A trip to the emergency room for invasive surgery on your beloved pet is no one’s idea of a romantic date night.
My husband and I had just sat down to dinner when we noticed Bea, our frenchie mix rescue dog busily pawing through the wood bin next to the fireplace.
“What could she be finding?” we wondered, as our busy Bea dug deep under the firewood. We had seen her strip bark off the logs before, and she certainly enjoyed hunting the occasional sleepy winter spider, so at first we didn’t think much of it as we enjoyed our meal.
That is, until we heard the distinctive sound of a bouncy ball as it stuttered out of Bea’s triumphant mouth and rolled away, only to be pounced on and reclaimed again and again.
I immediately grabbed a juicy morsel of chicken off my plate, prepared to make a trade.
“Bea! What have I got?” I asked her. She skittered and scampered around with her newfound treasure.
“Rudy! I called to my older, wiser, dog. “Sit please!” Rudy dutifully comes to my side, sitting, drooling, and clearly aware of the high value treat at stake.
Bea on the other hand continues her victory laps around the living room. I give Rudy a bit of the meat, which finally captures Bea’s attention. She sits nearby, but just out of reach, still holding her dangerous prize firmly in her jaws.
I toss a little piece of chicken down, ready to pounce on the ball the moment she drops it. What happens next plays out in my mind in slow motion but happened in just an instant.
She drops the ball.
She grabs the chicken.
She picks up the ball again.
She swallows the ball.
She sits up and begs for another piece of chicken.
She is, above all things, a dog of comedic timing.
“Did that just happen?” my husband asks. We look everywhere for the ball, hoping against hope this was all some kind of doggie sleight-of-paw. We move couches. We assess dark corners with flashlights. We call Emerald City 24hr Emergency Vet. Dinner goes into the fridge, and off we head to the clinic.
At the Clinic
We check in to the clinic and Bea is whisked immediately to the back for Xrays.
The vet techs confirm what to look for in the Xray: a whole and unchewed ball, bigger than a golf ball.
We retire to a private waiting room to fill out paperwork and await Bea’s results. The veterinarian on duty stops in to hear our story in person. She doesn’t quite believe any dog worth its salt would choose to eat a ball on purpose, let alone swallow it whole.
“Well that is just #$%ed.” We share her sentiments.
She mentions some other surgery cases she has worked on and the options at hand. It all depends on the relative size of the ball to her body. She hopes to be able to work endoscopically, but given the size of the ball, and being unsure if she will be able to spear the ball successfully with her endoscopic tools, we agree regular surgery is more likely to be necessary.
She excuses herself to confer with the radiologist. We wait and fret.
The doctor returns. At first the radiologist had thought the X-rays were showed nothing, but looking closer (as you can see in the image below) the clear and perfect sphere at the top of the stomach is the obstruction, and is visible in every digital film.
We are counseled through our choices with no pressure and as much explanation as we need.
The first option is to try to induce vomiting. The obstruction seems too large for this to work so we skip that step.
We can take Bea home and wait to see if she can pass the obstruction the old fashioned way, but if the ball exits the stomach and gets stuck in the intestines, the surgery can be far more complex and dangerous so we skip that idea as well.
It comes down to operating on Bea that night at the emergency clinic or waiting ’til morning and hoping our regular veterinarian can fit her in that day.
The possibility exists that if we wait a day, the ball could move onto the intestines or get lodged in the opening between the stomach and intestine, so we opt for the immediate surgery.
Preparing for Surgery
The tech brings Bea out for us to love on for as long as we’d like. She’s been sedated so she’s extra cuddly and sweet.
We say our goodbyes and head across the street for some liquid courage. It is 12:30 am on a Monday night and we’re toasting our beloved firecracker of a dog, who has only been in our care a few short months.
Bea found us through Northwest Bulldog Haven. We had been considering adding a new dog to our family for some time, and not seeing any specific dogs available in our area, I had written some generic applications to local rescues working with French bulldogs.
A foster family reached out to us from Bulldog Haven almost immediately, with a very active Frenchie/Boston mix who was “hyperactive” and “very vocal.” She had been tried and rejected by a lot of potential adopters.
We met her and fell in love instantly. It took some time for that love to be fully reciprocated, but it was so very worth it. We couldn’t imagine losing her to a stupid accident after only a few short months of unlocking her personality and building the trust and understanding to make her feel like part of our pack after so many rejections.
We picked up Bea the next evening. She was loopy with sedation, shaved half-naked, and wearing the requisite satellite dish. Thus began the longest night of my life.
Poor Miss Bea couldn’t lie down or get comfortable that night (or the next two).
I lay awake on the couch with her as she miserably tried to wedge her cone up on a pillow or piece of furniture to hold the weight of her head as she tried to fall asleep standing up.
As her legs began to inevitably collapse she would leap up shrieking and wailing and run around in circles panting only to settle down and try it again and again.
She finally managed to pass out on her side at 5 am that first night for about 90 continuous minutes (me too).
I made “stairs” out of couch cushions so she could get up and down without hopping and could prop her cone of shame in various ways.
The next morning I took her to her regular vet for a check-up and to see if there were more sedation options to let her recover in peace.
The regular vet added an anti-inflammatory to the mix which seemed to help a bit. Although the head-propping sleeping-standing routine did continue for two more nights, each night she was able to give up and lie down on her side a little earlier than the previous, and slept all through the night on the fourth night.
I stayed home with her and slept with her on the low bed in the guestroom. By day five she reached the “too active for her own good” phase of recuperation, finally pooped (first since the surgery), and could lay on a bed chewing a bone like the cone of shame was a fashion statement and not a torture device.
What I Learned
While I can’t recommend emergency surgery as a training tool, the week I spent nursing my girl back to health has deeply strengthened our bond.
She and her dog brother Rudy had to be kept separate during her recovery, but were delighted to play and walk together immediately after the week of isolation was over (she was very growly at him while she was hurt, understandably).