Thursday, 29 October 2015

Rainbows and Unicorns

I am going to let you in on a secret, I don't shit rainbows or unicorns. Nor do I manage to spend everyday with a grin plastered on my face. Life with chronic illness is not something I tend to smile about and yet again it seems the old disability porn meme is doing the rounds on Facebook. The one that says "the only disability in life is a negative attitude". I would love just one of these idiot posters to spend 24 hours living my life and see how positive they feel.

I have been staring into the abyss for a while now, for a few months I have been trying to kid myself that my mood would get better, that I would indeed get a good nights sleep and things would improve. I have practiced every self-help technique I have ever been taught but currently I seem to teeter between a feeling of raging premenstrual syndrome (ANGRY RACH!) or sadness, the kind that makes your heart ache. I would love to be melodramatic and say I have spent days in tears, I haven't, I don't have the energy for it. I did have a couple of days of easy tear shedding a few weeks ago when hubby was on holiday and that was only after I confessed to how bad mentally I was feeling.

I have written about my battles with depression before, I had smugly thought that I had won and I would never end up back there. How wrong I was. Since August I have faced a battery of testing, a muppet of a consultant (the one that told me I was spending too much time on the internet looking up syndromes to have) and a new diagnosis to add to my ever-growing collection of the ones I already own. It's funny how the diagnosis or a new diagnosis can send you closer to the edge than you've been in a while. 

The absolute icing on the turd cake that is my life, was finding out that my driving licence had been revoked due to the diagnosis of Meniere's disease. Despite the fact I get several hours notice of the attacks because they aren't under control I am deemed no longer safe to drive. It grinds my gears (pun intended) that I know that there are many people out there driving who haven't informed the proper authorities of their medical conditions. I know the DVLA are very hot on vertigo / blackouts now due to the terrible tragedy last year in Glasgow, where a refuse lorry driver crashed into pedestrians killing six (more info here). I understand why I am not allowed to drive, it doesn't mean I have to like it.

Lack of sleep has also had a detrimental effect on my mental health. I haven't slept properly since 2011 when hubby had his accident ( a drunk driver hit him, when he was on his way to take the dogs out). The crash also left me with a lot of anxiety whenever he has to drive anywhere alone, oddly enough his journey to work doesn't bother me, just everything else. I am a bag of nerves whenever he leaves the house and make him ring me when he arrives at his destination. 

Pain has also been a major cause of lack of sleep, I tend to get breakthrough pain because I don't move around very much whilst asleep (as in changing positions). Up until recently I was lucky if I got 4 hours at a stretch most nights, once every few weeks I would sleep 10-14 hours and end up feeling worse than after a 4 hours sleep. Not sleeping drags you down, it is terribly lonely being the only person awake for hours on end. Waking up at 3am means it is a very long day and there is no evening for me as I am back in bed by 7pm and most nights asleep by 8pm. 

All these things combined meant that no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't lift my mood. I am a consummate actress around friends and family, no one would really know how bad I felt inside because for the short time I spent with them I could pull off my usual wise cracking self. If anyone suspected I wasn't my usual chirpy self it could be passed off as feeling rough or being in pain. However I knew things were getting bad when I no longer really wanted to talk to anyone outside of my family. I have a habit of withdrawing deep inside my head when things are tough. I don't make an effort to socialise because I can't be bothered to pretend that everything is ok. I put off visits from friends and basically become pretty shoddy at staying in contact with people. Even with hubby I start to get very quiet, mostly because I don't want to snap at him because the issue isn't him its me. In the grand scheme of things what does it matter if certain jobs haven't been done by my self-imposed deadlines? I become frightened to speak as I may give myself away. I hate feeling like a burden to people. Over the last few months I have felt more and more that I couldn't ask for help until one day I couldn't suppress it any longer.

When you have lived with depression, you learn the danger signs. They can be very subtle and can take you a little while to pick up on them but they are there. Mine started with getting less and less sleep, then the feeling of sadness crept in, one that wouldn't go away. Then I start spending money to cheer myself up. It is usually gifts for others as if I alone am not enough to please them. Then the self loathing starts with a vengeance, I start feeling like I am a failure because I have put on weight (comfort eating and wacky hormones), ugly because of the new facial hair that has sprouted and the teenage skin I suddenly acquired. A failure in so many ways that my inner voice of criticism literally doesn't shut up from the minute I wake until the minute I go to sleep. It is a lonely place inside my head and it seems so stupid to retreat there but then that's depression for you.

