I originally met Bernie the golden retriever a few years ago during an annual exam. I was immediately taken by two things, 1) Bernie’s exuberant personality (he was all wags and barks) and 2) how much his parents cared for him. My coworkers and I became steadfast fans of Bernie’s infectious outgoing energy, so you can imagine our dismay when our lovable golden friend’s health began to fail two winters ago. It began with a diagnosis of diabetes in early December of 2010. Bernie mysteriously stopped eating, a sure sign in most retrievers that something has gone awry. Dr. Peter Nurre started Bernie on Humulin insulin. Soon after his change in medication, Bernie came in feeling crummy, and Dr. Roger Johnson performed an abdominal ultrasound on Bernie to find that he had an infection in his abdomen. Surgery was necessary to search for the source of infection, which is typically a perforation (hole) somewhere within the bowel, but in Bernie’s case the source of infection was not a perforated bowel, and remained a mystery. Dr. Johnson cleaned the infection out of the abdomen as best he could and stitched Bernie back up.
After surgery Bernie’s troubles were not over, as he had several mysterious post-operative infections in spite of being treated with a battery of antibiotics. Soon after surgery Bernie went blind from cataracts, a common problem for diabetics, but had lost so much weight that the corrective surgery could not be performed as a result of the fact that his eyes were sunken into his skull so much. When I caught up with Bernie in February of 2011 I was shocked to see that he had dropped from a robust 80 pounds down to a paltry 55 pounds. His tail still wagged, but he was so thin he was nearly unrecognizable. It is hard to admit, but I was starting to lose hope for my furry friend. However, Bernie’s dad Forrest was vigilant during the whole process. Utilizing the latest in iPad applications and spreadsheets to track Bernie’s blood glucose and insulin doses, Forrest communicated regularly with Dr. Johnson via e-mail in hopes of controlling the diabetes.
Bernie’s health seemed to decline even further when his jaw seemed to stop working in March of 2011, as he was diagnosed with a condition known as trigeminal neuritis by Dr. Filippo Adamo, our neurologist. This rare condition effects the nerves that wrap around the face, which control the ability of the jaw to open and close normally as well as the blinking reflex of the eyes. The symptom Bernie experienced was that of a “dropped jaw,” in which the jaw cannot close properly. Forrest had to hand feed and water Bernie for six weeks until the condition spontaneously resolved. During Bernie’s bout with trigeminal neuritis he would often bleed profusely from his mouth because when he would drink water, he would take in such large amounts that he would rupture blood vessels near the back of his tongue.
After the trigeminal neuritis resolved Bernie began to gain weight again, and he was able to have cataract surgery in June of 2011. Bernie’s parents were thrilled when he regained his sight the same day as the surgery, and according to Forrest, the golden retriever’s happiness returned with his vision. Forrest noted the intense eye medication regimen that followed surgery, but Bernie’s renewed sense of self made the process worthwhile. Bernie’s eating stabilized, and in July of 2011 Dr. Johnson wrote the phrase, “getting fat! ” in his chart.
I caught Bernie and Forrest in the clinic a few months ago during a recheck visit to see Dr. Johnson, and I was thrilled when Bernie barked at me for attention as Forrest was showing me the latest blood glucose monitoring applications on his iPad. He looked like his normal Bernie self, and his wagging tail never stopped moving the whole time I was in the room. Dr. Johnson found some discrepancies within Bernie’s blood work recently (high tryglycerides and evidence of blood proteins), and he has since began a medication regimen to treat those conditions. Clinically, Bernie looked fabulous! I am happy to report that this past December the ten year old golden is once again at his fighting weight of 77.5 pounds. Dr. Johnson and the staff at Encina would like to commend Forrest for his vigilance in monitoring and caring for Bernie.
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A special thanks to Bernie’s dedicated father, Forrest Litke, for his contribution of information and pictures to this blog, and for allowing us to share Bernie’s story with everyone!