The Life of Max

Our worlds collided by chance and I believe it was simply meant to be.  There’s a popular saying in the dog world “Who rescued who?” and we definitely rescued each other.

Max is the sweetest, laid back 30 pound love of my life.  He’s a Cockapoo, all black with a white patch on his chest, gray around his ears and estimated to be about 12 years old.  He came to me 7 years ago, a dirty matted long-haired mop with skin fungus as well as ear and eye infections. He was hungry and could barely walk. At the time of his rescue, he had narrowly escaped being hit by a truck in a rural area that was a known dumping ground for unwanted dogs and by the looks of him, he’d been out in the streets for awhile.  No one responded to my shelter posts of a found dog, nobody came forth for him, so I promised he had a home with me and I would always protect him.  I would never let him feel scared or hungry or alone again.

When I first saw him, I lifted the mop of hair surrounding his face and found a dark set of affectionate eyes looking back at me that felt like they touched my soul. When he was shaved down and cleaned up, his paw pads were found to be full of foxtails.  No wonder he couldn’t walk.  We weren’t sure how old he was or what had happened in his life to bring him to this point. He was nursed back to health and soon he was running around like a happy little camper.

About a year and a half ago, days from leaving for our end of summer vacation, Max stopped being interested in food.  We got him checked out immediately because he’s getting up there in years and we were concerned at the sudden change.  We didn’t want to leave him with a sitter.  He always goes on vacation with us.  The vet said he had a tooth infection, put him on an antibiotic and cleared him to travel. They scheduled surgery so that once he finished the antibiotic, the tooth could be pulled. We planned to also have some fatty tumors removed around his belly area and he would be back to normal, or so that was the original plan.  A few days later, off we went on vacation, both our dogs in tow.  It took all day to drive there, so we rested and the next morning we headed for the lake.  We enjoyed a perfect day out on the water except for Max, who is usually excited for our adventures.  He loves the wind blowing in his face and he usually tries to jump off the boat to chase ducks but this time he just wasn’t himself.  We figured he still wasn’t feeling good, so we kept him comfortable and let him sleep.

About an hour after we returned to our hotel room, Max seemed disoriented and confused.  He tried to walk but kept turning to the left in a circle, vomiting profusely before wobbling and falling over.  This happened several times within a matter of minutes.  I tried not to panic though I’m pretty sure I did.  My boyfriend called the front desk and asked for the name of the closest veterinary hospital.  It was past normal business hours and I hoped there was a vet close by with emergency hours.  Thankfully, the closest one was 5 minutes away and had on-call after hours emergency services.  Dr. Roundtree answered the phone personally, said he was also 5 minutes away and agreed to rush over to meet us at the hospital.  When we arrived, the doctor and his wife were already there waiting for us.  After observing Max’s functions, he gave him an injection to help with the vomiting and started him on a different antibiotic, stating that the one he was already taking for his tooth was very strong and likely intensified the vertigo-like symptoms and vomiting.  He diagnosed Max with Geriatric Vestibular Disease.  There was that word again, “vestibular”.

Oddly enough, I had just been diagnosed myself with a Vestibular Schwannoma brain tumor so I was newly familiar to the term and understood enough of what that meant for Max.  A big reason for this vacation was to get away from my own reality and pretend it wasn’t happening.  3 different surgeons that I consulted with asked me if I was falling over or had any bouts of vertigo or double vision. To their surprise, I hadn’t. But here we were seeing Max experience all the symptoms that I was scared of. The vet said Max would either come out of it and recover.  Or he wouldn’t.  I already feared the unknown for myself and now I feared it for my dog, too.  Is this what will happen to me if I don’t remove this tumor in my head? How will I take care of Max?  I couldn’t help but get more terrified.  We needed each other now more than ever before.  What were the chances that we both had “vestibular” issues?  How would we ever get through this?  I felt helpless and defeated and was just shy of having my own pity party, but on that 9 ½ hour drive home, I decided that I would stay strong for Max and I would try anything to help him feel better.  I was not ready to let him go yet and I knew I needed to get a grip, take a deep breath and figure out what to do.