Thankfully I have identified the signs early, probably the earliest I have ever done so. I would class myself as mildly depressed, there are no thoughts of suicide or self harm but eventually they would have surfaced if I had let it go on much longer. I have visited my gp, who I think would have guessed this was coming as on the last two telephone conversations with him I have ended up in tears. He has placed me on an antidepressant that is known for its sleep inducing qualities. I have only been on it a few days but I am already experiencing better quality sleep, the kind where you wake up and feel like you have slept. My mood has lifted a little, which could have been caused by sleeping better as the medication isn't supposed to reach its full effect for 7-14 days. My gp did say to me he felt with a few decent nights sleep it would take the edge off and it has. When you haven't had a refreshing night's sleep in 4 years you forget what it's like. I have been waking up in the morning and not feeling groggy. I can't remember the last time I felt like that on waking.

I have to go back and see the gp in a couple of weeks, a basic check to see how I am feeling and if the medication is working. I have been told to ring him immediately if things aren't going well. Things are ok, is all I can say at the moment. I am hoping in a few weeks I will be able to say things are good.

It's very difficult when you have a chronic illness to be able to address depression by the normal self-help means diet and exercise. Mobility issues and pain mean all but the gentlest of exercise is completely out for me. My diet is very restricted and when you feel depressed you can end up bingeing on junk food in an attempt to make yourself feel better for the short amount of time you are eating it. At the moment I am not feeling like eating (probably the new medication) nothing makes me think "oh I fancy eating that". I am still hungry but the desire to eat has gone, which for me is good as I don't want to end up bingeing all the time. I have to eat three times a day due to the Betahistine so I force myself to eat then. The pleasure of eating has temporarily gone and I am ok with that.

One of the main reasons I shied away from asking for help from my gp was the stigma I have faced in the past with having mental health issues on my medical records. Too many doctors when I was struggling for a diagnosis saw the issues from ten years earlier and decided that my illness was psychological and not physiological. I didn't want that happening all over again however there came a point where I realised I couldn't keep trying to soldier on. Nothing was going to change unless I got help. 

So I urge those of you who are struggling right now to ask for help, there is no shame in saying you need assistance. Chronic illness is a lonely world to inhabit, many of the things that get me down can't be changed but I can learn to adapt to a new normal.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Unsolicited Medical Advice

Things have been hectic here both in my personal life and health wise this week so I haven't been able to put together a blog post this week. So I have decided to re-post this one from a year ago.
Good news though - for those of you who don't follow  my page on facebook, my MRI scan came back clear.
        ***Sarcasm alert***

Nothing is guaranteed to get me raging more than unsolicited medical advice. I can be calm and happy one moment yet once I am on the receiving end of someones latest theory on what will get me well, I can be incandescent with rage in around 60 seconds. It's not the sentiment of the bearer that I question, it's the very little knowledge of my condition that they possess that irritates me.

Unsolicited medical advice is just that unsolicited. Unless I have asked a direct question regarding your opinion on or suggestions on what would make me feel better or would cure my condition then just don't. I know myself in the past I have offered up to others what I have considered to be pearls of wisdom without them asking for it. However now having had some time being on the receiving end of countless suggestions all of which were unsolicited I can tell you it's infuriating. Now I refrain from doing it because I know that it is not at all helpful. Sending me links to new medical papers on research into my condition is not the same as unsolicited medical advice. That is very helpful and greatly appreciated.

Over the last 7 1/2 years I have all sorts of helpful suggestions, from being told that I was being punished for a sin in my past life and needed to pray harder to gain recovery or to being told to eliminate stress from my life. Eliminating stress from any ones life is good thing however it's not really been shown to be a cure for any illness that I am aware of. I have been informed that removing the artificial sweetener aspartame from my diet would be the magic bullet, I had several emails about that one when it was doing the rounds. I have been told that I just needed to get outside and exercise. That one hurt me quite considerably as out of all the things I can no longer do walking my dogs is the one I miss most. Anyone who suggested that one clearly doesn't understand my illness or the sense of loss I feel about being no longer able to do so many things.

We all in our lives have provided unsolicited medical advice to someone be it a partner, a family member or a friend and when we have given them this advice we have done it from a place of love. We give them this advice because we truly want to help them feel better and get rid of whatever illness is ailing them. It is not done to hurt them or to make them feel bad about themselves. I try to remember the sentiment behind the persons advice when it is issued. Sometimes it is really hard though because issuing advice for a cold is a world away from issuing advice about a long-term medical condition. 

People with long-term medical conditions usually have more knowledge about their conditions than a lot of the medical personnel that they will come into contact with. Those with long-term medical conditions know how to manage their condition what medications work and what doesn't. So what irks me is when someone who has zero knowledge of your medical condition decides that because they have read, seen or heard  a nugget of information that they are able to tell you what to do to get better. A situation that has long eluded the medical profession.

