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Physical Therapy, Again

 

Once my internship ended in August, I started scheduling doctors’ appointments right and left, to make up for two years of putting off everything but the most essential (which still turned out to be a lot). One result of all of these doctors’ visits is that I’m back in physical therapy, again.

I’ve had this pain in my neck and shoulder for three or four months now, and driving, sitting at the computer, and walking all made it worse. I could barely turn my head, but I kept putting off a doctor visit because I knew I wouldn’t have time to do all of the testing and drug taking and exercising she’d expect me to do. And then, just before my internship ended, this strange buzzing started in my left shoulder.

I went for x-rays, I tried Tramadol and a muscle relaxant, which wiped me out and did nothing for the pain, and then I got an appointment with a new physical therapist who came highly recommended. I’ve been through physical therapy so many times before: for my lower back, neck and shoulders, balance, gait, etc. I’ve also gone for acupuncture and chiropractic, cranial sacral, massage, and on and on, so I wasn’t sure how hopeful to be.

The new physical therapist did a long evaluation, with lots of questions, and muscle testing, and range of motion testing. When she had me turn my head to the left I became so nauseous that I had to sit down. She also said that the buzzing in my left shoulder could be coming from pressure on nerve bundles in my neck, because my upper body is so rigid. And she asked if I’ve seen an ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor) recently. Three years ago seemed pretty recent to me, but she looked skeptical. She gave me three exercises to start with, and a print out in case I forgot the exercises immediately (which I did).

I’m actually fascinated by the weird glitches in my body: the way the nausea kicks in if I move my head too far to the left, or if the physical therapist presses on a certain spot in my upper back; and then the dizziness can be triggered just by a movement of my shoulder!

But I’d like to be able to turn my head while I’m driving, without feeling like I’m going to vomit all over the car. I’d like to be able to do Tai Chi again, or yoga, or just exercise regularly without feeling like my limbs are going to disarticulate. I’d really like to be able to run with the dogs at the dog park without needing a heating pad and a three hour nap in the aftermath.

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“Not that the dogs mind napping.”

So, for now, I go to my physical therapy appointments twice a week, and do my at-home exercises, and I worry that I’m going to have to add an appointment with the ENT to my long list of doctor visits coming up, just to be told, one more time, that I’m fine and no one knows why I have all of these symptoms, so it must be in my head.

I’m trying to watch Ellie for inspiration, because she does something new every day, not because she thinks she has to, but just because she discovers new things she can do. She didn’t know these things were possible before, and she didn’t know she would enjoy them so much! She didn’t know how much she’d like massages, and spending time with her humans, and smelling everything in the backyard, and checking in with Cricket. She even tried pickles, because Cricket likes them so much, but she hasn’t discovered a great love there. She’s also discovered that she hates having her hair combed and her teeth brushed, but I think that’s because Cricket has been whispering in her ear.

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“They tell you they’re going to comb your hair, but really they’re scooping out your brain. It’s true.”

Miss Ellie has also been creating her own physical therapy plan. She went from needing to be picked up every time she wanted to come up on the couch or the bed, to jumping up (and down and up again) at will. She can stand up on her back legs, for long periods, begging for treats. She even figured out how to jump into the back seat of the car, which she was sure was impossible. And then she does all kinds of stretches, swishing her neck and back every which way to work out the kinks. I’m pretty sure my physical therapist would not approve if I tried to follow Ellie’s plan, especially the swishing around part, but it looks like so much more fun than mine!

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“Hi, Mommy!”

Cricket has taken to watching Ellie’s antics with a big sister’s eye roll, as in, Oh my gawd, she is so weird! But I think, secretly, Cricket is getting inspired too.

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” No, I’m not.”

 

 

Cricket is an Honorary Human Now

In her early middle age (she is almost nine years old), Cricket has developed the most common human disorder, lower back pain. She has always known she was a human, and now she has proof. Unfortunately, when she first started to exhibit symptoms, I had no idea what I was looking at and started to imagine the worst.

Cricket, the pulling machine.

Cricket, the pulling machine.

First she threw up during her mid-day walk, which isn’t that unusual for her, but then, out on a walk she did this funny thing where she walked backwards three steps and sat down, demurely, on top of her back feet. As soon as we returned to the apartment she ran under the couch, to her apartment, and stayed there. Even when chicken treats were offered, she didn’t leave her apartment. I had to bring her room service. Normal, for Cricket, is staring at the treat bag until it opens, then jumping up and trying to climb my leg to get to the treats. This sad looking dog under the couch was someone I didn’t know.

couch dog.

couch dog.

"Ouchy."

“Ouchy.”

I did a full body check on her to see if any particular part was sore, but she didn’t yelp or grumble at any particular point. She seemed to recover a bit on her next walk, running and barking at our neighbors, but still, she was strangely subdued indoors, and not up to jumping on the bed that night.

The next morning, Friday, we called the vet’s office and they said that Cricket’s regular doctor wouldn’t be available until Monday morning, and since Cricket seemed to be doing better we decided that would be soon enough.

