Fair Warning — This is a long one!
Beginning our weekday trek from our West Highlands home, to the Fifteenth Street bridge over I25–our afternoon walkie to where we would meet-up with David as he walked home from 17th and Lawrence–Sarah and I passed, as we usually do, through Highland Park at 32nd and Federal. It is in Highland Park where Sarah usually squats and completes one of her twice daily, um, evacuations. So, last Thursday, she squatted–not once, but three times–and what came out was not pretty; a liquid goop that defied my ability to gather it up in the plastic sack in which the morning News had arrived that day. (Alas, besides the crossword, the essential worth of the News of late is indubitably encompassed by that plastic sack.) So, calling David on the cell, I informed him of the issue and advised that Sarah and I would head back home where, if required, she could comfortably squirt in the back yard. I had, after all, exhausted my supply of plastic sacks.
Once home, Sarah did, indeed, continue to squirt.
Having raised so many precious ones–four-legged miracles of fur and fluff–a few squirts now and then is not something about which to become overly alarmed. So, not necessarily alarmed, but certainly concerned, Thursday morning came with Sarah and me heading for Berkeley Park where, as is our practice, we chased the tennis ball in the dog park and then circumnavigated the lake, where, at one point, yes, she squirted. More concerned now, I loaded her in the old Explorer and we headed back home. I fed her and climbed up to my study and began the day’s trudge through emails and posts and settled into my work: the writing of ficition (literary and the genres of suspense, mystery, occult.)
Soon, Thursday morning, my concentration was challenged by the sound of a single cough from downstairs. I hurried down and discovered that Sarah had not only squired upon the tiles in front of the fireplace, but she had also tossed her entire breakfast on two of our rugs. Alarmed now, I called the veterinarian we have used through the lives of four of our children, and explained the unsavory history of the beginning of Sarah’s saga. The response: “Oh, my, we’re so busy. Just so busy. I do have a cancellation. Tomorrow at four.” I agreed to the appointment, knowing that the pet food scare had probably brought an immense surge of concerned mommies and daddies to our vets door, even those who believed a belch from little Pumpkin was irrefutable evidence of the ingestion of tainted food. So, I asked the vet’s assistant what I should do in the meantime. “Just some Pepto-Bismol. Maybe an Imodium. Give her yogurt to keep up her electrolytes. Bland diet–boiled hamburger or chicken with rice.” Okay. Good. At least there was something I could do. I fired up the Explorer and went to Safeway and came back home with the stuff of bland diet.
Thursday afternoon, before the consumption of the bland feast I had prepared, Sarah told me–yes, I understand her–that she needed to visit the back yard. I let her out, gave her privacy, and watched from the back door her multiple squats at the end of the yard. When she returned to the back door, I stepped out into the yard and inspected the results of her squats. Four globs of blood-soaked leavings rang the alarm bell as surely as if smoke were billowing from the upstairs bedroom.
I helped Sarah into the Explorer and headed for the emergency hospital. As I drove, I called David–who was having dinner downtown with a workmate–and explained the new developments.
Upon arriving at the emergency hospital, we were quickly checked in and placed in an examination room where, after a pre-check by a technician, the emergency vet appeared–a slightly built woman who frowned at the two pools of bloody vomit Sarah had offered up after the technician left. I recounted the events of the past two days, to which the vet posited that the cause could be one of three things: hemorrhagic gastroenteritis; adrenal gland abnormality or an intestinal mass. Okay then, I thought, this is serious. Intestinal mass. Intestinal mass. Intestinal mass. Yeah, I knew what that meant.
The emergency vet explained that the “gold standard” would be to keep Sarah for up to two days, draw blood, place her on IVs and begin antibiotics. “Most likely,” she explained, “we’re talking somewhere around $1200.00.” Of course she had to tell me up-front what the cost would, most likely, be. But, I always get a little frazzled when vets talk “costs” when–what I believe to be–the very life of my child is at stake. It’s as if I’m given the opportunity to weigh costs against the precious little life who, David and I, have come to cherish as one of the very essential miracles in our lives. “Whatever it takes,” I told the vet. She nodded her head and led Sarah off to that inner space of the hospital which, I supposed, mirrored pretty much what I’ve seen in living color on “Emergency Vets,” for all these years.
As I’m driving home from the hospital, I call our neighborhood vet and leave a voice-mail that recounted Sarah’s deteriorating condition and that the four-o’clock appointment on Friday was no longer necessary. Suffice it to say, our neighborhood vet never called to inquire about Sarah. I know, they were very busy. But, for heaven’s sake, a two-minute phone call?
Not sleeping Thursday night, up early on Friday, I waited until 7:45 to phone the emergency hospital to inquire about Sarah’s status. “Well, she’s still got diarrhea. She’s not eating,” said the receptionist. “You know, they’re all doing rounds right now, and I’ll make sure someone gives you a call back as soon as rounds are done.” Okay, I understood. A call would be forthcoming.