A piece of advice that tipped me over the edge recently was received from someone who should have known better. A few weeks ago my phone beeped to let me know I was in receipt of a text message. I had a look at the message and just growled. It was from a friend who works within the medical profession who had sent me a link to a page on BBC News website. Without even checking the link I text back "Please tell me this isn't about the girl who went Vegan and magically cured her PoTS?" I knew it was without even looking, as this "story" had been doing the rounds on various forums, where there were several Vegans and no, they hadn't been cured despite their dietary choices. What we had learnt on the forums was that said person who cured her medical condition, fell into the age group where you can grow out of PoTS and she also had a cookbook being published so hence the flurry of unhelpful newspaper articles about turning Vegan as the cure for PoTS. My text message received a rather sniffy response, the tone of which made me feel like because I hadn't decided to become a Vegan immediately then I really must not want to get well.

There were a lot of things about this text conversation that annoyed me. Some weeks previously I had informed this person I had been diagnosed with spinal arthritis and received no response. As this person was now moving into the outer orbit of our both mine and hubby lives I didn't take offence. Sometimes friendships change and that's the way of life. Secondly this person works within the medical profession in a highly paid and highly responsible job. Thirdly this person has known me for nearly 20 years and in all that time I have been vegetarian, they know this. I know vegetarian is not vegan - I have been vegan in the past for about 6-10 months. Finally, this person is supposed to be a person of science, as good as a balanced vegan diet is for you where is the medical evidence to back this woman's claims up? I didn't argue I just ended the conversation pointing out that I didn't just have PoTS anymore that I had in fact been diagnosed with severe autonomic nervous system dysfunction and did they have any dietary suggestions for that one? Funnily enough I haven't heard from them since.

I don't know what made me angrier the suggestion that becoming a vegan would cure me or that when I rejected the advice I was made to feel like I wasn't doing everything in my power to get well. It's not the first time that I have been "accused" of not wanting to get better, when I have rejected someones advice. That's why when I receive messages / emails or have conversations with people when they offer advice I try to smile and say thank you rather than get angry about it. However due to this person's medical background I felt extraordinarily let down by the fact they had even sent me the link without first checking out its scientific validity.

Again I don't doubt this persons sentiment was anything other than provide me with some advice that he or she felt would help set me on the road to recovery. It is just  on that Sunday morning I wasn't able to see that and responded as I would have done 7 1/2 years ago. I learnt through trial and error when people were offering me advice it was better to smile and nod rather than to dismiss their advice out of hand as hard as that maybe. 

So having sometime this week to think about all the unsolicited medical advice I have received over the years I thought I would share some with you;

1. Pray harder / more / start  praying - this one is always a little difficult for me as I hold no religious beliefs. It is also quite insulting when you think about children who have life limiting illnesses would you honestly impart this advice to the parents or imply that their lack of praying is the reason why their child is sick? It just seems a little insensitive and a person's religious beliefs are private between them and their God.

2. Eliminate stress / take up meditation Everyone wishes that they could eliminate stress from their lives, no one has ever said "please give me more stress". So when this little pearl of wisdom is thrown my way I do have a little chuckle to myself. Stress is all around us its part of the modern condition. There are things that you can do to reduce your stress. I like my morning Pilate's session that is done in complete silence as I can not think about anything but the exercises I am performing. It does quieten down my mind I can't argue with that however it is yet to cure my medical conditions.

3. You need to get out more - I can't argue getting out of the house lifts my spirits and makes me feel part of the human race. However getting out of the house will also land me in bed for several days just due to the over stimulation of my senses and the physical energy required to keep myself propped up in my wheelchair. When I can, I take a short drive with my husband for a change of scenery and some fresh air whilst he walks the dogs. What people don't realise is to achieve those 30 minutes out of the house I have to rest all afternoon. I wonder what illness getting out more is known to cure?

4. Get some exercise, you feel ill because you've let yourself get so deconditioned - ha ha ha ha ha! OK I will admit taking up Pilate's has helped me loads in the last 6 weeks. However the type of exercise that the people who suggest this to me mean is going out for a brisk walk along the seafront etc they do not mean lying on the floor for 20 minutes performing Pilate's.

5. If you lost weight you would feel better about yourself - I have no argument with this one. Being a healthy BMI is better for you ( and yes I am fully aware of the arguments surrounding the fact that the BMI measurement needs updating as it's not completely accurate), its kinder to your joints and if you are overweight losing weight can make you feel fab. However when it is said to someone who has gained weight as a side effect of medication that they can't stop taking it's not at all helpful. I wonder if you had a friend who was overweight but healthy you would have the cojones to suggest that? Feeling better about myself suggests that the person believes that my condition is psychological and not physiological which is not the case.

