No Ordinary Life

Finding the courage to be

Just Old

Four paws age gracefully

Whitby Anderson scratched with all his might. Sound asleep, he wriggled onto his back and swatted his head with his black and white paw. The soft graying hair on his teddy bear ears took a beating as he tried to stop the itching in both of his ears. Unable to get relief for the pain, he kept scratching and began banging his head on the floor in his sleep. My heart went out to him, and I bent down and scratched his ears for him. He woke momentarily, thanked me with the huge brown eyes that hold the wisdom of the world, and slipped back into sleep.

The next morning, John and I told Whitby to “Go pee." This daily ritual has been a constant in his life, but on this morning, Whitby looked as though he had no clue that we had addressed him. Worried, we looked at each other and said “Sudden deafness?” Walking to an area where he could not see me, I called again. Whitby simply did not hear. Not only was he in tremendous discomfort, he had suddenly gone deaf. Deeply saddened, I wondered how he would maneuver the city streets and the beaches that are his homes. Would he get killed in traffic? Would he never hear the sound of my voice again? Tears surprised me as I looked at my nearly 12-year--old best buddy and mourned the passing of his perfect health.

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One vet visit later, we had ear drops for an acute infection in both ears, but little hope. Our vet said “At 11, he is old. Old age can take hearing. But we can try to improve things.” Two weeks of meds later, Whitby was still writhing in pain, still stone deaf…and depressed. The bright-as-a-button guy had gone lethargic. Locked into a world of silence, he could not understand what had happened to him. Although he was trained to follow hand signals through his therapy dog work, and could hear clapping hands, he was not okay. My sadness was profound and the clients who love Whitby daily were very worried.

Ryan Animal Hospital is a world class Veterinary training ground at Penn. I needed to get to the bottom of the diagnosis, so we did a neurological evaluation that diagnosed Whitby with “profound hearing loss in both ears.” The neurologist said that nothing could be done because Whitby was “just old.”

I discussed this catastrophe with my deaf dog. “Whitby,” I said, “You are suddenly 'just old'. You are fit and full of life, but you have suddenly been proclaimed damaged goods."  Whitby stared plaintively from his silent home.

Feeling plain awful, I asked our vet for ideas. She and I concurred on a second specialist, so Whitby and I consulted Dr. Greg Griffiths, a canine otologist at Penn. Competent and kind, he reported that the auditory canal had narrowed. He suggested steroids followed by an ear flush under sedation. The cost? Just under one thousand dollars. Would it help? He thought so, but there was no guarantee. Would he do it for his dog? Absolutely! So husband John and I gave the go ahead. It was a no-brainer.

Ear flush completed, Whitby’s hearing immediately improved slightly. When we screamed at him, Whitby cocked his head and looked at us…he could hear us. His depression left. Delighted, we trudged back to Dr. Griffiths for more improvement, and got it. Whitby is receiving topical steroids. As of today, 40 percent of his hearing has returned.

John and I have invested over one thousand dollars in treatment for a dog diagnosed as “just old.” As a result of our investment, Whitby can hear my voice when I call him loudly. And he wags his tail vehemently when I sing vigorously to him on our daily walks. For his 12th birthday on June 8, he has been given a very big present…his hearing. Was it worth it? You betcha!

Mental health costs, like veterinary medicine, are too often considered a luxury. We know people who prefer to wait for free care rather than pay for therapy. I feel sad for them. They live with unnecessary ailments that require specialists but they see no wisdom in special care. I want to tell them Whitby’s story, but I think that they may not get the point.

Might I invite you to consider that mental health costs are worth every penny? For me, returning partial hearing to our fuzzy-faced senior citizen was a brilliant use of my pennies. Life can be much better when you invest in the best for yourself and those you love.

To consider: Might a mental health specialist help me live my life better? If so, would that be worth the investment? Need I feel “just old” or “just depressed” or “just anxious”?

Judith Coche, Ph.D., A.B.P.P. is an author, psychotherapist, and founder of The Coche Center.

 
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