Friday, May 23, 2008

Close Call for Gracie

Wednesday, I awoke to the phone ringing. My wife had been walking Gracie along Lawrence Avenue when the little girl darted out into the street and took a few licks from a green puddle of antifreeze.

Ethylene glycol, the primary ingredient in antifreeze, is horribly toxic to dogs (actually to all animals including humans). At first, the animal may appear to be drunk, but this passes after several hours. The next stage gets ugly. When the liver processes ethylene glycol, it creates substances that permanently damage the kidneys. Untreated, an animal will die within days. It only takes two ounces of ethylene glycol to kill a medium-sized dog. At 36 pounds, Gracie might be on the light side of medium.

Fortunately, Gracie ingested the antifreeze only a block away from a veterinary clinic called Animal House of Chicago. My wife walked her there and called me. First they made Gracie vomit, and then they made her swallow activated charcoal. The bill was only $135, but her treatment was just beginning.

Intravenous hydration was the next step. Since Animal House was closing at 2 PM, we had to transport Gracie to Chicago Emergency Veterinary Services on Clybourn Avenue, which is open overnight. The last time I was there was "the beginning of the end" for Teddy, so it brought back a lot of painful memories. Sometimes I still wonder whether it would have been more humane to let him go that awful night instead of trying in vain to prolong his life (he died a month later after great expense and I hope not too much suffering).

Gracie's prognosis was relatively good since she didn't drink much antifreeze and received treatment immediately. The vet ran tests to get a baseline on her kidneys, and then they began the IV. They retested her at 4 AM Thursday, and her kidneys were still fine. The emergency vet closed at 8 AM, so we had to pick her up first thing in the morning. In addition to the bill (another $609), they gave us a bag of IV fluid to take back to Animal House so they could hydrate her for the rest of the day. Gracie was surprisingly lively considering what she had been through.

The 15-minute car ride from the emergency vet to Animal House was like a scene from a horror movie. Gracie was in the car for less than a minute when she started gnawing at the dressing on her leg. By the time I said, "I'd better sit in back with her," she had torn out her catheter. Luckily for us, the furniture pad I use to keep the car clean when transporting my bike was still in place. As blood flowed from her leg, I struggled to hold her head to keep her from doing more damage. By the time we arrived at Animal House, there was blood on her front legs and chest, and the furniture pad was saturated.

We were the first ones in the door when Animal House opened. Gracie made quite an entrance, leaving bloody paw prints all over the lobby. They took her in back and inserted a new catheter. Then they put an "idiot collar" on so she couldn't bite her leg again. We left her there for more IV treatment and went home. Since I had to take the car in for service, we removed the blood-soaked furniture pad. Imagine what a mechanic would have thought if he'd seen that!

We called to check on Gracie late Thursday afternoon. They said she was doing well, but they wanted to give her another IV. Fortunately, they had a vet there overnight so we didn't have to transport her back to the emergency vet. We picked her up at 2 PM today and paid another $250. At that point, poor Gracie had spent more time at the vet than in our house since we adopted her. So far there are no signs of kidney damage, but they gave us some pills and asked us to come back Saturday for one more blood test (another $120).

Incredibly, she seems none the worse for wear; she was quite spirited on the half-mile walk home. Rosco greeted her with a wagging tail, but a few minutes later he growled at her to back off. It will take a while for those two to work things out, but right now we're just glad Gracie is still alive.

While I could fault my wife for not keeping a tight rein on Gracie (she'll definitely be more vigilant in the future), at least she did the right thing by getting the dog to a vet ASAP. I'm glad we could afford to spend that $1,120 -- there goes our economic stimulus check -- but I hope Gracie will be less expensive in the future!

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