6. Change your diet eat Paleo, Fodmap, vegan, gluten free, raw food, clean food etc etc etc - I can't argue with the fact that many people with EDS and PoTS have had great results in reducing their gastrointestinal symptoms when they have changed their diet. People with autoimmune diseases such as Myasthenia Gravis are encouraged to go gluten-free to help manage their condition. Diet does play a much bigger role in the body than current medical thinking appreciates. I believe as long as you are eating a balanced diet as free from convenience foods as you can you are doing a great job. I have tried going gluten-free it made absolutely no difference. As I can't digest raw vegetables or fruit with horrific stomach pain I will not be trying the raw food diet again. I have been thinking about going vegan for a while now for ethical reasons not health reasons but I am currently too sick to do anything about it. I do say do whatever you can manage diet wise but do not become a diet zealot / bore! However don't suggest things to me that I have already tried!

7. You need to adopt a more positive mental attitude - My only answer to that one begins with F and ends with F. Moving on!

8. You need to take up a hobby -  Oh OK so because you don't understand the world of blogging you are automatically assuming that it's not worthwhile? See above for remainder of response.

9.Have you tried X,Y,Z herbal supplement - I am not against herbal medicine that has a proven track record (or large amounts of anecdotal evidence ) such as evening primrose oil for PMS or Black Cohosh for the menopause. I use peppermint tea whenever my stomach is playing up (pain or wind) as I know it works for me and many people on the forums I am part of use liquorice to boost their blood pressure. What I am referring too are the people who know zero about your condition but insist that a friend of a friends uncles, aunties , sister cured themselves of a, b, c, by taking this supplement. Why they think you have the same as their friend of a friends uncles, aunties sister is beyond me as if you ask them to name your own medical condition they wouldn't have a clue. 

10. You are paying for the sins of a past life and need to be forgiven- I saved this one until last as it is a personal favourite of mine. If indeed I am paying for the sins of a past life what am I supposed to do about it? It also brings the question to mind what makes the bearer of this news so special that they aren't being punished? I could go into a whole anti religious rant but I am respectful of other people's beliefs I just wish they could be respectful of mine.

I have probably had quite a few more than I can currently remember that they are the ones that stick in my mind. I am sure over the years to come I shall be in receipt of many more!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Birthdays Part Two

Last week I left you hanging, I ended the post just before Mollie gave birth. The reason behind it was that it deserved a post of its own. Also I needed to retrieve my puppy breeding notes from on top of the wardrobe, which required hubby's help. It has been a real trip down memory lane reading through the notes from both litters.

Willow aged 3 -4 weeks

Mollie went into labour on Friday 6th October 2006. Hubby and I had both scheduled holiday for the weeks after the birth, as Mollie wasn't actually supposed to give birth until the Sunday at the earliest. However babies the world over and of any species never turn up when they are supposed to. Mollie had been mated on 11th August, pregnancies in dogs last around 63 days and our pups were arriving on day 60, caught us all on the hop.

I arrived home after my late shift at work to find Mollie calm but obviously in labour.Hubby wasn't calm, he was panicking, thinking puppies would emerge at any moment. Mollie was panting a little and pacing a bit but nothing that anyone who didn't know her would notice. The look of relief on her face when I walked through the door was hilarious. If dogs could talk I think she would have said "thank God you're home!". Hubby and I decided we would try to get some sleep that night as the textbooks had told us that she wouldn't be delivering any puppies until at the very earliest Saturday lunchtime. How wrong we were.

Frankie and Willow aged 8-10 weeks 

Mollie refused to settle and in the end I got up. There was no point in both of us being up, hubby was on an early shift so needed to sleep. I would sleep when I could and I hoped that with Mollie in the spare room, she would settle and allow me to sleep on the makeshift bed we had in there. It didn't happen, as the hours ticked by I could see Mollie's belly contracting, she was letting out a deep moan with each one, there was one thing I knew for sure, they were starting to get closer together. At about 2:30am having been downstairs for a bit I decided that if I didn't want the puppies being born on the lounge floor I was going to have to convince her to come back upstairs again. Mollie didn't need any persuading, she was stuck to me like glue, as she had been throughout the pregnancy. I felt terribly sorry for her and frightened if I am honest. I had never seen anything give birth and I was worried that something would go wrong. The stakes were high, just a few weeks earlier we had been told that Travis had 12 weeks left to live. I didn't want to lose Mollie as well along with all the puppies.

I sat down on the futon in the spare room and Mollie decided to sit on top of me. It was almost as if she had to be in my skin, as if I had to feel everything that she was going through. I couldn't believe that it was possible but her contractions became stronger than ever, her groans louder. Then at the stroke of 3am her waters broke all over my lap. It was showtime and I was absolutely beside myself. Despite the time I called J and K for moral support. The textbooks don't tell you that the fear you feel as active labour gets underway will leave you utterly paralysed. I have no idea what I said to them but K promised he was on his way over. I can never thank him or J enough for being there for us through everything. I really needed them and they were there.

