By Leslie Gallagher
I woke up at 2am Sunday morning hearing Kenny cough and struggle to move around. I jabbed Bryan hard with an elbow (can never wake the guy up) and said, “Kenny needs to go out NOW”. We blindly moved around the bedroom, pulled him off his bed and carried him out. He struggled and argued with us, insisting that he didn’t need to pee. We stood him up and tried for an eternity to express his bladder and finally gave up. He was right. He didn’t have to pee. But something nagged at me. We were three weeks post-surgery, everything had been going well but something wasn’t quite right and I couldn’t put my finger on it. In retrospect he hadn’t eaten his dinner the night before which was very unlike him. I started thinking he wasn’t feeling well but I didn’t know why. We put him back on his bed and I laid for the next hour trying to go back to sleep but listening to his breathing. Now what?
At 5am he coughed again and I shot out of bed. His eyes looked glazed, he didn’t want to move and I started to get really nervous. I asked Bryan to take his resting heart rate. It was 185. I almost had a stroke. A normal resting heart rate for him was about 65. Was it too early to call Dr. Ettinger, our Medical Director?? He had to be up by 5am, right??!! Checking Kenny’s gums, they were absolutely white. My heart went into my throat. I knew I had to race him over to the emergency hospital and if I woke up Dr. Ettinger so be it!! Kenny was getting shocky.
A resident there met us and told me she thought maybe Kenny just needed to empty his bladder and that she was going to put in a urinary catheter. Uh, no you’re not. I asked a big strong tech to help me and we carried Kenny outside where he peed just fine thank you very much. (just saved myself $200!) Then he pooped some weird piece of plastic and bandage material. Good boy! Ate your vet wrap off your foot while I wasn’t looking. Was that what was wrong??? Could it have been so simple? Of course not!
Due to the material Kenny had passed the resident wanted to do both chest xrays and abdominal ones to see if he had a foreign body. I was more worried about his heart/lungs than any foreign body but whatever. He seemed to be in terrible pain. I got (THANK GOD) Dr. Ettinger on the phone as this young vet was going over every possibility known to man instead of focusing on what I thought was a Dobie heart problem. Dr. Ettinger, bless his heart seemed to scare the crud out of this poor young woman. He very slowly and carefully explained what he thought she should do. For those of you who are unaware of how famous Dr. Ettinger is, he is considered one of the top veterinarians in the country and he literally wrote the book on Veterinary Internal Medicine. So every single vet in the world has read and studied his textbooks (translated into over 50 languages!) and they all know who he is. It has to be terrifying to have an emergency case and Steve Ettinger telling you over the phone what he would do. I actually felt sorry for her as she seemed to be sweating bullets, wanting to cover every contingency and not screw up with his case.
Of course, it being Memorial Day weekend and 6:00 in the morning the hospital was short staffed so the vet just listened to his chest. Dr. Ettinger strongly recommended an EKG as he was worried about tachycardia (an excessively rapid heartbeat) and Dobermans are very prone to heart problems. I thought Kenny was in a lot of pain and asked her if she could please give him some injectable pain medications (thinking that might bring his heart rate down). She finally took him in for an xray and told me to call back in a few hours. I was a total WRECK. My KEN!!!
By 1:30 in the afternoon his heart rate had only gone down to 160, nowhere near normal and they still hadn’t given him any injectable meds yet. I was trying to not have a stroke and be that big pain-in-the-ass owner who calls and nags the vet every 15 minutes but, still! By 4:30pm he was eating but shaking nonstop. They still had not done any bloodwork or the EKG. I went in to visit him (horrible nagging owner) and was told that he only started shaking when I showed up. ???? Ken is not an emotional guy. He was a guy that was very sick. FINALLY at 8pm they reported that he had fluid in his lungs but not enough to tap, some of his bloodwork was abnormal, his heart rate was down to 140 (WTF???) and the vet wanted to do more xrays, pass a urinary catheter and tap the fluid anyway even though it could cause a pneumothorax, which is the presence of air or gas in the pleural cavity surrounding the lungs. It’s painful and can cause difficulty in breathing. Not good. She felt that it was probably cancer. Excuse me??
So much for my two-whole-days-off-holiday-weekend. I was internally hysterical. Had we screwed up by not doing chest xrays before the MRI and surgery?? Had the melanoma on his hock metastasized after all and was I a complete idiot for doing a major surgery on a dog with full blown cancer??? Why, oh why hadn’t I insisted on chest xrays before surgery??? By this time the resident vet had gone home for the day and I had spoken with my dear friend, Dr. Leonard who promised to take over his case in the morning as soon as she got to work. I trusted her with every fiber of my being and I knew she would follow Dr. Ettinger’s recommendations to the letter. By 9pm that Sunday night his heart rate was down to 120, the pain meds were kicking in and he was a bit more comfortable but nowhere near out of the woods. We still had absolutely no idea what was wrong with him. It was a long, sleepless night as we waited for Dr. Leonard to arrive the following morning.
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