During the autumn of 2009, right before Lucy came to live with us, I took 5 years old Ichabod to the vet for his annual visit. After the exam had been completed, I asked the vet whether it was time to schedule Ichabod for a dental cleaning. In response to my query, Dr. Rich pulled Ichabod’s lips apart and surveyed his teeth before pronouncing the surgery unnecessary.
“These are dirty teeth, but not bad teeth,” he explained. I was more than happy to go along with his recommendation.
Four months later we adopted Lucy – a formerly homeless basset hound. Though the rescue organization assured us that Lucy was a maximum of two years old, it was clear that those two years had been hard ones. She’d come to the rescue as a stray….terribly sick with kennel cough, painfully skinny with the look of a mother whose milk had recently dried up. In addition to these challenges, Lucy had horrible teeth. As the rescue worker pulled back her mouth to show us, she explained that it was rare for such a young dog to have so much tartar and damage.
“You’re going to need to have her checked out by your vet right away, and schedule a dental cleaning,” she ordered.
Though we promptly followed the first recommendation, making an appointment to visit our family’s vet, we put off the cleaning for a few months. By the time I scheduled the procedure for Lucy, nearly 7 months had passed since I originally inquired about Ichabod’s teeth, and I decided to go ahead and have both animals taken care of at the same time.
In April, 2010 on the morning of the surgery, I couldn’t help but fret. In the short months that Lucy had been part of our family, she’d suffered extreme anxiety at any separation. I dreaded taking her to the vet and dropping her off; fearing she would see this as just another abandonment. But for her own good, it had to be done.
As it turns out, I wasn’t wrong to be concerned about Lucy. By all accounts, she was a maniac the entire time. I was told that once she regained consciousness, she barked incessantly. Eventually the vet techs took their breaks so they could hold her and keep her somewhat appeased. I wasn’t surprised by this. Early in the afternoon, however, I received a shocking and upsetting phone call. There’d been a serious problem with Ichabod. It seems he hadn’t responded well to the anesthesia and they’d had trouble waking him.
With my thoughts focused on Lucy, I’d never considered there being a problem with Ichabod. Five years before he’d been neutered and there’d been no indication that he’d had any trouble. Though by the time I was informed, he’d already been revived and the danger had passed, I couldn’t help but feel the squeeze of panic in my chest. What was more.. Ichabod had required several extractions. I was informed that two were so bad they simply fell out during the initial polishing. So much for Dr. Rich’s assessment that his teeth were in good condition. (I would like to note that although I was told that two of the teeth fell out on their own… I was still charged the extraction fee.)
As soon as they were through their observation period, I rushed to collect the dogs, only feeling relief when I could see for myself that they were fine. I loaded them into the car and headed home for a difficult few days.
Lucy recovered immediately, but Ichabod struggled. He was out of sorts and temporarily lost control of his bowels, especially while asleep. When he finally recovered, I resolved to take good care of his teeth so that this would need never happen again. I would like to say that I made good on my vow, but that isn’t true. As it turns out, it’s harder than you may think to brush a wild beagle’s teeth… and before we knew it, Carter came along. With all of my tasks as a mother to a little one, doggie-dental-hygiene fell to the bottom of my mental to-do list.
For years I told myself that we could get by without cleaning his teeth again. The denial held until an unwelcome development with Lucy. One day as I was sat on the edge of the bed putting on socks, Lucy approached me for some attention. As I absently stroked her head, I noticed a bulge in her cheek. Lucy is an enthusiastic eater, and in her haste, she routinely gets food stuck in her cheeks. With years of experience, she’s learned that when this happens she can come to me and I will set her to rights. As I attempted to force the trapped food from her face, I had no reason to think this was different than any other time…. until her squeal of anguish, that is. Turns out, there was no food lodged in her face…. she was very swollen!
My initial thought as I surveyed her was ‘insect sing’. Turning to the internet, I learned that this type of facial swelling is common with a tooth abscess. Interestingly, this occurred the day before Lucy’s annual vet appointment. The following morning when the vet examined her, (a different office from the one mentioned before…. we decided to find a new vet after the events described in ‘The Tale of the Headless Rabbit’ ) he discovered an abscessed molar. Prescribing a round of antibiotics to clear the infection, he explained we would need to give them time to do their work and then schedule her for a cleaning and extraction.
Driving home that day with Lucy, my thoughts turned to Ichabod. It suddenly dawned on me that I was kidding myself if I believed he wouldn’t wind up with something similar one day. That night I talked to Steve, and he agreed that we should have Ichabod’s teeth cleaned… and though I believed it to be necessary, I couldn’t shake the memory of what had happened before. I reasoned that If Ichabod had trouble when he was six and extremely healthy, I was concerned what over what may happen now that he was 11 and overweight withh a heart murmur. I decided to make a regular appointment for him prior to scheduling the cleaning…. just so they could check on his heart and I could thoroughly explain my concerns about the anesthesia.
When we arrived for our appointment, we saw a vet we’d never met before. She looked through Ichabod’s records stored on her computer and expressed concern because the previous vet had recommended heart meds, but she saw no record that I had a prescription. I assured her that I did have a prescription that was being filled through a local store. She was dubious since it wasn’t in her records, but I assured her that he was taking his pills every day. (Interestingly, when the doctor wrote the script, he didn’t indicate that it was for a dog. This led the pharmacy staff to believe that I had a 10 year old child named Ichabod who suffered from heart problems.) Almost as though she didn’t believe me, she began pounding away at the keyboard, telling me she was updating the record to reflect that Ichabod was taking his medicine.
