Rocky is Blind

Last Tuesday, our dog Rocky Balboa went blind. It happened out of nowhere in the middle of the evening. Earlier that day, he chased a red dot emanating from a lazer-sighted thermometer we use to measure the baby’s formula before feeding times. He ran around the yard, tried to provoke me into a chasing match, and even investigated a rogue fly that had crossed his vision.

But all of that changed that evening. He started walking very slowly, hanging his head and glancing around as if lost in his own home. When he “looked” up at me, his eyes were not facing the same direction. Something was very wrong.

Rocky has a habit of scratching his eyes. A neighboring dog will bark and provoke Rocky to stick his nose under the fence. This has caused us to run him to the vet a couple times for drops over the years.

Something was different about this, though. His eyes never faced away from one-another like that before. He could walk and navigate through the house at pace, no matter how hurt one of his eyes would be. He was suddenly rendered completely blind.

Vet Visit 1: Casting a Wide Net

We took Rocky to a general vet to find out what was going on. We thought, based on his actions, that he was in some amount of pain in addition to being clumsy and unable to see very well. The vet quickly confirmed our fears: Rocky had gone totally blind.

She examined him as best as she could in the 15 minutes we were given, and concluded that we needed to see an opthamologist to determine the cause of his blindness. She prescribed us glaucoma medicine in addition to painkillers, the latter of which she had on-hand.

She theorized that it could be a number of things. Glaucoma, cancer, tumors, and even hypertension. She was able to rule out hypertension by taking his blood pressure. She also ordered a blood test to cast a wide net on any other possible causes that could be detected that way.

Glaucoma medicine is expensive. Walgreens wanted $190 for the medicine she prescribed, but we found the same (equivalent) medicine on a pet meds website for $40. Unfortunately for us, the medicine wouldn’t arrive until the next week. By then, we had the opthamologist appointment where we discovered that glaucoma was not at all Rocky’s problem.

Vet Visit 2: Not an Eye Problem

The Opthamologist examined Rocky more thoroughally. She tested his ability to “know where his feet are” and examined his eyes thoroughally. She discovered several things, including:

  1. His right and left eyes did not blink at the same time or pace.
  2. He did not know where his feet were on his right side.
  3. His left eye’s optic nerve had atrophied, indicating he had been blind in that eye for some time.
  4. His right eye was perfectly fine, though the pupil was permanantly dialated and he was blind.
  5. His heart has an irregular beat pattern.
  6. His problem is almost certainly neurological in nature.

She, like the vet before her, was able to rule out a single diagnosis: glaucoma. The medicine we had just purchased would do Rocky no good at all.

She also gave a number of possible causes, including cancer, tumors, and distemper (earlier in life). The best she could do for him was to refer him to a neurologist.

Vet Visit 3: A Hail Mary

The neurologist saw us the following Tuesday. I took Rocky, and his brother Apollo, to the office myself. At this point, Rocky had enough of vet offices and he was extremely anxious from the moment we got out of the car.

His examination was carried out in another room, and the neurologist came in for a moment before leaving again to review the opthamologist’s findings. Upon his return, he laid out some unfortunate news:

  1. An MRI is the only way to diagnose some of the probable causes. It would set us back $2700.
  2. A spinal tap would also be necessary to diagnose other possibilities. It would run us another $700.
  3. Alternatively, we could try putting him on steroids on the chance that it’s an autoimmune disease.
  4. Antibiotics are also recommended, at $220 a bottle.

We had hit our limit financially. With an 11-month-old at home to think about, and nothing in the bank to cover the MRI costs, we decided to go with the best possible treatment for the most likely cause of his sudden blindness: steroids.

We’re now two and a half days into his steroid treatments. By day seven, he will either have his sight back, or we’ll need to face the uncomfortable truth. That Rocky has something we really can’t cure, and it will only get worse.

Rocky is laying next to me right now as I write this. He’s sleeping peacefully, and he had a pretty good day today. His tail wagged repeatedly when I fed him dinner and gave him a cube of cheese with his pill embedded. Whatever his prognosis, he seems happy right now – despite not being able to see.

Time will tell whether or not Rocky will get through this. He’s certainly handled it with extraordinary patience thus far.

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Ryan Matthew Pierson