If somebody had told me that Crushie having surgery to remove a cancerous growth would not be the worst thing that would happen to our dogs this month, I might not have believed it.
About a month ago, we were visiting a friend up in Sequim, Washington. We stayed a week and brought all nine dogs. Of course having the Global Warmer makes visiting easier because we stay in our own space (if you can call living in an RV with nine dogs space). The dogs were running outside having a great time. I glanced to my right just in time to see little Xoom go tumbling down the hill. When she landed, she screamed and screamed and screamed. She just lay there motionless; screaming. It was sickening and heart wrenching.
Mel and our friend went running down the hill. Xoom stood, but the bloodcurdling screaming continued. It didn’t look as though anything was broken, so they brought her up the hill. She was very wobbly but continued screaming. It was horrible.
It was Sunday evening so our friend scrambled to find us a vet in town. She finally found one who agreed to come in to the office to see Xoom. We carried her inside in the crate because walking was too painful for her. She continued to scream off and on but it had lessened. The vet x-rayed her from her neck to her tail. She thought she had a separation in her pelvis, but I kept saying it was in her neck. She moved her neck around very carefully. She did get some reaction, but she said it wasn’t enough to indicate a broken neck.
We left with painkillers, anti-inflammatory pills and a very sore little puppy.
Xoom improved every day. The radiology report said her pelvis was normal. It seemed she just had bumps and bruises that needed time to heal. We took her to see the veterinarian chiropractor for good measure. He said she felt like she had been in a train wreck, and basically she had.
Things went very well for about two weeks. We were at an agility trial in Auburn and I took Xoom and Crushie out to the field to run. Xoom was about back to normal and she wouldn’t dare body slam Crush like she did the Poodles for fear of retaliation from the red headed monster. I figured we were safe. They ran for a while and had a great time. Then I called them to go back to the GW. As we made our way towards the bus, Xoom went down again. She landed directly on her head and flipped a$$ over teakettle. She screamed and screamed. Mel came running out of the GW, as did our friend who was parked next to us. Xoom lay there motionless. She looked like a newborn fawn lying in the grass. It looked to me as though she had stepped in a hole and gone down.
By the time I reached her, she was trying to stand, again looking much like a fawn trying to take its first steps. Once on her feet, I could see that her left front leg was limp and just sickeningly hanging there with toes curled under. She was clearly paralyzed in that leg. I scooped her up in my arms and carried her back to the RV.
She remained paralyzed in that leg for about an hour. She slowly came around. We took her to Sumner Vet but by then she seemed fine. I asked them to do more x-rays anyway. I felt strongly it was in her neck or head. I said she was having trouble eating her chicken necks and wings. They took the x-rays and two radiologists said she looked fine. You couldn’t see anything on them at all.
We went home thinking we were morons for allowing this little puppy to fall twice in two weeks. Two more weeks went by and she seemed to be OK. We had her adjusted again, and he felt she was a lot better.
This past Monday we were walking all the dogs in our orchard. Xoom took off running after the dogs. She ran about 200 feet, screamed and went down again. We watched helplessly as she rolled over and over. It seemed like it was happening in slow motion. When we reached her, Millie was standing over her keeping the other dogs away. That was odd because Millie has never liked this puppy from day one, and Millie loves all puppies. She has raised all of our dogs from puppyhood, but has shunned this one from the start. None of our dogs really cared for her. They all tried to drive her away as if they knew something about her we didn’t.
Once again, Xoom lay motionless in the grass. She tried to stand but couldn’t. Mel & I both were thinking out loud about what idiots we were for letting her run. Mel picked her up and carried her limp little body back to the GW. Her soulful brown eyes pleaded for help.
We placed her down on the floor but she couldn’t move. We put her in the car and started up to Sumner. They sent us to Seattle Veterinary Specialists in Kirkland where they have a neurologist and an MRI.
We explained her problem to a few different people. Finally, a young vet came in for the initial exam. We explained Xoom’s story once again from the beginning. She was very thorough and asked us all kinds of questions like, “Could she have gotten into poison?”
