I started getting the boys ready to go to School of Rock at about 4:30 PM. I made them each a sandwich to take with them and eat for dinner whenever they got hungry during the three-hour rehearsal. I ripped off a piece of turkey, handed it to Dylan and said, "Here, give this to Valentino before he has a coronary." Valentino is our little Pomeranian who can smell lunchmeat from two rooms away. He jumped and spun in circles as Dylan drew nearer, prize in hand. When the delicious treat was finally within his reach, Valentino grabbed it from Dylan's fingers and swallowed it in one gulp.
And then the noise started.
Little dogs will often snort when they get overly excited, but this sound was different. It was more like a gasp. Valentino's panting seemed labored and he was exhaling very loudly. "Is he ok?" Jimmi asked from his position on the couch. "I don't know," I said as I wrapped up the last sandwich and walked over to evaluate my dog. He didn't sound good and I knew I needed to do something. "I think he's choking," I said as calmly as I could in order to keep the boys from panicking. But how would I keep myself from panicking? Here's what I knew at that moment: my dog needed help, our veterinarian's office is 40 minutes away, the boys needed to get to School of Rock in the next half an hour, Jimmi was couch-ridden so I had to do it all myself. And then I remembered something that I thought would solve everything, "There's an emergency veterinary clinic in the same plaza as School of Rock! It's closer than our vet and I have to go there anyway!" Justin grabbed his drum sticks, Dylan grabbed his guitar, I grabbed my dog and out the door we went. It was rush hour but, luckily, I take mostly backroads to get to School of Rock. And, on that day, so did the slowest man on the planet who, of course, was driving in front of me. "Move!" I screamed impatiently as I listened to my dog's stressed panting. I rubbed his head with one hand and kept the other on the steering wheel. I pretended to be confident that Valentino would be just fine for the boys but, in my head, I was thinking, please don't die. Please don't die! The sounds coming out of my puppy with every breath forced my foot to step on the gas a little harder and I knew I was going 15 miles over the speed limit but, at that moment, I didn't care. My dog was going to die.
As we drove up to the clinic I said to the boys, "I'm gonna run Valentino in first. Wait in the car and I'll be right out." I didn't want them to come inside in case the veterinarian couldn't save my fur baby. They nodded and I saw the fear in their eyes. "He'll be fine!" I lied. "We got here in time!" Oh, please let him be fine! I took the 9 lb. fluff ball in my arms and ran to the door, which I swung open hastily. Why is it dark in here? I thought as I tugged on the second door. It was locked. "No. No!" I screamed out loud. Then I saw a bell. I rang it frantically and, thank GOD, a technician came out of the back and opened the door for me. "My dog is choking!" I blurted out. She calmly looked down at Valentino, who was panting so painfully I couldn't bear to watch him. The tech looked back at me and said, "We don't have a doctor on staff right now. Sorry." My brain couldn't register what she'd just told me. "What?" I asked. "There's no one here," she told me, without any concern for the dying dog in my arms. "Why not?" I begged. "We're not open yet," she explained, as if it were the most obvious answer in the world. "But you're an emergency clinic!" She nodded, "Yeah, but we're only open after normal hours, from eight PM to eight AM."
"But my dog needs help NOW!" She looked down at him again, shrugged and said, "His color is fine so he's obviously getting air. You can bring him to Fairfield. I know they're open."
"Fairfield is forty-five minutes away when it's NOT rush hour! He doesn't have that long!" She stared at me with heartless eyes and suggested, "There's a place ten minutes up the road that's open." I quickly asked for the information, ran back to my car, told the kids I needed to run, dropped them at their rehearsal and screeched out of the parking lot. "Hang on, Tino," I said. "Just a few more minutes." And I couldn't hold back the tears I'd been suppressing for the kids' sake any longer. The sobbing started and I began to shake. I called my mom and told her the whole story. "Did you call the other place to make sure they're open?" I hadn't even thought of that. I figured the technician knew what she was talking about. "Call them and let them know you're on your way," my mom insisted. I did as I was told.
"Veterinary Clinic, may I help you?"
"Yes, my dog is choking and the emergency clinic told me to bring him to you. I'll be there in three minutes."