Prior to my own diagnosis, I was fully on board the cannabis stigma train.  I didn’t understand the plant or the medicinal benefits of cannabis.  Although I knew it was helping a lot of people, I didn’t understand enough about it, so I didn’t feel it was for me.  The 3 surgeons I spoke to had all told me my tumor was quite large and recommended I have it surgically removed before it became an emergency situation, but the thought of having my skull sawed open terrified me.  The thought of never being the same terrified me. What if I am worse after?  I guess it’s fair to say that my fear of surgery changed my stigma about cannabis.  I felt like I was losing my mind some days as it was constantly on my mind and I was consumed with fear of all the unknown.  I knew I needed to stay focused on work and family but I especially needed to come up with a game plan.  These are the cards I was dealt, now what?  Cannabis is known to shrink cancer cell tumors, so maybe it could work with schwannoma cell tumors as well.  With some coaching, I started on a cannabis saturation regimen to see if it could shrink my tumor.  The CBD especially seemed to help my anxiety and fear so I could function and get through the workday.  It eased most of the symptoms I was having and gave me a sense of calm so that I could make the best decisions on what to do.

So on our long drive home from vacation, I decided that we would also begin Max on CBD oil as soon as we got back.  We started him on an aggressive dose of it twice a day.  He was in such bad shape, we weren’t sure it would make a difference and often wondered if he’d ever recover.  The months to follow were pretty rough.  Max couldn’t stand up without turning left, wobbling and falling over.  He had to be carried out to potty, held up until he finished, then carried back in.  He had no interest in doing anything but sleeping, he could barely hold his head up to eat, so we hand fed him, kept the house quiet and let him sleep.  He was still vomiting at random and had several pee accidents in the house.  We got him doggy diaper wraps so we could spend more time tending to his needs than scrubbing carpets.  This went on for several weeks.

I was trying to mentally prepare myself for the worst, but I wasn’t ready to give up and when I looked into his eyes, I knew he wasn’t ready to give up either.  Our vet in town said Max would never be able to withstand surgery, so we would have to wing it and treat symptomatically as needed for the rest of his life.  Weeks went by, then slowly but surely he started to respond to the CBD.  He began to have a little energy, he began to walk.  Still a little wobbly, but he was walking!  He was able to focus again on the things he enjoyed and he started showing interest again in his treats and the birds outside. He couldn’t walk too far, but he could get outside to potty and back to bed without being carried.  We practically threw a party when he was finally strong enough to walk outside on his own and actually lift his leg to pee without falling over!  We really knew he was feeling better when he started to bark again!  It took about 6 months until we were certain he was finally on the road to recovery and we gradually lessened his CBD dose.

It is now 1 ½ years later and my heart is so full.  I helped him recover and I also had my surgery and he helped me recover.  For the most part, we recovered together.  I guess we know the answer to “Who rescued who?”.  We rescued each other, no doubt about it.  We crossed each other’s paths years ago for a reason.  We didn’t know why at the time, but we were connected soul to soul.  We are both doing so well, we have cut back on the aggressive doses of CBD and we have lessened it to just taking a maintenance dose a couple times a week. If we have a rough day, which we still do from time to time, we might take an extra dose and by the next day we usually feel better, so it seems to be working out well.

I’m happy to report that Max has a pep back in his step.  He’s even running again!  Up and down the hall and all around the bedroom when we walk through the door.  He is thrilled to chase ducks again.  He follows me up and down a flight of stairs twice a day.  Some days are a struggle, but the good days by far outweigh the bad ones. He is excited about our adventures again.  Though he shows signs of getting tired from activities more quickly than he used to, we just take shorter walks and relax more.  After all, in dog years, he’s considered an old man. Nonetheless, he has way more energy than we ever imagined he’d have again.  He can no longer jump up on the bed or into the car but he’s just as happy to be gently lifted up.  Mostly, we are happy that he feels better and has regained a quality of life.

Thanks to cannabis oil, we will keep him happy and comfortable for the rest of his life and just enjoy that we have been given a little longer time to spend with each other.

UPDATE as of March 21, 2020:

We are sad to share that Max began his final decline a few weeks ago and today we made the difficult decision to let him go. To keep him here any longer for me would have only meant suffering for him.  It was a most tearful good-bye for now but I know as connected as our souls are, that we will be together again in the next life.  We made a pact today that he is free to run off as fast or as far as he wants and chase all the kitties and ducks his heart desires, but when my time on earth is through, he will be right there, waiting for me.  Until then, I will cherish the true love and the many adventures we shared and I will continue to celebrate the extra and unexpected 2-1/2 years we were given together, thanks to CBD.