2009 started with an amount of optimism that we never thought possible 6 months earlier. Maisy had recovered from her surgery and was back to about 85-90% of her physical ability prior to her operation. Christmas had been special, particularly as the excitement of opening presents and (perhaps even more so) the intrigue found in playing with wrapping paper hadn't been lost on any of the dogs, Maisy in particular. We would be sitting in the lounge, enjoying the new gifts whilst Maisy begun the process of hoarding her little fluffy toys and plastic bones that mummy and daddy had bought for her. She would collect the fluffy rat, pheasant and duck in her mouth and walk them one by one back to her bed in the kitchen, away from Barney and Archie and where she was most comfortable with them, like they were her puppies, the ones that she would have been so cruelly forced to produce time and time again, before being taken from her for the capital gain of her incredibly wicked and evil owner.
So as we left the festive period, the outlook turned towards our wedding, which was now fast approaching, towards the end of April. Following the many wonderful holiday visits to Kingairloch, Cassie and I decided that there was no better place to finally tie the knot - after 8 years together and nearly 7 years of engagement, I guess it was about time. With a beautiful, quaint little church right there on the estate, a number of delightfully equipped houses for guests and the majestic estate house complete with Ceilidh hall, we were set. We actually found that having decided to keep the wedding small (the inevitable effect of asking guests to travel over 500 miles to be part of proceedings) and working with the estate owners recommendations for food, flowers and decorations, the actual planning and organising really wasn't that difficult and didn't cost anywhere near what many people spend on their weddings these days.
Once again, Maisy had a ball at the wedding. Apart from the church service, the dogs were involved throughout the week (you wouldn't expect anything less, would you?). Maisy found her majestic side tickled by being lady of the manor, seen often enjoying the unseasonably warm temperatures and bright sunshine while basking on the lush lawn or the steps of the main house, in glorious view of loch and mountains. You could see in the photos taken and the look on her face and language clearly expressed in every position of her body that Maisy is truly at ease in these surroundings, even with the to-ing and fro-ing of guests and strangers.
The wedding was a magical event, not for its grandure or expense, but for the fact that we kept it simple, kept it personal and did it our way. Everything was perfect, from the surroundings, to the weather, to the guests and the flowers, the food and the drink.
We went back to Scotland 6 months later, when there was a very different look to the landscape. The autumnal hues had set which creates my favourite theme of colours across the highland vistas. Waterfalls grace every crevis and cranny in the mountainsides and the sky gifts the eyes a sunset treat to ensnare the rest of the senses. Maisy enjoyed the forest walks of Glen Coe, the short foray up the Ben Nevis mountain path, until too tired to go on and so returning to the car cold, wet but invigorated. She enjoyed the open fire and cosy early nights. Little did she know that within a few weeks she would have to endure the same battle she had won only one year earlier.
A Sunday afternoon walk on the beach at Sandbanks, with the wind blowing wildly and the waves crashing onto the sands, Maisy enjoying playing with Daddy and keeping up with the boys. Crossing over the rocky groynes, Maisy met a larger dog who was quite excitable and accidentally knocked into her. She fell awkwardly, picked herself up, dusted herself off and carried on as before. The next day, I was upstairs working on the computer, when Nanny Carol came round in between shifts at work. I came downstairs to say hi, and Maisy was sat strangely on the floor. She couldn't get up, but instead, shuffled on her bum to come and say hi to her nanny - obviously the promise of sausages (Nanny's usual treat) was enough to warrant this effort.
I knew something was up and straight away I feared the worse. Having been through it before, I went into autopilot, remembering the tests the vets had performed to asses what level of feeling/motor ability/sensory reaction Maisy had. I was encouraged to find that beyond deep pain reflex, Maisy could still move her hind legs and wag her tail, but she was unable to stand and was beginning to get worried, panting heavily and drooling. There was some discomfort and I think that she knew what this meant, having experienced it only 12 months earlier.