Puppies aged 6-7 weeks

I had to wake hubby which is always difficult, I swear a bomb could go off next to him and he wouldn't hear it. However that morning he jumped out of bed and was dressed within seconds. It seemed just a few minutes had gone by and K was here, with Mollie's waters breaking it meant the pups were on the way. My memories of the birth are hazy, I let Karl do most of it as I was just a bag of nerves. I wish I had been more involved now but at the time we didn't know I was going to get sick and not be able to have the litters we had been planning. 

Puppies charging in for a feed Willow bottom left

Mollie's maternal instinct seemed to kick in immediately, K helped open of the membrane sack's that each puppy was born in. Mollie took over and did the rest by chewing through the umbilical cords and then licking the puppies clean. After each pup was born its placenta followed. Although opinion is divided amongst dog breeders on what should be done with the placenta we allowed Mollie to eat it. She would have done this on the wild to nourish herself and to hide the evidence of birth from predators. It was over in a flash and wasn't that grim. You have to remember these things are natural behaviour and get over yourself if you are feeling squeamish. 

From what I remember puppies seem to come in pairs then Mollie would have a break for a bit and then get going again. Hubby kept  out-of-the-way during the birth. He has a very weak stomach and is very squeamish, he had made it clear from the outset that he didn't want to be involved in this part. The hardest part of the birthing process was when Hubby took Travis out for his morning walk. Mollie was completely disgusted that she wasn't allowed out on the walk, despite the fact she still hadn't finished giving birth.

Puppies arrival time:

1st Pup
2nd Pup
3rd Pup
4th Pup
5th Pup
6th Pup
Girl (willow)
7th Pup
8th Pup
9th Pup

I missed the birth of the last puppy as I had to be in work at 9am so K had to do that one alone, not that I had actually been much help, more a shocked observer. To give K a break his wife J came over and sat with the puppies until I came back from work a few hours later for my lunch break. I was utterly exhausted but walking on air. By the time I got to bed that evening I hadn't slept since the Thursday night.

I really wish that I had kept more detailed records with the first litter, only because I have no clue as to where Frankie was born in the litter but do with Willow. My second litter was ridiculously monitored, I know exactly which pup was which, where they were born in the litter and what they weighed at birth. The first litter was weighed later that day but I didn't have anyway of properly distinguishing between them when they were born. It wasn't until later when I needed to keep a record that I managed to find some way of telling them apart.

Kennel club name
Tiffosi Travis
diamond-shaped blaze
Monza Madness
no white, pink nose
Sepang Stormer
white diamond off centre
Monte Cario Baby (Frankie)
White blaze left of centre
Suzak Starlett
no white
Willow Warbler
no white, very stripey
Silverstone Sassi
no white
Lady Indianapolis
2 spots of white
Magne Cour Mister
No white, Roman nose

It was a bittersweet moment today when reading through the puppy papers that we discovered that we had used Travis' name as one of the pups names. I think due to all the stress and emotion that we suffered with him passing and then me getting sick that we just forgot completely that we had used his name. I am glad we did, it's nice to know that somewhere his name lives on. My first litter records are incomplete. I have no clue where Tiffosi Travis ended up, By the time they were a few weeks old we had them in different coloured cat colours and all my records refer to the collar colour. I never wrote down anywhere or if I did it's lost in the house somewhere, which pup had which Kennel Club name. I am kicking myself now.I could do some digging to find out but I am happy just knowing that Tiffosi Travis is out there.

As you can see all the Puppies apart from Willow were named after Grand prix related things. The Kennel Club made an error with Frankie's pedigree name as it should have been Monte Carlo Baby not Monte Cario Baby at the time though I just couldn't be bothered to correct it. It had been hard enough coming up with 18 names as each pup has to be supplied with two names, so that they can check to ensure no other dogs have the same name.

Weimaraner puppies are born with tiger stripes, as you can see in the picture below. The pups are around 24 hours old in the picture, over the course of a few days the tiger stripes fade. Willow was known as stripey initially as her stripes were so prominent and took a few weeks to fade.

Puppies suckling Mollie, puppies are 24 hours old with the tiger stripes fully visible.

Puppies are born with their eyes closed and they do not start to open until they are 10 days old. As they open they are all black, it is very freaky when all the pups turn and look at you. Hubby and I jokingly referred to them as Demon eyes as they looked like something out of a horror film. Gradually over the space of a few days the eyes start to turn a bright blue. Eventually as they grow up Weimaraner's eyes turn into a more amber or green colour. Very occasionally they stay the brilliant blue colour they had as puppies.

Puppies around 24 hours old.

