Happy Seventeen, Mads!

From last week on Saturday when we observed Madelyne’s birthday. Still have this old denim shirt from our Knoxville days but the sentiment remains forever for me. Happy seventeenth, Mads!

Madelyne at Bundenon, NSW

Mads just got back from a 3-day retreat with her Year 11 arts classmates. Bundenon is well south of Sydney, even farther than Berry where Susan & I went during Australia Day in 2016. They stayed nearby the home of a renowned artist, Arthur Boyd, in Australia for 2 nights.  Look up “Bundenon Trust” on the Internet and you’ll see their program for artists. She brought back some nice drawings from her experience!

Another hard step…

We picked up Ziva two weeks ago today and I am continually stunned each day by her progress. She has about 80% usage of her back left leg and probably about 50%-60% usage of her back right leg. The left one “auto-corrects” like the veterinarian wants it to but the right one still hasn’t fully connected back to the brain. That will come with time Dr. Stephanie claims…everything comes with time and once again, waiting.

Two weeks ago, we were also stunned by the grand total of Ziva’s medical bill at the emergency hospital. The amount, you ask? Well, for about 5 days in ICU and another 3 in hospital, CT Scan with myelogram (spinal cord dying,) emergency spinal surgery and numerous other much needed expenses to get her back to where she is today, the grand total comes to $13,401.05AUD. And she hasn’t even started physiotherapy… We luckily have pet insurance which has paid for some of the costs but as usual…never all of the costs.

For two weeks, I have wrestled with creating a GoFundMe account to ask friends…well, YOU, for help. It feels odd, it feels weird, it feels…like I’m doing something wrong. I tried to explain it to my friend Amy in that I’M usually the one helping others. I’M not used to ASKING for help. But this very unexpected situation, especially at this time of year, has thrown us for a loop. As I continue to to pay for unforeseen costs such as a $200 extra large wire kennel to keep her contained, a $125 full body harness that helps keep her back legs supported while she walks, another $180 for medication to help her with her continued confinement, I’m wondering what physiotherapy will cost and how long Ziva will need it. Will her right paw continue to flip under not righting itself correctly and will physiotherapy help this? I don’t know the answers to these questions right now. But the wondering has helped me “push the button” on the GoFundMe account.

So here is the link to our GoFundMe page: GoFundMe: Ziva’s IVDD Medical Fund Feel free to share it with friends who know Ziva or who tend to help others “just because.” I truly appreciate any and all help anyone is able to provide. If your only way to help is to share it on your FaceBook page then good on ya! Every kind of help is welcome and we are thankful!

I hope everyone has a wonderful and amazing holiday season.

Merry Christmas, from the Smiths!

A Long Overdue Visit

My days have become centred around morning and evening update calls from Dr. Stephanie Conroy of Northside Vet Specialists.  Dr. Stephanie is caring for Ziva during the day at Northside Emergency Vets where she has been since Saturday evening. This morning’s update was a call for help to see if I could get Ziva to eat. She had eaten for the doctor on Tuesday morning, her first since being admitted, but hadn’t eaten since then. Her vitals are good, stable, she had some physio-therapy this morning, but she seems to be very anxious at the hospital. I readily agreed to come help.

None of us have seen Ziva since Saturday night and I suppose I am the one that has taken all of this the hardest. I am still quite stunned at the severity of her injury but mostly at my inability to handle it when it happened. I pride myself on being levelheaded and able to handle stressful situations but Saturday night when Warren woke me from a sound sleep to tell me Ziva had hurt herself, I seriously assumed I’d go out there and fix her right up. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to find my baby at the bottom of our hilly backyard, terrified and dragging the whole back half of her paralysed body. There would be no flick of a switch fix for this one, Susan. This was an horrific nightmare that was just beginning and I was completely out of my league. I floundered, I flopped, I screamed, I all out panicked, and inside I was the most terrified I had ever been in my life. Not only did I not know what to do but I could not take control on my own like I normally do. Ziva is a 36.5kg (80lb.) Golden Retriever that is solid muscle to the core and at least half of her is now dead weight. I couldn’t pick her up on my own and carry her uphill; hell, Warren could barely do it but together we got her upstairs and inside the house.

There was no blood anywhere, she wasn’t frothing at the mouth (which could indicate a paralysis tick) and she absolutely refused to lay down and take the weight off of her front legs. In that moment, I had not a clue what to do so I did what any mother does in these situations; I gathered her between my legs and into my arms and just held her as tight as I could. Somehow I would figure out what to do; at some point, something would come to me but until then I was going to hang onto her for dear life to let her know I was there and to keep her from slipping on the hardwood floor.

Eventually I screamed for Warren to get my phone from our bedroom and when he returned, I realised I had not one single clue who to call. Not one…not one person’s name came to my mind, not one organisation, just one thought kept going through my mind, “I don’t fucking know what to do! WHY don’t I know what to do?” And then I realised I could call our vet’s office and get an emergency number off of their night recording. I mistakenly called the vet’s mobile number and when his voice mail picked up, I cussed a little more, hung up and dialled the main office number. Thankfully Dr. Pete of Two By Two Vet actually picked up the phone – how that worked at 10:30pm on Saturday evening, I don’t know but I’ll ask him next time I see him. I couldn’t even talk straight, I couldn’t even get the words out correctly, but thank God Pete understood me and told me to take Ziva to NEVs. He had to repeat it FOUR times and I had to actually write it down because every time he said it and I repeated it, my brain forgot the name. Those that know me know my short term memory is something I pride myself on – well, in times of trauma, it quits working.