I phoned the vet and made an immediate appointment. Cas got home from work and was now really worried. You see, the first injury cost us over £8000 in vets bills, physio and hydrotherapy. She had maxed her per injury allowance on her insurance policy, which was £6k. Cas and I had talked previously about what would we would do if it happened again, as we couldn't possibly afford to cover the whole cost of this again ourselves. We were going to be faced with the most horrifically tough decision and it was dawning on both of us that this was very real and we may need to be considering what we do.
So we took Maisy to the vets and as we suspected they suggested that the symptoms were the same as previous, likely a disk protrusion causing compression to the spinal chord and thereby causing paralysis. As Maisy still had a small amount of movement in her legs (unlike last time) we had the option of being referred to the specialist or waiting, monitoring and praying for natural recovery, with the help of some anti-inflammatory drugs. We knew that if we were to be referred, that the specialists would say that the only way to tell what the problem might be, is to do a CT scan and Myelogram again and MRI. This would be £2000 just for the tests, and we knew that should they find some material in the scans, that they would want to move straight to surgery whilst Maisy was under general anaesthetic. We were back in the exact same territory as before only this time, we were almost certainly faced with the entire bill falling straight onto our lap.
During the first operation, one of the determining factors if Maisy was going to make a recovery, was regaining her ability to urinate and defecate independently - without having to be expressed manually. This time, she hadn't lost that ability. She was Maisy, in mind and body and it made the whole situation so much more difficult. It was one thing to make a decision based on quality of life, it was another thing to make this decision based purely on cost. That night, for the first time, one of us spoke up and said aloud what I know both of us had been thinking and dreading. What if Maisy doesn't get better and the only way forward is to go through the hell of surgery again? Should we have her put to sleep where she can be rid of the pain? Both Cassie and I cried ourselves to sleep that night.
It was the worst nights sleep I'd ever had and I genuinely rose the next morning thinking that today may be Maisy's last and it was breaking both of our hearts. We had agreed with the vets that we would wait until Friday, monitor Maisy's progress and then take her back if she had not deteriorated further prior to then. However, following and attack of logic-itis, Cas and I determined that it would be foolish not to at least get her looked at by the specialist. So we took her in and as expected, suspected disk protrusion requiring myelogram, CT and then surgery. It was going to be £7k again easy.It was strange that hearing it from the neurologist and his confidence in being able to ascertain the cause of this paralysis and therefore, be able to treat it surgically gave us some hope and all thoughts about the financial side went out of the window that day.
We agreed to the pre-surgery assessments and were expecting them to go straight into surgery. I received a call from the neurologist as expected, following the myelogram and CT. "I would not operate on dis dog" (Spanish accent!). The myelogram and CT showed no obvious debris from a contusion that could be affected by a surgical procedure, the only way to tell for sure is with an MRI and due to the metal plate (as you can see below) an MRI was not possible and therefore didn't warrant further surgery and expense. So what now? Well, there were signs of a chronic disc calcification, which just seems to be something that happens naturally and I guess because of Maisy's poor development in her early years, may have been exacerbated further. The only treatment for this was rest, rest and more rest.
Following the surgery, we took Maisy home. She was so pleased to be back after 5 days hospitalisation, back with her brothers who again, were so good and gentle with her, they make me so proud. We used her belly band and quite a few sausages to coax her out for a wee from time to time, but generally just allowed her to rest. The neurologist said to stop her metacam, an anti-inflammatory and painkiller, as Maisy needed true feedback from her system if she was in pain so as not to overdo anything. And we just waited. After a few days, she was a lot brighter, she was starting to walk sloppily and after a week, she was walking and I was literally having to sit on her to stop her running around like a hooligan. Dragging her bum around on the floor for a while didn't do her much good, as she has picked up a couple of nasty urinary infections, which have been killed of pretty quickly each time with antibiotics. Otherwise, it's a slow and methodical process back to recovery and a semi-normal life for her as we begin to introduce the hydro therapy and short walks again. That said, we are never more conscious that this could happen again, at any time.