Literally pacing the floor, wearing my Tommy Hilfiger down jacket–I couldn’t get warm–I waited. Still, at noon, hearing nothing, no call back, I decided to wait until the emergency vet who was identified as Sarah’s “primary care physician,” would arrive at work (she had told me her hours began at 2 p.m.). At 2:15 I called back. “Well, she’s running a little late. But, oh, let me see,”–obviously checking the computer–“Sarah still has diarrhea and she’s not eating. But, I’ll write your number down and as soon as Doctor______ arrives, I’ll have her call you.” Okay. No news is good news.
Recommencing my pacing, 2:15 turned into 3:15, 4:15. I decided then that I would give it another fifteen minutes, and then I would, for the third time, call back.
“I would like to speak with Doctor _____,” I said. “She’s in surgery,” was the response. I then lost it. I recounted to the young woman who had answered the phone, that this was my third call today–the first one occurring at 7:45 A.M. in response to which I had been promised a call back. Then at 2:30, when I had been promised a call from the late arriving doctor. “I want to know, now, the status of my dog, Sarah. My patience is gone. I need to know what’s going on with my dog.” I was transferred to a technician who advised, “The doctor is in surgery, you’ll have to call back.” “No,” I said, “I will not call back,” I said, once again, recounting my day-long attempt for an update on Sarah’s condition. I ended the conversation by saying, “I will not call back. The Doctor will call me back! Is that understood?”
Within a half-hour, the doctor called me back. By this time, Sarah had been in their hands for nearly twenty-four hours. The doctor explained that she had been performing an emergency tracheostomy, when I called at 4:30–(No explanation why she had not called prior to that time)–and that she had spoken to the emergency coordinator about someone not giving me a call after my inquiry at 7:45, that morning. She reported that it was her determination that Sarah was, in fact, suffering from hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, caused by the bacteria, clostridium, that produces a toxin that, in turn, produces diarrhea and affects the intestinal tract much like colitis…thus the blood. She informed me that Sarah was still having diarrhea and that she was still not eating. “You may be able to take her home, tonight, though,” she said. Incredulous, I answered: “Do you really think it’s a good idea for me to take her home if she’s still having diarrhea?” “Well, no, probably not,” she said. So, the decision was made for Sarah to stay at the hospital another night.
On Saturday morning, about ten, I called the hospital and asked if we–David and I–could visit Sarah. Given the okay, we headed for the hospital and, given an examination room, we visited with our little girl who, the technician reported, still had diarrhea, but was drinking a little.” Our visit went well. Sarah was disheveled, surely from the confinement of the cage, but she was happy to see us and we, her. The sadness, of course, was leaving her there for, what we believed, would be a third night.
Planning to call Doctor ______ around two o’clock–her arrival time–David and I busied ourselves with inane tasks, neither of us concentrating on much of anything except Sarah and the immensity of her absence from our home, her home. The phone rang at about 1:30. It was Doctor ________. The message: we could take Sarah home. The diarrhea had stopped, she was feeling better.
Talking to Sarah’s “primary care” emergency vet, as I followed her into the inner sanctum of the facility, she explained that they had shaved the hair from Sarah’s bottom so that the feces wouldn’t congeal there, thus causing more issues. Good, I thought. Makes sense.
After paying the $1700.00 bill, David and I loaded Sarah into the Explorer and headed for home. The odor from the back of the car was, however, distinct. And, even in the moving car, Sarah frantically tried to clean herself–you know, that contortion of body that allows them to take care of hygienic issues. Well, once home, we inspected her bottom. The underside of her tail and the entire area that had been shaved was caked with feces. Two wet towel loads later (you know what the “load” was), we felt we had cleaned up the worst of it and, fearing any more scrubbing would do more harm than good, we dried her off and let her rediscover her home; the smells, her tennis balls, her babies (stuffed toys). She was, however, in no mood to play or eat or drink. So, we left her to herself, on her usual perch on the landing leading to the second story of our home.
Today, she is doing quite well. She loves her “bland” diet of boiled chicken and hamburger, rice and cottage cheese. She has not yet finished her medications: metronidazole (Flagyl), an antibiotic used against anaerobic bacteria; pepcid (we all know what pepcid is); and carafate, a gastrointentinal drug usually used in humans for stomach ulcerations. But, I do believe this episode is nearing an end.
Now, after writing this little history, I find the immense frustration and anger I felt toward the emergency hospital staff pales next to the healing (both for Sarah and us) presence of our “little bits,” in our home. The spectre of what could have happened, but didn’t–there’s the horror of an “intestinal mass,” again–provides the stuff of humility…a kind of nod toward where I happen to believe the benevolent One resides. As far as veterinary medicine has come through the last twenty, thirty years, this saga cannot help but speak to the lapses still extant therein. One of those lapses is the apparent inability to understand the desperation of the animal’s human family to KNOW WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON with their precious ones who are at the complete and total mercy of those veterinarian staffers…some better than others; some, whose indifference to the pleas of family, are–in many cases–ameliorated by, excused even because of their clinical prowess. And, having said that, what really matters here? That I was frustrated and angry? That Sarah came home caked in shit? That our neighborhood vet wasn’t even a wee bit curious about Sarah’s condition? Nope. What matters is that she is here, healing, once again stealing every bit of our hearts with every wag of her tail, with every crooked smile from her face, with every all-too-serious look into the camera. Yup, that’s what matters.
And, so ends Sarah’s Saga. For now…