Yes, please. I’d love a big hug. It’s been a rough few days, and I really lost it this morning, couldn’t prevent crying in front of the kids. Which scared the kids. I’m a little better now, but still on the edge of tears. No, nevermind. I’m still there with the tears.
I have a little dog named Girlfriend, and she’s just one of those souls. A deeply sweet little animal, and I’m very close to possibly having to say goodbye. I guess I’ll talk about her now.
8 years ago, I was working at a fairly large and busy practice where we rotated 24 hours emergency call between four veterinarians. One night, my colleague Dr. Troy was called in on an emergency by a very good client of ours who had found a stray dog, presumably hit by a car and laying on the side of the highway. They couldn’t have another dog, but couldn’t leave her there. They wrapped her up in a blanket, called Troy, and asked if he would come in to humanely euthanize a little stray dog that was suffering a pretty terrible injury, and they would pay for it.
When Troy assessed Girlfriend, he was able to tell that she did have a serious injury to the right hind limb that would require extensive surgery, perhaps even amputation. From the ankle down, there was a degloving injury (meaning, the skin was completely avulsed in a downward pattern as if peeling off a glove- it was just gone), and her paw was mangled, leaving only two viable toes. However, she was alert and wagging her tail, gazing up at him with soulful, liquid brown eyes, and giving him loving kisses whenever he pet her. He told me the next day that she was such a sweetheart that he just couldn’t bring himself to put her to sleep, and so he cleaned her up, put the limb in a bandage, gave pain meds and antibiotics, and put her in a cage.
At the time, I had another little dog with a massive wound, who was staying at the hospital. That was Thomas. I think a coyote had attacked him, and I came home one day to find his tail was completely detached at the base, and the surrounding tissue so badly traumatized that over the next few days, much of the tissue had to be debrided away and the tail, which had lost all enervation and blood supply, amputated with it. There was so much tissue removed that there was no hope of closing the wound, so Thomas had about a 6″ area on his rump where his tail used to be that I was managing as an open wound. This had to have daily hydrotherapy, debridement and bandaging, and since Thomas wasn’t one for car rides if he could avoid it, I just kept him at the hospital.
So I had Thomas on the treatment table, working on his wound, when Troy had a free minute the next day, and brought the little stray over for a second opinion. (I love wounds. They’re my favorite type of challenge in all of veterinary medicine, and I was considered the go-to for opinions on wounds at the hospital.) As he took the bandage off on one end of the table, she spotted Thomas and headed straight for him. They sniffed noses, and she began to lick all over his face, which he seemed to enjoy. I’m sure his tail would have been wagging, if he still had a tail! I made a comment that it looked like Thomas found a girlfriend, and from that point on, we all called her “Girlfriend”.
Troy and I agreed that the limb might be saved on Girlfriend, but certainly an amputation would be a lot faster and easier in terms of recovery time. The main challenge was the degloving injury. Neither of us had ever attempted a skin graft before, because it’s a costly and time-consuming process and the outcome is generally iffy- whether the graft will “take” or die off. However, there wasn’t really a client whose money was on the line in this case, and ultimately we decided that we ought to take this opportunity to try a skin graft after we got the infection under control and she developed a healthy bed of granulation tissue. So I took her to surgery and debrided the dead tissue, amputated the two toes that were unsalveagable, and we began doing a similar routine with Girlfriend as we did on Thomas- daily hydrotherapy and bandaging, and it was often easier to have them both in the bathtub and on the treatment table at the same time. They were happily distracted from the discomfort of the procedures, exchanging kisses, and pretty soon they were even sharing the same cage and taking walks together on a double leash.
The skin graft procedure, which we were ready to do about a week later, did take, and after about 6 weeks in the hospital, by which time everyone had fallen in love with her, she and Thomas came home. She’s been a wonderful pet ever since, though it was very tough on her when we had to say goodbye to Thomas a couple of years ago. Many times, though, I wished we had not attempted to save that limb, and had just amputated it right off the bat. Not that we didn’t gain valuable learning experience from the skin graft, but that grafted skin was so delicate, and had a tendency to dry out and crack and bother her. Several times over the years she would develop an open wound and have to wear a bandage and e-collar, and most of the time she went three-legged, carrying the right hind leg as if it bothered her to bear a lot of weight on it.
Then a couple of weeks ago, something happened to Girlfriend when she was outside. When we found her, she was trying to walk in a weird way, and the right hind limb, which she always just carried when it was bothering her, was toed-in and continually buckling, causing her to fall over. I determined that her knee cap was dislocated, but every time I would replace it, it would quickly pop back out of its groove, and caused her extreme discomfort. Why she wouldn’t just carry the limb like before is a mystery, as I could never find a problem with her good hind leg, but for whatever reason, she could now barely walk, and she went into a decline that pain medications weren’t helping. She wasn’t eating well, stayed in her bed all day and all night, had to be carried outside, and when she did walk, it was always trying to bear weight on that buckling right hind limb.
I knew she was going to need an orthopedic surgery to repair and stabilize the patellar luxation, but I was hesitant to put her through a major surgery on what had always been a “bum leg” for her anyway. Hubby and I talked about whether we ought to go ahead and do the patellar surgery, or just amputate the leg as I’ve many times wished we’d done in the first place, especially as she was used to the “three-legged life” from years and years of carrying the right hind limb. After a couple of weeks of her quality of life really sucking, I opted to have the problem leg amputated, but since I don’t do orthopedics, I sent her to my former boss, who is a fast surgeon and has 50 years of experience in orthopedics. That was last Friday.
I think it was a mistake. She had a seizure post-operatively and has had several more since then. Despite an initial rough couple of days, I thought we were managing her seizures and her pain fairly well with an anticonvulsant and a potent combination of pain meds, and by Sunday, she was up following me around and doing well on three limbs as I’d hoped she would. But then sometime on Sunday night, I think Girlfriend had a massive stroke. Yesterday, she wouldn’t eat, she couldn’t stand, one side of her face was drooping, she was completely disoriented, didn’t seem to know me, and was compulsively trying to turn in circles. Her balance is off from the central nervous system, and I don’t think she could stand up even if she had all 4 limbs. Although I suspected it was a stroke, I was also worried that possibly she might be having a big bad drug interaction, so I took her off one of the pain meds and the anticonvulsant, knowing that I might be making a mistake and come in to find her in a severe seizure situation, in which case I told Hubby that I might have to put her to sleep.
It all hit me this morning that I might have to say goodbye to my Girlfriend, and I just couldn’t stop crying. I tried to get it together before the kids came into the bathroom for me to fix their hair, but they knew something was off, and when Little Sister asked, “why are you sad, Momma?” I lost it again.
This morning, Girlfriend did seem to know me, and thankfully, she did want to eat, but is having trouble coordinating her mouth movements and has to be hand-fed. She still can’t stand up and tries to turn circles to the point that she gets herself stuck in awkward positions in the cage. However, no seizures, and a good appetite, so I plan to give her some time, in hopes that whatever damage she sustained from the suspected stroke will improve, and she’ll make a recovery. But she’s not out of the woods, and I’m really worried, and feeling horrible because if these are her last days, then I’ve done her a huge disservice by choosing to put her through a painful, major surgical procedure, needlessly. I’m sick about it. And so, so sad.