While we were in Tennessee on a mid-September Saturday night, or the small hours of Sunday to be more precise, Alfred suffered a seizure. He had his brain tumor removed back in March, prior to this we’d become well versed in dealing with a dog going into a full grand mal seizure, and bringing him out the other side a few minutes later. We’d not witnessed one since surgery.
For those unfamiliar with seizures (as I was last year), anything over five minutes long is serious and needs emergency medical attention. Renée and I have dealt with a couple around this length, but despite experience we were woefully unprepared for what happened this time.
The initial grand mal went way beyond 5 minutes. We battled to get him under control using everything we had in our arsenal of drugs without success. We simply could not break the clusters and Alfred cycled from one to the next. Horrific to watch, more so when your efforts to help are ineffective. I’d hoped the seizures would stop and we could get him to the vet in a calm state, but after 30 minutes we realised we were in a battle we couldn’t win without urgent professional help.
Throwing on clothes, I ran to the garage, pulled the car out and was met by Renée with Alfred wrapped in a blanket. We all bundled in, Alfred on Renée’s lap up front, her holding him as best she could, while the dog continued going from aftershocks to seizures. As we drove we could smell he’d defecated as is common for seizures, and clearly things were not improving. We just hoped we could get to the Animal Emergency & Specialty Center of Knoxville before any serious damage was inflicted – if it hadn’t already been. A 30 mile drive, probably 40-45 minutes during the day, except this journey was in the dead of night. Nothing was out on the roads. We carried as much speed as we dare, as smoothly as we could, the car positioned on the center line until we reached the city outskirts to improve reaction space should any deer run in front as we passed through the dense forest areas. We didn’t see one. Fortunately, Police cars were also scarce as we rocketed through the city limits. We’ve become used to spotting them, and familiar with the locations they prefer hide to catch offenders. Perhaps more luck than skill that we passed undetected. Had we been seen I’m unsure if I would have stopped, especially the closer to the hospital we got. Would we have been allowed to continue with an escort, or arrested? Simply explaining ourselves could have cost precious minutes. My thinking being I’d rather do that once Alfred as in the hands of a doctor.
We made it in under 25 minutes. The critical care medical team were waiting for us (we’d called ahead) and they rushed Alfred into the emergency room. It was 10:00 am before they were able to stabilise him fully and stop the clusters. It had taken almost 10 hours. At times we were unsure if he would be coming home, with one of the discussions taking place in the room where many loved animals spend their final moments with their humans. They were dark hours. Alfred has proved before he’s a resilient little creature, but this is not a Disney movie and at the back of my mind lurks reality; the war against brain cancer one we are unlikely to win.
Much to the surprise of the Hospital, a couple of days later he was ready to come home! On the night it happened I’d emailed Dr Pluhar and Dr Arnold who’s care he is under at the University of Minnesota and amazingly they both got back to me almost immediately despite it being the early hours of the weekend. Dr Arnold contacted the critical care specialists (Dr Hodgson and Dr Fansler) in Knoxville and together they found the right level and combination of drugs to stop this seizure from hell. Levels well beyond standard practice but it worked. As soon as she heard he was on his feet and eating she authorized him to go home.
We Zoom called with Dr Pluhar and Dr Arnold. To find out why, and what options Alfred has, will involve a visit to them in Minnesota to run tests and perform detailed imaging. We are talking about two world-class professionals and getting them to be in the same building, on the same day, and with the additional surgical talent (Dr Matthew Hunt) available should their be a need to open Alfie’s head once more meant waiting until early October.
We headed back to Florida. The seizure has meant his vision has suffered further, and I suspect his hearing on one side also. He was pretty down for the first week of being home. I guess we’d all be depressed if our sight became so poor we could hardly see. After a week he showed improvement and started to regain his independence, sometimes forgetting to be careful and bumping into things. The worst for him when he fell in the pool (Boston terriers hate water). They are super smart dogs and I’d witnessed him mapping rooms; where the furniture is, obstacles, doorways. Slowly at first, tracing routes over and over until he knew what was where. After a week his vision was showing improvement, and two weeks in noticeably better, and at this point he started to want to play once more. Fetch being a favourite Boston pastime and he’s now able to do it once more.
We are glued to his side, on red alert for seizure activity. Another like the last could kill him. Doubling the seizure medication again unlikely feasible again. And signs are certainly there. This dog shows signs of a serious headache at times now. The Twin Cities of Minnesota are almost 2,000 miles from our home in Florida. Alfred is likely too big to fly in the approved sized cabin bag so we’ll be driving – we just hope he can hang in there a little longer.
Right back at the start of this story I mentioned buying a house in the United States, and how the main priority was a safe garden for Alfie. Back in January we thought he’d never get to live there. Well he’s here now and loving it. He made it.