Initially the puppies were quite easy to look after, they didn't move around much, spending their time eating and sleeping. The whelping box had to be cleaned 4 times a day, disinfected, with the newspaper and vet bed completely striped out. Mollie was producing milk but not enough to adequately feed 9 large puppies so we had to start supplementing her milk. To help ease the pressure on Mollie, I fed the pups every 4 hours day and night. Bottle feeding them was an absolute joy, hard work but it brought me much closer to them and I got to pick up on their individual characters. However by the end of two weeks when their eyes were open it was clear that they were ready to move onto more than just milk. I made them up a puppy porridge, I whizzed up puppy food in the food processor so it resembled a fine dust and mixed it with the puppy milk. It went down a storm but feeding time was incredibly messy. With pups standing / lying in the food. Every time they were fed they had to be washed off and then dried because they were covered from nose to tail. I had to do this 4 times a day. Hubby helped when he was home but mainly I was responsible for the puppies.

Puppies feeding from Mollie

A litter of puppies becomes incredibly hard work from week 3 onwards. From week three they are incredibly mobile and getting into everything. It is like having 9 boisterous toddlers in the house that you are attempting to toilet train. Puppies like babies have no respect for sleep or the fact normal life continues whilst you are raising them. For some reason the puppies seemed to think 2am was a perfectly reasonable time to get up and have a play. Under our bed seemed to be a favourite spot and the amount of things they chewed / damaged was phenomenal. 

The boy with the pink nose chewing the side of the whelping box. Aged over 10 days old as you can see the eyes are open and are changing from black to the brilliant blue.

People ask me if I was sad when the puppies left us to go to their new homes. I always laugh, by the time they were ready to leave us at 8 weeks old I was exhausted. One of the hardest things about rearing puppies is finding homes for them. People mess you about, they arrange appointments to come to see them only to never turn up and you never hear from them again. That happened to us all one Sunday, we had four appointments booked and only one person turned up. It becomes soul destroying when on your day off you've got up, raced around making the place look like it hasn't been chewed to pieces, that the pups are toileted and fed, only to sit for hours waiting for people who have no intention of turning up. Lack of manners really winds me up, it was even worse with the second litter. It was so stressful that was one of the reasons why we didn't breed again.

Puppies aged between 4-6 weeks, this is when people started to view them.

On the whole though when the puppies found new homes and I could see the excitement in people's eyes when they took their puppy to the car made it all worth while. The pups always left us with toys, a grubby tea towel (so they had something in their new home that smelt of them), food, puppy pads (although most of our pups were pretty much house trained by the time they left), a pedigree document and a massive booklet I had put together giving them info on when the pups were wormed, what with and how much food to feed them. I also gave them handy hints and tips on getting their pup settled. My phone number was also included should they ever need any advice or had any concerns.

The puppies were still feeding from Mollie at this time and were slowly being weaned.

The hardest part when all the puppies have gone is the silence. All our pups had cat collars with bells on, so we had become very used to the constant tinkling of bells. It was eerily quiet and after all the frenetic activity of the 8 weeks prior, to suddenly sit back and have no puppies running around, getting under your feet is just weird. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life but it was also incredibly hard. After the second litter I knew it would be impossible for us to continue as I was just too sick to cope with puppies and then finding them new homes. I am really pleased that we did it and given half the chance would do it all over again.

A tired Mollie feeding 9 hungry puppies.

Thursday, 8 October 2015


There comes a time in every dog owners life when you begin to dread their birthdays. Today 7th October (the day of writing this post) is Nurse Frankie and Willow's (aka widge) 9th birthday. It should be a time of celebration but it is tinged with sadness that knowing the years we have left with them is less than the years they have been in our lives.


The pups birthdays has always been a difficult time of year for me as it marks the 10 day countdown until the anniversary of our first dog Travis' passing. It should get easier over time, it doesn't. The amount of times spent crying are less but there will always be a part of my heart that aches for him.
Travis with Mollie in the background

What is compounding it this year is that next month Mollie will be 11. Although she amazes everyone with her energy levels, she still behaves and looks pretty much like a two year old, the signs of old age are starting to show. All around her muzzle her fur is now starting to lighten. Our vets are amazed that she looks so good for her age. After all she has had some pretty traumatic incidents during her life, losing half her right ear on some barbed wire back in 2007 and in 2008 having an emergency spay due to her uterus showing pre-cancerous signs.


It is not that I love Mollie, Willow or Frankie any less, it is just by a cruel twist of fate he is not here with us still. He would have been 12 years old at the end of this month, instead he died a few weeks short of his third birthday. I am not going to lie and tell you Travis was an angel. He wasn't in fact at times he was so obstinate it was almost as if he was the spawn of the devil. Many a time he drove me to distraction with his behaviour, such as running off during a walk, back to the car when we were a mile away from it. I would arrive back in the car park only to find him in someone else's car refusing to get out or on one occasion asleep in the back of someone's horsebox.