“No, she fell.”
“Is she ever outside by herself to get into a dead animal?”
“No, she fell.”
“Do you have any ticks or have you ever seen ticks on her?”
“No, she fell.”
She asked more questions that seemed completely irrelevant to us until I finally blurted out, “NO! SHE FELL THREE TIMES AND NOW SHE CAN’T WALK!!!”
She stopped asking questions and got on with her exam. I felt bad that I had been short with her. She was just doing her very thorough job and doing it well. She was very patient with me and very kind.
She tested her reflexes front and rear. When the little hammer hit the spots Xoom reacted in the rear legs but not at all in the front. The young vet was very patient with me as I asked my dumb ass questions. After she finished poking and prodding Xoom, she said she was going to go talk with the neurologist. As she closed the door behind her, Mel said, “What is she, three?” We laughed. That was nice to laugh.
Young Doggie Howser soon returned. She told us she was going to take Xoom to see the next level vet or something like that. She picked up our little angel and carried her off. Tears welled in our eyes as she disappeared around the corner.
It seemed like an eternity before she returned. She didn’t have little Xoom with her. She explained that the next level vet had taken her to see the head honcho neurologist. Doggie explained that the neuro guy thought Xoom needed an MRI (YA THINK?) but he couldn’t do it until morning (it was quitting time) and he wanted his full staff there when he did it. Most of what I heard was like in the Charlie Brown cartoons when there are words coming out but they don’t register, “WHA WHA WHA WHA…”
The gist of it was; Xoom was a mess. It was very serious. He didn’t think it was as simple as a pinched nerve. It could be meningitis (no she fell and had none of the other symptoms), it could be cancer (YIKES!), it could be a broken neck, “WHA WHA WHAAH WHA WHA…” The one thing I did hear was that he really didn’t think the fall caused this condition. He thought the condition caused the fall. That made no sense to me.
Then we were shocked back to reality when she began talking about the estimate. OUCH!!! And this was just for the MRI! If she needed surgery, which she surely would, as long as they thought she could recover, it would be double! CRAP! We maxed out our credit card and emptied out the checking account, but little Xoom is worth every penny with her sweet eyes and cute little red freckles.
After they got their money, they took us in to see Xoom. We were led through the emergency room. There were dogs lying on tables all over the place. I thought of the sterile surgery rooms you see on TV. Then I realized this was the recovery room or something like that. My brain wasn’t really functioning on full power.
There, in a large pen, was Xoom. She had a very plush bed and a folded blanket on which she was resting her little head. The pen was open at the top so you could easily reach in to pat her. She lay there looking up at us with her soft eyes. We patted her and told her everything would be fine. Tears were rolling down our cheeks as we said good-bye.
It was a long three hour drive home.
The next 24 hours seemed like an eternity. I didn’t think we would ever hear about the MRI. I called several times to check on her. No change. The neurologist finally called late in the afternoon on Tuesday. He explained that there was a thickening of the C1 vertebra. He said the inside of the vertebra was flattened and closing down on her spinal cord, and that her spinal cord was compressed 50%!!! No wonder she was paralyzed! He wouldn’t know until he got in there if it was from a break, cancer or some other horrific thing. He explained it would be a three to five hour surgery. He was very nice and very patient with all my questions. He didn’t think it was a break at all, but was convinced that the falls were caused by the problem and not the other way around. That still didn’t make sense to me, but he was pretty certain and I trusted him.
The surgery would be very expensive and, if we agreed to go ahead, it would take place the next day. The only other choices were to wait and see (we had already done that and things were getting worse not better) or euthanasia. The latter option was not acceptable to Mel or to me. Xoom deserved a chance to live.
