Wednesday, August 21, 2013

T4: Trip of Terror, Traffic, Torsion and Tears

No, not talking about a fourth Terminator movie here.  As those who hang out on my Facebook page now and then know, I’m talking about a fight against traffic and time (another “T” word) to keep my big Great Dane boy, Goblin, from dying.

Let me backtrack, just enough to set the stage:

On Monday afternoon, Dad had a doctor’s appointment in Tucson; he can’t drive all the way up there by himself and since his stroke he doesn’t communicate well, so I needed to take him.  We’d been trying for quite some time to get him this appointment.  Ghost, my middle Dane girl, had to go to the vet because her stem cell incision was swollen again, something that keeps happening because she’s feeling great and jumps around too much.  But when I go home to pick them up, I find Goblin’s back leg is bleeding, a lot, and blood is all over the couch.  

After a convoluted series of phone calls, I drop him at our usual vet in Sierra Vista and head up to Tucson.  I’m a little frazzled and running late, but I make everything on time, except I don’t get back in time to pick up Goblin before our local vet closes so he stays overnight.

The next morning, I go to work, and then at 11:00ish head back to the vet.  Dr. Bone (yes, that’s his real name) has told me over the phone that Goblin’s leg has another one of the skin tags he’s always growing, and he’s scraped it open, which will result it in it eventually having to be removed.  We’ve done this so often that around our house we call this the $900.00 skin tag.  At the vet’s office, the office girl brings him out, and I see immediately that something’s not right.  She thinks he doesn’t feel well because he’s had a lot of medication and it’s making him sick to his stomach.  I’m not convinced, but decide to take him home; we have to lift him into the truck because he can’t jump in himself.  Mind you, the day before he was hopping around and happy, didn’t even notice or care that the back of his leg was bleeding.  Now he’s weak in the back end, panting constantly, with his ears pinned back against his head.

At home Goblin  goes out the back and drinks a little water, then wants back inside.  There he can’t seem to get comfortable on the floor; he’s up and down, up and down.  He won’t stop panting and he’s drooling non-stop.  He finally settles on one end of the couch, where of course he scrapes the back of his leg and starts bleeding again.  At this point, a little blood is not my highest priority.  I’m reluctant to leave him and go back to work, so I sit with him for awhile.

Then he starts crying.

Goblin has NEVER cried, or whined, not in eight and a half years.  If he’s in pain, he toughs it out until it escales to yelping mode, period.  I call the vet’s office and tell the girl that he isn’t any better.  I add, “He’s showing symptoms of torsion.”  She puts me on hold and within seconds Dr. Bone is on the other end.  I tell him the symptoms:

               He’s hyper-salivating.
               He’s crying in pain.
               He can’t get comfortable.
               He’s dry retching.
               His back end is weak.
               He’s listless and clearly sick.

I know these symptoms because I’ve read about them, over and over through the years.  Bloat and torsion are terrible killers of large dogs, particularly Great Danes, so I’ve stayed familiar with them.  Dr. Bone says bring him back and we’ll do some tests.  I dig out a couple of Beano pills (anti-gas tablets) and stuff them down his throat.  At this point he’s so weak he can’t even put his front paws on the back of the truck a second time.  The first time he managed, but was too heavy for me to lift his back end up and in.  So I do what any rational person would—I wave down a passing concrete truck (we have construction going on at the other end of the street).  After a bit of hesitation and instructions to ignore the fact that Goblin’s leg is dripping blood onto the driveway, I convince the driver and his buddy to lift Goblin into the back of the Montero for me.  In the course of the five-minute drive to the vet’s office, Goblin dry retches a couple of times, then throws up all the water he drank, plus the two Beano tablets.

At the vet’s office and in between Goblin vomiting white foam (which is now happening at one to two minute intervals), Dr. Bone does  a blood test but the results don’t show anything conclusive. Goblin’s leg is wrapped with bandages, then wrapped more when he bleeds through.  Dr. Bone gives him a pain shot, which helps a little.  Questions fly fast and furious about the morning’s events.  Bottom line: I truly believe they did absolutely nothing wrong or out of the ordinary.  They’ve fed him twice, 1 ½ cups last night and this morning, of sensitive-stomach food.  Everything was good until this morning.  The tech watching him this morning took the bandage off Goblin’s leg because his foot was swelling, and also noted that he had vomited.  He went to check on another dog, intending to come back to check on him, and to rebandage Goblin’s leg.  In the way of Murphy’s Law, I arrived at that precise time, and the girl in the front, who knew only that the bandage had been taken off because of the swelling, sent him home with me.

