Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Animal ER

“I need someone to take the biting end,” said the traveling neurosurgeon to no one in particular.  I looked around the hospital. The cages were full and my technicians were busy.  

“I guess that’d be me,” I said and followed him to our patient, a 178 pound Great Dane.  The surgeon was going to pinch the dane’s rear toes, clamp down on them as hard as he could with hemostats, to determine if the dog could feel deep pain.  Deep pain was good.  It meant the neurologic circuit between the feet and brain was intact.  This dog couldn’t walk.  We wanted deep pain.  

My job was to ensure the surgeon did not get bit.  I’m not particularly interested in revealing my weight but suffice it to say I am five foot two and weigh less than this dog.  

I sat down on the speckled brown floor, a surface made for fancy garages.  We thought the material would be good in our hospital; classy, not too slippery and not showing dirt. I eyed a region that looked suspiciously like dried blood.  So much for hiding muck.    

I wrapped my arms around the dog’s neck and said a fleeting prayer.  I felt like a little girl with my arms wrapped around our Great Pyrenees -- Pepi.  An amiable dog that put up with all my prepubescent poking and prodding.  I only hoped this dog would be as gentle. Because the truth of the matter was if the biting end wanted to bite he was going to do so.  And I would be the likely recipient of said interaction.

But luck was on my side.  Our patient was just that -- patient.  He had deep pain and he did not bite.  Win-win.  

I heaved a heavy sigh and found myself utterly grateful for this gentle giant.  After our encounter I was beginning to feel bonded and was glad for his prognosis.  He probably had a fibrocartilagenous emboli (a stroke to the spinal cord). Given time he might recover. I rested my head on his, thanked him for being good, then got up to talk to his owners.  

The treatment portion of our hospital was separated from the exam rooms and reception area by swinging aluminum doors.  I went through the first set of these doors and skittered past the exam rooms with as much stealth as I could muster.  The rooms were full of clients waiting for my attention.  I went through the second set of swinging doors and out into the lobby. 

The dane’s people were sitting by a large plate glass window that overlooked the strip mall parking lot.  It was dark outside and I instinctively looked for the tree covered in white lights -- my beacon in the darkness.  But the tree wasn’t lit up.  Damn.  

I pulled up a chair, a gaudy fabric covered seat upholstered in a contemporary design, and began to review their case.  

I’d only just begun when the front door swung open and a gust of frigid air poured into the lobby. I shivered. It felt as if a spirit had passed through me and for a brief moment I was creeped out. 

A woman with a nose ring barreled through the door.  In her arms was a small scruffy dog who was actively seizing.  I excused myself, pried the dog from her arms and went back through the aluminum doors leaving them swinging in my wake. 

We gave the seizing dog an injection of valium. The medication worked immediately and our patient’s tremors began to slow.  He looked like an over medicated parkinson patient -- limbs flailing this way and that.  

Then I did it.  I opened my stupid mouth. 

“I’ll bet this dog couldn’t bite if he wanted to.”  

Dumb, dumb, dumb.  Though we practice medicine, science, we also wholeheartedly believe in the power of the jinx.  I had just cast a spell which all but mandated that this dog was going to bite us.   

My technician shot me a nasty look, a well deserved one at that, and took the dog to the scale where, as per my prophesy, he exploded. He threw himself off the scale, a mere inch off the ground, and slammed his head onto the floor. He bit his tongue and began to bleed profusely.  He shat himself and expressed his anal glands perfusing the clinic with an aroma of unsullied fear. 

Though this dog could not walk he began to scoot himself across the clinic with surprising speed, blood and feces smeared in his wake.  Each attempt to catch him was met with a mess of gnarling gnashing teeth.  He was barking, screaming and growling.  I knew, with fair certainty, everyone in the hospital could hear his tantrum, including his owner who remained in the lobby.  

I began hopping back and forth on my danskos muttering “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”  The tasmanian devil of a dog was headed across the treatment area -- straight for the great dane.  The dane, who was too big to fit in a kennel, was lying on the floor. 

Now the dane had been gentle with me.  But I had no idea how he felt about other dogs, much less, those of tasmanian descent.  Time slowed and I imagined this dane opening his mouth, cranking it back 150 degrees like a snake, and swallowing the terrier whole.  

And this entire incident would be all my fault. Vexes aside the buck stopped with me. If either of these dogs were injured I would ultimately be to blame.  

I ran over to the dane hoping to intercept any potential interaction but did not move fast enough.  The biting, slithering, mess of a terrier slid right up to our gargantuan patient.  And that gentle giant of a dog simply cocked his head in curiosity.   

Oh thank you!  Thank you!  I was becoming more and more bonded with this fabulous black beast.  

We threw a towel over the terrier and tackled him.  He was muzzled and subsequently subdued with medication.  Oh me oh my!

A bit worse for wear I returned to the lobby, reassured the terrier’s owner and resumed my conversation with the dane’s owners.  

Though his medical situation was not ideal the dane had a chance for recovery. With supportive care and time he may be able to walk again.  The couple didn’t say a word. Instead they looked at me, blinked, and then looked at each other.  And I knew.  Fuck.  Fuck it all to hell.  They were going to euthanize.  

They wanted to be present and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. I pulled the sickly pink solution into a 20 cc syringe.  I sat in front of this wonderful dog and he looked at me, his mouth open and panting.  He trusted me.  We were friends.  

His owners stood over him and I gave the injection. I caught his bowling ball of a head as it fell to the ground.  His owners turned on their heels and left, leaving me on the speckled floor next to their precious dead dog.  I lowered my head to his once again and began to cry.  

Then the aluminum doors burst open and another emergency beckoned.  I stood, wiped my eyes and, with no other choice, returned to work.   


Robyn Greenhouse said...

All those pets that pass through those aluminum doors are lucky to have you waiting on the other side!

Theresa F said...

I feel like crying for you. We had to euthanize our Boxer and neither my husband or I could bear to stay and watch. I don't know how you do the job you do, but God bless you for doing it with such compassion.