Sue Schade on the value of being your own health advocate

It involves advocacy and patience enough to uncover the best course of action.
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Sue Schade considers the healthcare lessons gleaned from her pets.

We have two little dogs. Pepe is a 10-year old Shih Tzu/poodle and Coco is an 8-year old Shih Tzu /Bichon.  Pepe had been getting frailer and weaker throughout the Fall months.

We thought this might be her last year with us. But her blood work in November showed that she has a thyroid problem. She now gets a daily medication and has more energy and no longer sleeps most of the day. The name Pepe (as in peppy) is fitting her again.

She had also been losing weight and getting very thin. So, we started her on canned food. Maybe she had a problem with the dry food she has always eaten. Or maybe Coco, who is dominant, wasn’t letting her get to the food dish. What dog or cat doesn’t love canned food? Pepe loves it and has been gaining weight. While my husband and I are still getting used to that nasty moment when you first open the can of wet food, we do it because we love her and want her to gain weight and get strong. It’s working.

When we recently took Pepe to the vet to deal with a digestive problem, the vet found she had a broken tooth and the area around it was inflamed. She would need surgery to have it pulled. That happened this week and all is well. She is even back to eating treats that take some chewing. In hindsight, the broken tooth could have been the reason she stopped eating the dry food.

Animals can’t talk or “use their words” as we tell small children, so it’s hard to know when something is wrong. And it’s hard to know the interconnections between all these issues.

Coco acts as Pepe’s advocate or, as we joke, her lawyer. Pepe doesn’t bark to tell us what she needs but Coco senses it and does, or comes to find us. Pepe may need to get out of the room where she eats the canned food alone. Maybe she needs to go outside, or sometimes she needs to be carried down the stairs. Her eyesight is getting worse so she doesn’t like to go down a full flight of stairs. She sits at the top and waits for us to carry her down – “waiting at the bus stop” as we call it.

Coco, the “barking lawyer”, couldn’t know about the health issues so her advocacy didn’t help there. If you’re old enough to remember Lassie, you’ll know why that is another nickname for Coco at times. Coco sniffs Pepe thoroughly from head to tail when Pepe returns from a vet visit. I’m afraid that the day Pepe leaves this world, Coco is going to be one very depressed little dog.

It was up to my husband and I to work with the vet to figure out if something was seriously wrong with Pepe. I’m glad we didn’t just assume she was slowing down in her old age. Our little “grandma dog” seems to have a new lease on life. Who knows for how long? At least we’re dealing with the issues that we can.

The healthcare lesson in this story is you need to be your own advocate or find one if you can’t be. Find your voice and tell your healthcare providers or advocate about your symptoms. Don’t accept a condition that may be treatable. You’ll be glad you did. Here’s to your health!  

This post was first published on Sue Schade's Health IT Connect blog.

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