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Heather : Sasha

Published on January 30, 2024.

Story from Heather : Sasha

One-eyed wonder

Since Sasha had lost her right eye as a young pup she just adapted without it, so when I got to bring her into my life on July 15 last year I jokingly referred to her as my one-eyed wonder. With her fluffy labradoodle-groodle mix coat and darker fur around her eye sockets anyway, unless you knew to look, it wasn’t readily obvious. She happily darted around the oval chasing dogs and balls, albeit better at tracking the latter on the ground than in the air. We had started some training with a frisbee, which was a new favourite activity, and I think would have been easier for her to follow in flight, being larger than a ball.

Out of hours emergency

On Saturday November 18 I let Sasha out the back door after getting home from being away for a number hours. She usually would run down the couple of stairs into the yard to patrol the fence line for any sign of the neighbourhood cats then do her business. Instead she went past the steps and nearly fell off the edge of the veranda, only stopping when I called out to her. Once down the stairs she slowly walked around, bumping into the outdoor furniture. She then couldn’t find her way back up the stairs to me when I called her over and I realised she couldn’t see anything. Yet when I took her down to the oval, as soon as she got there and was let off lead and she knew she had free space she started to run then ‘looked’ at me expectantly waiting for me to throw her footy. Apart from being blind, she seemed fine, but I knew I needed to call the vet as soon as we got home.  Thing is, home is in Lightning Ridge, so although the vet clinic is literally around the corner from our house, the vets come once a week (Wednesdays) and their after hours emergency location is a 2 hour drive away. Which would have been fine except they aren’t equipped to test for eye issues like glaucoma or anything more than that, so the lovely vet on call recommended I try another emergency service in Tamworth or SASH.

After speaking to someone in Tamworth, who acknowledged they may need to refer Sasha on to help in Sydney or Brisbane anyway, I gave SASH North Ryde a call. By this stage it was getting late in the evening and I was convinced I would need to drive the 700+km to Sydney so it was such a relief to have yet another understanding and helpful person take me through my options. She booked an appointment with an ophthalmologist during the week and assured me that no matter when we arrived in Sydney we could present at emergency and Sasha would be seen by a vet, then if it was deemed necessary they would call in an ophthalmologist right away.

On the road / On the ward

So after some sleep, hasty packing and work the next morning, we got on the road, finally arriving at SASH around 9pm, to be warmly greeted by the ladies behind the counter at emergency, one of whom remembered speaking to me the night before. This proved to be my experience with all the staff at SASH, helpful and friendly interactions, whether in person or on the phone. After a short wait and being seen by the nurse and emergency doctor, with no glaucoma indications and good vitals, Sasha was admitted, and would be assessed by the ophthalmologist in the morning.
Dr Kelly reported that Sasha’s retina had some mild to moderate impairment but there was concern that something more was causing the blindness, plus her general condition was declining, so they proceeded with an MRI, which showed inflammation or infection around the base of her skull, impacting the area of her optic nerve. Now a neuro case, my updates were then given by Dr Patrick. Despite collecting a sample of spinal fluid (creating a lovely reverse mullet haircut to complement the nice woolly jumper and knitted gloves look on her torso and legs where she was shaved for the IV access etc) it wasn’t possible to identify or culture the bacteria causing the infection but thankfully the antibiotics they decided to start her on ended up making a difference.
It was one thing to be worried about her losing her sight, quite another to realise I should have been worried about losing her. Even after only having had her for four months, leaving the visiting room each time without her was reminiscent of February 1 when I’d had to walk out of our local vet clinic having just said the final goodbye to my first dog, 16 year old spoodle Rufus, after 7 years together. Needless to say, we were both happy when after 5 nights she got released, albeit with oral antibiotics to take for the next few months, and neurological signs to watch out for, including seizures.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it very far on our return road trip. After one night at my parents’ in Sydney we went to my brother in the Blue Mountains the next day. Sasha traveled ok, but was clearly tired from her illness. She could only manage a short slow walk and then had a sleep. It was the same on  Sunday morning before we were due to set off on the long drive home. She had her stroll, breakfast, antibiotics wrapped in ham and lay down to sleep while I ate my cereal, only this time she didn’t sleep, instead, her back legs starting shaking. Then the trembling progressed to her whole body. It wasn’t a seizure but it certainly wasn’t normal so I started looking up vets in the area. I rang the after hours number for one in a nearby suburb, only to be told that place didn’t open until 10am and the operator started saying suburbs in Sydney that were other options. In the end I found a place at the bottom of the mountains and rushed Sasha 40 minutes back down to them where the vet said she was stable enough for me to transport her to SASH myself but put her cannula back in again in case they needed quick access once we arrived.

On the mend

If you have stuck with Sasha’s story this far, I guess you’re one of the judges who has to read everything, or you know her/me, or are just polite, or maybe you genuinely want to know how it ends… I know it’s been long-winded, sorry. My way of processing a tough time I guess.

I am glad to say that after another couple of nights at SASH with an unexplained temperature, after more tests, observation, care and cuddles from staff like neuro nurse Jordan, and a new antibiotic in the mix, Sasha was again able to leave and that was just over 2 months ago. We have been back once for a scheduled follow up, after she had stayed with pet sitters for  a couple of weeks to be close to SASH if needed while I returned to work, and things were all ok so we finally came home together just before Christmas. Our next visit will be in mid to late April for her repeat MRI which is the only way to tell if the infection has cleared from her brain. She is a champ at taking her meds twice a day, because they come wrapped in tasty things like cheese or ham or smothered in yoghurt or peanut butter. Not sure how she will respond when she doesn’t get them any more!
As the vets had told me she would, Sasha has adapted to her vision loss remarkably well.  She has mapped out familiar places quickly, walks confidently on her lead, loves fetching her footy by sniffing it out and is learning some new words in the process. At times she is a bit too smart for her own good. The lady at the hardware store helped me with textured adhesive treads to put in the middle of the back steps to help Sasha locate them, so what did she do? Sniffed something unfamiliar on the stairs and for several days very carefully stepped just to the side of them!

She turned 2 in December, and as a teenage rebel has decided she is comfortable running away from me when it’s time to leave the dog park and she doesn’t want to go… or when she has her footy and doesn’t want to relinquish it. At times this has meant she has run into stuff if she hasn’t listened to my warnings, but it’s all a learning process, for both of us.
At other times Sasha still gets anxious or spooked by things, and I can’t always predict it beforehand or work out why afterwards, which can be upsetting. Yet it is usually short lived and for the most part she is her happy, snuggly, sometimes cheeky self, and while I would prefer she never got sick and had to go to SASH, I am so glad that we made the trip when we did so she could get the help she needed in time, and am grateful to all who had a part in caring for her. God bless you all.

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