Our New Normal

04/24/2015 02:46 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2015

When our dog had a seizure at the foot of our bed in the wee hours of last Tuesday morning, our first reaction was to yell at him.

Normally Achilles starts the evening sleeping on our younger daughter's bed, then at some point migrates into our bedroom, where his double-decker dog bed sits on the floor in the corner (he's like the Princess and the Pea, one mattress would never suffice.) Sometimes he dreams pretty hard and pumps his legs and yelps, reliving, no doubt, his real-life hard charging romps in the Oakland hills. I imagine in the dreams he actually catches the squirrels. When this happens, we wake up and hiss, "Achilles, it's a dream, stop it," and all of us go back to sleep.

So on Tuesday when we heard a ruckus from his spot in the corner, we both awoke and yelled, "Achilles, stop it!" It didn't stop. "STOP IT!" then "Achilles, what the hell, we're trying to sleep! SHUT UP!"

Because that's something really nice you should say to a confused, terrified dog who is having a seizure for the first time in his ten healthy, energetic years of life.

Finally we flipped on a light and realized what was happening. I will spare you further details except to say that it happened again, an hour later -- this time with my horrified younger daughter as witness -- and my husband carried the dog out into the starlit night and placed him gently into the back of the station wagon. The dog could barely walk, but before I could even put the key in the ignition, Achilles managed to flop himself from the way back, to the back seat, to the passenger seat, and finally into my lap in the driver's seat, all 57 pounds of him. I'm not sure if the length of time we sat like that, my arms wrapped around him and my face in his warm furry neck, was more for his sake or for mine. Finally I nudged him back to the passenger seat and kept a hand on him there while I raced across town to Berkeley's emergency pet hospital.

Thirty hours and a raft of tests later, I was able to pick him up and bring him home. As of right now, there is still no diagnosis; looks like there are more vet appointments and tests in his future.

The good news is that the anti-seizure medication seems to be working. They've made him so lethargic -- he doesn't even bark when someone rings the doorbell -- and he is wobbly on his feet. We're keeping a hand on his collar going up and downstairs just in case he needs an assist. I told my husband it seemed like he went to bed a super athlete, albeit a middle aged one, on Monday night and emerged from the pet hospital Wednesday morning as a frail old man. I tell my kids, whose suffering during the time Achilles was hospitalized was almost unbearable to me, "This is our new normal. We just need to adjust."

Mostly it feels like we have been given a second chance to be nice to this dog on a scale that will still be dwarfed by the devotion he has always shown us. Everyone has heard stories of dogs who worship their owners; ours is no different. There are only three things that Achilles has ever needed: food, a romp in the park, and affection from and proximity to us. Frankly, I think he'd dispense with the first two in favor of the third, if a choice had to be made.

And we have always taken that for granted. Of course he's excited when I wake up every morning. Of course he's turning in circles from delirious joy when I come home from a trip. Of course his eyes brighten up and his tail starts thumping against the floor, just because I walked into the room. It's no big deal. It's always like that.

Since last Tuesday morning, not anymore.


The girls rush into the house from school and head straight for his side, asking me how he's done today. "Any twitches? Did he eat? Did you walk him -- how did he do?" I get up periodically from my desk and just sit on the floor with him in my office, stroking his ears and reminding him what a good dog he is. My husband pets him every single time they pass. Achilles stole a stick of butter off the countertop on Thursday and no one even cared. Eat butter, dude. You deserve it.

Part of me hopes that, with these meds controlling his symptoms, we'll return to the casual coexistence we had before. That a return to the taking for granted would be a sign that this week was just a blip, some bad luck that we've put behind us. You don't have to treat someone like a superstar when you are assured that they are going to be around forever.

But realistically, I think this is a kick in our collective pants. The 36 hours that the dog spent in the hospital were simply agonizing. Did Achilles know how much we loved him, when we dropped him off? What was the last thing I said to him before I realized he was sick?

I told him to shut up.

But now he's home, and we've had a stark reminder that everyone we love -- human, canine, feline, lapine , equine, porcine, and whatever-else-ine- has to leave us eventually. It's yet another gift that a pet gives to its family: practice in saying goodbye. You don't get to have the grand entrance of love into your life without setting yourself up for the grand exit. The only thing we can control is our ability to show our loved ones, right now, this second, all the ways we cherish them.

There is not a safe butter stick in this house.