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Poker Face

Poker Face

By Bill Stork, DVM

Young couples of today are less interested in traditional marriage, McMansions, and his-n-hers Lexus SUVs. It's frightening to think they have graduated, taken jobs, and co-habitated since I pulled my first calf in veterinary practice. They are born with tattoos and big beards, are deeply concerned about the world, the environment, and they love their pets. This generation (not to be referred to as Millennials) looking to adopt their first “fur babies” comes armed with Smart Phones like a third appendage. They access web-sites, blog posts, and Twitter streams on housetraining, proper socialization, and the most holistic, all-natural-organic-locally-sourced-gluten-gmo-grain-free-range pet food that Costco, Petco, or Blodgett’s has on the shelf. By the time the litter of pups has weaned or the Paddy’s Paws transport has left Houston, they’ve shared ultrasound images and I-phone video with everybody from Wanda in I.T. to the Helpful Hardware Man.

As veterinarians, we try and capture the energy; the first days in a new environment are crucial. We schedule the new-pet visits for at least 40 minutes (3 days if our behaviourist, Mittsy, is involved). We talk breed and lifestyle-dependent vaccine recommendations, parasite prevention, spay-neuter (gonadectomy) options, and nutrition. Our puppy and kitten information packages include our well-researched recommendations for groomers, boarding, and daycare services.

A nauseated dog will wait until 10 minutes after we have closed to commence vomiting, and a squirrel-crazed Pointer won’t run into the trailer hitch on the F-150, until just before the 10:00 news. So we include directions and telephone numbers for Veterinary Emergency Services. For the technology-averse client, or in the event Dr. Google should crash, the packet also includes a pamphlet listing normal respiratory rates and instructions on capillary refill time, in order to objectively tell medical shock from hyper-observation syndrome. If Madison the Goldendoodle is feeling down and droopy, then body temperature is a crucial metric in order to tell exhausted puppy syndrome from respiratory disease. We recommend that owners designate a properly marked sacrificial rectal thermometer, and spend the extra $7.50 to get the 6-second digital model.

I’ve made 9-1-1 runs to the clinic for Retrievers who woke up with the midnight munchies and found everything from birth control pills to anti-depressants. In separate incidents, as the former would suggest the latter less necessary.

On a spectacular spring afternoon I was mowing and, somewhat ironically, weeding, at the clinic. I watched as a moderately ataxic German Shepherd emerged from Tyranena Park and tacked his way through Mo’s parking lot and the neighbor’s vegetable garden like a Hobie Cat in a light breeze. He was followed in due time by a young couple whose ambulation was similar.

More curious than concerned, the young man remarked, “Hey, vet dude, I think somethin’s wrong with our dog”.

I had generated a short list of differential diagnoses, when a topless Jeep drove past, blaring The Grateful Dead. On cue, all three commenced the Kokopelli groove in the middle of the blacktop. I prescribed fish tacos, a tube of Pringles and a nap.*

(*Actually, marijuana toxicity is a serious problem, requiring immediate medical attention if it happens to your pet. But, it's not as amusing as described in the fashion above.)

Opposite the page on Skunk Recipe (signs are awful smell and burning of the nose) is a list of common household toxins. Most folks are keen to the dangers of chocolate, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, grapes, raisins, onions, most things sugar-free, and Fox Morning News.

In the wake of a recent experience I would add to the list: “diet” pills.

Benny is one of our favorite clients, his allegiance to a rival football team whose mascot bears the likeness of the former governor and a Northern European Warrior notwithstanding. So deep is his misguided allegiance, there was only one possible name when he adopted a most delightful Golden Retriever, regardless of gender. At his eight week exam, Fran was as cute as a calendar. Before his first birthday, Fran’s boundless energy and indiscriminate appetite had earned him nearly as much notoriety as his namesake Hall of Fame quarterback.

We have tried on occasion to render our staff behaviorist speechless; efforts that have proven futile. She had advised Benny to turn his back and bring his hands to his chest in greeting Fran after a day’s work, solid advice that works 99% of the time to discourage dogs from jumping on people. Not to be ignored, Fran would leap onto Benny’s head like a 60-pound yellow coonskin cap, and lick his nose.

As rare as a silent Mittsy, even Dr. Clark agreed this was no dog to delay his neuter.

The maple benches in our exam rooms are built by John Spaude like an Amish Pole Barn, and wide enough for a family of four, or Benny. Most days we’d start our visit with a meaty handshake and a volley of football banter. I had withheld the reference to a Boy Named Sue until such a time as we’d found a strategy to keep Fran bound to the ground.

Today was different. In the face of three phone lines and a waiting room like a Haack family reunion, Claire directed traffic like Aaron Rodgers against a safety blitz. I emerged from Exam Room 2, laughing and bidding Karen Hayes and Trooper a Merry Christmas. The holiday spirit was extinguished in a heartbeat as Claire squared up and handed me chart 3006, “We have a walk-in emergency. Benny thinks Fran may have gotten into something."

Her calm tone was that of a maître d at L’Etoile, but her posture spoke loudly and clearly her compassion and perceived urgency.

Benny was projectile sweating and fidgeting on the bench like Suzy Favor Hamilton. He handed Kelly a shredded wad of foil-backed packaging, "Uh, I have no idea where he found these; I think they’re some kind of diet pills”.

After he’s greeted Benny, most days Fran moves just a bit faster than the hound dog on Hee Haw. Today his physical exam was like reading a serial number on a Tilt-a-Whirl, as he bounced around the room like Robin Williams on Red Bull. His heart was beating fast as a hummingbird, his breathing like the little engine that could, and his pupils were maximum dilated. His temperature was nearing 106F.

Without a word Kelly had started to assemble the scraps of wrapper Benny had pulled from his pocket like a slobber-soaked jigsaw puzzle.

In the moment, I was more concerned with maintaining perfusion of his kidneys, preventing a fatal cardiac arrhythmia, and seizures, than what kind of pills he had swallowed. I drew up enough sedative to slow a Missouri Mule, bear-hugged him, and Megan pushed 1.5cc into his hamstring.

With the constitution of Belushi, he took several mLs of hydrogen peroxide, and a half-tablet of apomorphine in his conjunctival sac, to evacuate the evil. In ten minutes, a half-dozen melted grey-green capsules, the carcass of a Conrad Sentry rotisserie chicken, and the missing pieces of the wrapper puzzle formed a fetid chartreuse and orange mound on the kennel floor.

Once we were convinced his stomach was evacuated, and Fran slowed enough that I could wrap his chest and cradle his head, I presented Megan with his right front leg. She clipped, scrubbed and set a 20-gauge catheter in a single motion. With the help of an intravenous opiate and benzodiazepine cocktail, he sank to the floor. Within seconds, the technicians were tracking his EKG, blood pressure, and oxygen perfusion.

In twenty minutes more painful than a round of golf, Kaley handed me the pink lab reports, confirming his CBC, organ panel, and electrolytes were all normal. There would be no permanent damage.

Meanwhile, Kelly had fished the scraps of paper from the pile of bile. The consummate professional, she discreetly rotated the laptop monitor. While some had made its way past the pylorus, she could clearly match the label to the image online.

As it turns out, the mysterious medication that rogue vandals had snuck into Benny’s medicine cabinet while he was at work were not so much for weight loss, but more of a gender-specific, “performance enhancing drug”.

No, he was not hoping to ride like Lance.

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