Sunday, June 19, 2005

We had a very nice visit today at Carlsbad Caverns. We've been to quite a number of limestone caverns, and each is different. I have to say that Carlsbad is the largest and most impressive that we have visited to date.

We opted to forego any guided tours on this visit, and instead chose the self-guided route into the cave via the natural entrance. This route descends 750' into the cave via a winding, steep, and narrow but well-graded and paved path. Many interesting formations and other cave features can only be viewed this way.

Upon reaching the main portion of the cave after about an hour's walk, we rested briefly in the underground lunch room (really) where we had a snack. Louise opted to head back to the surface (the 750' elevator is the only choice of exit) and I continued on through the "big room," another self-guided route consisting of a loop of something over a mile, and featuring many other speleothems. Even more interesting scenery, I am told, can be seen in other rooms only accessible on various guided tours. We'll save those for a future visit on a less crowded date (in other words, not on a Saturday in the summer). Two-plus hours and over a mile (Louise) or two (Sean) of walking was plenty for our first visit.

After leaving the park, we surveyed our camping options for tonight heading east, and they are slim pickin's in this area. We had planned to head due east on US180, but there were no good overnight options along that route either in east NM or west TX. Instead we chose to divert a tad south along 176, landing in the small west Texas town of Andrews (map), principally because they have a free municipal campground here with 30 amp hookups. Apparently, the chamber of commerce is doing all it can to attract visitors here. (The camping consists of seven or so spots on an asphalt lot behind the chamber's building, each with a power pedesal and a hose bibb). Certainly the price can't be beat; they allow up to three days for free.

It turned out to be quite fortuitous that we stopped here. While we were fixing and eating dinner, we noticed Opal was having some difficulty moving around. Specifically, her whole hind quarters do not seem to be working right. She is having difficulty just walking, or even sitting or lying down, and stairs are now impossible for her. She was fine earlier today, and this came on very suddenly.

Given how hot it was today (we traveled through temps up to around 105), and how much warmer it sometimes is in her kennel than in the rest of the cockpit, which was running around 91-95 today, we immediately began checking her for signs of heat stroke. When that turned up normal, and nothing we could do for her seemed to help, we called the vet in town, who maintains an emergency on-call number. Turns out he was patching up a horse, and agreed to meet us at the clinic when he was done.

We packed everything back up in a hurry, and drove Odyssey the 20 blocks to the vet's. He arrived ten minutes or so after us, and brought Opal in for an exam.

An hour, two x-rays, and $140 later, we had only a diagnosis of some neurological problem originating possibly in the spinal cord somewhere below the cervix but above the sacrum. He gave her a steroid shot, and us some more pills to continue giving her for a few days, and said he would make some calls on Monday and refer us to a hospital in DFW that could do further diagnosis on the spine, involving dye injection and other techniques for which a country vet is unequipped. And oh, by the way, there is a very remote chance that this is a side effect of Metronidazole, which we have been giving her for the last two weeks to treat her colitis.

Well, after leaving the vet and getting squared back away again here at the chamber of commerce, we began investigating this on the internet. We are now relatively convinced that this is the effect of Metronidazole toxicosis -- the symptoms are a good match, and the spinal tissue explanation is suspect because she is experiencing no pain, and there has been no trauma at all that would explain the sudden onset. We can't rule out a spinal origin, of course, but we are seeking to treat the toxicosis possibility first.

Of course we have discontinued the Metronidazole, but case studies show that it may take several weeks to effect recovery once the medication is stopped. It is said that administration of Diazepam can speed this process tremendously, and we may ask a vet about that option.

We have our fingers crossed that the effects of the toxicosis (or whatever it turns out to be) are completely reversible.

The vet is closed tomorrow, but he could not give us the x-ray films until they dry, so we are meeting him at 9:30 at his office to pick them up. I will ask about the diazepam then. We will also continue to pursue the spinal assesment as well, so we will blast over to DFW on I-20 to be there for a possible Tuesday clinic visit.

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