"What? Well, I don't even think I have a doctor on staff anymore. They're all gone."
Are you KIDDING me?
"She told me to bring him to you! He needs help!"
"Hold on a minute, I'll check."
She's taking too long. Hang on, Tino. Hang on.
"Yeah, the last doctor is just pulling out of the parking lot."
"Can you stop him?"
"No, I can't do that."
"I'm thirty seconds away!"
"Sorry. Bring him to Fairfield."
Now I was panicking. I started to hyperventilate. Then I did what I should've done in the first place and called my own veterinarian. The one we've used since I was 10 years old. The one who had saved the lives of numerous cats and dogs I've owned over the years. "Don't worry, Tino. Dr. J will fix you. She loves all the dogs and cats and she'll help you. You're gonna be fine!" You can call me crazy but I knew Valentino understood me. Maybe not the exact words I was saying, but he knew I was trying to help him and he knew I wouldn't stop until I found someone who would save him.
"Hello, Dr. J's office," said the familiar voice.
"It's Suzanne Kane! Valentino's choking! I'm bringing him down now!"
He was calm as he asked, "How long has he been choking and what is he choking on?"
"Turkey," I answered, "and it's been about thirty-five minutes now. I kept trying to find someone closer to my house but no one will help him!"
"Bring him here. Relax. We'll wait for you."
Rush hour was unforgiving as I crept along the main road that leads to the town where I grew up and my parents still reside. "Just a few more minutes," I said to my dog, whose tongue was starting to turn a scary shade of purple. I gently stroked his head to let him feel my love, just in case it was the last thing he'd ever feel. I knew he was scared and I couldn't do anything to make him more comfortable. Finally, I reached Dr. J's office, stretched my arms out and Valentino jumped right in. He knew where we were. He knew Dr. J would help him. I burst through the doors and the two techs and the doctor were waiting for us. It's all a blur but one of them took Valentino as Dr. J said, in a soft and calming tone, "Let's get him into the back and give him some oxygen." I couldn't help myself and the tears started flowing, "No one would help him!" I cried. "It's ok, we'll take care of him," Dr. J said. "Come into the back with us." I followed them as they put my dog on a metal table, the same table where my childhood dog was put to sleep. I shook that memory out of my head as I watched them hold an oxygen mask over my pom's tiny snout. After he'd relaxed a little bit, the doctor told Angelica, one of the techs, to put him down and see how he does. Valentino was clearly still in distress. His tail was down and he ran right to me and jumped on my leg so I'd pick him up. Dr. J gave him some more oxygen and said, "I hate to do this to you because I know how much running around you've done, but I think he needs to go to the twenty-four hour emergency clinic I work with all the time. Something's going on with him and I don't feel comfortable having him here when I'll eventually have to leave him to go to sleep. There are doctors on staff all night over there and they have equipment I don't have. It's about twenty minutes away, though. I'll stabilize him with oxygen and he should be ok to travel that far." I nodded and wiped away a tear. Angelica said, "I'll go with you if you want." I was so thankful for her suggestion. I didn't want to be alone if something happened to my dog.
Dr. J called the clinic to give them the rundown on our situation then she gave me directions and Angelica followed me in her car. I'm glad she was able to keep up because I definitely was not respecting the speed limits. Thirteen minutes later, we pulled up to a small building with a sign over the automatic door that read "Emergency." As soon as we entered the receptionist called a tech who came out and told me she was from triage. It was just like a human emergency room for pets. I gently handed her my dog, then I gave him a little kiss, "Take good care of him." I croaked. She smiled, "We'll evaluate him while you fill out the paperwork then we'll take you into a room where the doctor will talk to you. You'll definitely see him again before you go." I'm glad the paperwork was only my contact information because I wouldn't have been able to focus on much more.
