Friday, June 14, 2013

Nothing Beats A Country Vet

My friend Jane and I get together a couple of times a week to walk our dogs together in town because there we can take the dogs for a long, off-leash walk to the river.
Back at Jane's house, drinking water, I noticed Abby was quivering; still excited, I guessed. At home, she stumbled as she ran up the steps to the house; going to fast, I figured. My husband fed her supper and we got ready for ours.
"Abby is vibrating," Dwayne said. And she was. How could she be so excited still? Usually she relaxes after a walk but what had been a bit of a quiver was now a noticeable vibration. Within 15 minutes, the situation escalated. We got her lying down because she was panting and shaking; I Googled heat stroke but the shakes aren't a symptom. And it wasn't that warm out; I walked in jeans and was comfortable. We took her outside where it was cooler and the first thing she did was throw up her supper. When we got her lying down again, I said, "She looks like she's about to convulse. I'm calling the vet."
As I dialled, I glanced up at the clock. Six. I would get the answering service. 
Do you know what a relief it was to hear a familiar voice on the phone?
"We forgot to forward the phones to the answering service," Dr. Susan Hunter said. "What's up?"
I explained what was going on with Abby and bless her, Dr. Hunter said to bring her right over.
What a long 15 minute drive that was. As soon as we got into my CRV, Abby flung herself forward to lie on the floor on the passenger side, stretched across, her feet kicking out, her tongue panting against ankle.
I couldn't give Dr. Hunter any clues as to what had happened. "It was a normal walk," I said as she tried to examine our shaking, panting dog on the table. "The only difference was a new pile of garbage someone had dumped illegally along the trail."
"This could be a bacterial toxin," the vet said. Even I knew that put Abby's internal organs at risk.
Abby needed meds to calm the shaking, to calm her but there was no way she could stay on the table. As Dwayne lifted her off the table, she panicked and almost flew out of his arms. It wasn't only his grip and my help that got her to the floor safely. (The next day, he had a tender spot on his chest from where she struck him with her elbow.)
"Close the door," he said to me after Dr. Hunter went out. "She's gonna bolt."
I called Jane to warn her that Abby had some kind of toxic shock, that maybe it came from that pile of garbage that both dogs inspected but she said Sam was fine. So what had Abby eaten? We've done this same walk once or twice a week for a year. Stuff is long since thawed. What could she have found, that Sam didn't, that could nearly kill her?
Dr. Hunter's main concern was getting charcoal into Abby in order to soak up the toxins but until she was calm, until the tremors stopped, we couldn't make any attempt to feed her ("The easiest way to get charcoal inside a dog is to mix it with food," she explained) or intubate her, the lesser of the two choices. It took the entire dose -- 50 mg -- of muscle relaxants to get Abby's body calmed down and by then, she'd been in that state for almost two hours; she fell alseep.
"Don't you hold this against me," I said to my husband just before I smeared wet cat food over my lips and pressed against Abby's mouth to see if I could get her to open her mouth, lick her lips, want to eat.
I know my dog is in bad shape when she doesn't even want to lick wet cat food off my face.
"I'm going to try to get the tube into her," Dr. Hunter said. "I want to get the charcoal into her."
Nothing is more amazing to me than watching a vet at work, trying to suction a tube filled with charcoal while trying to to slide it into my dog's stomach. I know it's her job but somehow that action just seems above and beyond, you know?
I have no idea how much, if any charcoal made it into Abby's stomach because the liquid in the funnel I was in charge of holding up at the end of the tube wasn't going down. Held by Dwayne, Abby just lay there gazing at Dr. Hunter; if trust has a look, that was it. But by nine o'clock, Abby was exhausted, Dr. Hunter was exhausted, and it seemed our options were exhausted as well. She had Valium, a massive dose of muscle relaxant and two bags of saline/calcium solution in her but only a dribble of charcoal.
After a discussion, Dr. Hunter decided against Abby needing overnight survelliance at the emergency clinic in Moncton. "I'm going to give her some antibiotic. Take her home. The drugs in her system should wear by 3 am. If the tremors start up again, call me. Either we'll meet her or I'll call the clinic in Moncton and let them know you're on your way."
Dwayne stayed up all night with the dog, she peed in two dog different dog beds, and at 6 am, trying to stand up to go outside, was a wobbly as a newborn fawn but by 8 o'clock, she was eating mushy fingerfuls of Dwayne's leftover pot roast off my fingers and by nine, lapping up small doses of watered-down gravy and brother.
Abby was on the road to recovery.
Dr. Hunter called shortly after to see how she was. "It was the worst case I've ever seen," she said of Abby's condition the night before.
We met at the clinic at 10:30 for a check-up and Dr. Hunter was pleased to see Abby acting more like her self. Blood tests revealed two elevated enzymes in her liver but Dr. Hunter said that was likely a result of the assault on her system. As far as the vet was concerned, the crisis was over. Abby was in recovery.
She slept all day Saturday and Sunday, eating only small meals of noodles, eggs and chicken broth, to regain her strength.

I am proud to say Dr. Hunter decided against calling her on-call vet tech, who lived 45 minutes away, because we were doing just fine as her helpers. At the follow-up the next day, she kept saying, "You guys were great."

This is what I remember from the three hours we spent at the vet clinic last Friday evening: The three humans on our knees on the floor around a panting, shaking dog. Dwayne held the dog while I assisted Dr. Hunter. The floor was littered with empty casings from catheters and syringes, bloodied paper towels, a soddened towel, a green blanket covered in charcoal, IV bags.
Don't hate me but at one point, the journalist in me wished I'd brought the camera to take a photo.

My take-away is not the hidden dangers of allowing a dog to run off-leash but how differently that crisis would have turned out if Dr. Hunter hadn't returned to the vet clinic at 6 o'clock on Friday night to change the phone over. 

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