A first step

Ever experienced déjà vu? The feeling that you’re living life in repeat? That’s the feeling I’m having in this moment right now. A year later, but with a similar timeline and series of events: grief, uncertainty, and, unfortunately, that familiar feeling of fear swelling back.

Last fall Bolt and I were planning on sitting out the same events I’m forgoing this winter to allow a toe ligament injury heal– an annoying injury that seemed to be inflamed by the most innocuous of activities. One that I was warned extensively by friends and acquaintances alike, who recounted horror stories of amputations and careers ended over, yes, a toe. I decided to take the safest route possible: 16 weeks of rest and a slow return to activity and agility. I bent his toes more times than I can count, until I started to feel like it was the compulsion of someone suffering with OCD must do in order to leave the house. But slowly, I let go of the worry over that toe and did my best to return to normality again.

Until another thing took its place.

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This past year has been full of starts and stops. I never felt like I fully got my feet beneath me. It was more like going through the motions, doing the right things, and holding my breath more than ever before. It began at Nationals when, after getting out his crate following the practice round, he wasn’t right. Not anything severe, or life-altering, but a noticeable misstep in his stride. My stomach filled with dread (especially moreso when I realized it was not from his toe) and I scratched from the ISC round, frantically texted friends back home, and sought out help from someone on site. Shoulder tightness. That was the response I got from every direction. Tightness– we were to apply heat, stretch, massage, and warm up longer. So that’s what I did, and everything fell back into place.

But still, my feet weren’t beneath me. I felt like I was tripping.

We managed through the spring and summer. By manage, I mean to say that when Bolt was on and we had our rhythm, he was on. We earned our spot back on team; we ran in minimal local trials but the classes we did run in were smooth and fast and fearless like always; in practice we continued to fall into steps and he impressed me weekly with the skills he retained over the time lost. But yet, there were rare moments in between where he didn’t feel right. I checked the normal boxes, conferred with the right people, was reassured over and over again, but yet, there was a lingering uncertainty.

At the end of the summer Bolt was diagnosed with a mild iliopsoas strain. I took him to orthopedics who confirmed. We did imaging on his back and knees to be sure there was nothing more concerning beneath the surface and, other than the tenderness in the muscle, he was given a completely clean bill of health. We were to rest and rehab for six weeks—a tight timeline to be sure when you’re counting down to Worlds, but it was doable. I fell into what unfortunately had become a new routine for us: ice, heat, stretching, poking, lasering, worry, doubt.

I wish I could say I went into Worlds fully confident, but I would be lying. It was an event haloed by anxiety and I didn’t feel as though I exhaled until I stepped to the line for our second team run—then not a while after either. That’s not the type of agility I love and so while I cried not only for realizing a dream in the Czech Republic, I also cried for the amount of heart my dog continued to show me despite the year we’d had. 

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When we returned home I, also with the help of our amazing team physio, was determined to get a diagnosis. She helped coordinate appointments and make referrals to some of the best specialists in the area—I would have been lost without that guidance. And while I got some quizzical looks back about the things I said—slightly lame once every 3-4 months apparently was not clinical enough for some—but they went forward with diagnostics anyway. And finally, after a year of questioning and being reassured and worrying anyway, we had what constituted as an answer:

Mild but chronic injury to the biceps with glenohumeral ligament involvement. Not MSI. Not catastrophic by any means. His left shoulder was unremarkable—completely normal.

While the news was good, it also put us in an unexpected predicament.

Do you treat a dog that is not clinical? Who is showing no signs of discomfort or lameness or inflammation, but whose imaging does show some mild injury? Do you wait until he is clinical before treating? Do we attempt to do months of rehab and strength-building on a dog that already has strength to see if that resolves the issue? How will we know if he’s okay to return to activity? Wait for him to become lame again in the future?

I asked these questions right along with the orthopedist up until we both came to the same conclusion.

Yes, we do treat him.

Next Friday Bolt will go in for his first round of PRP (platelet rich plasma) injections to his shoulder. He’ll be placed under sedation so they can scope him at the same time– ensuring that the ultrasound did not miss anything and so that the orthopedist can more accurately place the injections. Following this, he’ll be on the strictest rest yet: something I am truly dreading, almost as much as the thought of him under anesthesia and in pain. We will likely return for another injection 4-6 weeks following the first. We will be under the direction of a skilled orthopedist, consulting surgeons, knowledgeable physiotherapists, chiropractors, fitness experts, and more.

As our surgeon said on our first visit: Bolt has a team worthy of a professional athlete and she’s proud to be among them.

I don’t for a moment take any of this for granted. A bump in the road, yes, but I am confident that we will return from this stronger than ever before. I plan on putting some trust up in the universe, but also in the hands of all these people I am lucky enough to have on my team. We’ll do our best to repay our thanks over next year by being brave, following through, and coming back better than ever.

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