We eventually got Ziva in the car. Thank God for Warren’s brute strength and my fumbling fingers that painstakingly programmed the NavMan with the address I had Googled. Thank God also for wonderful and amazing places and people like NEVs – Northside Emergency Vets and the Northside Veterinary Specialists. After passing the building once because there were no lights, turning around in an abandoned parking lot and driving the wrong way on the wrong side of the street to get back to the parking lot I had passed, these incredible human beings from inside this unmarked building came out with a stretcher (which Ziva wanted no part of,) eventually abandoned the stretcher and physically picked up Ziva and whisked her inside to immediately start the emergency care she so desperately needed.

It has been a very long four days of waiting, waiting on the phone call in the middle of Saturday night to hear it wasn’t any kind of toxin or poison: the snake bite kit had come back negative. On Sunday waiting on the phone call from the specialist who had examined Ziva, he determined a spinal injury had caused her paralysis and he wasn’t sure she would walk again because she didn’t have deep pain reaction on the right side of her body. Waiting on another specialist to do a CTScan, she found an abnormality in Ziva’s lower spine and it was best to call in the surgeon to do emergency surgery while she was still under anaesthesia. Waiting on the surgeon to call after surgery, he said her injury was far more severe than any of them had thought, that her ruptured disc had shot out like a cannonball through her spinal cord causing a large bolus of blood to form and press on her nerves but that he was able to repair everything. The surgeon telling us that we needed to wait and let nature take its course but that if she got the deep pain reaction back in her left paw like she had before surgery, then he would consider it a success. Waiting and waiting to hear if Ziva could feel the deep pain in her left paw and to be rewarded with the news that not only did she feel it in the left but she she felt it in the right…we had a miracle on our hands!

So now my days are spent waiting on my morning and evening update calls from Dr. Stephanie. I can’t get much done on a daily basis. I tend to break down and cry often, my imagination gets the best of me and my worry about my baby can literally take my breathe away. I’ve never felt more helpless, more out of control and completely useless than I have this week. So when Dr. Stephanie asked me to come down and see if I could get Ziva to eat, I readily agreed. Finally! Something for me to do! I took all of her favourite foods, her treats and and even a peanut butter treat filled frozen Kong. I was prepared and I was ready. I schooled myself not to expect anything from Ziva, not to expect our usual happy go lucky Ziva but to just BE there for her – a taste of home, to let her know we missed her. So here is a video of my first, VERY LONG OVERDUE VISIT with Ziva:

The visit was difficult and I left feeling bereft. She still cannot be comfortable laying down on her side, but once there I immediate sprawled on the floor next to her and began scratching her in the places I knew she loved. It took her a solid twenty minutes to finally calm down, stop shaking, and begin to breathe through her nose. Her anxiety level is high and her inability to make her back legs do what she wants causes her great stress. So the two of us just lay there on the floor of the hospital room and I calmly talked to her about what has been happening at home while she slowly calmed her breathing. I eventually offered her a few niblets of roo, and low and behold she gobbled them up. She probably ate about 10 niblets of roo, each the size of maybe a small vitamin. She also drank most of the bowl of water Nurse Hannah brought to her. After that, she wanted nothing to do with food. She had refused cooked chicken from Dr. Stephanie earlier this morning and now she wouldn’t even lick the melted peanut butter from the Kong off my finger.

As she began to get agitated again, I stopped everything and we went back to just laying next to each other, me scratching and talking, and her slowing her breathing. I told her there were a few things she needed to do in order to come home. Her catheter had been removed that morning also, so weeing on her own was a big to-do. Eating was another one which she could continue to work on after I left the hospital. I don’t think her tummy feels well and Dr. Stephanie agreed she might need some anti-nausea and reflux meds to help her. Mainly I talked and I’m hopeful she listened. I have to view her as a trauma patient who has lost the use of her legs and is terrified…because essentially that’s who she is. She has a long road of recovery ahead of her, rehab, physio, lots of exercise, hopefully lots of acupuncture and whatever else we find that will help her. This is our second child and we will do whatever it takes to help her walk again, no matter what.

Here are some pictures from my visit. The first is her “not very happy face but it’s definitely her BRAVE face,” the second one is our failed carpet picnic and the third is her surgery dressing. Please keep Ziva and the Smith family in your thoughts and prayers. Her medical bills are tremendous at the moment but we are holding our own. Many have encouraged us to do a GoFundMe page and if it comes to that, I’ll let you know. Right now, good thoughts, steadfast prayers and loving vibes towards Ziva are most needed. Cheers, Susan


Improvement – Just in Time for Thanksgiving

Within 24 hours of surgery, my “second daughter” is showing signs of feeling in her rear legs already.  That is the best news that we could have hoped for.  The biggest fear that hung heavy over our household was the possibility that the dog would never regain the use of her legs.  If that happened…the consequences were unthinkable but very real for us.

