Thursday, September 29, 2011
I remember the evening perfectly. It was a rare quiet evening at home. The kids were at their dad's house, and I was looking forward to a quiet evening on the sofa, curled up with my dog and some reality tv. Now, that almost certainly does not sound like the most exciting evening one could imagine, but for an overworked, overstressed single mom with two kids and a full courseload of nursing school to contend with, it's the little things, ya know?
I remember so well...eating my Lean Cuisine on the sofa. I let Josie lick the little black platter because licking people-platters pleases her so. I realized I wanted something sweet and crunchy and satisfying to wrap up my fancy-schmancy dinner. I had a big metal bowl full of shiny red apples in the kitchen. I remember the apple being crisp and juicy and fragrant. I remember it being exactly what I wanted at that moment. I remember it also being the object of Josie's desire as well.
Now, for better or for worse, I have always indulged my dog's penchant for people food. My best friend, Clare, gets incredibly irritated at me for sharing little tidbits with the dog. I have maintained for years that Chinese Crested Dogs are omnivores, and if I only gave her dog kibble I would be denying her an integral component of her intended diet. Josie lived a life full of nibbles of bread, veggies, fruit, pasta, sauces licked from bowls and platters, and apple cores.
Yep, I always gave little Joe the core from my apple. She would gnaw on them for half an hour like a rawhide toy. When it got to be just little crumbs of apple, she would polish them off and look up at me with those big brown eyes and those bat-like ears and I would say, "Awww....my little fruit bat!"
I would until this night.
No sooner had I handed her the apple core and she had toted it merrily to the rug to enjoy than I heard a commotion that over-rode whatever drivel was being piped out of the television. I heard wheezing. I heard gagging. I heard hacking. I heard stumbling. I looked over to the dining room and saw my little fruit bat choking on the apple core I had given her.
Now, there are two things so far that have struck fear in the heart of this pet owner like no other. Seizures are one....Josie has mild epilepsy and has suffered seizures since she was a puppy. They are scary as hell, but she has never suffered any long-term consequences from them. The other heart-stopper is choking. A dog who is choking (or more accurately has something stuck in the esophogus, since the airway is not involved) becomes panicked. They stagger. They grunt. They groan. They fall over and heave and cough and perhaps most troubling of all, they produce copious amounts of thick, frothy white foam that spills forth from their mouths like shaving cream out of a can. It's a terrifying episode to watch.
I tried holding her and massaging her throat to move the lump down to where it belongs. I tried feeling in the back of her mouth and throat with my finger, to see if I could get it up. No go. It was not going anywhere and Josie was getting more and more lethargic.
Luckily for me there is an animal emergency clinic in Shreveport. It was now about 10:00 pm and when I burst into the door, the vet tech was waiting for us. She swept Josie away for sedation and x-rays. After an hour long wait, the vet called me back and placed a groggy Josie in my arms.
The news was grim.
He pointed at her x-ray where her lovely arched spine framed a blurry mass not far from her heart. The apple core had lodged itself at the bottom of her esophogus at the sphincter where it dumps into the stomach. The trouble with this location is that it isn't exactly in the abdominal cavity where it could be easily removed by surgery. It was actually in the chest cavity, and well, you can imagine how that would complicate cracking open a twelve-year-old dog who is already suffering from congestive heart failure.
The vet gave me two options: put her down right then or haul her immediately to Dallas or Baton Rouge where an endoscopic canine surgeon would be waiting to perform emergency surgery. Since neither option #1 nor option #2 were options for ME, I did what any dog owner would do with her 9 pound pile of love sitting on her lap DYING from a treat I had given her with my own hands....I called for backup.
Within 10 minutes the tiny exam room was full of me and Josie in the corner, my best friend Clare, my other best friend, Ryan and my other friend, Clint.
It probably goes without saying that I was pretty hysterical. I had my mom on the phone several times. I had my best buddies surrounding me and I still could not come to a decision. After what must have been a half hour of what-ifs and loving, thoughtful input from my support team, I had made the decision to put her down. She was old. She had a chronic condition that already impacted her quality of life. The recuperation would be difficult and painful. I had basically no money as I was mostly unemployed and a full time student. It was an absolutely heart wrenching internal dialogue.
When the vet came back in for my decision, I wasn't even able to make it through the sentence. Somewhere deep inside I knew that I could not give up on her when she had innocently taken a treat from my hands that had caused this. I knew that no matter what the expense, I owed it to her to give her a chance. My decision was made.
Well, sort of. My decision was made, but I still had to convince the vet. You see, I knew I could not take a road trip with the sick dog. That, my friends, was beyond what even I could do with a soul steeped in guilt. I pleaded with him. I told him I had to give her a chance, and he had to try. He had to try to save her. He said he would, but he gave her a less than 50% chance of survival. He said that if he couldn't get it out, he would have to put her down on the table.
