It all started at 6:30 AM on Thursday, when the alarm went off to wake us up to go to the airport. Actually, it started before that, about six weeks ago, when my job was making me crazy and I was yelling "I need a fucking vacation!" at the top of my lungs every 30 minutes or so. After some discussion and exploration of ticket prices and possibilities, Mark and I decided to take a long weekend vacation in Boston in early July. Some of our favorite people in the world happen to live there, so it seemed a good idea. The tickets were ridiculously expensive, but we decided to do it anyway. Fast forward back to the alarm Thursday morning. We got up and got to the airport alright, and our plane from Austin to Dallas only left about 30 minutes late, which was close enough to on-schedule that we didn't have any connection worries. So far, so good.
Right after we landed in Dallas, the weather turned to shit. Thunder and lightening meant that no planes were going out or coming in. Knowing we'd be delayed, we decided to have breakfast at the airport T.G.I. Friday's. Yeah, I know, bad idea. But what really turned me off was not the absolute disgusting nature of the food, but the TV. Bombs in London. Tens of people already confirmed dead, hundreds injured, and nothing but ridiculously macho statements from the relevant politicians. Shit. Bad things were happening.
As the lightening seemed to be subsiding, Mark walked over to our gate to see how delayed our flight, originally supposed to take of at 10:45, was going to be. Just as he stepped up the counter, the gate agent got on the intercom and announced that the flight had been cancelled. Since Mark was first in line, we got seats on the next Boston flight, due to take off at 12:05. Good stuff.
But not so much. After being shut down for over an hour, the airport was backed up. Our gate was backed up, flight crews weren't arriving when they were supposed to, and it was delay after delay. Our second flight, originally supposed to leave at 12:05, finally started boarding at 5:15. Because the airport was so crowded, there were no chairs to be had and we spent the waiting time either standing or sitting on the concrete floor. My legs began to swell.
And then things got a lot worse.
As we were boarding the plane (finally!), Mark noticed a message on his phone. When he listened to it, the look of horror on his face told me it was something serious. It was the kennel. Chance had been taken to the vet. He had bloat.
I didn't know much about bloat (do now...), but I knew it was life threatening. I started shaking as Mark called the kennel back to get the full story. He had bloated, but they got him to the vet and got it stopped before his stomach turned. This is very good. He seems like he is doing OK now, they have him separated from the rest of the dogs and are watching him carefully. No, we don't need to get off the plane and come home. The plane door was closing as we decided that they knew better than us and that we would go ahead with our planned trip to Boston. We call our friend S. and ask her to go and check on Chance, and she says she will.
Fast forward four flight hours, and we land in Boston at about 10:00. We are thrilled to see our friends M. and H. are at the gate to meet us (they let you do that in Boston--how cool is that?). We call S. and she tells us that she saw Chance and he seems bummed out, but OK. We relax a bit. H. has brought her car so we don't have to take the T--looks like our shitty day is finally changing. We go to their house, where our other friend, also H., is waiting with fresh-baked cookies. We relax, have some food, sit around and talk. It seems like things are going to be OK.
As we get ready to go to bed at about 12:30, Mark notices another phone message. He checks it. Chance has bloated again and been rushed to emergency surgery. His stomach has turned this time. Mark calls the vet and is connected with the surgeon. The news isn't good--a large part of his stomach was choked off with no blood supply and is now black and necrotic. They are going t have to remove it. When the surgery is this intense and large parts of stomach have to be removed, the procedure is about 50% successful. What does not successful mean? It means he will die. Mark is sobbing as he hangs up the phone and tries to tell me what the vet said. I can't believe this s happening. I can't believe we stayed on that plane in Dallas and our boy is going through this alone.
I get on the phone to American Airlines and change our flights back. We are headed home at 7:00 AM. It's now 1:30. We wait for the surgeon to call back. We are both inconsolable, but H. and M. do their best and are, as usual, amazing. They make plans for a taxi to take us to the airport at 5. They even pay for it.
About 2:30, the surgeon calls back. The news is better. After they got the stomach untwisted, blood flow returned to the areas they thought were necrotic and color returned with it. They may be OK. After attaching some stomach to abdominal wall, which will help to ensure the bloat doesn't reoccur, they closed up without removing anything. This is better than expected, but it doesn't mean Chance is out of the woods. Besides the general risks of any surgery (which are greater in dogs than in people), we also have to worry about possible infection, especially if there was more damage to the stomach than they thought. If there are signs of this, they will have to go back in and do the removal, which will seriously diminish chances of survival. There is also the possibility of sudden heart failure, spurred by the toxins built up in the body while the stomach was twisted. There are lots of things that can go wrong. We need to get home as soon as we can to see him, because it's still very possible he could die.
