Princess, our 13 year old West Highland White Terrier had fallen ill recently. She had been shivering a lot which made me naturally think that she was cold, so I laid her on the sofa and covered her with a small blanket. But after a while, she would kick off the blankets and start panting as if she were hot. She also refused to eat anything even though I can tell that she was hungry. Occasionally she would look to be in pain, but nothing too serious from what I can tell. She did this about a month ago as well, but she was back to normal within a couple of days, so I figured that she may have eaten something that she wasn’t suppose to eat, and it will eventually pass.
However, after about the third day, her condition didn’t look to be improving so we took her to the nearby vet. We figured that we could take her to the vet in the morning, the vet would just subscribe some stomach medication, and then we would be on our way to Haru’s gymnastics lesson by the afternoon. However, that wasn’t the case.
Princess was given a series of blood tests, x-rays, and barium tests, but nothing really showed up at first. The vet was looking for a foreign object like a small toy that she may have swallowed, but Princess never had the habit of chewing or swallowing inedible objects, so I already knew that the x-rays weren’t going to show anything. The blood tests also initially came back negative (nothing abnormal). So we were all pretty stumped. A dog can’t fake being sick or intentionally go without eating for three days, so it was quite obvious that something was bothering her.
We left Princess in the care of the vet for the day and returned later in the evening to get the full results of the blood test and barium test. The blood test showed that she had some kind of infection somewhere in her body. What this means is that she had some kind of internal injury that was trying to heal. The barium test, which is a process of swallowing barium -a metallic solution that shows up on x-rays, showed that her digestive system was not working well. The barium flowed past stomach and up to a certain point in her intestines, but then it would stop, as if something were blocking the passage.
The vet had told us that there was a hard object stuck in her intestines, but she wasn’t sure what it was, because it didn’t show up on the x-rays. It was large enough to block digestion and the vet said that she can even feel the object in her stomach. At first, the vet suggested that Princess get sedated so that the can stick a camera down her digestive track to get a better idea of what the object is. However, since it was obvious that there was an object in her digestive track that shouldn’t be there, and given the fact that Princess had eaten and drank very little in the last three days, it would be better to just have the object surgically removed as soon as possible.
As we all came to the mutual agreement to have Princess skip the camera exam and have her operated on immediately, the vet gave us a very grim speech about how it is very probable that since Princess had not eaten anything in a while and very weak from this, the there was a fair chance that she may not survive the surgery. At that moment, the realization that Princess may die that night struck me hard. When we took Princess to the vet earlier that morning, it never dawned on me that she may not be coming home with us. I thought it would be a 30 minute visit at best, and the vet would tell us that she just had an upset stomach from eating something that Haru may have dropped on the floor while snacking. But all of a sudden, the reality of losing my dog became very real, and it saddened me profoundly.
After the grim speech, the vet reminded us that this was serious surgery and could be a financial burden on us, and implied that some people tend to opt out and choose to euthanize instead. For me, this was not an option of course. I am all for euthanasia when the pet is terminal and has very little or no chance of living a normal life again. I see no point in letting a pet live in misery just for the sake of the owner’s own emotional benefit. Of course, if this option was ever presented to me, it would be an extremely difficult choice to make. I know that Princess isn’t going to live forever, and that there will be a time when we will really need to say our goodbyes, but it wasn’t going to be now. Her condition was far from terminal and she has a very good chance of making a full recovery, and we were financially capable of paying for the surgery, so it was it was an easy decision to make.
After all of the grim talk by the vet, who obviously failed her exam on bed side manners, we said our goodbyes to Princess, which may have been the very last time we see her alive. I didn’t want to let Haru know that Princess might not come home, and reassured her that she’ll be okay after her her surgery. The 15 minute trip home seemed like a lifetime for me. I was thinking of the very first day we brought Princess and Jenna home. They were so tiny, barely 6 weeks old, yet extremely energetic. They ate everything, got into everything, and always made a mess out of everything. I thought about all of the trips we took, and regretted not being able to take them on more trips. I thought about how careful we were to feed them only the right foods, and not to feed them junk or dog food to ensure that they would live a long an healthy life. And to think that our efforts to keep them healthy may have been futile, because Princess swallowed some small toy or other foreign object made me mad at myself.
The vets (apparently there were multiple surgeons working on Princess) operated that night to remove this mystery object that was causing Princess’s ailment. I kept thinking that it was one of the many toys that Haru leaves lying around, but it would be very out of character for Princess to pick up one of her toys and swallow it. Then I thought maybe it was something I fed her. Recently, I got into the habit of giving both Princess and Jenna some of my popcorn on my Saturday movie nights. They both LOVE popcorn, and often fight over it when I drop it on the floor. They are so competitive, that it could have well been that Princess may have swallowed a piece without chewing it. But popcorn is not only water soluble, it is very digestible, so I immediately dismissed this as the possible problem.
