Saturday, March 28, 2009

Some REAL experts weigh in

One thing that's bugged me ever since I started writing about dogs and other companion animals is that some trainers insist on calling themselves behaviorists, even though they have no certification from organizations such as the Animal Behavior Society or American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. And as for one Cesar Millan, who has the audacity to call himself a dog psychologist and whose training facility is called the Dog Psychology Center -- well, anyone who asks knows how I feel about him.

But now a group of real experts, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, has released a position paper that takes direct issue with the outdated dominance-based training theories that guide Millan and, way back in the 1970's, the Monks of New Skete. As Timothy Kirn of VIN News Services points out, "the dominance theory spoutedfor years by many in the dog community is a poor model for describing wolfbehavior and is an even worse model for training your dog. Unfortunately, just like there is still a Flat Earth Society there are still those likeCesar Millan, who hang on to a dog training model that is erroneous and based on creating confrontation and fear."

The AVSAB recommends that its members make a point of not referring clients to trainers who espouse dominance-based training. The group's anti-dominance position paper is here.

Many thanks to Pat Miller for her heads-up on both the VIN article and AVSAB position paper.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Being lucky

Over the past two days, it's become abundantly clear to me how very, very lucky I am. A seemingly innocuous skiing accident on a bunny slope ended up killing actress Natasha Richardson. An autopsy is being conducted even as I write this, and results are expected to be released later today.

Not to be pompous or pretentious, but I feel a kind of survivor's guilt. What made the difference between her dying and my living? Why am I so lucky?

My family and friends have been absolutely wonderful, I can never thank them enough. They've been staying in touch (especially over the past few days; Richardson's accident has freaked them out, too). Allie has been a Doggie Therapy Goddess. Regular tug-of-war sessions with her are helping to restore the strength in my left arm, and her companionship has been nothing short of sustaining.

I saw my neurosurgeon the day before yesterday. He says I'm doing well. My brain is starting to resorb the remaining hematoma, my balance is much better, and I've been able to cut way down on painkillers and anti-seizure meds. And while I tire very easily, I'm working and making my deadlines. (Full disclosure, though: my editors have been absolutely wonderful about extending those deadlines.) There are other activities, though, that I can't manage right now, and that frustrates me no end. My doctor tells me to be patient: full recovery from brain surgery takes months, not weeks. My surgery was just three weeks ago.

There are some humorous aspects to this whole saga. Because I had to have some strips of hair shaved for the surgery, I've developed a new sympathy for balding men who attempt to master the art of the combover. My own hair is longer than it's been in years (I'm not allowed to go the hairdresser until the scabs from the incisions on my head are gone) and is wildly curly. I kinda like it.

Interestingly, I have not had a single hot flash since this whole business started three weeks ago. Since the precipitating incident involved three rowdy dogs, I'm wondering if I should proclaim this development (or lack thereof) the Meno-paws Cure.

But on a serious note, know that March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Learn the facts, and never, ever make light of a bump to the head.

Update: According to, the New York City medical examiner's office has announced that Richardson died of "blunt impact to the head." The impact resulted in an epidural hematoma, which differs from the brain bleed that I have had, subdural hematoma. Epidural hematomas, because they involve the arteries, result in much more rapid bleeding than do subdural hematomas, which involve the veins. Hence, Richardson developed symptoms within hours, where I developed symptoms over the course of six weeks.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Head games

The last week or so has taken my family and me on a not-so-welcome medical adventure. The roots of said adventure were probably in mid-January, during this encounter. I thought I'd emerged relatively unscathed from that event, but apparently that wasn't the case. After several days of horrible headaches, extreme exhaustion, and, frighteningly, losing some function in my right leg, my doctor gave up on prescribing ever-stronger painkillers and sent me to the emergency room of our local hospital. A CAT scan revealed that I had developed two subdural hematomas that were actually shifting my brain out of place. The treatment: drill and drain, which occurred this past Thursday night. I now have a head full of staples, all scheduled to be removed in three days. I've also lost a bit of hair, but -- amazingly -- didn't need a full head shave. Julie thinks I should get a shave anyway, though. She thinks I'd look bad-ass. I'm not so sure.

I'm out of the hospital now, but not entirely out of the woods. After the drains were removed from my head, another pool of blood was found. Hopefully my brain can re-sorb the blood over the next few weeks (months?), but until then I need to watch for a recurrence of symptoms. If that happens, I'll face another drill-and-drain session, and may reconsider that remember-remember-the-fifth-of-November change of coiffure. The fact that my birthday happens to be the fifth of November makes that prospect seem somewhat appropriate.

Meanwhile, though, a few shout-outs to:

-- Mani the night nurse. I hope he got in some good sledding yesterday. Six prongs for the engagement ring, buddy!

-- Katie the day nurse. I hope the copy of Senior Dogs For Dummies that I gave her will help her deal with her dog's passage over the Rainbow Bridge.

-- Kate the other day nurse, who made it possible for me to have my first post-surgery shampoo!

-- The great neurological surgeons at Inova-Fairfax, who answered my endless questions with equally endless patience.

-- The wonderful folks at Wiley's Consumer Dummies team who sent me the gorgeous bouquet of flowers that just arrived!

-- The equally wonderful folks at Bowtie, Inc. for sending me an equally lovely just-arrived bouquet!

-- My DH, Stan, who's taking such good care of me.

-- My daughter, Julie, whose visit from Chicago was so welcome.

-- My Golden girl, the Divine Miss Allie, who refuses to leave my side.