Orka’s recovery

This is the inspiring story of a dog called Orka, a Serbian dog, but he could be any living being on this planet. Very shortly after his first vaccination at the age of 1.5 years Orka developed epilepsy. About every 2 weeks he had one or a few seizures. This went on for more than one year. Besides the seizures Orka has always been a very sensitive dog, perhaps scared more easily than other beings of his tribe. But he also moved with an agility and grace which is rare, esp. for a large dog like him. He is white with black spots, but not a Dalmatian. He is male but not territorial and never ever aggressive.

Shortly after I joined his human companion who quickly became a friend something changed about his epilepsy medication. My friend pointed it out right away. Based on the packaging everything was the same, looked the same, but the colour and size of the pills were different. My friend’’s alarm bells rang as a change in medication had caused trouble before. Orka does not receive change well. The next day Orka suddenly sank to the ground, his body became stiff and was shaking with cramps – it was the 2nd time in my life that I saw a dog going through an epileptic seizure. After less than a minute it stopped – pee everywhere, Orka disoriented, but OK. This is how a very intense week for all three of us, Orka, my friend and myself began.

Perhaps an hour later, there was another seizure. Orka was obviously suffering tremendously and needed to be kept away from the other male dog who lives on the same property, and who attacks Orka during seizures. Actually, he did not attack Orka, but whatever moved into Orka’s body when he had these seizures. A look in his eyes revealed that there was nobody home. Orka only re-appeared after the seizure ended, and in the coming two days his re-emergence would take longer and longer.

My friend and I were with him throughout all the seizures that followed, and sometimes we cried watching his struggle and fears, his fast, panicky breath, his disorientation and the physical shocks which his body had to endure. We made sure he does not hurt himself by hitting the floor with his head, or by getting caught in nearby furniture. We talked to him, calmed him down, brought him outside on the grass for fresh air and a better connection with the Earth. Over and over we washed the many blankets and cushions he was laying on.

Over the next two days Orka had 10-15 seizures per day. We were up day and night and tried to give him all the help we could, hoping it would stop. It didn’t. We don’t trust the health system which had caused Orka’s problems to begin with. That’s why we waited so long. We were also in the countryside, a 1-hour drive away from the next suitable animal clinic, and transporting Orka in his condition seemed close to impossible. On day three it became clear that we had no choice. He had to see a doctor, and either that would alleviate his situation, or we would have to put him down.

So, I found myself in the backseat of my friend’s car, together with Orka. My friend was driving. Her and I only knew each other since a few days at that time, but the situation we were in quickly caused a deep bond. Actually I had joined her as a workawayer to take care of her organic hemp field and organic garden. Life is never predictable. On the way to Belgrade Orka had more seizures in the car and I tried my best to keep him from falling off the backseat, or hurting himself (or me) in any way. During his seizures his legs were running. He was desperately trying to escape whatever it was that had gotten a hold of him. A dog, laying down on the backseat next to me, running, grasping for air, cramping.

We reached the animal hospital at a moment when he was calm. On a sturdy blanket we carried him into the building and onto an examination table. Honestly, we didn’t have much hope then. A man came to see him but disappeared after a minute or so. We were standing next to Orka, my friend was crying. We both love this dog but she had a long relationship with him, from when he was a puppy while I had only just met him. Another doctor came together with a sympathetic-looking assistant. This doctor did not wear a white robe like the others. He wore a brown jacket and bluejeans. Later he told us that he was in the clinic on that Friday morning by coincidence, due to a meeting he had joined earlier. It turned out that he is considered the best veterinarian for nervous system disorders, incl. epilepsy, in Belgrade. At this point in time we still didn’t know that we and much more so than us, Orka got lucky, but he did. Well, eventually.

We were informed that the dosage of Orka’s previous medication was inappropriate for his condition. Nobody had an answer to what had happened to the medicine when it changed its colour and size but kept its original packaging. I didn’t feel like engaging with any of the medical staff and was only mildly impressed when I heard about the qualifications of the doctor. He was operating within the system, and the health system has never worked for me. I have not seen a conventional medical doctor since more than 15 years – didn’t need to and didn’t want to.

The doctor decided to stop Orka’s medication entirely and see what happens. That really sounds like a qualified idea, doesn’t it? I am being sarcastic, reflecting my feelings at the time. By now I felt like yelling at him and his assistant but I don’t speak Serbian and the two understand little English. Plus it was not on me to decide what to do with the situation. I left it to my friend. We carried Orka onto a scale so that his weight could be determined. He ended up lying on that scale for more than 30min, looking increasingly awake and alert – the most we had seen in 3 days. We were waiting for a preliminary blood test result.