Later that night, we got a call from the vet. It was pretty late at night so I was very nervous that something bad might have happened. My wife answered the phone and spoke the vet about Princess’s condition. During the course of the conversation, my wife’s tone must have shifted from surprised, happy, sad, concerned, and a whole spectrum of other emotions which made jumpy the whole time. Judging by the tone, it could have been anything And she was doing more listening than talking, I couldn’t tell if results were negative or positive. Then at one point she said, CORN? loudly, at which point my heart sunk into my stomach. I couldn’t believe it. So it was the popcorn! This is completely my fault! I thought to myself as I felt an overwhelming feeling of guilt eating me. If I hadn’t given her popcorn, she wouldn’t be in the hospital now having surgery. She wouldn’t have suffered the pain she suffered the last three days. She wouldn’t have had to have possibly life-threatening surgery. I felt so bad, and at the moment, my thoughts shifted to Jenna who also pigged down popcorn. Jenna’s digestive system tended to be less tolerant and somewhat weaker in situations like this. Is she going to need surgery too? And being the weaker of the two, would she survive the surgery? But Jenna didn’t show any signs of pain or irregularity. She had a strong appetite and seemed to be normal, which was a bit puzzling. How could popcorn get stuck in Princess’s guts, and yet have not affect on Jenna?
After she finished the call with the vet, my wife had explained to me that she (the vet) had found a corn-like object in her intestines, which had hardened and eventually ruptured her intestines and was becoming infected. Her intestines were in the process of healing but the hardened corn was still stuck and causing blockage and needed to be removed. The vets had removed the hardened corn and a small portion of her intestines where infection had set in. Although it was too early to tell, Princess was doing well and was expected to make a full recovery.
The next morning, we all headed over the vet’s office. We even took Jenna with us, because this was the first time Jenna was left alone by herself for a long period of time. I didn’t want her to feel that we were abandoning her. After a short wait, they brought Princess out into the examining room. She still looked groggy from the sedatives, but she definitely looked better. She wasn’t squinting her eyes, panting, or shivering like she did before the surgery. I was still feeling a bit guilty about having being the cause of her pain, but I felt a lot better knowing that she was going to be alright. The vet brought out a little zip lock back with the object that had been blocking Princess’s intestines. I imagined that the popcorn would look more like well ….a piece of popcorn, yellow but a bit more deteriorated and digested. It looked nothing like corn or popcorn. It was about the sized of quarter and black like a clump of mud. It was a bit elongated and somewhat bumpy and thorny. I was trying to figure out how this object could possibly be popcorn. Was it many pieces of popcorn clumped together? Apparently, my wife was thinking the same thing because she told the vet that the object doesn’t look like popcorn. The vet explained that the blackened and thorny object was corn, not popcorn. Apparently we had just assumed it was popcorn because that’s what I had been feeding her, but the vet never said it was popcorn. She held object up and pointed to the pores where the the corn kernels would normally grow out of it. My wife gave an immediate “oh my god!” look and explained that Princess had raided the trash bin several months ago, and a bag of eaten corn cobs went missing. She assumed that one of the dogs had eaten them, but would be okay, since they didn’t get sick. I immediately felt a sense of vindication that I was not the cause of Princess’s ordeal, as I had never given her a corn cob. It was her own doing! Dumb dog raided the trash and now feeling the affects several months later.
The vet pulled out another zip lock back with another quarter-sized blackened object, except this one looked somewhat soft and mushy. The vet explained that the object was a portion of Princess’s intestines that was damaged and had become infected. The portion of intestine tried to heal itself but since the corn cob was still stuck, it had become infected. The vets removed the damaged area and reattached the healthy areas.
Finally, the vet pulled out a digital camera from a drawer and showed us the pictures that were taken during the surgery. The picture showed what looked like Princess’s entire digestive system partially pulled out of her abdomen and sprawled out on the operating table. It was much more than I needed to see. I imagined that the surgery would be done with her insides still inside her body, but apparently they pull everything out which is incredible. The vet explained that she inspected most of her digestive track to make sure that there were no other objects or blockages that may cause problems later.
Princess spent a couple of more days at the hospital recovering from the surgery. The vet called us everyday to give us progress reports. The day after the surgery, Princess’s usual very hungry appetite returned and she slurped up all of her hospital food and begged for more. When she came home, the first thing she did was look for food, which was a very good sign that she will recover fully.