Sunday, May 10, 2009

Guts and Glory

Working at a Veterinary clinic is a dream job...but not last week. I haven't witnessed or dealt with the passing of many animals in the time I've been there, but last week we had FOUR die in 2 days. It was pretty hard.

One was an elderly Golden Retriever that could barely walk anymore (that reminded me of Shadow on "Homeward Bound." Talk about a heart tugger.) Another was a cat we were hospitalizing that died overnight. Then there was an Australian Shepherd that needed surgery...and once Dr. Olson got inside he found the situation to be much more grave than expected. All were sad. But the one that was most difficult for me was the final one on Friday.

An older woman and her granddaughter brought in a Pit Bull mix that had the most swollen stomach I'd ever seen. Had it not been a male dog, I would have immediately assumed it was carrying a major litter of pups. They clearly didn't have a lot of money (this was the dog's first visit to a vet, I think) but they were still concerned for the dog's well-being. The woman said she'd been giving him herbs and other natural remedies but nothing was working.

Well, nothing was working because the dog, Kobe, was in the final stages with heartworms. He was suffering from congestive heart failure, which was apparently linked to the retaining of fluid in the abdomen, causing the huge swollen stomach. Dr. Olson let me look at Kobe's blood under the microscope and you could actually see the tiny, wiggling worms in his blood. Talk about freaky.

Treating heartworm disease is incredibly expensive. Besides that, Kobe was so far gone that the chances of curing him were fairly slim. His breathing was labored and you could tell he was miserable. You should have seen those sad eyes. :( So the decision was made to put the dog down. It made me so sad...these people had never heard about heartworm preventative medication. Something that could be so easily avoided by giving him a little $4 pill had cost them their pet. :(

After they left, I was up at my desk doing my normal duties when a woman came in to refill a prescription. I had a question about it, so I walked down the hall to the lab where Dr. Olson and Anne had gone. I'd seen them take Kobe's body back on a stretcher, but I didn't know that they were going to dissect him to find the heartworms. So when I turned the corner, I found them with Kobe on the table, split wide open, guts and blood everywhere. It looked like a prop from a horror movie set. (Sidenote: I'm an extremely queasy person. Generally I can't discuss or see surgical procedures without feeling ill. I actually fainted in the hospital after my sister's scoliosis surgery when I was little. I just don't fair well with that kind of thing!) So I backed way-the-heck up making yelping noises. Dr. Olson goes, "HEEELLLLOOOO!!!! Didn't expect to see that, huh?" I laughed and said, "Um, nooo...." then asked them my question while still hiding around the corner. *haha*

Later though, Anne hollered for me to come look at the heartworms. I didn't want to, but figured I should for the educational purpose. (Afterall, I get asked a lot of questions like "are these pills really that important?" all the time.) I asked that they cover up everything ELSE, though, which they kindly did. The adult heartworms looked like twine or string...extremely long and skinny. There were SO many of them and they were still alive! Again, very freaky.

While I'm still squeamish and nervous about the guts, gore and death that I'm occasionally surrounded by, I'm striving to become a little tougher skinned. I think it's pretty neat that Dr. Olson finds it important to educate me about what's going on, so it challenges me to move past my tendency to freak out. Ideally I'd like to work in this field (if not THIS JOB) for a long time, so the more I know the better I'll be at it.

On Saturday a dog came in with terrible bladder stones. Dr. Olson asked me if I wanted to feel them. Part of me didn't, but the other part of me was curious, so I did. I put my hand on the dog's belly and could literally FEEL them! Like one of those squeazy-stress balls filled with sand! The poor thing, no wonder it had been pottying in the house. Talk about painful! Then for the surgery last week I was asked to "warm up some blood," that would be used for a transfusion. So I was handed a bag of blood (like you'd see hanging from an IV tree) and ran it under warm water for about 15 minutes. That's a big step for me. *haha* I joked when I was finished for them to holler at me when they wanted me to "scrub in." :)

UPDATED: Since several of you commented about the heartworm problem, I thought I'd mention this: Heartworm is the number one killer of dogs. Some people think if their dog doesn't go outside or isn't around other dogs that it's safe, but the truth is that heartworms are passed from mosquitoes. And as we all know, you don't even have to go outside to get bitten by one of those. All it takes is one bite and the heartworm larva can be passed into your dog's (or cat's) blood stream. It IS treatable (unless it's left unchecked like poor Kobe's) but it's very expensive and not always successful. You're much better off investing in a preventative. There are many different kinds, some are even combined with preventatives for other parasites (like fleas, ticks or a variety of intestinal worms). Obviously your vet can give you recommendations on this better than I can, but my point is that it heartworm preventative IS important and can be relatively inexpensive, especially in contrast to the treatment. As always, thanks for reading my blog and leaving comments! Makes my li'l ol' day to see someone's reading this stuff. *haha*


Adriana said...

Not that I want you to cry again, but I thought I'd share my experience with you...

Dancing Sweet Pea said...

Aw how incredibly sad Sarah! Makes me think though...I don't have Jackson on heart worm medication and I'll be checking with my vet next time we go in which is in a couple of weeks!
PS: Check out my blog from last Thursday, there's a little something there for you! :)

Brad and Kayla said...

How brave! I remember when our Golden had her first litter of pups she mistakenly cut several puppies cords too close to their stomachs, so they began to rip open. My mom, being the book work she is, had read if that happens they need to be stitched immediately so their stomachs don't bulge open and expose their intestines (Yuck!). Unfortunately for me, I was the ONLY one in the garage at the time so I had the honor of helping my mom stitch up these pups. Ugh. I've gotten braver since then...

Camevil said...

What. A. Week.

So sad, heartbreaking.

But, I never knew heartworms could be so bad. We're getting a dog and I will definitely make sure to use preventative medicine.

RIP Kobe.

Before too long, you're going to have guts of steel. The gore won't bother you, which is great because you seem to have a genuine, natural affinity for animal health. You'll be birthing furbabies and suturing head wounds in no time.

Mrs. Jelly Belly said...

So sad. We have two dogs and, although they're sometimes a PITA, it will break my heart when they are gone. But I'm so happy that you are working with such a great vet. He sounds like one in a million.

a chick named Toni... said...

Hey! what an experience!

I miss you...hope you are doing well!

Kari said...

I can't even imagine being such an animal lover and having to see the things you are seeing. I think for some people they get the pets but don't think about the costs after purchasing the pets. I don't even want to know how much we have spent on vet visits, grooming, and er visits btw. our two cats and dog. But NOTHING would stand in the way of me providing them with the best care I could.
Sophie starts her heartworm the 1st of June and I know I'll be thinking of that poor dog when I give her her pill.