By Leslie Gallagher
Dr. Leonard (the saintly Dr. Leonard as she became Kenny’s hero) arrived at work just before 6am the following day. I was wide awake and waiting for her phone call as neither Bryan or I had slept a wink. We were so worried about Kenny and what the heck was wrong with him. She made rounds immediately and reported the following: among other things, Kenny had pneumonia. Radiographs had showed fluid around his lungs, so they did an echocardiogram and an abdominal ultrasound to try to figure out what was going on. The ultrasound was essentially normal and the eco didn’t explain why he had fluid around his lungs but it suggested that his blood might be prone to excessive clotting. I thought this was so interesting because Savannah, an albino Dobie that I had just adored had the canine equivalent of hemophilia which Dobermans are very prone to. Something as benign as a paper cut would have me lying on the floor for hours putting pressure on the “wound” trying to stop the bleeding. I’d often give up in tears after an hour and make Bryan take over!
A night on fluids and (finally!) intravenous pain meds had calmed him down considerably and his heart was beating more normally. But here’s where it got weird. Kenny had what they call “smoke” in one of the chambers of his heart. This got the cardiologists there as well as Dr. Ettinger very excited. He told me over the phone that he thought he’d only seen three cases of smoke in his entire career. Uh oh. A full cardiac workup was now in order. Dobies are very prone to heart abnormalities so of course we had to do everything possible to make sure he wasn’t going to keel over and die thanks to a creaky heart. Could this get any more stressful???!!!! We’d gone through so much with this dog and now he has a heart problem???
I wasn’t going to let money get in the way even though I was starting to stress about what this would cost. (Thank you Bill Foundation!! Thank you generous donors!!!) Both Dr. Leonard and Dr. Ettinger felt that the best thing to do was to keep him hospitalized (!@(*#&!&!^!%!!!!) until the cardiologist was in the following morning (remember, it was a holiday weekend) and that we should put him on 24 hours of “telemetry” to record that status of his heart constantly. This information would give the cardiologist a lot of help in discerning what was wrong with him. As much as I wanted to bring Ken home I reluctantly agreed to the heart monitor and another day without him. My holiday weekend was about as much fun as my 50th birthday! Dr. Leonard swore to me that she would watch him like a hawk and she did! She called almost hourly with updates. He ate! He urinated! He wagged his little stump at her!
The next day we had a bit more information. Kenny had a heart murmur, (interestingly his resting heart rate was still 100, much higher than normal for Ken), mild systolic dysfunction (impaired ventricular contraction) , mitral valve degeneration (the mitral valve is the valve that regulates the flow of blood between left atrium and the left ventricle), borderline hypertension and his platelets were very decreased. What did all this mean? No one knew for sure. In fact it was kind of confusing. One of the big concerns when you have a Doberman is a disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM).
This is a heart problem that Dobermans are prone to and essentially they can drop dead at any time. There is no real test to reveal whether the dog has it and there is no drug of any kind to prevent it. Your dog can be like India, my albino Dobie who runs 6 miles a day with me, or the world’s biggest couch potato living on French Fries and bad TV. Both dogs are equally likely to drop dead without a moment’s notice. A friend of mine had a beautiful 2 yr old black and tan Dobie who greeted her one night as she arrived home from work with a wagging tail and a big chew toy in her mouth and dropped dead a few seconds later. What. The. Hell.
Much medication was prescribed, Ken was sent home with strict instructions to come back a week later for a recheck, and yours truly just kept trying to exhale. Dr. Ettinger suggested that we may not be able to place Ken in a good home should he recover from his neck surgery and now this. He told me to think hard about how much energy I want to put into diagnostics. If it turned out that Ken might have DCM we’d know that we could be living with a ticking time bomb. Did I want to know that? Could I place him in a loving home knowing that? It could be really bad news or it could just be that Ken has a funky heart and we learn to deal with it. I had to make a decision.