After she listened to his heart, I explained my concerns about the surgery. She downplayed my concerns and said they would run some blood tests that would indicate if he was healthy enough for anesthesia. She further stating that without knowing the specific drugs the other vet used she couldn’t say for sure what the problem could have been, but she assured me they had other drugs to use for dogs who’d shown previous reactions to anesthesia. Somewhat relieved, I gathered Ichabod and took him home. The following morning I received a phone call assuring me that his blood work came back fine and that he was cleared for surgery. Forcing down my misgivings, I scheduled the appointment.
Two weeks passed quickly and suddenly it was the night before the surgery. I had such a bad feeling about it, but kept trying to reassure myself that everything would be fine…. In the meantime I’d obtained the record from his old vet, detailing the medicine they’d used on him last time. When the office called to confirm the appointment, I explained that I had some information about Ichabod’s medical history that I would be bringing with me. I asked my small group to pray for him. (I’m not sure whether or not they believed this to be over-the-top, but they were nice about it.) I had trouble sleeping, and suddenly, it was morning.
As I corralled Ichabod and Carter for the trip to the vet, I had no time to linger on forebodings. On the rare occasion that we take Ichabod somewhere while leaving Lucy at home, trickery and cunning are required. We once made the mistake of blatantly leaving the house with him, and it was an incident I’ll never forget. When she realized what was happening, a sound that I don’t have the words to properly explain, burst from Lucy. I’ve never heard such a sound from any dog or human. It was as though she somehow managed to channel all the pain of a thousand lost souls and verbalize it. Frightening stuff. But this morning we managed to fool her, and, sneaking Ichabod into the garage, we were soon on our way.
Due to his wild nature, taking Ichabod to the vet is always stressful. Due to his 3 year old nature, taking Carter places where he needs to be quiet and behave is always stressful. Taking Ichabod and Carter to the vet together is sort of beyond words. While I checked Ichabod in and reminded the receptionist that I had a paper for the doctor, Ichabod tried to break free so as to attack a cat in a carrier while Carter laughed maniacally and jumped up and down on the scale as I tried to talk business and get the two of them under control. Soon it was our turn with the doctor. When we were ushered into the exam room, things quickly took an upsetting turn.
(I’m going to detail this conversation simply with the words that passed between the doctor and me. This doesn’t adequately paint the picture, however. As this conversation took place, Ichabod was howling and trying to escape. Carter, delighted with Ichabod’s loud noises and frenzied movements egged him on by squealing, jumping up and down, and trying to open the door to release him, and the conversation was frequently halted by my ineffectual attempts to bring order to my wayward children. Please bear all that in mind as you read the following words.)
“I see a note here that there is some concern about anesthesia,” the doctor began. This is the vet we usually saw, not the lady from a couple weeks before.
“Yes,” I began. “That’s why I made the appointment a few weeks ago. I wanted to make sure this was understood and also to check on his heart murmur. I have an e-mail from the other vet which explains the meds used on him last time.”
Without looking at it, he took the paper from me and went on. “Before we get into that, I see that we recommended heart pills back in September, but I see no record that we ever wrote a prescription. I’m really concerned that he hasn’t been taking this medicine.”
I was shocked. What kind of a scattered place was this? “When we were here two weeks ago I had the same conversation with the other vet. I assured her that I do have a prescription and he’s been taking his meds. He took them this morning. She said she was going to update his file to indicate this.”
“Well, she didn’t. It’s upsetting to me that we seemed to have dropped the ball here. If you think about it, maybe check the label and call to let us know which doctor prescribed the medicine. It should have been noted in this chart but wasn’t. (When i arrived home, out of curiosity I checked the medicine label. THE SAME DOCTOR WHO MADE THESE HEAVY-HANDED STATEMENTS WAS THE ONE LISTED ON THE LABEL. I never called back.)
Finally he turned his attention to the e-mail I’d given him. “This is pretty standard; this is what we use.” Glancing up from his paper; looking me in the eye he said, “I didn’t know until this morning that there was a previous reaction to anesthesia. If that happened five years ago when he was younger, thinner and healthier…to be honest, I’m not sure he would survive being put under as he is today.”
Shock and anger raged through me. Finding my voice I said, “I had the same concerns. This is exactly why I made the appointment two weeks ago, and on that day, my concerns were belittled as trivial. And now you’re telling me that if I’d not arrived with this paper this and called your attention to this AGAIN……or if someone else had checked us in that Ichabod wouldn’t have survived the operation?!”
Sidestepping the concerns I’d raised over the competency of his clinic, he got down on his haunches and inspected Ichabod’s teeth, confirming that the cleaning was necessary. He prescribed a dental enzyme cleaner, suggested Ichabod lose 20 pounds (which would make him thinner than he’s been since his days as a puppy) before scheduling the surgery at the end of summer at an office with more sophisticated surgical methods. All the while, Ichabod was crying piteously and trying to burrow out of the room. Glancing down at him I said, “Ichabod, you’re getting your wish. You’re coming home with us.”
I was so angry. I walked to the desk to pick up the medicine and the receptionist began to ask for payment for the consultation. I gave myself a moment to ensure I wasn’t about to lose my temper. As I stood collecting myself to politely inform her that I’d paid for a useless consultation visit two weeks ago and had no intention of paying for one today, the vet rushed over and whispered that there would be no charge. That was for the best because I’m fairly certain that situation was headed for an ugly turn.
The three of us left the office, and I buckled Carter into his seat before settling behind the wheel with Ichabod at my side. In the privacy of my car, looking over at the dog who’d been my best friend for more than a decade, the realization of what I’d almost lost hit me like a punch to the gut. Sometimes I think I focus too much on details, but the truth was, that if I’d simply taken the vet at her word, and not taken it upon myself to keep digging into this, I would have most likely lost him that morning.
Tears; tears of anger, frustration, and relief burst from me. I leaned over and hugged my old friend. Then, together, we headed for home.