Now they wrap more bandages around his leg.  Dr. Bone takes x-rays of Goblin’s abdomen.  I know things aren’t good when instead of bringing Goblin back to me, a tech comes to get me and take me to talk to Dr. Bone in the x-ray room.  The films are on the screen, and it’s obvious, even to my untrained eye, that my boy has bloated.  His stomach is big enough to fill his body cavity.  Dr. Bone doesn’t believe the stomach has flipped yet—torsioned—but things are not looking good.  For those who aren’t familiar with what “torsion” is, there’s a link you can visit after you’re through reading here.

The vet and I talk this over, discussing pros and cons, whether the stomach has or will twist (go from bloat to torsion), and future possibilities.  He admits he hasn’t done very many of the repair surgery necessary, and says that as far as he knows, only 85% of dogs survive surgery to fix a torsion (the odds are better than that, but they’re still not great).  He recommends I take Goblin to the Veterinary Specialty Center Tucson, where he can get 24-hour monitoring and immediate help if the stomach does flip.  My response: “I’m ready to go.”   They give me directions, they call ahead; Dr. Bone recommends I stop and get Gas-X and give Goblin a couple of tablets because it might help him get rid of the gas build-up.  A final layer of leg bandages, they help me get him back into the Montero (during the x-rays I ran out and cleaned where Goblin vomited earlier but we’re stuck with the bloodstains), and we’re off.

I stop at Circle K; they don’t  have Gas-X.  Keep in mind that it’s in the 90s, so I can’t cut the engine and leave Goblin in the car, even with the windows rolled down—here in Arizona, the temperature inside a car with open windows will rise to 140 degrees in ten minutes.  I don’t have an extra key to the Montero, so if I leave it running, I can’t lock it.  I go to Fry’s but there’s no way to watch the car and get the medicine at the same time.  I ask an older man in an SUV if he’s in a hurry and he looks at me and says yes—this after he’s been sitting in his car for at least a couple of minutes paging through some kind of coupon flyer.  I hope he breaks his toe the next time he gets out of his car.  I see the cart girl gathering carts and flat out INSIST that she watch the SUV for five minutes.  She’s not happy to be standing in the hot sun but she’s young and easily intimidated by my rushed and I-will-not-take-no voice.  I’m in and out of the store in three minutes, yell “Thank you!” to  her, then stuff two little orange capsules down Goblin’s throat.

We head toward Tucson.  I have a half tank of gas, plenty to get me there even if the Montero is a gas hog.   I’m driving in a zippy manner (a technical term for speeding, a LOT, most of the way).  31 miles later I get to the entrance to I-10 and stop in disbelief:

Wait—the INTERSTATE is closed?  I follow the Detour sign (I have no choice), which puts me on I-10 going in the wrong direction.  No way; I get off at Benson, turn around, get back on I-10 going in the right direction… and promptly get trapped in bumper to bumper traffic.  By now I am bawling out loud and literally pounding on the steering wheel because I can’t believe that this is happening just when I need to get my baby boy to Tucson for emergency treatment.  In front of me is a Highway Dept. of Transportation car, in front of him are two Highway Patrol cars. 
Screw it—I pull onto the shoulder, pass the DOT car, and pull up to the first HP car.  I roll down the window.  The patrolman tells me to “Keep it moving.”  With tears running down my face I tell him that my dog is dying in the back and isn’t there some way around this traffic?  He tells me, with an exaggerated shrug, “No, I can’t go anywhere either!”  Because, you know, he has such an emergency right now.  So, yeah—here’s a public BOO, CRAPPY JOB! for the Arizona Highway Patrol for not even caring enough to go a little further into why a driver is obviously in distress.