I called and bugged them for updates a few times in the next 24 hours. Surgery was scheduled for about one in the afternoon on Wednesday. I called right before we went to bed Tuesday night; no change – still paralyzed. I called at 6:30 Wednesday morning; no change – still paralyzed. The surgeon called at 11:30 Wednesday morning; no change – still paralyzed. Then about 1 Wednesday afternoon he called again. Xoom had regained the ability to stand and walk! There was no question we would still go ahead with surgery. It was the right thing to do for her. The wait and see hadn’t been a great choice so far. The low doses of prednisone she had been taking had reduced the swelling enough for her mobility to return.
I told him to go ahead with surgery and we waited. And we waited. And we waited…
It seemed like an eternity. The surgeon promised updates as he proceeded, and he did not disappoint. He had attendants phone us a couple of times during the procedure to let us know Xoom was hanging in there. It was a very long time for our baby to be under, but she is a fighter! Of course they couldn’t tell us anything except that she was fine.
The surgeon finally called about six that evening. The surgery had taken three hours and not five so that was good. He didn’t have to stabilize the neck as he thought he might have to, so that was the difference in time. He explained that once in there, he surprised by what he saw. There was no evidence of a break or even injury. She had some weird boney formation inside the vertebra that had grown down around the spinal cord, compressing it by 50%. He said the bone was almost like a cross between cartilage and bone but not really. It was almost spongy; think molasses candy. He explained that if bone were like the crust of a hard sourdough loaf, then this was like the crust of white bread. I asked if he could feel the difference as he carved it away, and he said most definitely. He was able to remove all the misplaced boney-like material and that things looked good.
He went on to tell me that he had never seen anything like this. He had also consulted with two colleagues, neither of whom had ever seen or heard of anything like this either. He said he had never read anything that described this in books or veterinary papers. One of the colleagues he consulted was a professor of veterinary medicine for thirty years and he had never seen nor heard of this condition! WTF!!! How did we get so lucky?
OK, so what are the odds of this happening to us? Could not the Universe have sent us a winning lotto ticket instead? I am sure the odds of winning the lottery are better than the odds of this happening to one of our dogs!
Xoom’s prognosis is good, or so they say. But, how do they know? If nobody has ever seen this bizarre spontaneous mutation (and that is what the surgeon is calling this condition –well the bizarre part is mine), how on earth do they know what is going to happen? Only time will tell.
Our biggest concern now is how we will rehab her in the GW with eight other dogs. Will she get hurt? Can we protect her? Would placing her be the best thing for her? I really don’t know the answer to that.
We have not gone to visit her. We are afraid that she will get too excited and she needs to stay quiet. I am thankful to Nancy Kemna, who lives very close to the hospital, for taking a trip over to see Xoom for us today. Nancy was kind enough to take some photos, as did the hospital. Doesn’t Xoom look just like a little angel with her silver halo? As Nancy said to me, there is nothing sadder than a sad puppy.
Sir Cussalot (AKA Mel), says I will never be allowed to choose another dog again. I might be great at choosing good structure, but I seem to have a knack for picking the ones that are slightly (or not so slightly) defective. My track record is not so good: Isabella (severe IBD, canines grew through the roof of her mouth, epilepsy, bloat and torsion and eight more bloats, and now some weird neuropathy that severely limits her movement), MiniMe (parvo, Legg-Perthes disease, severe allergies and chronic pancreatitis), Crush (some unexplained thing where her liver was enlarged two years ago, then her spleen and an unexplained very large abscess and now cancer), Pankies (psycho dog, but in my defense, I knew that going in) and finally little Xoom.
Between Crush’s cancer surgery and Xoom’s Roto-Rooter neck surgery, we are pretty much grounded for a while. So what if we have to eat beans and rice for the rest of our lives, these girls are well worth it, and we adore them. Oh wait, eating beans and rice wouldn’t be any different than we do now. We are vegans!
Crushie continues to heal. She is back to running around with her Poodle “pups” glued to hip. She runs out of gas easily and her speed has diminished, but she gets to do what she loves most; RUN AS FAST AS SHE CAN.
Please keep both of our red girls in your thoughts. We need all the positive thinking we can get J.
Oh, and if you haven’t seen the movie by the same name as the title of this blog, check it out.
Helen Grinnell King