written by Patrick Schiek

“Oh my God, what is this?”  I doubt I’ll ever forget my wife Amy’s words, and as I turned around, what I saw next. What I saw next looked like something from a horror movie and certainly nothing I would have thought I would have ever associated with one of my beloved dogs. 

What I saw was a pool of blood amassing at my dog, Caoimhe’s, back end.  I already knew we had a sick dog on our hands. I had just gotten back from an inconclusive afternoon trip to the Emergency Vet. It was Saturday, August 8. Our regular vet wasn’t open. Earlier that morning Caoimhe had a pretty bad bout of diarrhea.  She was acting normal and we even went on our regular walk. But after throwing up her mid day meal, Amy & I were worried something else may be wrong. 

When I got to the clinic, they had several questions for me:

  • What medications was Caoimhe on?
  • What kind of food does she eat?
  • Are her vaccinations up to date?
  • What do we use for flea and tick prevention?
  • What do we use for heart worm prevention?
  • Had Caoimhe gotten Into something that could have made her ill?
  • Had her food changed recently?
  • Could she have gotten into the garbage and eaten something?

I wasn’t prepared for some of these questions. I should have been. Any of you that know Amy & I, know that Amy is the straw that stirs the drink in our household. I’d be lost without her. She handles so many more things than I do.  I’m just a washed up old sales guy trying to not get in the way and screw things up.  I should have been better prepared. 

The afternoon vet visit was inconclusive. She had a normal set of vitals in the physical assessment she had. She was administered more than one sedative so that they were able to X-ray her, trying to rule out an obstruction. The results of the x-ray showed potentially a minor obstruction in her small intestine. We were instructed to go home, no food or water, and come back the next day at 10am for more x-rays to see if the potential obstruction moved into her colon. 

Satisfied for the moment, Caoimhe & I headed home. Boy – were things about to change, for the worse. On the ride home I noticed Caoimhe was more than just a little “out of it”.  On our ride home I started smelling gas and thought “maybe this is a good sign that she has some movement in her colon?”  I was wrong. When I parked the truck in the driveway (approximately 4:50pm) I had to come around to the passenger side to lift her out. Upon opening the door I learned it wasn’t gas that I was smelling but rather diarrhea, and it was all down the side of the passenger seat, even into the window wells on the passenger door. (Beyond gross – I know).  

I got Caoimhe settled in the mud room of our house and went out to my truck with a roll of paper towels to begin cleaning up the truck. I was going back and forth between the truck and checking on her.  Amy got home from work about 5:20pm and we were both trying to get Caoimhe better settled in the mud room. I noticed that her breathing was really labored. I went into the kitchen to do something while Amy was in the mud room – that was when I heard Amy utter those now infamous words (“Oh my God, what is this?”) It was 5:30pm. We hadn’t even been home for an hour. Things were very, very serious at this point. 

Amy’s next question was “who do we call now?”  I said “we are headed to Bridge Street” which is the 24 hour Emergency Animal Clinic closest to us (about a 35 minute drive).   We live in a somewhat rural area. What that means is driving some two lane roads where the going can be slow, so the drive was a bit of a white knuckle drive, with an added element of terror of the low fuel light coming on. 

On the drive in, I called an old friend who I worked with for years in medical sales. It just so happens that his wife is the lead physician and owner of the Bridge Street clinic. She was so kind and tried to reassure us that despite the massive loss of blood we were witnessing and experiencing, she was confident Caoimhe wouldn’t bleed out before we could get there. 

When we got to the clinic (6:20pm) of course COVID protocols were in place. (Stay in your car, call the clinic, mask up, and someone will come out to meet you.). Soon a vet tech came out and started taking some initial information. She had a leash with her and when she was ready for Caoimhe, I said “ma’am, this dog can’t walk – you will need to get s stretcher.”  She went and got a stretcher and said she needed help getting Caoimhe to the stretcher. She grabbed the front of Caoimhe and I grabbed her back end. As we were carrying her to the stretcher, blood was shooting out of her back end – on the ground, on my arms, legs, and shoes. It was such a desperate experience and feeling. 

Caoimhe appeared to be in shock to me.  I was so anxious to have her get in the clinic and start getting treatment that I didn’t pet her, kiss her, or reassure her that things would be ok. (Something I would later cry about on Sunday morning). How could I not have reassured my beloved friend in such a desperate moment?

Now we could do nothing but wait in the parking lot of the clinic with a car increasingly low on gas. 