We are lucky that we have his sister Mollie, the same parents but from the following years litter. Mollie is Willow and Frankies mum. So we have had the pleasure of breeding and delivering our own dogs into the world which is a special kind of privilege not many people get to experience. The memory of them being born will stay with me forever, after all 9 pups had been born I felt like I was walking on air. I think it's the closest I will ever get to the feelings new mums have, I was completely exhausted also as by the time I got to bed that night I had been awake for over 48 hours.

We had never considered breeding dogs until we got Mollie, Travis had been neutered as soon as we were able to because he humped everything in sight. He had his own Teddy which was his object of desire until they had a falling out and he removed all its stuffing. We were very lucky that we had good friends who had bred both Travis and Mollie, who could give us support and advice. Initially I spent hours on the Internet looking for a stud dog. In the end we found Arkwright who lived just outside Oxford. His owner was also incredibly knowledgeable, showing at Crufts (USA equivalent The Westminster Dog Show) and having previously held positions within The Weimaraner Club of Great Britain. 

The mating is something I will never quite get over. I came home with a black eye after getting headbutted by an over amourous Arkwright. Mollie is slightly small for a female and Arkwright was larger than a standard male. Due to the size difference I had to hold Mollies back end up so he could perform his duties. Being so green to the world of dog breeding I had been under the naive impression that the dogs got on with it all by themselves. I didn't realise I was going to be so present at the conception. I then got a blow by blow account of what was going on by the owners husband, even telling me when Mollie had reached orgasm. There are some things you just don't want to hear. Every so often hubby will say " See if you feel her belly, you can feel her womb contracting, she having her orgasm now" which sends me into fits of laughter. Who knew dogs did that? I certainly didn't. It was like having sex education all over again and the embarrassment level was still as high!

Arkwright & Mollie (at the back)

I knew Mollie was pregnant within two days of the mating, many people will tell you it is far to early to tell but I just knew. Mollies behaviour changed dramatically, up until that point she had always been hubby's dog and Travis was mine. Suddenly she couldn't get enough of me and hubby was being given the cold shoulder. Also her nipples had flushed pink, the stud dog's owner told me it could be a phantom due to the mating but despite the warning my gut was telling me she was pregnant. There is no pregnancy test for dogs, the only way you know that they are pregnant for sure is either when they start to show (like a pregnant woman) or by taking them to the vets and having an ultrasound performed. My belief in her pregnancy did begin to waver as Mollie didn't start to show until quite late in her pregnancy. We had her booked in for an ultrasound but the day before we were due to take her to the vets, she woke up looking like she had swallowed a barrel and there was no mistaking it.

As the pups grew within Mollie's belly you could start to see them moving inside her. A friend of ours came around for a coffee one day and whilst she was stroking Mollie she said "I can really feel Mollies ribs", I moved her hand to have a look and said "no I think that's a bum or a head". I thought my friend was going to puke on the spot. I used to love seeing Mollie lying on her back with all the puppies squirming around. As they got bigger you could make out the difference between the heads and bums. I can't imagine what it is like to have nine squirming puppies in your belly but it never seemed to bother Mollie. She never slowed down at all during her pregnancy and never really ate much more than normal, despite all our attempts to up her calories.

The spare bedroom was transformed into a whelping room, dogs pregnancies are short around 63 days. We borrowed our friends whelping box in which both Travis and Mollie had been born. A heat lamp was hung from the ceiling and all that was needed was a bulb. Towards the end of Mols pregnancy I went off to source a bulb with our friend J who had bred our dogs. When I returned home a few hours later I found all the dogs bedding had been piled up in a heap on the floor. Being new to all this I had to ring J to ask her if this was a sign of early labour, she replied yes it was. I totally freaked out!

If I was freaked out it was nothing compared to hubby's reaction. I was working late that day so wouldn't be home until after 10pm. That meant that hubby was going to be left with a dog in labour from 5pm until I got home. I reassured him that dogs labours can last up to 48 hours and Mollie was still in the very early stages. I don't think he was entirely convinced but had he read any of the numerous books I had read about breeding dogs he would have known it to be true. Had Mollie's waters broken there would have been no way that I would have gone into work but that was a long way off yet.

Next week the birth ........

Thursday, 1 October 2015

30 Things you may not know about my invisible illness

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This year I am taking part in Invisible Illness Week, which is raising the profiles of those living with an invisible illness / condition during the 28th September until the 4th October 2015.

