My Own Holiday Miracle

Ellen Padnos
Ellen Padnos

Welcome to the first of my posts… most of my posts will be about cooking healthy meals prepared using cookware like a pressure cooker for a family and the numerous benefits of yoga, but today my heart and head are in one place only: On my dog, Lola.  Let me caveat this by saying I’m a little crazy when it comes to this animal. (Although, I’ve learned through waiting rooms at veterinary specialists and waiting to pick her up from grooming that  MANY pet owners are equally crazy. Some just mask it better then others.) My craziness is easy for the world to see, when you walk in my house the first thing that greets you is a commissioned portrait of my pup. It’s pretty awesome!

LolaIt all started three weeks ago (to the day).  A fun and innocent invitation to decorate gingerbread houses with friends. My 4 year-old has two favorite things: art projects and sugar, so this was right up our alley. We had a great time and Anthony created a masterpiece! It was filled with chemical-laden, yet edible, icing, dot candy, gum drops, and peppermint candies. Perfect and beautiful! A great time was had by all. Of course this masterpiece had to be the center of our dinner table — can you imagine a better Christmas decoration?

Gingerbread house
The Culprit

Two days later as I was leaving for a playgroup with my toddler I did a sweep of the house knowing that Lola, my 6 year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, would figure out a way to eat ANYTHING that was left out. Who thinks of a Gingerbread House as real food? Well, you probably do and that makes you wiser than me!

I got home to find Lola had jumped on the kitchen table and eaten a bunch of the candy, some of the icing and a chunk of the gingerbread house.  She had her normal smile, was wagging her tail and was quite sticky from all the sugar.  I called the vet immediately and correctly was told that if there wasn’t any chocolate and no artificial sweeteners than she’d probably have the big-D but there wasn’t anything to worry about.  The next morning came the funniest poop I’d ever seen — all of those “artificial colors” came out in a rainbow of sorts, but she seemed fine.  She was active and energetic, and I thought “the gingerbread debacle” (of course poor Anthony was FURIOUS about her ruining his work) was behind us.

I took Lola to the vet just to be on the safe side, and the doctor reassured me that there wasn’t anything toxic in candy or gingerbread, and she’d be fine. WHEW!

But my relief was only temporary.

Lola began having diarrhea and she couldn’t hold down food or water — my dog who’d eat anything lost her appetite and became extremely lethargic. I rushed her into the vet’s hospital on Tuesday morning after I could hardly get her to move.  I had just seen the vet two days earlier, and Lola seemed fine the day before, so I was sure that he would think I was an overprotective dog Mom.  Instead, he looked into her eyes (which I noticed were yellow) and RAN her to the back hospital part to get her on an IV drip.  This was serious.  He came back and explained that something was terribly wrong with her that her eyes were as yellow as they were.  Also, her gums and inside of her mouth was very yellow – all this indicated jaundice which meant something was wrong with her liver.

Later that evening the blood-work came in showing that her Bilirubin level was 14.4  and normal for a dog is .4.  Two other numbers were crazily high as well.  The doctor told me this is VERY bad and he had no idea what caused it and as of now, we should not be optimistic that she would recover.  Basically, in his 30 yers as a vet, he’d rarely, if ever, seen such high Bilirubin in a living dog.  So, it’s Tuesday night and I’m supposed to leave for New Jersey on Thursday afternoon.  This NJ trip was a big deal.  The kids, my parents, Christmas, tickets to Radio City, the family holiday party, etc.

Ellen with LolaIt was a terrible couple days.  Turns out Lola had Pancreatitis, which could have inflamed her liver – but still, this didn’t make sense to the vet.  The only hope we had was that Lola didn’t act like a dog that was dying (although, I don’t know what dying dogs act like.)  She was in her cage at the hospital and perked up when I went to visit and would willingly take walks.  I know I live a charmed life to tell you that this was one of the toughest times of my life.  I didn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and certainly couldn’t think about sending out Christmas cards.

My yoga teacher always says that “whatever is difficult in your life is your teacher”.  I did learn something pretty awesome in this terrible time.  I learned that the people in my life, in particular, my husband and my friends – are even more awesome than I realized they were.  The calls, texts, offers to help with the kids, offer to pay for this debacle (that was only one part of my husband’s kindness) and genuine concern I got from anyone who found out amazed me.  Those were the only smiles I had during those days that I thought were Lola’s last.