At 5, we leave for the airport. Logan is a nightmare. The changes I made to our reservation last night are fucked up somehow and we have to stand in multiple lines to get things straightened out. We make our plane on time, however, and by 10:15 we are back in Dallas.
Dallas is a shorter repeat of the day before--our first flight is cancelled, but we are lucky enough to get tickets on the next plane. At 2:30, we are back in Austin. By 3:30, we are at the emergency clinic and can see our boy.
He looks rough, but not as bad as we thought he would. His belly is shaved and there is some leakage from his suture, so he's wearing a big bandage around his middle. He's hooked to an IV and is getting fluids, antibiotics, and morphine. He's hooked to a heart monitor because his heart is arrythmic. This is normal, we're told, and not yet cause for concern. He won't eat or drink, but that's not surprising. He's happy to see us and wags his tail. We sit and pet him for a few minutes, then he gets a booster shot of morphine. A few minutes later his eyes get glassy and he's drooling. Time to put him back in his kennel for more sleep. The vet who is caring for him is in surgery, but the tech tells us that he's doing as well as can be expected and that no news is good news--they will call us only if something bad changes, otherwise we can come seem him at 9:30 in the morning, and the vet will talk to us then.
We spend the evening worrying and attempting decompression. We get some food. We jump out of our skins every time either of our phones ring, but there is no bad news. The doctor who performed the surgery (a different doctor at a different clinic than the post-op) calls to check on him. The kennel owner calls to check on him. Our friends call. Our families call. The post-op clinic blessedly does not call. At 10PM I feel sure enough that my phone won't ring that I get in the shower. I either black out or fall asleep rinsing my hair and fall out of the shower, but I'm not hurt. After turning our phone ringers up all the way, we go to bed and both sleep like the dead.
This morning we get up and go immediately to visit Chance. Before we see him, the vet comes out to talk to us. She's amazing and I am immediately at ease. She is also very positive. She says he's eating, his heart arrythmias have died down enough that she's comfortable removing him from the ECG, and she has changed him to all oral meds. Once they stopped trying to give him the nasty prescription food and offered him some regular dry kibble, he even started to eat. This is an excellent sign. While he is still not out of the woods, things look much better. We are close to 36 hours post-surgery now, and she says that generally if anything bad is going to happen, it will happen in the first 72 hours.
Then we get to see him. It's better than yesterday, because he isn't hooked up to anything and can come to an exam room and sit with us privately, rather than us having to sit next to his kennel in the open room of recovering and invalid animals. He is so happy to see us he does his usual butt wiggle. His bandage is off, so we can see how bad his incision is, and it's bad. They split all the way from his chest to his genitals, and it is closed with metal staples. His stomach is shaved and there are shaved patches on both his sides where his heart monitor electrodes were. His capped off IV tubes are still attached to his leg. But bad as he looks, he seems like himself. He sniffs all around the exam room and then comes to us to be petted. After a few minutes, he lies down on the exam room floor and goes to sleep, lifting his head periodically to make sure we're still with him, then resting some more. This time, we can stay for about an hour and a half, so we do.
The tech who is helping us is fantastic. He tell us that the sleeping is very normal, both because of the drugs and because of the stressful environment. It's good for him to have us near and feel safe so he can get some rest. He is also obviously fond of our boy. He says they did muzzle him while they were removing the bandage and taking his temperature, because he growled at them, but goes on to say that he doens't think Chance is at all mean, he's just scared, and you can't blame him for that.
We leave feeling better than we have in days.
It is now 9:00 PM and we haven't heard anything, which is good. There are no visiting hours tomorrow, unfortunately, but the vet's assistant comes in and does rounds, and there is always someone there to watch the animals. We are to expect an update phone call tomorrow morning, and then, if everything continues to go this well, we will be able to bring him home on Monday.
Home care is going to be fairly simple--he just has to be kept down and not run or jump or get too excited until the sutures are removed (about two weeks). I'm sure he'll need meds for a while, as there has to be some pretty significant pain and he'll need a full course of antibiotics to fight off infection. We will need to watch him closely, but it is very likely that he will make a full recovery.
These have quite possibly been the most stressful three days of my life. As I've been saying a lot lately, this dog is part of my family and I love him very, very much. I cannot fathom losing him, and I particularly couldn't fathom losing him without even being there to be with him and to say goodbye. I feel horrible that this happened while we were gone, and that we didn't turn back when we originally go the call. It has to be said, though, that we were lucky this happened when it did, as the kennel staff did an absolutely excellent job monitoring him and getting him excellent care as soon as he needed it. It's quite likely they saved his life.
It's also quite likely that I will never attempt to go on vacation again.