It seemed like an hour before they called us back, though it was more like 10 minutes. The doctor came in and explained that the x-rays weren't definitive, but they showed something in the back of Valentino's esophagus. "I don't know if it's just skin folds or maybe a piece of turkey or something else, but we'll keep him in an oxygen chamber tonight and get another x-ray in the morning to compare. At that point we may sedate him and put a scope down his throat to get a better look. We did notice a lot of inflammation but it may just be from the stress of everything that's going on." I signed a few more papers to allow treatment before the triage nurse escorted me to the back to say goodbye to my dog. He looked up at me as I neared the glass and his fuzzy, curled tail began to wag. He was still panting rapidly but he seemed to understand why I'd brought him there. "You can reach in and pet him," the tech explained. I stuck my hand in and scratched his back and rubbed his ears. "You're gonna be ok now, Tino. They're gonna take good care of you." The sobbing started again and the tech told me she'd be there all night and I could call to check on him at any time. That was comforting.
When I finally left the hospital it was 7:45. I had to go right back to pick up the boys since rehearsal ended at 8:30 and I was 45 minutes away. I thanked Angelica and headed off. I was starving, exhausted and emotionally spent. I still hadn't packed for my trip to Minnesota and I was leaving the house the next morning at 9:00 AM. I pulled up in front of School of Rock, got my kids into the car and started driving to their dad's house where they were sleeping that night. That's when I heard the coughing. "That doesn't sound good," I said to Justin. "Do you feel ok?" He shrugged, "Yeah. Except my throat hurts a little when I cough."
Justin is my non-complainer. The kid can have a fever of 104 and tell me he feels fine. "When you get to dad's ask him to take your temperature, ok?" He agreed. I dropped them off and went home to finally eat something. The text came through as I walked into my house, "100.8" it said.
After begging my ex to stay home with Justin the next day and take him to the doctor, if necessary, I looked at Jimmi, who was off the couch and limping to the bathroom. His knee was enormous and bright red and his cheeks were flushed and his lips were gray. "How are you feeling?" I asked him. His answer didn't surprise me, "Like shit. I have chills and I'm sweating and my knee is killing me!" I checked the size of the redness which was now about two inches outside of the outline the doctor had drawn the day before. I stated the obvious, "It's getting worse." Jimmi nodded, "The doctor said it will take a few days to get better." Then why did he draw the line at all? I thought.
We sat down to watch Ink Master and I started Googling "Cellulitis" on my phone again. What I found scared the crap out of me. "If condition worsens, head straight to the emergency room. Without proper treatment, the infection could spread throughout the body, causing death." I looked at the time. It was 11:00 PM. I was planning on packing as soon as the show was over. After all, I would only be away for 24 hours. I didn't need much. But a new plan was forming. "I think you need to go back to the hospital," I told Jimmi. He shook his head. "Let me wait until tomorrow. If it gets worse, I'll go." That wasn't working for me. "I won't be here tomorrow. I need to know that you're ok before I leave." It took a bit of pleading until I finally got Jimmi to agree that he needed medical attention. Now.
By the time we left the house it was 12:30 AM. I knew it was going to be a very long night. I called my mom, even though I knew I'd wake her, and told her what was happening then I whined, "How am I gonna leave tomorrow?" She assured me that she would help me work out the details of pet feeding, hospital visits and dog pick-up if Jimmi was admitted, which I knew he would be.
The emergency room seemed surprisingly empty when we walked in, but we soon found out that the barrage of patients had already been escorted out of triage and into the crowded exam rooms in the back. Finally it was Jimmi's turn and the escort, who needed a makeover in the worst way, came to take us to a room. We passed by sick people on gurneys in the hallway and the smell of IV bags and surgical gloves made my stomach turn as it triggered memories of long hours of chemotherapy. "Here we are!" said our escort before her expression changed upon entering the room. "It's not clean. Wait here." And we stood in the hallway for 20 minutes as she stripped the bed and wiped down every surface with sanitizing towels.
