Good news: Willie is back home from 4 days at the emergency clinic. We are happier to have him home than words can express.
Bad news: Early Tuesday afternoon I returned home to find Willie vomiting violently (that’s the only way I can describe it) and barely able to walk. I rushed him to my vet, Dr. John Dally, who did an Xray, found nothing and agreed that this is urgent. He directed us to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Middleton, about an hour away. Thus began a 24-hour nightmare of tests and IV support for an increasingly weak dog. The first ultrasound reading and test results showed no sign of an obstruction or pancreatitis. One vet suggested lymphoma based on the view of the liver. An expert oncologist reviewed the results later that night and saw no sign of that, but still had no idea what was wrong. Willie spent the night on an IV. We spent the night sick with worry.
The next morning Willie seemed perhaps 5% better, but as the morning wore on and the mystery continued his condition degraded. He could no longer walk without collapsing. He held his head so low it almost touched the ground. He had another ultrasound. More tests. Nothing except a slightly elevated ALT, a liver enzyme often associated with vomiting and GI distress. Things got downright scary, as if they hadn’t been already. There were discussions about sending him to critical care or getting an MRI. Finally, Dr. Alicia Sibly and I sat down on the floor with Willie and talked and talked and talked about what could possibly be wrong. I wondered yet again if there wasn’t an obstruction, and Dr. Alicia began a thorough palpation, during which she got a reaction from him when she pressed on his upper abdomen. (He merely turned his head and looked at her, but it was a direct look right into her eyes and it was clear to both of us that he was communicating something important.) That important discovery led to a third (fourth? I lost track) ultrasound and the finding that he had a large amount of fluid in the duodenum as if there was an obstruction. He went into surgery Wednesday afternoon.
Good news: No actual object of obstruction was found, but surgeon Dr. Harpreet Singh found an enlarged, red and angry gall bladder and some weird tissue on one lobe of the liver that was described as an abscess for lack of a better word (description: “It looked like old cat food.”). Needless to say, both were removed.
Bad news: Hiding under the gall bladder was a mass on another lobe of the liver. Eventually about one third of Willie’s liver was removed because so much of it was necrotic. (He has plenty left, no problem there. Discussion have ensued about how Willie got such a bad case of hepatitis. Drug pushing Border Collies behind the barn at sheepdog trials using dirty needles?) We got the results biopsy two days later: Carcinoma.
Great news: Drs. Singh and Kai Shui (one of the state’s leading oncologists) say it was a very slow growing cancer, which was completely removed and there is no reason to do chemotherapy. Glory hallelujah! (I don’t yet have the details on the exact type of carcinoma, the written diagnostic report was garbled on the pdf I received. I’ll learn more as the dust settles.) Although the margins around the tumor weren’t as large as would be ideal, it was completely excised and Willie should be fine without chemo.
Bad news: Of course, the fact is that Willie just had major surgery, and he isn’t exactly feeling perky. He is quiet and subdued. My guess is that it’s a combination of factors, from a massive abdominal surgery, to the effects of anesthesia, to possible side effects of pain meds, to depression over yet again being leash restricted. I say the last because a few years ago Willie strained his iliopsoas, was leash restrained for awhile, and walked around like a teenager with his iPhone taken away. Remember that years ago he was on leash restriction for over a year of his life, and I don’t think he has ever forgotten that.
BEST NEWS: Jim and I are overwhelmed with gratitude for the care that Willie has received. Willie’s primary veterinary, Dr. John Dally, has been a bastion of support. A special and heart-felt shout out to Dr. Carrie Donahue, who responded instantly to Willie’s crisis and came to the clinic to do acupuncture to help prep Willie for surgery, and then worked miracles the morning after his surgery with acupuncture designed to support his GI tract, his liver and kidneys. Anyone who doubts the power of acupuncture should have been there when she put in one tiny needle to encourage his appetite (he had refused cooked chicken moments before). One needle, in for five seconds, and Willie began snarfing down food as if he was starving. (If anyone knows of how one can accomplish the reverse, please let me know.)
And how great was everyone at the VES to support Dr. Donahue coming in as a team member? Overall, there were so many people who helped in this crisis, and we count ourselves lucky to have worked with Drs. Tristan Daugherty-Leiter, Alicia Sibly, Kai Shiu, Josh Smith, Harpreet Singh. And more, I’m sure. Not to mention a raft of skilled and supportive Veterinary Technicians (hugs to Amy M!) who did all they could to help me and Willie be together while at the same time getting him the treatment he needed.
Next: Lots of time at home. (Thank god this didn’t happen when I was out of town.) Either Jim or I will be full-time with Willie for a least 8-9 days to be sure he doesn’t lick/chew on his incision, which I want to say is at least three feet long, but uh, is actually just the length of his belly. (I won’t put an Elizabethan collar on Willie, I think I hate them as much as he does. I have an inflatable collar we can use if need be, but I’ve been lucky and always able to discourage dogs from licking an incision with distractions and positive reinforcement.) Today we’ll start leash walks of gradually increasing length. In a week or so I’ll begin to let him trot short periods of time. Around then I can stop sleeping on an inflatable mattress beside his crate and let him come up the stairs to all of our usual beds.
Meanwhile, we could all use a little less drama in our lives right now. Thank heaven for Netflix; there will be binge watching. There already have been martinis. More predicted.
Last, but never least: To Mr. Willie, my Silly Willie Billie Boy. My god I love you. Please refrain from doing this again.
From left: Dr. Carrie Donahue, Dr. Alicia Sibly, Willie in full medical regala and finally, Willie home, rocking a purple tank top to protect the hole in his abdomen for the drain (now removed) and his incision. (Apologies for poor photo quality and probable typos. Other things on my mind….)