We went out to Friday night services, after a day of watching Cricket go almost back to normal. I even thought we might be able to cancel her doctor’s appointment. But when we came back home, Cricket jumped up to greet her Grandma, and started to cry in pain. I sat down on the floor with her, but she walked backwards and kept crying; until she saw her sister sneak out the open front door of the apartment and start down the stairs. Cricket immediately stopped crying and ran to the top of the steps to catch Butterfly, but then she balked again.

I carried Cricket down the stairs and outside for her walk, but she just kept sitting down on her feet and looking very frightened. I had to carry her back up to the apartment. Her whole body was vibrating, and she was gulping air. I put her on my bed and she struggled to find a comfortable position to sleep in, dragging her back legs behind her to each new location. I had nightmares about dying dogs all night long.

"Mommy, I don't feel good."

“Mommy, I don’t feel good.”

When I took the girls out early Saturday morning, Cricket still looked frightened and her back feet started to twist, as if she was walking more like a ballet dancer in toe shoes than like her usual tomboy self.

The thing is, I kept worrying that her symptoms were neurological, because of the walking backwards, and the twisted feet, and the fear in her eyes. I was afraid we’d find out that she had Lyme disease (because she’d been bitten by a tick two months earlier when I forgot to give the girls their monthly meds). I was pretty sure the whole thing was my fault.

We called the vet to see if Cricket could have an emergency appointment, and they scheduled us in for Sunday morning.

All day Saturday, Cricket’s symptoms only got worse, and it was a relief when it was finally Sunday morning, and we could take her to the doctor. Well, it was a relief to me. Cricket hid under the bench in the vet’s waiting room as usual, and had to be dragged out to stand on the scale and check her weight. She’s vain, and that scale is so public!

In the examining room, she did her best to hide behind me, which is normal for her, and the vet tech was able to, easily, put the blue muzzle over her head for the exam, which is not normal at all. In the past, Cricket has been able to pop those things off with one paw grab, and a defiant twist of her head, but not this time.

The doctor did a neurological exam to see how Cricket walked and stood and responded to being in different positions, and she said that, neurologically, everything was fine. But I wasn’t ready to believe her. She wanted to do an x-ray, to make sure there was no arthritis or orthopedic issues, and help her to make a diagnosis, and I agreed whole heartedly with the plan.

The doctor gave Cricket a shot of a pain reliever that would calm her enough to allow them to do the x-ray, and then we all waited in the waiting room, with Boopy the African Grey parrot, until the meds kicked in. Boopy is a scratchy glutton, just like Cricket. He stood right next to the bars of his cage and stared at me, then lowered his head for scratching. When I was too slow to comply, he stomped one of his feet, and then lowered his head again.

Boopy is very demanding.

Boopy is very demanding.

"I'm waiting, human."

“I’m waiting, human.”

Cricket’s x-rays were perfect, meaning they showed no arthritis and no other issues with her hips or legs, which meant that we could assume the problem was with a disc in her back. I still didn’t believe it, though. I don’t mean that I argued with the vet, or refused the meds she prescribed (Prednisone and Gabapentin), I just wasn’t sure any of it would help.

The doctor told us to limit Cricket’s movement, either by keeping her in her crate (which we gave away years ago because she used to climb up the sides trying desperately to get out), or keeping her in a small room where she couldn’t crawl under or climb over anything (there is no such room in our apartment). The vet also said that Cricket shouldn’t crawl under her couch, and I just couldn’t imagine that. The only place Cricket had felt safe for the last few days was under her couch.

A cozy couch, and a soft tushy to lean on, that's what Cricket needs.

A cozy couch, and a soft tushy to lean on, that’s what Cricket needs.

When we came home, of course, Butterfly sniffed Cricket all over, in her armpit, under her ears, to find out where she’d been and what Butterfly had missed. Clearly it was nothing good, so Butterfly could relax on the floor, knowing she’d had the better part of the deal.

"What is that smell?"

“What is that smell?”

We gave Cricket the first dose of Prednisone right away, with a big serving of peanut butter, and pretty soon, she thought she should be able to jump off beds again. She still couldn’t jump onto the beds or climb the stairs, but whatever independence she could manage she wanted to have. The frightened look was gone. The vet really had got it right, thank god.

The vet warned us that the Prednisone would make Cricket eat and drink more, and therefore pee and poop more, and within a few days, Cricket became the queen of poop, outperforming her sister, by a lot. She was feeling better every day, by literal leaps and bounds, and she was convinced it was because of the peanut butter, and therefore I should give her more.

Peanut butter heals everything.

Peanut butter heals everything.

Pretty soon, I’ll need to start her on a physical therapy regimen to build up her core muscles. For some reason, the physical therapists for humans are unwilling to work with Cricket, so I will have to do this myself, with the aid of many many chicken treats.

I guess being an honorary human doesn’t count with some people. Harrumph.

"What do you mean, I'm not human?!"

“What do you mean, I’m not human?!”