It wasn't too long before the first resident arrived to check out Jimmi's condition. "What brings you here tonight?" she asked right before her gaze landed on Jimmi's bare, cherry red, gigantic knee. He pointed, "The doctor said I have cellulitis." The resident nodded in agreement, "Looks like cellulitis." She pushed and stretched his leg and asked questions as he grimaced in pain. Then she told us the antibiotics clearly hadn't touched the infection and he would probably need IV antibiotics to get right into his bloodstream. She mentioned something about the possibility of the infection being in his bone or his joint, so an x-ray was necessary, as that would require surgery. She stepped out and an IV was started so he could have a dose of medicine right away. They took some blood and came back a few minutes later to bring him to radiology. I was dozing on and off since it was now 2:30 AM. I remembered the painters were coming to finish our kitchen at 7:30 and I wondered if I could leave them alone for a few hours when I left for the airport until my mom could get to my house in the afternoon. It was too late to call and cancel them. I felt like we were in the exam room forever when I looked at the time. It was 4:00 AM and we hadn't seen a doctor for an update at all. At that point, I e-mailed Lyndsay to let her know what was happening and that I was probably going to try and take a later flight. There was no way I'd be able to get out by 9:00 AM. At 4:15 I went out the the nurse's station and asked, "Will someone be coming in to tell us what's going on soon?" He seemed surprised that I was still there, "Oh, he's being admitted. We're just waiting for transport. You can go home if you want."
Hey, thanks for letting me know!
I kissed my husband goodbye and walked out of the hospital at 4:30 AM. I was so exhausted I wondered how I'd make it home. By some miracle, I arrived safely at my house at 5:00 AM. I got into bed and set my alarm for 7:15 so I'd be awake to let the painters in.
The taste of toothpaste was still fresh in my mouth when the music woke me. Ugh. I stumbled out of bed, brushed my teeth again, threw on some sweatpants and took the dog out. The painters were 15 minutes late and, after letting them in, I went to my room, shut the door and crashed for another hour. When I woke up I called Delta to change my flight. At least the 2:30 would give me time to get myself together and get out. Yes, the 2:30 flight was available, I was told, but it would be an additional $150 plus 7000 more SkyMiles to change it. "Do I have seven thousand SkyMiles?" I asked. "No, you have fifty-nine hundred. Sorry." I looked at the time. It was 8:00. Would I be able to get out of the house in an hour? My body was so tired I couldn't even process the amount of effort it would take to make that happen. "I guess I'll need to cancel the entire flight," I said sadly. "Ok, but since it's less than seventy-two hours before the flight, you won't get your miles back." That's bullshit! "What? I'll just lose them?" She said, "Yes, that's right." I was pissed, "But my husband is in the hospital!" Then her tune changed, "Oh, that's different! We'll just need the name and number of the hospital and your husband's name and we can return those miles to your account, no problem!" I e-mailed Lyndsay to apologize and the excitement of feeling my baby kick for the first time slowly faded from my mind as I drifted back to sleep.
At about 10:30 AM the vet called to update me on Valentino. He had started sounding better during the night but had a setback with his breathing again that morning. She wanted to keep him longer to do the scope procedure to try and see what might be causing his issues. "I just don't feel comfortable sending him home sounding like this," she said and I agreed. I finally left my bedroom and found that my house had been covered in plastic and country music was blasting from the Mexican painter's boom box, which was both unexpected and annoying. At last my mom came to babysit the painters so I could get to the hospital and visit Jimmi.
I walked into his room with coffee and chocolate croissants, plus a small bag of toiletries he'd asked for. His knee was still very red and alarmingly swollen. There was an IV bag of fluids dripping into his arm and a smaller, empty bag still hanging on the pole.
The curtain was closed but I could hear his roommate talking to his companion on the window side of the room. Jimmi spoke in a whisper, "He's a young guy. Had a stroke. Really sad." I sat down and asked for an update on his own condition. He told me the doctor mentioned she might drain some the fluid for a culture and he wasn't looking forward to that pain. "I hope I'm here for that so I can film it and post it on Facebook!" I joked. He told me he was getting one antibiotic every three hours and another one every four hours and they made him feel woozy and hot. His knee was still throbbing at rest and still hurt when he'd stand. "Have you been walking?" I asked him, knowing how unhealthy it was to let your body stay immobile for long periods of time. He shook his head. "Ok, get up!" I commanded and handed him his shoes. We left his room just as the nurse was entering, "Good, you're walking! Just don't leave the floor," she instructed. I couldn't stay too long because I needed to pick the boys up from my ex's house. I was happy to hear that Justin was feeling better and would probably go back to school the next day. That's when the vet called again.
