‘Has Newman had his pill?’
This question, asked morning and evening, is one to which Uncle NuNu himself now greatly looks forward (if he hasn’t yet shouldered his way into position before it’s even asked) when he hears the words, so keen is he to get a treat at the same time as the dispensing occurs. In a recent post about him, I recalled Uncle Willie’s epilepsy, and this has prompted me to write about dear Newman’s own experience of his own faraway world – a world of goodness, innocence and inability to concentrate. This is because he has what the vet calls ‘epilepsy-type symptoms’ and, as a result, has a small twice-daily dose of Epiphen.
In Uncle Willie’s case, epilepsy made itself known when he had his first seizure at the age of two: a dramatic Sunday lunchtime, that, with nobody really knowing what to make of the poor dear creature who had been fine one minute – resting quietly on the mat – and then rigid and out of it the next. By the time he was rushed to meet the vet at the surgery, Willie was fully conscious again and it seemed obvious what he’d experienced. Over the next few years Willie’s fits came with increasing frequency, following the characteristic pattern of initial faraway look – eyes open, senses shut – and then the rigidity, the shaking. They were never dramatic or distressing to witness and they could be astonishingly brief: moments of contact with the angels in a world quite wild to the rest of us. Eventually the vet said it was time to medicate and, though the first dose of phenobarbital seemed worryingly strong, after the second he was back to his old self and he went on to take it thereafter without its diminishing his fun one jot. To this day he remains the only Dickens Dog to have died without euthanasia, dropping dead of a heart attack aged thirteen, just before he tackled his dinner.
Uncle NuNu’s case is rather different. He had a couple of petit mal experiences over the years – standing still, eyes fixed: absence seizures, as they are often now called. Sometimes it’s really hard to get his attention; he’s not deaf, and he’s not disobedient; it’s just that he’s away with the fairies, lift-music playing soothingly inside his head. Then he starts gulping madly, as if he’s feeling sick – a classic symptom Uncle Willie shared. This distresses him to such an extent that nothing can calm him and he simply must go into the garden; once there, though, he simply looks around for grass and has never, ever even tried to be sick. More than anything he needs calming and reassurance, which we all try to give him. He’s been on the pills for several months now and the gulping and sickness episodes have become very few and far between, though occasionally you can tell Newman feels agitated and can’t work out why. He’s had all the tests and the vet is happy for his symptoms to be controlled by medication.
We often wonder what goes on in his magical head, when he’s rolling madly with joy or sitting pondering on nothing much at all. In Nunhead Cemetery he was often haunted by the presence of the others the rest of us couldn’t see; those whose lightning-quick appearances he returned with a thoughtful glance and, very occasionally, refusal to follow a pathway through the graves. As a noisy spaniel, I wish I had his depth and mystery but as he once was quite extrovert too, perhaps I shall become more like him – and learn from him – as the years pass. When I came along, it was Uncle Johnny who took me under his wing; Newman was much younger then, less interested in avuncular duties: he has always let little Nico do whatever he likes to him, endlessly patient with his fur-chewing and comfort-seeking, even if it means his fur gets wet and a bit thin in places.
Newman adored Uncle Johnny and probably speaks with him most days, down the bottom of the garden, where the sparrows chirrup and leave him bits of fat ball to snack on – a joke they share, no doubt. Together, they compare notes about what Uncle Willie’s funny turns were like. Johnny will have told him that when he was a few months old he ate one of Uncle Willie’s pills by accident, but with no ill effects – just as the vet had predicted! We used to find the odd pill on the floor, fortunately before any of us had hoovered it up; the bit of bread NuNu has with it ensures it goes down properly. Another routine: just one of so many in our carefully crafted daily lives. One that keeps our dear furry friend grounded a bit more than he might otherwise be.