About six years ago today is when we had to take action.
When we realized over a year passed and we still had not solved poor Iggy’s gut issues, he still had yet to gain one pound, and he finally showed signs of prior physical abuse, I took him back to the vet and said, “Look, I know we thought all we had to do was build up his gut health but something else is wrong.” The vet solemnly nodded.
“We’ll start with the least expensive test,” she said.
Every test I had to fast Iggy, which seemed so cruel to an obviously starving dog. Seeing this concern, a certain vet tech volunteered to meet us prior to the vet office hours. This, to my knowledge, is unheard of in any usual veterinary case, but at this point, I wasn’t surprised anymore. Everyone fell in love with Iggy to the point when we’d show up at the vet office, everyone would call his name like he was a celebrity dog. He’d give high fives, sit in the vet’s lap, and give hugs with their permission. Each vet visit started out this fun, but always ended with furrowed brows and tears.
Each test result confused the situation rather than provided evidence to a problem. We (“we” meaning the vet techs, the veterinarians, my husband, dog sitters, visitors, neighbors, and me) kept a composition notebook of every note we felt was important. Dates, times, actions, reactions, foods, supplements, water bowl changes, stool (we’d get very descriptive here), places… you name it, it went in the book. Not finding the problem hurt everyone involved, as with each day we didn’t know the issue, it was another day Iggy suffered.
Finally one afternoon we brought Iggy in for an x-ray and ultrasound. By this time Iggy knew our little routine to keep him occupied while we waited for results. He’d sit, down, rollover, and pop back up to sit for a treat. We did this over and over and then hugged, and shivered with anticipation, and then go back to repeating the routine.
We waited nearly an hour before the vet entered the exam room with tightly folded arms and a red wet face. Her eyes were as large as golf balls but as red as strawberries. “I’m so sorry! I am so so so very sorry!”
My stomach dropped like I was in that dead drop amusement ride. She shook her head, squeezed herself harder, and avoided looking into Iggy’s milk chocolate kind eyes. Suddenly the office smelled sour.
“Iggy has 30% lung capacity. He has a herniated diaphragm and his chest became a vacuum, so everything is in his chest. Nothing is in his abdomen. We can’t even see his heart because everything, I mean everything, is in there. His liver, pancreas, gallbladder, all the intestines…. it’s all in his chest.” She handed me a three page document printed on both sides and stapled in the corner listing all the problems and warnings and potential issues, and statistics including chances of survival after surgery which then had a long list of potential issues even if the surgery went well.
“I’m so sorry, you’re probably going to have to put him down.”
“I want to see what you’re talking about,” I said, before I let myself cry.
She explained that one of the vet techs had just brought in her Great Dane puppy for an x-ray for the fun of it, and the practice, so it would be a good comparison to see. First she showed me Iggy’s chest photos and I couldn’t make out much, it looked like a bunch of white clouds. I didn’t understand why it was so horrible even though they tried to point it out. Then they showed me what it’s supposed to look like, the Dane puppy’s chest images, and it looked like a very clean map of organs. Everything in perfect shapes with clean lines.
“Show me again.” I demanded, this time with a shaky voice. Looking at that chaos in my dog’s body made it difficult to stand up. I tucked the document under my armpit and returned to the exam room to retrieve Iggy from a sobbing vet tech, soaking Iggy’s white mane with tears and kisses. We all hugged and cried, together, everyone in the vet office. Petting Iggy’s superiorly soft fur like it would be their last.
“We made an appointment for you to visit the surgery team at the UW Vet Learning Hospital. They’re expecting you at…”
I didn’t even hear the time. I took all the papers and sticky notes and Iggy’s leash and next thing I knew I was in the living room trying to tell my husband what they told me. Iggy sat looking up at us. Baloo, our deaf Bouvier, winked through his long grey curls. His pointy ears lifted up and down with concern; he could feel how troubled I was.
Dave grabbed my shoulders and said, “We can’t discuss this in front of the dogs.”
