My last post celebrated some of the good stuff about our first year here in Savannah. That post was super fun to write. This one is not. It’s basically about the one bad thing that has happened since we moved.
(Tilly pre-surgery pics from a recent team outing to the drive-in movie theater near Beaufort, SC)
Our littlest, furriest team member has had a hard few weeks. If you’ve been reading the blog for any amount of time, you know Tilly is family to Manny and me. You also may have picked up on the fact that she has eye problems, which are sadly common to basset hounds as a breed. About four years ago, she had one of her eyes removed due to complications from glaucoma. Last year, shortly before we moved to Savannah, she began experiencing glaucoma-related problems in her remaining eye.
At the time, her ophthalmologist told us we could expect her to go blind in that eye within a month. We were devastated. While we had already beat the clock (glaucoma will typically progress from one eye to the other in dogs, and quickly), we were gutted to think that, after all the years she spent living in a NYC-apartment, Tilly would lose her vision just as her life was about to open up in so many ways.
But her NY doctor’s prediction did not come true! At least not on the proposed timeline. A full year after we had first braced ourselves for the blow, Tilly still had her vision, thanks in part to a regimen of prescription eye drops. But then, the inevitable happened. Tilly woke up one morning a few weeks ago and couldn’t see.
Glaucoma is an often painful condition, for people and animals. In Tilly’s case, the condition is genetic and so very difficult to treat. It resulted in a buildup of pressure in the eye that led to damage of the optic nerve. There’s a good chance it started long ago — maybe, in fact, years ago, leading to a loss of vision so gradual that even she barely detected it. But, eventually, she had an acute flare-up that couldn’t be treated and totally lost what sight she had left.
Multiple visits to her Savannah ophthalmologist failed to restore any of her vision. Her wonderful doctor was also unable to bring her eye pressure down to a tolerable level — tolerable as in ‘not painful’ — for any meaningful length of time. The eye was red and swollen and doubtlessly caused her significant discomfort.
Typically (in people and animals) eye pressure from the disease above a certain threshold causes migraine-like pain. Suffers can feel nauseous as well. Indeed, it wasn’t just that Tilly couldn’t see; she was also miserable. Our options were limited. Soon we made the choice to have her remaining eye removed.
A lot goes into a decision like this, as it’s permanent and just feels drastic. And even though Tilly had been through the procedure once already years before with her other eye, we still had hesitations and worries that were hard to get over. Namely, Tilly’s not a young dog anymore, and putting her under anesthesia comes with risks. Beyond this were the trivial, trite, and selfish concerns: For instance, I knew I’d miss her eyelashes.
Finally, Tilly’s surgery has come and gone. She is recovering and doing really well. I do miss her eyelashes, but she is still beautiful and sweet and expressive. And she’s healthier and better off for the long term. Manny and I are getting over the persistent sadness we have felt for weeks (for years, really) that she has had to go through this pain and trouble. I am working on not being angry — with who, I don’t know — that she has been totally robbed of her ability to see. And there are silver linings: As a hound, Tilly has a great nose. This helps as, every day, she makes progress mapping our home and our neighborhood. And she is still surrounded by a family that loves her and cares for her.
Part of why I’m sharing this is just to give you a head’s up that she will likely look different next time you see her here. Also, I’ve thought a lot about some of my conversations with her ophthalmologist here leading up to the surgery. He pointed out how hesitant pet owners can be to go through with eye removal, often opting for procedures meant to manage the ongoing symptoms of glaucoma, even after blindness has become permanent. But dogs can’t easily tell us when they’re hurting. With her first eye-removal surgery years ago, we noticed a fairly immediate improvement in her demeanor. She was, within days, more active, healthier, and happier. As she continues to recover from the second eye-removal surgery, we see once again how her previous pain has been mitigated. We feel a range of emotions — but most important, perhaps, is relief at knowing the bad hand she was dealt genetically will no longer cause her daily discomfort.
Meanwhile, we’ve taken steps to make our home a safer, more comfortable place for her. Practically speaking, this meant removing small tables and other furniture with hard or jagged edges. For instance, the glass and cast iron coffee table in our living room has been stored away in favor of a plush new ottoman. We’re looking forward to helping Tilly settle into a new normal, and we know she’s going to be better off in the long run. After all, this basset is one tough cookie.