I continue in the traffic because I have no choice, until I am forced to follow it off the Interstate… at the SAME EXIT I originally tried to get on.  I pull off and head toward the two patrolmen directing traffic at the bottom of the exit; they ignore me, but a highway construction worker heads me off.  He explains there has been a wreck involving a tractor-trailer, which then spilled burning carpet all over the highway, and there’s no way around it, even with an escort.  The only way to Tucson is to backtrack to Route 82, 19 miles back in the direction of home, and take that to Route 83, and that to I-10.  I have now wasted 45 minutes going nowhere, and have to retrace my steps by 20-some miles.

Goblin is crying in the back.  He’s not vomiting anymore because Dr. Bone gave him a shot to help empty his stomach and hopefully help with the gas.  I’ve heard him making little burbling noses from his mouth, but it’s obviously not enough and his pain meds have worn off.  In a far-fetched hope, I crawl in the back and stuff two more Gas-X capsules down his throat.  Then I head back in the direction of Route 82.

Because I will NOT give up, and I will NOT lose my beloved Goblin because of this damned farce of traffic.

It begins to rain as I drive, off and on, going from a light patter to full-on monsoon, then stopping and starting again, several times.  When I get to Route 82 and turn right, it’s pouring so hard I can barely see the driver in front of me, who’s doing 35 mph.  In front of him/her is a long line of diverted traffic.  19 more miles through the monsoon storm and I’m in Sonoita, where I’m forced to stop for gas because all the extra driving and speeding and stop and go has drained me down to 1/8th of a tank and I’ll never make it.  I have to go to the restroom but I’ve been at this location in the past and I know it’s the same situation—too far from the truck, unguarded, and it will just take too long.  I skip it and head up Route 83.

More rain, this time on curves and mountain roads, but at least it’s not as bad as back on 82.  25 rain-soaked miles later, I’m finally on I-10.  To get on I-10, I have now driven 85 miles, yes, EIGHTY-FIVE, just to get to the interstate.  Eighty-five, by the way, is about the total mileage the entire one-way trip should have been.   We cruise down I-10 at a nice, stressful 95 mph.  (See, Wes?  I told you the old Montero ran just fine!)  Now I’m following the printed MapQuest directions to the Specialty Center.  I get off at Miracle Mile, where I’m supposed to merge into the Frontage Road and then Flowing Wells Drive.  Except after a not very long time at all, the Frontage Road ends with:

I am not kidding.  The road is buried in construction and loops me into my choice of two business parking lots, neither of which have an exit out a back side (I tried).  I retrace and end up looping around to the same place.  I get back on I-10 and go up, through a maze of construction, and get off at the first available exit, Ruthrauff Road.  On the way I commit the cardinal sin of typing the Center’s address into the maps app on the phone while I’m not just driving, but speeding.  Someone Up There is looking out for me on this part of the trip.  I follow the pulsing blue dot, which unerringly takes me where I need to be.  34 miles after getting on I-10, I finally turn into the Center’s lot, park, and coax Goblin out of the vehicle.  He comes down, but now he can barely stand up; his back end is only six inches from the ground but he is such a good boy that he still tries his best to come when I keep calling him, and he crab-walks like this all the way through the Emergency Entrance.  We take three steps into the lobby and the young lady behind the counter holds up her hand and orders, “Stop right there.  I have two techs and a stretcher coming out.”

They clearly know exactly what to do, and everything happens pretty smoothly from then on out—I fill out forms, use the rest room, get talked to by the doctor, get talked to by another tech, sign more forms, then…


It feels like forever, but in reality it’s not too long before the doctor comes and gets me to pet on Goblin before he goes into surgery.  She explains everything, including her belief that his stomach had already flipped way back in Sierra Vista, that if his spleen is involved, they will have to remove it, and that if 50% or more of Goblin’s stomach is dead (from lack of blood flow), I will have to euthanize him.  I can’t think about that, I can’t even consider it.  He’s three days short of his tenth birthday, he’s in fabulous shape except for all the silly skin tags he keeps growing and the one that’s bleeding and caused all this mess to begin with.  I see him and he’s much better—stable, hydrated, been given pain meds that have helped him immensely.  He’s even alert enough to pick up his ears elephant-style at odd little noises from the other cages. 