So we walked to our favorite place to eat, The Alchemy, on Atwood Ave. They know us there and I don’t even think we verbally ordered. All I remember is crying and sobbing and explaining to Dave that we promised to give Iggy a life. We owe it to him to keep that promise. And Dave was trying to remain logical, which he expressed with a firm hand gesturing up and down like a professor making a point over and over again.
The bartender would nod his chin my way like, “Are you OK?” and the waiter simply made sure we had hot food, full drinks, and a nice tall stack of clean dry napkins on my left. The entire restaurant seemed to be invested in our conversation. We could feel it as we left the restaurant.
“Jeeez!” Dave said once outside, “I think they think I beat you or something!”
The next morning we waited in a big square room to hear whatever it was we were going to hear from a vet learning hospital. We had never been to one before, never had such a situation, so we had no idea what to expect. We never had to have any such meeting for a human before, let alone an adopted mutt dog. I’m pretty sure the hot bitter coffee I drank seeped straight through my pits and soaked my cotton shirt. Dave says I always smell like a mink when I’m too excited or nervous. He’s right.
Two white coats walked in and explained that Iggy’s case was assigned to both the internal medicine team and the surgery team. OK… They then explained that if we were going to have this surgery done, the best case scenario, ever, was to have the surgery at that hospital and with Dr. McNaulty as the surgeon.
“But we have no idea if he’s going to take your case. People ask for him by name, and drive from far distances just to see him.” OK…
Next thing we know the room is filled with white coats. It seemed like 50 but in all reality it was probably 12-20. They tried to stand in two groups, one being the internal medicine team, the other the surgery, but there were so many and they all seemed to want to be close to us. They merged into one big white arc facing us, studious and curious. The two original white coats remained seated across from us at this long conference table. Then the sea of white parted, murmurs buzzed in excitement, and in saunters a tall, lanky, silver-haired wonder.
He pulled out a chair and the sea of white coats backed up to create a small clearing for this man. He sat down, flung one long leg out and crossed it over the other while stretching out these long slender fingers and touching them together in a thoughtful teepee at his long smooth chin. He tapped the tips of his fingers against each other in a quiet rhythm and said, “I like to start with the questions.”
One of the seated white coats looked at me with excited impression, “Meet Dr. McNaulty.”
I spun around on my seat and began rattling off one by one all of the concerns the vet pointed out to me the prior night. The organs might be all stuck together and impossible to separate. They might not function properly. They might not be formed properly. Even if the surgery goes well the lungs could fill up with fluid and he could drown or get pneumonia. There was a long list.
Every issue Dr. McNaulty batted down with stealth and rock star confidence. Then he paused, bounced his leg over the other in the same rhythm he tapped his fingertips, and then planted his feet on the floor and hands on his knees in preparation for a professional statement. The sea of white coats were waiting with just as much anticipation as we were. I heard the minute hand tick.
“Listen,” he said. “Iggy is the worst case scenario we’ve ever seen at this hospital. He is the most underweight, at the lowest protein levels, lowest blood oxygen, most dehydrated… it’s bad. It’s beyond bad. And you’re right, he is not going to gain one pound before surgery tomorrow. How he’s stayed alive this long is a wonder. But Iggy has a life force in him that is so strong, I’m confident everything is going to be fine. He’s going to be fine. In fact, three months after the surgery, you’re going to ask me to go back in and dial him back a few notches.”
Everyone roared with laughter after surely holding their breath for so long. We all felt the relief. Stillness shattered into nodding heads and smiles and patting backs. After the super star Irish-Norwegian giant stood up and sauntered back out of the room, the sea of white coats followed behind him like sheep, leaving the two seated ones to explain the costs we would face.
“So in total, you’re looking at somewhere in the ballpark of $5000,” he said, “and if that’s not doable all at once, we have this great Care Credit program you can consider.” More pamphlets and documents all printed and stapled were slid over across the table into my sweaty shaky hands.
“I think we should have an early lunch and talk about this,” I said. Talking over food seemed to be our mode of decision-making. It wasn’t that I was hungry, but it seemed like the most logical thing to do. Order coffee and eggs with hashbrowns and tap a diner spoon on a plastic glass of ice water as we work this out.
… to be continued…