It was now midnight. Clare was begging me to leave her and get some rest. The surgery was set to begin at 2:00 am. No way was I leaving her. Instead, I wrapped her in a blanket and sat with her in my car for two hours, singing to her, patting her, and cooing in her sweet bat-like ears. I knew that it was as good a chance as not that this was goodbye. At 2:00 I handed her over to the very young, very un-confident emergency vet.
I went home, took two benadryl and fell into a fitful sleep next to Clare. I woke to the phone ringing at 4 am.
V: WE GOT IT!
V: WE TOTALLY GOT IT. (told you he was young.)
By his estimation it was nothing short of a miracle that she survived. He went in through her belly, and could not pull it out, so he had to also go down her throat and push from above to dislodge it from below. She was weak, stitched up like Frankenstein's monster and I had just acquired a hunk of brand new shiny debt, but she was alive.
I didn't buy apples for a whole year. Not that I remember anyway. I also didn't give Josie any more people food.
I bought apples.
It's fall. The apples were awesomely red and shiny and the kids adore them. I had one after dinner as Eric and I sat on the deck talking. I almost instinctively threw the core in the bushes, but stopped myself in time. I said to him:
K: oh. my. GOD. I almost threw this apple core in the bushes.
E: um. right. cause that's baaaaad, right?
K: dude, you have no idea.
I then proceeded to recount the above story in all its gory detail, the tears, the shooting white foam vomit, the middle of the night phone call. The miracle and the second chance.
E: I'm glad you didn't throw that apple core.
K: I'm gonna throw it. In the trash.
The same trash that was knocked over by an aggressively omnivorous canine who had been long deprived of apple cores while I put on my nightgown and brushed my teeth.
I spit and turned off the water and that's when I heard it. The hacking. The coughing. The gagging.
When the first stream of white foam shot out onto my floor, I grabbed the phone and called Eric, who had barely made it the few blocks home. I wish I could say I was calm. I was not. The sheer magnitude of the impossibility and nightmare of the situation was too much.
K: She did it again!
K: The apple core. She's choking. Again. She got in the trash.
E: I'll be right there.
Thus began, almost a year to the date, another night-long vigil with an apple-choking Josie. I was wracked with guilt and completely overcome with the insanity of the situation...that I had just recounted the story to Eric...relived the gory details and despite my careful avoidance of the situation, it was happening again. This time, however, I was armed with some info. You see, the vet last year had wanted me to drive her to Baton Rouge. That's a five hour drive. I knew I had some time. She was miserable and looked half dead, but she was breathing. We wrapped her in a towel to keep her calm and watched the hours tick by on the clock until her regular vet's office opened. Eric discovered that she was calmer and could even rest if she was swaddled tightly in the towel. Around 3 am, she shook off the towel and stood up.
K: What's up little Joe? You need to go outside?
J: wag. wag. wagwagwag.
I put her on the deck and she took off like a shot across the yard to the water dish, which she lapped up greedily and kept down. The apple core had somehow, miraculously, passed.
In between the two episodes that make the Garden of Eden debacle sound pretty tame, Josie has had three other "incidents".
-The night she removed all the stuffing from her bed in her kennel and wrapped it impossibly tight around her right forepaw, necessitating removal with scissors, much howling and yelping, and a three-day limp.
-The day she hung herself from my bra strap which was left on a doorknob in the bathroom where she was confined while I was in a 14 hour clincial. Her eyes were bulging from their sockets and she had splattered blood all over my white tile bathroom from the burst blood vessels in her throat by the time I found her. Despite the crime scene, she escaped with a nasty hematoma, three days of soft diet and no permanent damage.
-The morning I was sure she was dying as she vomited bright red blood all over the house as I slept. I woke up to puddles of blood in every room and a shivering, shaking Josie spewing bright red blood from the "other end" onto my kitchen floor. Hemorrhagic GastroEnteritis. Google it. *shudder* A two day hospital stay, IV therapy and some TLC got her through that one.
Clare swears she is suicidal. Ryan thinks she is really a cat who is briskly running out of spare lives. I think she's just tough and has some really crappy luck when it comes to health maintenance. Whatever it may be, little Joe lives to fight another day, chase another squirrel, warm my feet at night, and lick my kids faces in the morning, and St. Francis has a few more grey hairs in that little fuzzy ring-shaped hair-do of his.
I'm considering becoming an apple-free home. You know how some people have to be "nut-free" or "gluten-free" for the sake of their susceptible kids? I'm just not sure it's worth the risk, seeing as we live with an omnivore, and all. Applesauce. That's it. Applesauce.
Posted by The Gumdrop Tree at 2:10 AM