Yesterday, I wrote about living with uncertainty, dealing with illness – both human and animal -- and the Mystery. When I posted what I had written in the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm on Facebook, it started a lively discussion. After sleeping on it, I realized that I had some things to say that would take more than the comments section would hold. The conversation branched off in three directions – caring for our animals and pet insurance, treating Lyme Disease and accepting the Mystery in our lives.
I was asked why I decided to put Stella through the series of diagnostic procedures – the MRI, spinal tap and bone marrow test. Jon Katz, who has written and thought more about the relationship of humans and animals than most people, wanted to know what were the limits in my mind, either in terms of the procedures the dog was to undergo, the trips, the cost or the emotional toll. Our decisions about how to do what was best for Stella were based on past experiences with our other dogs and on the financial safety net that pet insurance gave us.
When we lived in California, our neighbors put poison in their garden to kill the snails that were eating their plants. Then, they turned on the sprinklers and the poison washed into our yard. Not knowing any of this, I let our dog, Pepper, out in the morning, and the snail poison got on her paws. It burned, she licked her feet and started having seizures. I raced her to the vet, who luckily knew immediately that it was snail poison and pumped her stomach. Ten minutes longer, and it would have been too late to save her. Unfortunately, the nerves on the lining of Pepper’s stomach were permanently damaged, and I had to cook special food so that she could eat for the rest of her life. This happened when she was four years old, and she lived a good long life to the age of 14. We did not have pet insurance, and there were many times throughout Pepper’s life that I wished we did in order to help with the vet bills.
After Pepper died, we really wanted to get another dog, but it was during the recession, and we did not feel that we could make a financial commitment to bringing another animal into our family. Owning animals is expensive. I’ve had two horses for almost two decades, and many times, in order to take care of them, we’ve had to go without for ourselves. I believe that once I have taken responsibility for an animal's health and well-being, I have committed to doing whatever is necessary to avoid having my animal suffer ( even if it means that euthanizing is the most humane answer).
When we reached the point where we could afford another dog, I researched pet insurance companies carefully. They are not all created equal. Some are worthless because they don’t cover conditions that are common problems. I found a company called Embrace Pet Insurance, who even covered hip dysplasia, had reasonable monthly payments and paid promptly. I signed up for it the day that we brought Stella home, and I’ve never regretted it.
Stella is my constant companion, especially since my husband and daughter are away from home a lot. She goes everywhere with me, sleeps on our bed, is a dearly loved member of our family. So, when she got ehrlichiosis and suddenly became extremely ill, and the vet felt there was another underlying infection that he couldn’t identify and needed to be treated, we decided that we would use the pet insurance to determine whether it was cancer or not. If it was, we also felt that we would not put Stella through the painful and expensive chemo and radiation required to treat leukemia or lymphoma. I’ve worked with the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society and know many brave humans who have survived, but my dog doesn’t have the cognitive abilities humans have to understand what and why and the treatment is very painful. Luckily, at this point, the neurologist vet does not see signs of cancer, and has called Stella’s illness “idiopathic”, meaning it is a mystery.
Now, I think that he is side-stepping the larger question of whether ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease and other tick illnesses do greater damage to humans and animals than doctors are willing to acknowledge. Living in the land of Lyme, I know many people who suffer from arthritis, memory loss, respiratory problems and even blindness that they believe have been brought on after being bitten by ticks. It’s a parasite and it’s systemic. Once it’s in your body, it will always be there, even if it’s dormant for years.
Stella’s doctor, who is regarded highly by other vets, is not willing to go out on a limb and say that an ehrlichia tick is causing such a life threatening illness.
For some reason, the medical profession, both human and animal, refuses to give tick illnesses serious consideration or research. While Stella was in the hospital, I went on-line and investigated most of the major vet universities to try to find a researcher who was working on Lyme or ehrlichia, hoping to find someone who could shed more light on her illness. I could only find three doctors, and none of them were studying aspects of the diseases that had any relation to Stella’s symptoms. So, why aren’t the doctors and pharmaceutical companies and the federal government interested in funding research and finding the answers that could help so many sick people and animals? The tick problem keeps growing, but they all put their blinders on and deny it.
Ten years ago, my horse, Silk, went into shock and almost died after an ehrlichia tick bit her. Three years ago, my husband was bitten by a Lyme tick and he almost died when it caused a heart block. Last Sunday, when Stella was a dazed, zombie dog, growling at me, obviously in so much pain, I knew that the only hope for her was to intravenously pump the antibiotics and steroids in her as fast as possible. We were lucky, and it saved her. Back in the mid-1980’s, when so many of my friends got sick with AIDS, I witnessed a similar denial and also discovered the power of standing up and demanding action.
So, even though I don’t really want to get back on the soapbox, I’m reaching the point where I believe that it’s time for all of us to stand up and make some powerful noise. Why should an insect the size of a speck of dirt cause so much pain and ruin so many lives? I’m not saying that the Mystery doesn’t exist, but let’s not chalk it up to that because we’re trying to hide what’s really going on.