Today I’m celebrating! Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the scariest two weeks of Breezy’s life. Today I can look down with gratitude as he peacefully snoozes at my feet while I type this.
This time last year our lives seemed totally normal until…
10:30 pm Monday, and my husband, Blair, asks me if Breezy (nickname, Pooh) had eaten anything odd. Seems he’s trying to vomit and only bringing up yellow froth. Oh-oh… Off to the after-hours vet. Not bloat, nothing obvious to be found. Crap. We spend the night watching our beloved dog heave and gasp. He doesn’t want to lie down; can’t get comfortable. The vomiting has stopped but his breathing’s accelerated and laboured. Nobody sleeps a wink.
First thing the next morning we’re at our usual vet. Again Pooh is in some mild distress but nothing much to be found. After a key question: “what’s he eaten?” I remember that he pinched the puppy’s deer tendon the evening before. Could that have anything to do with it? However, the symptoms hadn’t started until a good 4 hours after that. So, the tendon seems unlikely as a culprit – especially as he’s still eating, drinking and toileting normally. Vet wonders if he’s scratched his throat swallowing said tendon. Pooh is a known glutton and has no qualms about bolting things in large chunks – stolen things being bolted even quicker. The higher the value, the faster it goes down! Little did we know just how dangerous that habit could be.
Vet’s advice is “watch and wait”. Bring him back Thursday. We don’t wait that long. By Wednesday his breathing is very distressed but he’s still eating soft food, although without his usual gusto.
Back at the vet…
Still nothing obvious. We make an appointment for X-rays the following day but decide to try for them without a sedation. Pooh has excellent handling and stay training so it should be easy…
Except he can’t/won’t lie flat on his side. Bugger. It’s too late in the day for a sedation and no-one has any idea just how critical our poor boy’s condition really is…
First thing Friday morning and Pooh has his sedation for x-rays. Half way through the morning I get a call from our vet. He can’t get clean images because Pooh’s breathing is so laboured he doesn’t stay still. He wants to send him to another vet across town to have his throat examined with an endoscopy camera.
We drop everything and run. A very groggy Pooh is loaded into the car and we head off – a 20 minute trip. Easy. Except it’s a stinking hot day in mid-December and everyone is out doing their Christmas shopping. The roads are packed and the temperature is stupid. Pooh’s struggling to breath, he’s semi sedated and the air conditioning isn’t really up to the job of keeping the inside of the car comfortable for him.
I have the repetitive chant “Please don’t die! Please don’t die! You’re too young to die!” running through my head like a malignant earworm.
By the time we get to our destination our nerves are frayed to breaking point and we’re beyond worried sick. Pooh’s bundled into the vet’s office. Business as usual; wait in a queue etc. Seems they are unaware of his condition so no rush necessary. Somewhere that vital bit of information has gotten lost. Just before I rip the poor vet nurse’s head off, the vet comes back from lunch. He takes one look at our heaving, gasping, floppy dog and rushes us though to a surgery room. His sudden change in demeanour tells us everything we need to know – Pooh is VERY ill.
Waiting for the axe to fall
We’re sent off to have a coffee – I’m almost hysterical and Blair’s not far behind me; totally useless to Pooh, we get out the way and let the vet do his thing. That coffee break is the worst one of my life so far. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally the phone rings – the vet.
The news is anything but good. Crap and more crap. Vet has managed to get better x-rays (he refused to sedate again for an endoscopy as he didn’t think Pooh would recover from it!) and he’s discovered the problem. Pooh has a collapsed lung. What?? How the hell did that happen? Unfortunately this Vet doesn’t have a ventilator – our original vet does. Bloody hell!
A cool head in a crisis
Another fraught trip across town in the heat and traffic. How dare anyone be doing anything as fun or mundane as Christmas shopping?? “Get out the way you fools! – don’t you know our dog is dying??”
Obviously I can’t scream this, but in my head it’s being bellowed far and wide. I’m not calm. Pooh loudly heaves and gasps in his crate in the back while I soundlessly cry and Blair heroically keeps his cool at the wheel.
Finally we make it. I charge in and our vet, who’s been primed of our arrival and Pooh’s condition, politely but firmly gets rid of the non-urgent client who is giving Christmas gifts of biscuits. “Biscuits? Stuff your bloody biscuits and get out of the way!!!” More silent screaming in my head.
Pooh is delivered into the capable hands of our vet and his ventilator.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch
While all of this excitement/panic has been happening, my friend from Christchurch has arrived at our house (as planned) and been thrown in the deep end of puppy minding while Blair and I run around like headless chickens. I go home to attend to guests and Felix, our 10 week old puppy.
At home, finally the phone rings. “Is he OK?” I ask Blair, steeling myself for the worst.
“Oh yes, he’s ok for now. He wants to know where we’ve hidden the cats…”
Seems once the Vet had removed over 1.5 L of air from the wrong part of Pooh’s chest and re-inflated his collapsed lung, our boy was back to his usual cheeky self. I just about collapse with relief. I’d read about that happening but I never realised it’s actually true.
