A Moment of Jen
THE NEXT BEST THING — In Stores July 3rd!

Thursday, December 01, 2005
posted by Jen at 12/01/2005 03:09:00 PM

Back last summer, Wendell, my rat terrier of twelve and a half years (that’s him on the back of GOOD IN BED), developed a wheeze.

He’d be chasing seagulls on the beach, or racing up the stairs when he’d stop, panting and coughing. When he started coughing up slimy stuff, I took him to a vet. Her diagnosis: bronchitis.

When the medicine improved the situation but didn’t resolve it, I took him back for some X-rays.

“His heart’s enlarged,” said the doctor. “And did you know he has a murmur?”

I did know about the murmur. He’s had it for years. But he’s almost thirteen and the murmur’s gotten worse, which means one of the valves in his heart is deteriorating.

We kept him on a diuretics through July and August. In September, we brought him to his regular vet, got more Enacard, and set up an appointment with the doggie cardiologist.

Over the weekend, the cough came back. Yesterday, he seemed lethargic and didn’t want to get off his pillow. By the afternoon, he was coughing up more slimy stuff…and when he refused the organic turkey dog with his tablet within, I knew we were in trouble.

“Bring him in,” said the vet. “We’ll try some Lasix.”

I hooked Wendell up to his leash and tried to load Lucy into her stroller. “No!” she said. “No way!”

I vowed never to read her CLICK CLACK MOO again (“No way!” is what Farmer Brown says when the cows request electric blankets,) and hustled the girl and the dog outside. Wendell made it across the street, then stared up at me, heaved a sigh, and collapsed.

I scooped him into my arms. “Come on, Lu, we have to hurry.” She held my hand and walked as fast as her little legs would carry her.

About halfway down the block – halfway to the vet’s – Wendell’s eyes rolled back in his head. His body lolled against my chest, completely limp.

"Oh, no!" I said.

Lucy stared at me. "What's wrong?"

“We need to hurry!” I told her again, then scooped her into my other arm and ran across the street, down the block, into the office.

I ran to the counter.

“We need some help!” The woman paying for her cat’s kibble recoiled at the sight of me looking like a bestiality-themed variation on Edwin Edward’s old saw: a live girl in one arm, a half-dead dog in the other.

One of the technicians grabbed Wendell and hustled him into their surgery room. Someone else led Lucy and me to an empty examining room, where I collapsed in a chair, pulled the girl on to my lap, and started to cry.

“Mama, don’t be worried,” said Lucy. She pulled a diaper wipe out of my pocket and swabbed at my cheeks. The technician stuck her head back in the room.

“He’s fading,” she said quietly.

I fumbled my cell phone out of my pocket and called Adam, telling him where we were and asking him to come as soon as he could. Then I sat there, thinking everything you think when you’ve been told your beloved pet probably won’t make it. I should have gotten him to the cardiologist sooner. I should have tried something else. Alternative treatments. Canine naturopaths. Chiropractic. Rolfing. I shouldn’t have let him run on the beach, or let him get bitten by that huskie, or poured bacon drippings on his kibble. Outside of my family, one of the longest relationships I’ve had has been with him. Inside of my family, it’s too dysfunctional to read....

The technician popped her head back in. “We’ve got him on IV Lasix,” she said. “We put nitroglycerin gel in his ears, and we’ve got an oxygen tube down his throat. He’s breathing now, but we think his heart stopped, and he’s not fighting the tube, which is a bad sign...”

A second technician came in. “Actually, he’s biting the tube now.”

I wiped my eyes. “That’s my boy!”

A few minutes later, Wendell’s regular vet, looking a little astonished, walked through the door. “Well, he was in arrest, but he’s breathing again and sitting up.”

Adam arrived, and a few minutes after that, we went into the operating room and found Wendell, with an IV needle stuck in his shaved paw, sitting on the stainless steel table looking disgruntled. In other words, looking like himself.

“He needs to be on oxygen tonight, and he needs to be observed,” the vet told us. He explained where we could take him (the veterinary hospital at the University of Pennsylvania) and what it would cost (roughly the same amount as my first second-hand car).

I swallowed hard. “Tell me what you think his prognosis might be.”

The doctor shrugged. If the Lasix works, it could be months. Maybe a year. Maybe month, singular. Maybe not even that.

“If it was your dog,” I asked, “what would you do?”

“I’d keep trying,” he said without hesitation. “He could do well with the medication, and he won’t be in any pain.”

So off we went to the hospital.

Adam drove the minivan to the office and, gingerly, we wrapped Wendell, IV needle and all, into a down blanket. I held him in my arms on our way to Penn, patting his head, scratching his ears. "Do not go into the light," I told him firmly.

When we got to Penn, they were expecting us, and Wendell was whisked away. I sat for an hour, then was led into a little room with a stainless steel examination table, two chairs and a box of Kleenex. A student took Wendell’s history. Yes, I knew about the murmur, and that his heart was enlarged. I know this is a chronic condition. He’d been on medication and had been doing just fine...

She finished her notes and closed her folder.“We’ll put him in the oxygen cage, keep him on Lasix and see how he does.”

And the prognosis?

Could be months, she said. Maybe a year, but that was being optimistic.

Would he be in any pain? I asked.

No, she said. No pain. He’s in the oxygen cage now, resting. “Would you like to see him?”

I went back into the ER, where Wendell was lying on his side in a windy little plastic-walled box beside a French bulldog who looked equally unenthusiastic about being there. When Wendell saw me he got to his feet and scraped his nails against the bars of the cage. The vet opened the door, and Wendell licked my nose, wagged his tail, and put his paws on my shoulders, as if to say, “Can we go now? Please please please?”

I scratched behind his ears. “Please take good care of him,” I told the student, the vets, the little French bulldog, anyone who’d listen. “He’s a very good boy.”

That was Tuesday. Wednesday morning, the doctor taking care of him called with good news: he’d responded well to the drugs, made and excellent recovery and, provided everything went well, would be allowed to come home Thursday.

I visited him in Intensive Care last night where he was bright-eyed and wagging his tail, and got to take him for a walk.

He spent another night under observation, and an hour ago I picked him up and brought him home, with his new medication, a two-page printed summary of his collapse and revival, and instructions about how to count his breaths when he sleeps to make sure his respiratory rate is normal, when to bring him back to the cardiologist and who to call if he runs into trouble again.

He’s currently curled up beside me, with just a slight cough and a shaved left forepaw to show for his troubles.

He’ll be on the Lasix and the Enacard for the rest of his life, and his seagull-chasing days are probably over. But all of the doctors assured me that he’s not hurting, and I know there are plenty of things left for him to enjoy in whatever time we’ve got.
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