw toys for him, only to have him retrieve once or twice, stumble, and lie down. Now he didn’t wait for a toss, but ran great circles around the yard for the sheer joy of running. He galloped through the house, from one bedroom to another, making figure eights on and off the beds. He’s fanatical in his observations of the cat’s traffic patterns. As if he’d rigged her with a GPS, he knows exactly when she’s moving toward a sink, from her litter box, or out the back door. How much of him was muted all year! His joy, his appetite, his fulfillment–how fragile we all are!

Mick makes friends everywhere--but now he's not always gentle.

Mick makes friends everywhere–but now he’s got to learn to  hold back.

We have new problems now. Mick’s a year-old dog making a six-month-old’s discoveries. His  speed, strength, and agility are like cool, new Christmas presents. He caroms off the couch glancing at me as if to say, “Look, Mom! Check this out!” When he hears the cat leap into the bathroom sink, he roars in and hits the vanity with the force of a ram. And worst of all, my gentle boy, the one the vet told me would “make a great service dog,” is gentle no more. With new oomph in his rump, he rockets up and knocks people’s noses. He claws their arms. Where once he rolled onto his back and wriggled for small children, he now nips their heels and tugs their tee shirts. These are  training challenges I fully expected to have with a young Border Collie. He’s not my first. But Alby, Mick, and I had spent a year living with Sick Mick. Mighty Mick has swooped in and changed all the rules.

Mick's starting to question his standing in the world.

Mick’s starting to question his status in the neighborhood. Does he really have to listen to this kid?

We’re still in the midst of the month-long series of blood tests. Once a week Mick is getting a B-12 shot and a count of his white blood cells. Meanwhile, he not only eats all his Science i/d, he goes back to lick the bowl. It’s a basic dog behavior that I’ve never appreciated so much before–all those months of wringing my hands and offering food after food while he wasted away! No, I’m more than happy to step up training to accommodate a bigger, stronger, more assertive dog–the dog I always knew Mick could be.

The more I read about the causes of B-12 deficiencies, the more confused I get. A simple B-12 malabsorption problem can’t explain everything. Is this really what almost killed him twice? If so, why did he come back in July without the shot? Should I be afraid there’s more wrong with Mick? Why doesn’t he show permanent neurological damage?

The fact is, we might never know the answer. Bottom line is he is improving, day by day. It’s been a long year for us, and it’s not over yet. Maybe I’m getting close to a “crash” of my own–I still haven’t let myself work through how harrowing those two crises were, perhaps because the blood work’s still out.

Meanwhile I wonder, as I do in times like these, why a dog matters so much to some of us, and not to others. Wouldn’t be easier, and cheaper, to care less? How do you harden your heart? And what do you lose if you do?

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