Once the result was in we were told that we can now leave, take Orka home with us to see what happens without any medication, and then pick up a new, different type of medication at a pharmacy later in the day. I could not believe it. My friend explained to the staff that he will likely get more seizures, but we were told that he has calmed down and will be OK. He looked indeed pretty alive by then, all that activity around him got him back into his body. Nothing we could do about the decisions of the medical staff. So we carried Orka back into the car. My friend started the engine, turned the car around and the next seizure began.

She drove back to the entrance of the clinic, ran inside while I was again with Orka in the backseat, making sure that he does not physically hurt himself, calming him down as best I could. Minutes later and after the seizure had stopped the doctor’s assistant came to the car. She looked at Orka, could clearly see the change in his eyes and body language, and injected a sedative. My friend had quickly popped into a little store for animal food which was 10 meter away and I was alone with the assistant. She told me in English that Orka won’t get any more seizures and we can now take him home. Enough is enough. I started yelling at her that this dog is certainly having tons of seizures and that I do not believe her prognosis. My friend came back from the store. She had been crying through most of this clinic experience. The assistant did not change her mind.

We left the clinic. During this afternoon Orka had 6 more seizures. At 5pm I collected his new medication which he would take from this evening onward. It needed to be picked up at a far away pharmacy. When we stopped there earlier to order the medicine my friend had to fight for its preparation on the same day. The person behind the counter saw no emergency situation. My friend had to argue with her that Orka was in a status of seizures, meaning he goes from one seizure to another with very little time in between and without recovering. When I came back at 5pm I was ready to stay at the pharmacy and make a fuzz until I had the medicine but it was not necessary. It was ready. And everything changed.

Since that evening 2 months ago Orka has not had any more seizures. The new medicine worked for him. The doctor in the brown jacket communicated with my friend over the phone for several days, asking about Orka’s condition and giving advice – free of charge. It became clear that he truly cared about Orka and wanted his recovery.

His recovery. That was not easy. Somehow during all these seizures and the following week of hardly any movement while his weakened body regained some life, Orka lost most of his muscle tissue, esp. in his legs. His brain was also effected. As he was trying to stand up and walk it became clear that he had to re-learn everything, how to walk, how to control his body, how to deal with physical obstacles in his way. In the beginning he was walking into walls, against stones and into ditches if we were not with him and carefully watching him every minute. He often fell over, then didn’t know how to get up. But his recovery was remarkable in many ways.

First of all, it was fast. He was walking again within a week after he started standing up. It became obvious that there was no worry, no thoughts like “what if I can never walk again’, “what if I don’t have the strength to get through this”. He just moved on and did what needed to be done. Nature. There was no clinging on to how he used to function before all this happened, no fear of failure, not even the slightest glimpse of that. It was obvious that he does not operate mind-based like most humans do. He was navigating his situation moment to moment. A loving presence. One day he found out that he can bark. That was funny. He was barking over and over just because he could and his eyes were full of excitement.

One could say that this may all be my projection, or interpretation of what was going on, and perhaps far from reality. But there was no doubt. It was so clear. After two weeks Orka was able to walk stairs again and another week later he reconquered the sofa. He still can’t move remotely as agile, fast and graceful as he used to, but for him that does not seem to matter. There is no striving and no regret, just a moment to moment aliveness, an embodiment of nature – of what wants to happen next, uncertain, unpredictable. Orka being Orka. He still is a fearful dog. He still expresses that same gentleness and sensitivity even though many other things changed. Likely he will be a physically remarkable dog again too at some point, but never the same dog that he was before the seizures. A fast transformation into something new. We are all changing all the time. Sometimes a jump like this happens which can take on many forms and shapes.

Lastly I have to say that without the veterinarian who works within the system, and whom we met at an animal clinic which is deeply embedded in the pharmaceutical industry, Orka would no longer be alive. We were very, very close to choosing euthanasia to alleviate his suffering. I left it to my friend of course, and something prompted her to not give up quite yet on that afternoon at her apartment in Belgrade when Orka had those additional 6 seizures after we had left the clinic. She also rang several more veterinarians that evening to get more opinions and some seemed to not understand why she was even thinking about keeping him alive. I heard that in some countries dogs and other pet animals are euthanized as soon as a difficult condition such as epilepsy is diagnosed.

One things has become very clear through this story: we can never ever generalise. Sometimes the health system does an amazing job when one meets the right people who use it in the right way. There are high-frequency people everywhere, even in the most unexpected places. Sometimes euthanasia is the right choice, for Orka it was not. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to any question one could possibly ask, or be confronted with.

We know what the right thing is moment to moment from the inside out. This is the innate wisdom we are all connected with and which we can chose to embody. Often our mind, our thoughts, our emotions seem to speak louder and we get caught up in all kinds of mental acrobatics, but there always is that moment when we actually know, that moment when we initially encounter a question, or a situation, before there is a thought about it. That moment is the embodiment of nature, of what we actually are. Orka seems to live from this place all the time.

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