Speaking of which, I have to stop and talk about that for a moment-- not the sound in the room, but the LACK of it.  There were perhaps thirty or forty cages and runs, ranging from small cages for a normal-sized cat to full-sized (floor to ceiling) ones for dogs like Goblin, or lanky-legged Greyhounds (there were three or four of those), or the big and stocky American Bulldog in the run next to Goblin.  All those dogs, with a few cats thrown into the mix and separated only by the opaque walls of their cages, and guess what?

It was quiet.

No barking, no howling, no growls of frustration or hisses of unhappiness.  This truly was the pet equivalent of an intensive care ward.  IVs, heart and blood pressure monitors, wires, tubes, you name it.  Not what I expected, and both comforting and... unnerving.  It never occurred t me that you could put this many dogs and cats in the same room and have them pay almost no attention to each other.  That such a place existed where they could be so cared for was wonderful but saddening at the same time.  That my Goblin was in the midst of it was terrifying.

So I pet Goblin, and I smooch on him, and I tell him in no uncertain terms “Goblin, you STAY.”  Not as in don’t get up and try to follow me-- he doesn’t-- but to stay in this world, right here, with Mommy for several more years.  It’s the same thing I’d been telling him, in between “Hang on, Gobbies,” the entire way from Sierra Vista to Tucson. 

I go back out to the waiting room for what I’m told is an hour-long surgery.  A little bit later, after sending her a text message about where I am, my Most Awesome Mom-In-Law shows up with my nephew Ty’s iPhone charger, her Kindle, and her great self.  I have always adored my in-laws, and this is just another example as to why.  Before plugging it in to recharge, I used the last battery bits to call the lady who takes care of the dogs for us when we travel and ask her to make an emergency trip to the house to walk and feed Ghost and Ghoulie; this is just such the unforeseen emergency that made me tell her to keep our extra key after my last trip-- for once, I’ve done something right.  She says absolutely, and I know the homebound pups are in great hands.

As one hour turns into two, two into three, and three crawls into three and a half, Mom-in-Law doggedly sticks it out, making conversation and engaging me in a freebie Kindle game of Wheel of Fortune.  Without knowing it-- or maybe she knew exactly what she was doing-- she keeps me from going insane until the doctor finally calls me into an exam room.

Bottom Line:

Goblin did fantastic.  His stomach looks good, his spleen looks good-- nothing had to be removed.  They got rid of the gas, turned his tummy back to where it should be, and performed a gastroplexy, fixing the stomach in place so that it can never twist again (because dogs that bloat have a nasty tendency to go for repeat performances).  As soon as he wakes up a bit more from the anesthesia, I can see him.

I am so relieved I could melt.  After a few minutes in the lobby, they fetch me again.  Goblin’s in the same run, and the truth is, he doesn’t look a lot different from what he was like earlier.  I’m sure there’s a huge, stitched-up incision on his underside, but his eyes are open when I come in, he lets me pet and smooch him, and even picks his head up a couple of times.  Right now, all is good, in this eerily quiet dog realm.

As I’m writing this, it’s Wednesday evening.  I’ve talked to the doctor twice today, and a technician once.  Each report is better than the last-- Goblin is the perfect post-op patient.  No heart arrhythmias, no blood pressure issues, no reactions.  He’s quiet and alert and finally tonight they got him to eat a little canned chicken, meeting their goal of making sure he would eat before releasing him.  Tomorrow night after work I’ll head up there to pick him up and bring him home.  He’ll be sleeping downstairs for two weeks-- no stairs until the stitches heal-- and this Friday and Saturday the girls and I will probably bunk down there with him provided the doctor says he has permission to climb on the couch.  If not, we’ll probably all sleep on the floor.  I’ll keep that leg clean and bandaged, give him meds for it and his incision recovery, and see if I can get the leg to heal enough so that we don’t have to put him through another surgery for a decent amount of time after his tummy is well.

Our boy Goblin will see his tenth birthday on Friday, and he’s going to be around for several more.  I think he realized how good he has it here, and how loved he is.  And when I told him to “Stay!” he decided that despite how rotten the first sixteen months of his life had been, now he has a good life here on Earth that is worth fighting to keep.  Besides, he still has to supervise the girls, the cricket-brained pest, Ghost, and the Little Terrorist who’s always bugging him to play tug-of-war, Ghoulie. 

And, of course, he has to rule Mommy’s world and wait for Daddy to come back from Afghanistan.

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