I can’t remember how long it was, but the doctor treating her called us. Here is where some of the lessons start. The doctor immediately conveyed to us that Caoimhe was in critical condition. She was extremely ill and she was in shock, and I did not find our conversation to have very much hope at all. 

The doctor began asking us questions:

  • What did the clinic I took her to earlier in the day say?
  • What medicines did they administer to her?
  • What instructions had they given me?
  • Did we use pesticides in or around our house?
  • Was it possible that she had eaten a dead animal?
  • They also asked me all the same questions the other clinic had asked me earlier that day. 

Much of that information was on the discharge paperwork I had received earlier in the day. I had grabbed it — I thought I had anyway — but wasn’t in the car. I was gutted. The doctor needed this information urgently in order to treat Caoimhe effectively and now I couldn’t provide it in a timely fashion. We had to call one of our beloved employees who has a key to our house and ask her to go over to our house, find the paperwork, take a picture of it, and text it to us so we could get it to the doctor. 

Once we got that information to the doctor, there wasn’t much more we could do from that parking lot, so we decided to find a gas station to fill the car up and head home. We drove mostly in silence, each of us trying to hold it together. We both prayed all the way home. We thought we should get something to eat, so I ordered a pizza to pick up on the way home.  (For the record, we each ate a half a slice and put the rest in the fridge – we had no appetite.)

We got in the door (8:15pm) and almost instantly fell into each others arms, sobbing. I don’t think I’ve ever cried that hard in my life and I’m not sure Amy had either. I was gasping for air, I was crying so hard. A little after 9:00pm the doctor called. She had some initial news. Not much had changed. Caoimhe was still in very grave danger. But she already had a sense of about what could be going on. There were about seven possibilities: 

  • There was an issue with Caoimhe’s bilirubin levels. That could be a problem. 
  • She said it could potentially be something called HGE Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis – I had never heard of such a thing.
  • It could be a form of colitis
  • She could have an issue with her kidneys 
  • There could be a problem with her liver
  • There could be a problem with her gall bladder
  • Anaphylaxis shock could be the problem (not likely though)
  • This could be the result of an immune dysfunction (again – not likely)

In addition to this the doctor said they had detected a heart arrhythmia on Caoimhe. This was not something that had ever been diagnosed before, and the thought was that this sudden onset of severe HGE may have caused it. The doctor said that she was stabilizing Caoimhe and that she would call us during the night if her condition worsened. I immediately started Googling these different causes and quickly HGE seemed plausible to me based upon what I had witnessed earlier in the day and in the afternoon. Amy & I spent the night laying in bed. Not sleeping. Constantly looking at the phone to make sure we hadn’t missed a call. Googling these symptoms. It was a long night. 

The next morning, the internist called around 9:45 with an update. Caoimhe was more stable.  Most importantly a diagnosis.  We were dealing with a severe case of HGE. Caoimhe wouldn’t eat anything. However she had rolled over onto her back looking for a belly rub. (Thats more like our girl! A ray of hope!) We had to make a decision about a course of treatment. The doctor did an excellent job of laying out our two options. We needed five minutes to talk amongst ourselves, made our decision and called the doctor back.  

She promised us an update later in the day. Around 5pm the internist called back and had some good news. Caoimhe had wolfed down some food (good sign) and the blood work they had done was showing how the treatments were working. She was improving!!!! The plan again called for the doctor to call us overnight if her condition worsened. We felt better. Exhausted from stress and a lack of sleep, but, better. We both slept Sunday night.  

Monday brought more good news and by 7pm, Caoimhe had improved enough to be discharged. HOORAY!  She has long way to go in recovery. She is comfortable on her cushy dog bed and it is great to have her home and to be able to shower her with love. She had an echocardiogram on Thursday and it does appear that her heart has been affected by this trauma. Whether that is short term or long term remains to be seen. She will need further tests and potentially treatment. We have a ways to go, but, I am confident we will have a full recovery for Ms Wigglebutt!

I learned some lessons as a result of all of this:

  • Have a “go folder” for each of your pets. In case of emergency, have it filled with recent summaries of veterinary visits. They often have most of the information you will be asked in case of emergency. Put it somewhere obvious so that even in a time of panic, you’ll have a good chance of remembering it. 
  • Have these key phone numbers and addresses programmed into your phone: Your veterinarian & the closest 24-hour emergency veterinary hospital. 
  • In the folder keep a list of medications, supplements, and what food and treats you feed your pets. 
  • Always keep a reasonable amount of gas in your car. 
  • Now more than ever – life is short – play with your dog.