30 Things About My Invisible Illness You May Not Know

1. The illness I live with is:
Oh where to start! Initially I was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome but that was changed to Severe Autonomic Nervous System Dysfunction (Dysautonomia). In the same year 2011 I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Type 3 - Hypermobility. I also have the skin condition Hidradenitis Suppurativa, Eczema, Arthritis, Meniere's Disease, Ptosis of unknown origin (some doctors think it is Myasthenia Gravis) and currently I am dealing with the symptoms of raised Prolactin.

2. I was diagnosed with it in the year:
Well the first concrete diagnosis of EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) and PoTs came in 2011. Since then I have been collecting conditions. The ptosis first started in January 2007.

3. But I have had symptoms since:
Birth really. As a baby I had excessive thirst, as a child I had "growing pains" which was EDS and I have always had very low blood pressure etc.

4. The biggest adjustment I have had to make is:
Giving up work and also realising that I will never be able to visit some of the places in the world I have longed to see, since I was a child.

5. Most people assume:
There is nothing wrong with me and that I enjoy being a lady of leisure!

6. The hardest part about my mornings are:
The fact that they normally start between 1am - 3am and I am usually struggling to get my pain back under control.

7. My favourite medical TV show is:
I have quite a few House, Greys Anatomy, Critical, 24 Hours in A&E and probably many more. I am a sucker for medical shows.

8. A gadget I couldn't live without:
That would be a fight to the death between my chromebook which keeps me connected to the outside world and my hair straighteners.

9. The hardest part about the nights are:
They are long. It can be hard to get the balance between getting enough painkillers on board to stop the pain and not taking so much that it interferes with my sleep.

10. Each day I take....... tablets:
I have never been bored enough to count, so I was quite shocked when it came in at 40. That would be a good day and doesn't include oramorph or any non prescription medications I would take on a bad day.

11. Regarding alternative treatments I:
I have no view either way. As long as they aren't draining a person's resources and they help them deal with their condition then it's entirely up to them. I have tried a few and found either they make no difference or make me worse. Each to their own.

12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or a visible one I would choose:
I would choose an invisible one. I saw the number psoriasis did on my husband a few years ago when he had a really bad flare up. People treated him like a leper. I would never have the strength to go through that. It is bad enough the raised prolactin is causing me to have spots.

13. Regarding working and career:
I stopped working in 2008 as I was just too sick to manage. I loved my job and it has been one of the hardest things to get my head around as I was left with a feeling that I was utterly useless.

14. People would be surprised to know:
That despite all the shit health wise that seems to keep coming my way that I still have a sense of humour and enjoy my life. You have to make the best of what you have got.

15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality is:
Other than no longer working was how quickly your so called friends disappear. I am amazed that even after all this time people I thought were good friends can let you down so badly. They tell you "let me know if there is anything I can do" and then disappear as quick as a flash!

16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was:
Manage to create a blog with a decent following.

17. The commercials about my illness:
There are none, my conditions are rare(ish) so we don't get the massive ad campaigns and most doctors are either disbelieving or want to learn from me.

18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is:
I had to give this up in 2008. What I really miss doing the most is walking my dogs on the common. I used to love walking for hours at a time. Unfortunately I kept collapsing whilst I was out in the middle of nowhere, so initially I gave up doing it alone. Then it started causing me a lot of pain in my joints, so I had to give it up completely.

19. It was really hard to give up:
See above

20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is:

21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would:
Get up early and walk my dogs for a few hours. I would then go and visit my family and meet my sisters new son. I would then have a massive slap up meal with my husband and then dance the night away at an exclusive club.

22. My illness has taught me:
Not to be so judgemental of others, compassion and empathy

23. Want to know a secret, One thing that people say that really bugs me is?
"You're looking really well", this really irritates me when I know I look like a bag of shite and would Casper the friendly ghost a run for his money.

24. But I love it when people:
Visit me, keep in contact with me.

25. My favourite Motto, quote that gets me through the tough times is:
This too shall pass

26. When someone is diagnosed I'd like to tell them:
It's ok, you weren't mad, you weren't making it all up. However the battle isn't over. Every medical encounter you have maybe a battle. Never give up.

27. Something that has surprised me about living with an invisible illness is:
That you can have a decent quality of life. Life is obviously completely different from what it once was but that doesn't mean your life is over.

28. The nicest thing someone has done for me when I wasn't feeling well was:
That would be my husband, when I have been really sick he has taken time off work and looked after me. My mum also many years ago took one look at me (I was at work) and told me she was coming up to stay with me, to look after me.

29. I am involved with Invisible Illness Week because:
I am fed up with people making assumptions about me, such as I am a scrounger claiming benefits off the state or that I am pretending to be sick because I like the attention and all the other myths around invisible illness that need to be busted.

30. The fact that you have read this list makes me feel:
Grateful, humbled, thankful.