ABlogAbout Dexter: The Recovery Room

The recovery phase was hard on everyone. It’s tough to lock a dog up, knowing that it is for months. You want them out bounding around, making a fool of themselves and chewing up the furniture. Of course, dogs live in the moment and Dexter didn’t know we were facing half a year of recovery. But he did know that he wanted to get out. It’s apparently common for the dog to feel so much better after surgery that they are thoroughly frustrated with the idea of laying low. Hence the need for fistfuls of doggie downers. Without these sedatives, life for all of us would have been unbearable.

The confinement was tough in other ways as well. Weeks into the recovery, we realized that both Dexter and Zeta were MUCH calmer if we let them hang out together. Sniffing each other through the closed door had resulted in nearly constant barking from both of them – even through the sedatives. So, we started supervised visits. Zeta somehow sensed that she shouldn’t try to play with him. She just needed to see that he was okay. A far cry from the “What the hell is THIS?” attitude she had when we first showed up with him. They were more bonded than we had thought.

It is a challenging process, this recovery business. Total isolation and restricted movement is hard for all dogs, but for puppies it is excruciating. For most dogs, recovery would mean being in a crate. But Dexter was far too big for that. We had already considered and rejected the idea of putting Dexter in a crate. But if not a crate, how could we possibly contain him (pun fully intended)? Luckily, we have two extra bedrooms that were used intermittently for visits from my wonderful step-kids. They were very understanding when we told them that one room was now going to be Dexter’s room.

So he’d be isolated. But he needed round-the-clock care. Of course there were the meds, which needed to be administered every few hours. Particularly the all-important sedatives. We were also required to escort him outside, carrying his back end in a sling. Now, he was still a puppy – only 7 months. While he was potty trained, he was just barely potty trained, and he was not yet able to hold his pee for long stretches. So, these trips outside were very frequent.

In other words, his caregiver was going to be up every two hours to take him out or give him meds, or both. It was like bringing home a young puppy again. Sleeping upstairs and out of hearing range would not do. So, armed with elaborate med sheets and an alarm clock, I moved into the recovery room.

Armed with an elaborate med sheet, I moved into the recovery room ready to nurse my baby back to health.
Armed with an elaborate med sheet, I moved into the recovery room ready to nurse my baby back to health.

I know that most people would not do this. Most people would put the puppy in a crate and leave them be. Clearly, I had different ideas.

My need to be near him when he was ailing was one of the big patterns of our time together. In fact, through the course of our many surgeries together, I came to enjoy sleeping on the cold floor, head butted up against his or cradling him in my arms, or just being nearby. I firmly believe that he needed this and it helped him through rough times, but I know some folks would see this as just a symptom of my being overly-attached. It’s probably both.

Hubby is a saint. He understood completely each and every time I abandoned him in the upstairs bedroom to be with my dog.

An approximation of the sleeping routine. This was many surgeries down the road, so the sleeping arrangement was well-established.
An approximation of the sleeping routine. This was many surgeries down the road, so the sleeping arrangement was well-established.

Of course, I still had to go to work (to pay all those vet bills!) so leave him I did. Later on, I’d have the luxury to work from home and spend most of the day with him. But for these first surgeries I had to leave him locked up in the room. I was completely distressed at the thought. I hated leaving Dex alone. Mommy anxiety!

Apparently, he hated it too. He made that plain by producing a terrible, gut-wrenching wail when I left. He would wail. Oh God, it was a horrible sound! And it wasn’t a “cry yourself to sleep” wail. No, this went on endlessly. He could howl for hours. His whole life, he made this horrible keening sound when he was sad or when we left the house. Or when he wanted something that he wasn’t getting. (keep an eye out for a future post called Pavlov’s Human) Even our neighbor could hear him. He called it Dexter’s “crying.” Truly, it sounded like he was wailing and sobbing at a funeral.

He would clearly need someone to check on him during the day, to take him outside and give him his meds, and just cheer him up. So began our relationship with another member of Team Dexter – Brian. We hired Brian to walk Zeta and take Dexter outside during the day. We’d actually had another dog walker/caregiver before, but she really didn’t “get” Dexter. She was very nice and did a great job, but it was clear that Dexter’s size was a bit intimidating to her. We came to a mutual decision that another walker was a better option.

Man, did we luck out with Brian. No one could have provided better care for Dex. Seeing (and eventually walking with) Brian was also a way to socialize Dex a little bit more. Because he spent so much time recovering – and before that being injured – Dex didn’t get out enough to really get socialized. He was always incredibly sweet when he met people or other dogs. There didn’t seem to be an aggressive bone in his body. He loooooooooved meeting kids. Loved them. But he was a little too eager to make friends, and he’d often make people nervous.

He remained friendly and excited to meet people, and just intense enough that non-dog-people were a bit taken aback by his enthusiasm. Even his enthusiasm was gigantic.

At any rate, both dogs loved Brian and both were beside themselves with joy when he showed up each day.  Brian had so much experience with dogs that Dexter didn’t throw him one bit, and he wrangled Dexter into his sling with ease – a skill that took me a bit to master. They were good friends from the outset. With this peace of mind, I was able to return to work knowing he was in great hands.

So I felt better, but what of Dexter? One of our big concerns was how the surgeries (and all surgeries after these first two) would affect Dexter’s gentle nature. We needn’t have worried. Frustration with his confinement aside, the Moob was as sweet and kind as ever. He never took his frustration out on any human. Walls, doorknobs and of course food containers were fair game for an anxious destruction. But he bore the pain and the frustration with a quiet resolve that most humans would not be able to achieve. I’ve recovered from a great many surgeries myself, and have never gotten through it without a certain level of grumpiness.

Recovery from those first surgeries really set the tone for the rest of our relationship. My being super-tuned- into his needs, his gentle patience, horrible noises he made when he was upset or needed something, bell-ringing, ripping open food presents of all varieties, bribing him with treats when I had to leave him…. Oh, there were many ways that this shaped us.

Bad behavior on both of our parts…. And I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

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