Susan went down to the hospital to drop off some familiar things with her scent on them to make her more comfortable.  The hospital staff have fallen in love with her and are showering her with affection.  Sounds like she’s getting just a little spoiled at this place!


What is it about a family pet that can escalate them to the status of human family member?  In our house, this entire drama was just as gut-wrenching as if the surgery was required for my REAL daughter.  I remember growing up in rural Pennsylvania, where “farm cats” and “farm dogs” had a more raw existence.  If one of them had an accident and was paralyzed, they’d be put to death immediately without a second thought.  But these days in our family, the pets are priceless gifts from God.  Years ago back in Knoxville the girls rescued an older dog they found by the side of the road.  She was in such bad shape that it took a hefty vet bill of more than $1,000 to get her patched up and healthy.  That sounds like a lot, but little Sophia became a family member and enriched our lives for several years thereafter, right up to the point where we left for Oz.

We don’t think about the cost.  All we can focus on is restoring our lives by restoring our missing family member.  This is a young dog, only about 2.5 years old and there are years of rich experiences ahead we will have to be a bit cautious with her to prevent another such occurrence with her spine. The doctors were so great at the vet hospital and so sympathetic to Susan’s anxiety over Ziva.  They saw her tears, heard her voice shaking, and noted her red face.  Their responses were compassionate, their phone updates positive and upbeat, and they even took the photo above and sent it to Susan to reassure her after she had dropped off the dog’s stuffed animal for her this afternoon.

Back in the early 1980’s at Michigan State I had an interesting observation.  The vet students had all the knowledge of the medical students and even took human anatomy classes, but had an extra dose of compassion and grace that the wanna-be doctors lacked.  If I ever got sick, I thought I’d rather go see a vet for his/her humanity more than a traditional doctor!  Now, it’s not fair to speak ill of all doctors and I appreciate all the good ones that are out there today.  But my conversations at Owen Graduate Center were just very different with the vet students than the osteopaths.  Just sayin’.

Due to all this drama, and the fact that Ziva won’t come home until at least Friday and possibly as late as next Monday, we’ve decided to cancel our annual Thanksgiving turkey fry for our Aussie friends.  We are focused on the issue of how well Ziva will recover and concerns about how we will manage her behavior so her young dog spirit doesn’t send her back to the hospital.  A house full of 20-30 people would make her pretty manic, which she doesn’t need during her recovery.  We also can’t focus on both the dog and managing all the preparation required to inject and fry a 20 lb turkey and bake multiple pecan and  pumpkin pies.  We’ll have to have a picnic closer to the Christmas holiday, and by that time we’ll hopefully have something to really celebrate!

So Happy Thanksgiving to our friends back in the USA; down in Oz we plan to be thankful for something a bit different this year.  She’s in the photo you see above.

PS:  Well, maybe we’ll have at least ONE pumpkin pie this weekend…we’ve got 9 cans of pumpkin from the USA.  Would taste good with ice cream while we watch the Ohio State – Michigan football game!


Not the best day

November 19/20 was one of our worst days for The Smiths in Oz. At about 10:30pm I let the dog Ziva out for a final potty break prior to turning in. Within seconds, I heard her crying in pain and when I turned the flashlight on her she was desperately trying to move but both her back legs were trailing lifelessly behind her. She was effectively paralyzed.  What the heck?  I rousted Susan from sleep and thus began a nightmare evening where I tried to carry this HEAVY dog back up the hill, up the steps, and back into the house. Susan called our vet and discovered where we should take her. We got her into the back seat and she was terrified and trembling. For all I knew, she’d been bitten by a snake but instant paralysis didn’t seem to fit with that. Susan and I were both beside ourselves. It was really like a second daughter had suffered a terrible injury. We got to the vet clinic and Susan hollered for help; we couldn’t carry that heavy dog any further.  The docs began by first checking to see if she had been poisoned, and then would do testing for snake bite. But first they had to cool her down. Ziva had worked herself up into a 40 degree C temperature so they used ice packs to cool her down to avoid brain damage.

Then they sent us home, promising to stabilize and watch over her until the 6am shift checked in. We got a few hours of sleep before they called us to say a conclusion hadn’t been reached but they were still working on it and would call us about the next steps to be taken (surgery.). Not what I’d call a restful night. In fact, the entire next day was unsettling as we basically went into a waiting mode while they continued to work on her. By the afternoon the specialist arrived and they did a CT scan on her.  The surgeon called Susan to report that the dog’s disc “shot out of place like a cannonball” and injured the spinal cord. But it wasn’t severed, thank God. The surgeon said he’d never seen such a thing in a dog only 2.5 years old. But the procedure had a high success rate, with 70-80% recovery odds. That was the first good news we’d had all day.  So now the surgery is done, the dog is recovering, and the Smiths are collapsing into bed to find some peace and get some needed rest.

Not a particularly sunny day for us.  But we did everything we could and are hopeful that our dog Ziva will regain the use of her legs and start down the rehab path toward returning to her old self.