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Birthday Reflections

About 2 weeks ago I celebrated another birthday with my birthday buddy, Chance (we have the same birthday). I felt a little melancholic, as I was reflecting on the past year. 2020 was not the best year for us. Actually, I doubt that anyone can call it their best year. After the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic in mid-March, like many people around the world, we went into lockdown. Our house suddenly felt tiny and crowded, and everyone in my family had to adjust to be around each other 24/7. As the hope of going back to normal faded, our entire lifestyle changed as well. At first, my kids were very sad that they couldn’t go to school, play sports and music, or have playdates with their friends. However, as they became more technology-savvy, they adapted to doing school, music lessons and Dungeons and Dragons, or just to “hanging out” with their friends online. Unfortunately, this also led to their discovery of online gaming, which, as I found out, is very difficult for parents to supervise and control, leading to frequent arguments. My husband set up his office in our dining room and we started having family dinners in our living room. These were initially combined with occasional movie nights but then became more regular. My kids were delighted that they could finally watch all of the Star Wars and Avenger movies. Although we have gotten used to being at home all the time (and I am very grateful that we are fortunate enough to have a home), I can’t say that we love it. Personally, I miss seeing and interacting with other people the most. I do not particularly enjoy video chatting and staring at my own face on the screen. I am one of those people, who always volunteers to take photos of others, just to avoid being photographed. I prefer to see my friends in-person and having a conversation with them this way just seems more authentic. So I was very happy, when my friends and I started going on long (social-distanced and masked) walks regularly.

Then in early September I broke my foot in a freak accident. I grabbed Chance’s collar, while trying to push a big box (from Chewy of all places) through the front door, and in that instant, without any warning, he darted out the door. As he took me with him, I flew down our porch backwards, hitting my head and twisting my foot. Initially, it was diagnosed as an ankle sprain. However, after no improvement, we found out that my calcaneus (heel bone) was also broken. Then, after another month in the fracture boot, my foot turned purple and puffy and the pain became unbearable. Even the lightest touch to my foot caused severe pain. At this point my doctor also diagnosed me with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome or CRPS, which is a very painful condition caused by the improper firing of peripheral nerve fibers that carry pain messages to the brain. Despite the fracture not being healed yet, I had to stop wearing the boot and start a more intense physical therapy program. My doctor warned me to use my foot or lose it. The possibility of not being able to ever walk again got me very scared and for the last few months I have been working very hard to stop the progression of this disease. The good news is that, as long as I keep up with my daily physical therapy regiment, the pain is now very manageable. The bad news is that the fracture is still not completely united. So now I face a dilemma. How do I keep exercising to prevent a CRPS flare up, while also keeping the fracture immobilized to allow it to heal? It is a fine balancing act that I am still trying to figure out. I also began using a bone stimulator that is supposed to aid the natural bone repair process via low-intensity ultrasound waves. Hopefully, it will help my body to heal itself and I can resume those greatly missed walks with my friends.

Although this was the second bone in my body that Chance managed to brake, I couldn’t be upset with him. Unfortunately, he had his share of health problems in 2020 as well. In early July his right eye suddenly swelled up and he became very slow and sluggish. After numerous veterinarian visits, tests and treatments, his condition just kept worsening. Finally, high dosage of oral and ophthalmic corticosteroids did the trick and Chance’s eye and energy level started to improve. Although his doctors couldn’t come up with a definitive diagnosis, they speculated that Chance’s symptoms were immune mediated, as he responded so well to immunosuppressive therapy. Unfortunately, Chance couldn’t tolerate this treatment for long and developed very concerning side effects. So his doctor prescribed another immunosuppressive medication called mycophenolate mofetil and lowered the dosage of the corticosteroids. For the next 3 months we thought that we finally found the right treatment for him. His eye looked great and he became more interested in walks and play. He even became mischievous again, which we thought that he had outgrown already. Sadly, the medications were also damaging his body. He slowly lost his appetite, (we) suffered from (his) flatulence, and vomited occasionally. As these are known side effects of the drugs he was taking, he was then given more drugs to manage these symptoms. By mid-December he completely stopped eating, even the meals I specifically cooked for him, and was diagnosed with severe acute pancreatitis. At that point, he was also very lethargic and we became very close to losing him. I think what saved his life was that he refused to take his mycophenolate pills, which we believe caused the pancreatitis. Interestingly, this was the only pill he would not take, after he became very ill. As if he knew that it was making him sick. Fortunately, Chance is now recovering well and his appetite is back to normal. In addition, he is completely off of all of the immunosuppressive medications, so far without the reoccurrence of his disease. We were told that he would most likely need lifelong immunosuppressive treatment, but I am hoping that will not be the case. As a result of the corticosteroid therapy, he developed cataract in both eyes and corneal deposits in his right eye. At 4 years old he is already showing some signs of vision loss. In addition, he has been losing a large portion of his soft fur, which we assume is also due to the medications he was taking. So I am really hoping that we can keep him off of anymore medications in the future. It was really tough going through Chance’s health crisis during this pandemic. As if it wasn’t enough that he had to keep going to the veterinarian hospital, where he was poked and prodded, he had to do it without us being there to comfort him. We had to say good bye to him in the parking lot, as he was anxiously taken away. Although Chance did not enjoy these visit, I am forever grateful for his doctor, who treated him with tremendous compassion.

I am sorry that this post became so long and I sounded so much like Debbie Downer. I know that last year was tough for many people. I think what made it so difficult is that many individuals had to go through their problems alone, without the support of their friends and family. Humans are inherently social creatures. Being socially connected in a meaningful way is an essential part of our health and survival. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for all of us to connect with friends and people outside of our households and created another pandemic, one of social isolation. Although there is still a long way to go, let’s hope that this year we will be able to begin transitioning toward normalcy. My kids’ birthday (they share their birthday too) is in September and their wish is to go back to in-person school by then. It is a big deal coming from them, especially from my daughter, who used to call school “a prison for children”. I really hope that they will get their birthday wish. In the meantime, I think we need to reach out (in a pandemic-safe way, of course) to friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and even strangers with some simple acts of kindness to show that we care. And that is my resolution for this year.

Lemon poppy seed Bundt cake with flowers and Chance, a Golden retriever, playing with a toy
The lemon poppy seed Bundt cake I received for my birthday and Chance getting ready to destroy his "mini-Chance" birthday stuffie.