Each year, we are faced with thousands of cases. Each is a unique story. Cases may be routine elective cases, or highly complicated emergencies. Some cases, most really, end happily, while some endings are terribly sad. But the nature of the case and how it ends is only a part of a much larger story.
The time period surrounding the case is, usually, but a small fraction of the time spent between the client and his or her pet. The type of case does not describe the nature, or origin, of their relationship. Some of our patients are the last living link to a loved one who has passed.
We treated a cat who was credited with bringing functionality to the life of an autistic child; a retired police dog, who had saved the life of the retired Boston cop who brought him in: a dog who alerted the family to a fire, and is credited with saving them all.
Not all stories are so colorful, but the common vein in most of these relationships is that pets are a deeply meaningful part of these people's lives, and we cannot, in our relatively short interactions, comprehend the full measure of the importance they hold.
It is for that reason that I, Henri Bianucci, am genuinely honored and humbled that these clients have entrusted these relationships to our care. It is why we can only endeavor to do our utmost with every case we see.
In this column this year, I relayed two stories about pets who had beaten seriously stacked odds. One was a recent case, and the other, from 10 years ago. They are two of my favorite cases, and new information has provided an epilogue to one and an indication on where the other is headed. Both are great examples of persistence and tenacity, and why not to ever give up too soon.
Wrigley was the kitten with a tracheal abnormality. While undergoing a routine spay she developed a tear and an obstruction to her airway. She went into a full cardiac arrest and was, for all intents and purposes, dead for 35 minutes. All the while her veterinarian worked feverishly, performing CPR. Most would have given up, but he persisted and pulled the kitten back from the brink.
She stabilized but lost her vision. The lack of oxygen resulted in an injury to the part of her brain responsible for vision. She arrested one more time before we could implant a tracheal stent, restoring her breathing. She recovered well and her breathing has been fine ever since. It's been three months, and she has remained blind. But the day after Christmas, I received this text:
"Christmas miracles. Today Wrigley woke up and has vision without question. She has been following my hand and reaching out to grab it. (And bite it)
"This little orange angel is so amazing and I can't thank you all for fighting for her survival as well.
"Merry Christmas and may the new year bring peace and happiness and more miracles for all."
It really is cases like this that keep us going when the going gets tough.
The next case was the story about Jake.
Jake was a "routine" orthopedic surgery case that turned out to be anything but. The case began 11 years ago. Jake was a puppy with a knee problem. His kneecap would pop out of its groove. It's a common problem, and a pretty straightforward surgery.
As we were beginning, Jake had an abnormal reaction to the anesthesia. His heart abruptly stopped. We began CPR, to no avail. I then made an incision into his chest and began pumping his heart by hand. All along, we were administering cardiac drugs and applying the defibrillator.
This went on for 45 minutes, when suddenly, his heart began to pump on its own. I can still feel it as it began to contract on its own. At first, it was just a twitch, then a more coordinated flex, then another and another, until it had resumed a normal rhythm. Jake recovered from anesthesia, but he was far from normal.
He, like Wrigley, was blind. Worse, he was seizuring uncontrollably. We induced a coma and waited. Jakes family was a husband and wife, and two small children; a girl and a boy, of about 6 and 7 years old, respectively.
After a week, they had decided it was just too tough on the family. They told me it was their first dog, and that they had to move forward. Jake had shown little improvement, and their decision was understandable.
I requested that I continue treating, and asked if they wanted to hear from me if Jake improved. As you may have read, or guessed, Jake improved. By six weeks, he was completely normal and was returned to his family.
For a few years, I was updated with annual Christmas brownies, but it had been about six years since I had heard anything. I was thinking about Jake and decided to try and find the family. I searched the Internet address programs to no avail. That was a Friday. The next Monday I received this email.
"Dr. B, I just wanted to share with you that our Maltese, Jake, is celebrating his 11th birthday today. He is truly living his '2nd' life to the hilt. He spends a lot of time with my sister-in-law's seven Jack Russell rescues and is truly a loved member of our family. Thanks for all the good work you do."
That really says it all.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. To send questions, go to Veterinaryspecialtycare.com and click the "ask the pet docs" icon.