Thursday came and there were too many pressures to go to NJ, including my husband’s unwillingness to change the plane tickets – his generosity had to stop somewhere.  I visited her twice that day and couldn’t believe that this could be the last time I’d be seeing my girl.  Talk about friends, this little girl had been through it all with me.  A couple of years of fertility issues, there for that first positive pregnancy test, and next to me for the second positive pregnancy test, too.  She is the dog that is next to me whenever I am in the house.  Right now, thank God, she is literally sleeping at my feet next to my computer.

So I’m off New Jersey for ELEVEN days.  I wasn’t sure I had the strength for this one…

My husband, one of my many heroes, brought Lola home from the hospital on Friday.  The doctor, another hero, saw her spirits dropping on Friday and was worried about her.  My normally optimistic and positive husband was worried when he brought her home.  An iChat on Saturday brought some relief to both me and my little pup who I’m sure was wondering where her other half was.  A little progress on Sunday and then my husband was supposed to join us back east on Monday.  Enter my second hero, my honorary sister, great friend and the kindest person I know, Molly RichardsonMolly Richardson (She happens to be gorgeous on the outside, but as impossible as it may seem, she is even more beautiful on the inside.) Molly offered to take Lola and nurse her back to health.  She only has a husband, a baby and 3 dogs of her own to care for. But I knew I could trust her and she’d love and care for Lola as well as I could.

Molly had her own Christmas travel planned, so our wonderful, loving neighbors, the Danzers, took over caring Lola for the last few nights of our trip. They fed her, took her for walks, and let her sleep on their pillow — just as she does at home — and by Monday when we returned home, the Lola I know and love showered me with licks when I knocked on the door to pick her up.

I’m sure the details of my story are getting tedious, but it was a week of ups and downs, thankfully more ups than downs and I got home yesterday and Lola looks great.  We went for a follow up appointment this morning and the vet told me that he saw a specialist (coincidentally) recently and showed him Lola’s blood work.  According to my vet, the specialist looked at him and said with disbelief, “This dog is still alive?” The specialist had never seen such high Bilirubin levels either.  They still can’t pinpoint exactly what went wrong in her system, but whatever it was seems to have responded to the care, medication and love that she received.Lola

I’m sharing this story for many reasons.  It’s cathartic to get this stress and energy out of my being.  I also want you to think about the will to live, miracles and the sharing of energy.  Lola clearly had a will to live.  Please put your judgements aside, again, I’m crazy, but what if we really do have angels?  When I wanted a child so badly I use to pray to my great grandmother.  I use to envision her sitting around with her daughter (my grandmother who I never met) – drinking tea and talking about how they were choosing a baby for me.  They did, and I have two amazing and perfect children (I wholly think that all children are perfect and amazing).  When Lola was sick at home, I put her on a blanket that my Great Grandmother had made.  If anyone could help me through this it would be her.  Lastly, since I wanted to try it all – I completely changed my energy on Saturday morning.  I had seen a yoga idol of mine, Seane Corn say that “yoga was a full body prayer”.  So, on Saturday morning in NJ, I literally pushed food down my throat (I had hardly eaten since Tuesday) and went into my Dad’s office and healed myself with yoga.  Only 20 minutes of sun salutations and I started to feel a little better.  The banana, tea and bread that I had eaten stayed down and I started to fill that pit in my stomach.  For what it’s worth, Lola started doing better on Saturday morning too!

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Ellen Padnos lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with her husband, Ben, her children Anthony (4), and Annie (1), and, of course, Lola. You can also follow her on Twitter (@ellenpadnos).


  1. Ellen,

    Thanks for sharing your journey and it is great that Lola has recovered I appreciate the wisdom and hopefulness in your message. The concepts that “whatever is difficult in your life is your teacher” and that yoga is a full body prayer remind me that I can embrace every challenge and consciously participate in my own and other’s healing process. I look forward to more of your posts!

  2. Hi Ellen

    Thanks for sharing yours and Lola’s story. As someone who has had a number of Cavaliers over the past 35 years (I breed occassionally but all my Cavaliers are my pets and live in my home) I have to tell you that these little dogs have to strongest will to live that I have ever experienced. I could relate a number of stories where a vet has said “this dog shouldn’t be alive” but each time the Cavalier survived. They also respond enormously (as do all animals) to our belief in them and our love for them.

    They shower us with completely unconditional love and, as you said, are right there with us for every step of our journey, sharing the highs and the lows, always close by – like little angels in fur coats.


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