Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Emergency Room and Lessons About Middle-Age

Well, Baxter made his first-ever trip to the emergency room last evening. I'll start off by saying everything seems to be fine today, but last night we had a bit of a scare. After a nice afternoon of romping around the yard and manning his post at the window in my office, it didn't seem at all odd that Baxter was laying around. But when I put his food in his dish and called him over, he didn't come. He just stayed where he was, looking at me with this wistful, faraway look. I kept calling him and eventually he got himself up with quite a labored effort, hobbled a few steps with his back legs bent and his hind end hunched over, gingerly sat back down then just looked at us with this pathetic "I would if I could" kind of expression. Something was definitely wrong.

Could he have eaten something in the yard that's making him sick to his stomach? Could he have a blockage? Constipation? Or was it his back or his hips or legs? It was pretty much impossible to tell. Baxter is pretty stoic, he doesn't yelp when he's in pain, as a rule, he just hunkers down and gets a faraway look. Finally, after much coaxing, he got up and shuffled over to his dish and ate his dinner.

We sat down to eat our own and noticed that Baxter's breathing seemed rapid and he kept repositioning himself, moving as if he couldn't get comfortable no matter what position he was in.
Being the concerned dog parents we are, we called the vet's office and were referred to the emergency hospital. Was this emergency-worthy? It's hard to know. It could be a sore muscle or it could be the beginning of a serious "ate the wrong thing" intestinal situation.

We decided to take him outside to see if he had to go. He did all his business with no problems and walked slowly at our side (which itself is really strange for Baxter). We thought he seemed a bit better until we got back into the house and he wouldn't even play with his toy. We did our usual game of hide and seek with bunny (we hide it somewhere in the house while he waits, then we tell him "go get it!" and he will hunt for as long as it takes to find bunny and return with a galloping "I did it!" gait). He took forever to get up, slowly padded into the other room, found bunny, then just stood in the doorway, as if he couldn't come back.

"Ok, he's definitely going to the vet."

We waited for what seemed like an eternity and finally the tech came in and got his vitals. His heart was racing a bit, but his temperature was normal. Whew on that. But after the vet carefully examined him, her determination was that he either had a sore hip or an unknown intestinal problem (he winced whenever anyone touched him around his lower stomach, back and hind quarters). We knew that much already, but without him being able to tell us what was wrong specifically, we just had to wait for him to either get sicker or get better before moving on to the next stage of diagnosis -- blood tests and x-rays. The vet said her hunch was that he somehow injured his hip, so she sent us home with some Rimadyl and instructions to keep him on low activity for a few days. $100+ and a couple of hours later as we prepared to lift Baxter into the car, he jumped in on his own. Great for his hip, I'm sure. For a moment I wondered if it had all been a dramatic act, but when we got home we could tell he was still walking hunched over in the back. He took his Rimadyl and we went to bed.

This morning he was bright eyed and bushy-tailed as ever. We've been limiting his activity, but he seems to be just fine and not really favoring the hip much, if at all. We called Dr. Pema just to make sure there wouldn't be any complications between the Rimadyl and his Chinese herbs. She said not at all, and it was her bet that he had a subluxated vertebrae -- he probably stood up or turned around the wrong way and threw out his lower back. Just like people, when you feel that crunch, you don't much feel like moving or doing anything. Then, after the muscles relax, things pop back in and you're fine.

I realized, at this point, that dogs and people experience some of the same things at middle age. My husband and I have always been fairly active people and we frequently discuss how much more likely we are to injure ourselves now than we were even five years ago. It seems there are more aches and pains and creaking joints with each passing year, and the old sports injuries from 20 years ago suddenly offer up reminders. Perhaps those of us who have been a bit more athletic have put a few more miles on our feet and legs and hips than those who spent more time sitting around. And I suppose this goes for dogs like Baxter as well. He ran like a puppy at the dog park last weekend. Then four days later he stands up and throws out his back. Unlike us, he doesn't complain about it. And if we'd left things alone, he probably would have just suffered through the night and still been fine this morning. But on the off chance it could have been something more serious, we're still glad we took him in. If something had gone wrong in the night, we never would have forgiven ourselves.

We're just glad Baxter is OK. And, if nothing else, this little episode has served as a wake-up call to how quickly life goes by, especially for a dog. Baxter may still run like a teenager, but he is not a teenager. He's just eeked past us in dog-years, and within a few more he will be an old man. That's just life in the doggy fast-lane. And we need to cherish every moment we have with our precious companion and play "go find bunny" as often as we can.

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