Beyond the call of duty
So, back in the car to collect a very relieved Blair and totally normal dog. Well, not quite normal. He’s sporting a string vest and some interesting pipework. Seems Blair has been tutored in the art of draining air from his chest and will be gainfully employed doing this every four hours until we can get Pooh to the specialist vet in Christchurch for a CT scan.
It’s an interesting weekend. Our vet is superb and gives us his private mobile number. He meets us at the surgery on Saturday morning to check everything’s ok – he doesn’t usually work weekends as he’s a one-man band. He calls us 4 times a day to make sure everything is well. He sees us through a very stressful few days and I’m eternally grateful!
Christchurch, here we come!
Monday dawns wet and windy and we’re off to Christchurch for our consult with the veterinary specialist. It’s a 6 -7 hour trip and Pooh is still wearing his string vest and piping decorations. Removed air volume has been consistently dropping so we’re feeling mildly hopeful. However, we’re still ‘deflating’ him every 4 – 6 hours.
The consult is pretty standard; history is taken and he’s booked in for his sedate and scan for the next day.
Tuesday sees us waiting for the vet at the CT unit of St. George’s hospital. All goes smoothly and then we’re back to waiting. They’re looking for why his lung collapsed. They suspect ‘blebs’ (sort of like boils on the lung that burst and cause a puncture) but the results will take a day or two to come back.
Tick, tock, tick, tock…
The phone rings on Wednesday, taking me by surprise. It’s the specialist vet with the results. They’ve found…NOTHING!
Is that good news or bad news? Who knows. They can’t say it won’t happen again but his lungs are sound so the conclusion they’ve come to is that when he bolted that deer tendon he pierced his oesophagus – allowing air to enter the chest cavity and so collapsing his lung. So, no further intervention needed.
He’s rapidly healing himself with the help of the regular air draws (which have reduced both in frequency and resulting air volume) so back home we go.
Back to sweet normality
By the end of the week we’re getting nothing out of his chest drain. The puncture has self-repaired and Pooh loses his funky string vest and pipework.
Two weeks from start to finish. Two whole weeks of stress, panic and a very close call with the canine grim reaper. All because of a bloody deer tendon!
So, what did I learn from all this?
Management is NEVER 100%.
Blair and I were being incredibly careful about what and where we gave small chews to Felix the puppy. I KNEW that Pooh was a gulper. I knew that something like a deer tendon was a potential hazard. However, even being extra careful didn’t stop a near tragedy from unfolding.
Know your dog.
One of the reasons that our vet didn’t really pick up on the state of Pooh’s breathing being ‘wrong’ on the Tuesday is because most dogs show elevated breathing at the vet’s office. We’d never taken a ‘base rate’ respiration when Pooh was well and happy. If we had, we’d have realised that in normal circumstances, he is very chilled and relaxed. After the initial excitement of seeing his friends (our vet and his nurse), Pooh just chills out and his breathing is totally normal.
We finally took some video of Pooh’s breathing at home on Wednesday. By then it was even obvious to our untrained eyes that he was really struggling. It was that video that prompted our vet to attempt x-rays; it was something a bit more serious than ‘a scratched throat’. If we’d taken video on Monday night when it very first started maybe our vet would have had a sporting chance of diagnosing a respiratory problem earlier than he did. Then again, maybe he wouldn’t. The after-hours emergency vet didn’t.
Don’t mess around
‘Avoiding stress’ is the least of your worries when your dog’s breathing is compromised! It was my fault that Pooh didn’t get his x-rays done until Friday morning. He doesn’t respond well to sedation and I was convinced we could get the radiographs needed without it. In normal circumstances I’d have been right but I didn’t take into consideration the fact that he’d been actively avoiding lying on his side since Monday night.
Handle you dog.
Make them wear weird sh!t. Do strange things to them. Pooh has been handled, dressed, fiddled with and bandaged since he was very young. He’s been paid handsomely for these personal space invasions EVERY SINGLE TIME. So, when he had to be dressed up like some weird Frankenstein monster with vests, pipes, valves and padding, never mind the needles, ‘deflating’ and associated fiddling, he never batted an eyelid. It made the difference between him being able to come home for care and him having to be kept in a veterinary hospital for the weekend.
Don’t ever take your dog for granted.
Love them every day; spend time with them – quality time, not just a pat on the head in passing. You NEVER know what’s around the corner.
I’m eternally grateful to the staff at Vets @ St. Clair, especially our wonderful vet Marcus. Thanks also go to the staff at Green Island Veterinary Clinic – even if you didn’t have a ventilator! I’d also like to thank all our friends who stepped up to the plate to make our extremely stressful week easier by looking after Felix for us. You know who you are so I won’t embarrass you any further xx
– Sarah and the Gang
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