By Leslie Gallagher
We were on our way to see Dr. Wayne Berry, one of the preeminent neurosurgeons in Southern California. I have to admit I was absolutely terrified. In my conversation with Dr. Berry about “isn’t it waaayyyy too late for Kenny to get an MRI/surgery at this point??” he said something very honest and very scary. “We will do the MRI and once it’s done I will be able to tell you if I absolutely cannot fix it, at which point you should strongly consider euthanasia, OR I will tell you I CAN fix it and we will go into surgery immediately”. No pressure there!!
For a little background it was May 6th. May 7th was my 50th birthday and the day of the MRI/euthanasia or MRI/surgery/massive celebration. Bryan and I had packed up the car with a very painful and unhappy Kenny in the far back seat, and two boisterous and crowded siblings: Monty, our German Shepherd and Bryan’s official security agent and BFF, and India, my Doberman/running partner/BFF. We drove to Irvine and dropped him off in the afternoon. His MRI was scheduled for first thing the following morning. Dr. Berry’s staff could not have been nicer and more welcoming and happy to meet Ken. Leaving him there was dreadful but I kept telling myself we were doing the right thing. We then continued south to Coronado and the very dog-friendly Lowes Hotel where we were going to try desperately to enjoy my 50th. Good luck. Both Bryan and I were feeling less than celebratory.
For a little MORE background, 6 years earlier we had been dealing with Savannah (white Dobie with melanoma) and her cancer. Right before Bryan’s 50th birthday I had just brought her back from NYC where she had been enrolled in a clinical trial for the cancer (and where we spent our days chasing squirrels in Central Park). Our oncologist in Los Angeles felt that with her cancer spreading and seizures starting, Savannah’s best chance for surviving another 6-8 months or so was going to be radiation therapy. On Bryan’s 50th birthday we brought her in to the cancer center for her first radiation treatment, with high hopes that we were going to get some good, quality time with her. After the radiologist reviewed her MRI he dropped a bomb. “If I radiate her today she will die”. The cancer had spread to her brain stem. He said our only option was euthanasia as she was going to start seizing constantly. We both felt that we had just been punched in the gut. We’d had such hope that this next round of treatment was going to help. Now we were told she was going to die, and quickly. So on Bryan’s 50th birthday we euthanized the love of my life. And drove home in complete shock. I think I was comatose for weeks.
And now its my 50th birthday and we are in exactly the same situation. Our beloved Kenny was going in for something that would decide whether he would live or die. Happy freaking birthday. I spoke to the vet tech at 8:00 in the morning. She said that they were a little backed up but that Kenny should be going in for his MRI around 11am. I was a wreck. I drank a thousand cups of coffee, took India and Monty for a long run along the beach, came back, went to the gym and lifted weights. I couldn’t relax. I called in at 11am. No word. Hadn’t started yet. JESUS!!!! I went out to the pool and started doing laps in my melanoma suit (long pants and long sleeved anti-cancer clothes). Swam for what seemed like an eternity. Back to the room at noon. Called again. “Sorry to be a pest but I was just checking on Kenny’s MRI?” Oh, still backed up because an emergency came in. They might start it at 1:30. At this point I was working myself into a lather, pacing the hotel room. Did I mention it was my birthday?
I was so embarrassed to keep calling that I actually started emailing the head vet tech. “Just checking in” I’m sure these people were so sick of me already. The head tech actually took pity on me and called twice to let me know they were still dealing with the emergency. For the love of god did that dog have to choose TODAY to have an emergency?!!!!! Finally, at 4:30pm the phone rang. I leaped out of my chair when the caller ID said “Dr. Wayne Berry”. Here it is. Do or die. Kenny’s going to make it or he’s not. Holy crap! Dr. Berry has this lovely, very soothing South African accent. You can’t help but enjoy listening to him. “Hi, Leslie!!! Wayne here! (Wayne! We’re on a first name basis! I barely knew this man and could he be any nicer???) Listen, Kenny has a big disc herniation at C6-C7 with a lot of disc material sitting on his cord. I’m pretty sure I can fix this. I’m going to go in and clean out all the extruded material and we should be able to get him up again. It’s too late to do it today so I’ll start on him first thing in the morning. Don’t worry.”
OH MY GOD. He thought he could fix him! He thought Kenny might walk again! I felt like collapsing from the stress of it all. In the call he sketched out all the possible surgical techniques that he could use and the one that he thought was the most effective. And when I queried him about why we could get any good result after such a long time and that it went against everything I had ever been taught he said, “The cervical spinal cord is much more forgiving than any other part of the spinal cord. If it were down lower we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” (This, of course reminds me how much I love this field because I learn something new all the time.) I had never heard that the cervical spine was nicer than any other part of the spine! And I had seen so many cases of dogs that had surgery a few days after an accident or even a week or two after an accident and those dogs hadn’t walked ever again. This was so cool. Now I just had to survive another 24 hours till I got the phone call that he was out and that everything was ok. Yikes!!!
Oh, and did I mention Monty was having blowout diarrhea??? German Shepherds have to be the most sensitive dogs on the planet. The previous night we had gotten very little sleep as Monty had awakened us several times by having massive diarrhea in our lovely hotel room. Bryan and I at 2am, 3am, 4am, on our hands and knees sopping up liquid diarrhea trying to get it out of the beautiful carpet. Ugh! We hadn’t slept much due to stress and poor Monty, picking up on it, passed it on to his stressed out bowels. This was becoming the best 50th birthday EVER!!