"Hi Suzanne, I have an update on Valentino. We scoped him and found his esophagus is still very inflamed. The area we saw on the x-ray looks like skin folds and nothing more, but it's still hard to see because of its location. It's possible he has a condition common to the smaller breed dogs where the esophagus basically collapses on itself like a straw when you're trying to suck up a really thick milkshake. He's also very overweight, which tends to make the condition worse. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to know for sure because we'd have to catch the split second it's happening on an x-ray. Because of the excessive swelling and because we still have him on oxygen, IV antibiotics and bronchodilators, I want to keep him here for one more night. I think he needs to be watched very closely." I kicked myself for not buying pet insurance when I considered it in December, thanked her and hung up the phone.
The rest of the night was satisfyingly uneventful and I slept so soundly I don't think I moved at all. I woke up this morning, slightly refreshed, got the kids off to school and signed on to Skype. Dr. C would be calling soon with Lyndsay in his office.
I clicked the video icon on the screen and Hallie's big blue eyes and dimpled cheeks greeted me. "Hi Hal!" I said to Lyndsay's almost four year-old daughter. She proceeded to talk to me about her giraffe shirt before I was allowed to greet her mom and the doctor. When Lyndsay stood up to climb onto the table I could see how much my baby had grown in the last month. Dr. C started with, "Lyndsay's weight and blood pressure are good. We're going to measure her uterus now." As Dr. C explained his actions to the medical student who was accompanying him, Hallie chatted away into the computer. "Suzanne, I know your baby's name! It's Awwwia!" I giggled at her adorable pronunciation of "Aria" while I watched the tape measure be stretched from Lyndsay's pubic bone to the top of her uterus. "She's measuring at thirty-two and a half weeks, which is perfect." Even though that's a full week more than we are, I knew the measurement was normal, give or take a week or two. Then the doppler came out and my baby's heartbeat came across clearly with a few clicks in between. Dr. C laughed, "I think she has the hiccups." Lyndsay got up from the table and the three of us started a discussion about other forms of pain management during labor since her last epidural left Lyndsay bruised and sore and she isn't sure she's comfortable having another one. We then moved on to the possibility of induction on or around our due date of May 18th, since Jimmi and his band will be going on tour a few days later and I'd be heartbroken if he missed the birth of his daughter. We talked about scheduling Lyndsay's next appointment on April 4th, since Jimmi and I are both planning to go out there that weekend to have pregnancy portraits taken with Lyndsay. Dr. C informed me that he'd be away that week and asked if we could extend our trip one more day so we can make the appointment on Monday, April 7th. I didn't think that would be a problem. Finally, Dr. C told me his big news, "I'm being deployed on April fifteenth. I'm in the Army reserves and I've received orders." I wasn't sure what to say. "Don't worry," he continued. "I'll leave you in excellent hands. I'm just sorry I won't be able to deliver the baby."
I reported the information back to Jimmi before calling the vet, who had left a message during my Skype appointment. "We took another set of x-rays this morning and it's becoming clearer now. Valentino has aspiration pneumonia. It's possible that he was choking on a piece of turkey and it went down his airway, into his lungs. We need to keep him on the bronchodilater and oxygen and get him stabilized before I'll feel comfortable sending him home." I knew she was right.
I got dressed and drove to the hospital. Jimmi's leg was all wrapped up and I gave him a puzzled look. "They drained some fluid last night," he said. "And I missed it? Did you record it?" I asked. "No, I couldn't! I was so freaked out! It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, though. But the nurse just told me I might need to stay until tomorrow night because the fluid culture takes forty-eight hours to grow." Great. First Valentino and now Jimmi. I wondered whose hospital bill would be worse. Right before I left, the doctor came by. "Do I get to go home?" Jimmi asked. "That's why I'm here," she said. "I get to make that decision but I need to look at your leg first." She unwrapped Jimmi's bandage, assessed the redness, which was better on the side that was drained but had started creeping further down his calf on the other side. "One more night," she announced. Then she took out a marker and started making a new outline, "I can see from all of your artwork that you won't mind if I draw on you." After that she told us she'd be changing his antibiotics again and she'll want to see him in her office in two weeks. Then she was gone.
I picked up the boys and drove them to music lessons. As I waited and e-mail came through from our lawyer.