Chief of Pack Dynamics

9 Dec 1 Comment Tamara Otto



Our Chief of Pack Dynamics, Otto von Bacon, is going through a rough spell. I woke up at 1am last Monday to his pacing and wandering around the house, and I found him standing in the corner of my office disoriented. I pulled him into bed with us and he was literally freaking out – shaking uncontrollably and hyperventilating – for hours and hours.  Ramon finally got up with him and took him out to the living room so I could get a few hours of sleep, since I had a deadline I needed to meet the next day and was trying to wrap things up before leaving on vacation on Wednesday.

It’s a funny thing – I was well-rested going into this so there was a sense of physical resiliency.  Not sure how it would have felt if I had been in my mode of low-level insomnia that I have pretty regularly.  But in general, I feel like this year has kicked me in the stomach.  Not one thing that has been monumentally crisis-filled, like going through the death of a loved one, but lower level things that just keep coming, without stop. I feel like I can’t catch a break. But maybe that is just life at the age of 46.  If it’s a crisis, you can hunker down and get through the crisis, everything is on hold. But if it’s just one thing after another, nothing particular crisis-oriented but still challenging, how do you do that? Regular life doesn’t stop. Thank goodness I am not prone to depression.

After Ramon gave him some doggie valium, Otto finally calmed down and fell asleep on Tuesday morning.  Yet when he woke up he was still wandering around the house and didn’t seem to know where he was. A trip to the vet confirmed what we both suspected – it appeared he had had a stroke.  I broke down at that point.  Otto is 12 ½ years old, so it’s not that strange that he’s having some health issues, I guess I was just thinking – hoping – believing – that we had a few more years with him. We decided to cancel our vacation, since we were planning to take Otto with us and it was clear he couldn’t deal with a road trip since he could barely deal with his own house.  That evening, while I was making dinner, he squatted down in the kitchen and peed right on the floor.



Ramon used to be a technician in a cardiac cath lab, putting tubes into people’s hearts and sometimes witnessing his patients having strokes right there on the table.  So he’s intimately familiar with the effects of a stroke and how humans recover.  He assured me that Otto’s brain just needed to rewire around the damaged part, and that unless the damage was too great, he should be back to his old self soon.  But at that point, it was really hard to believe. The Otto we know and love was just not in there any more.

On Wednesday he was still wandering around in circles and still peeing in the house, so we decided that we needed to re-housetrain him.  It had been so long since I did it the first time I had to look it up on the internet.  Luckily the stroke had not affected his insatiable desire for food, so we started giving him treats to reward him for going outside, and for generally good behavior, like settling down and staying in his bed as opposed to wandering around whining and driving me crazy while I was trying to work. I couldn’t help but wonder what we were going to do if this was the version of Otto we were left with, because it was clearly not sustainable.

Wednesday night he slept in his own bed, without medication to calm him down, the entire night.  The next morning he woke up and lo and behold, his brain had literally rewired, just as Ramon had predicted.  It was really amazing to see.  He was completely himself again, as if nothing had ever happened.

Ramon and I really need a vacation – this year has kicked our butts (on top of previous butt-kicking years) – but a vacation is on hold for now.  We’ll take a little bit of time off over the holidays, and focus on getting our Oakland house ready for sale and spending every minute we can with Otto, cuddling him and remembering to appreciate what we have in the moment.  In hindsight, it’s been a gift to get this wake-up call, that time is short and we must savor every moment we have with those we love.