I'm not happy when a doctor is wrong. Except for these days when I am pleased to announce that my dog's vet might very well be wrong. A couple months ago he informed me that Phoenix would probably not last the year and to feed him whatever I could get him to eat (except candy and gum, of course). I was so sad, partly because I love my sweet little shadow and I'm not ready for his demise, and partly because we'd recently lost two other pets within less than a year. In April we literally lost Maddie (and then found her little body drowned in a creek), and last November we had to put Sasha the 17-year-old cat to sleep. So I wasn't ready for another death in our family. I mentioned the vet's prognosis and his suspicion that it was hemangio sarcoma on my FaceBook page and true to form some of my friends prayed for us. The prayers have had an effect. Phoenix has bounced back, yet again. He's like the proverbial cat with 9 lives.
Let me take you back 5 years. In 2005, Phoenix began to look a bit thick. He started to act like it, too. I mean he was kind of slow, as if he didn't have much energy or maybe he didn't feel well. Our vet took a chest Xray and discovered that Phoenix had a pericardial effusion: the sac surrounding his heart was filled with fluid. The vet performed a thorocentesis and over a couple days removed 1500 cc's of fluid. Because I'm a wine lover, I liken that to 2 wine bottles. Can you imagine lugging around 2 bottles of wine in your body that you hadn't drunk? I guess you'd look a bit thick, too. Maybe act like it as well.
But I digress. Our vet couldn't determine the cause of the effusion and he referred us to a board certified veterinary cardiologist up near Pittsburgh. It's amazing that even in dog medicine they have specialists. But just like in people medicine, they are not infallible: the specialists had no answers and sent us home to suffer in silence our lack of information and our much thinner wallet.
On the other hand, Phoenix was no longer suffering. The pericardial effusion never happened again. Until this summer, that is. In June, 2010, Phoenix began to lose his appetite. He wasn't losing weight (in fact, I thought he felt awfully heavy), but he was lethargic. When I took him to the vet, neither of us recalled the episode in 2005, so initially the vet didn't find anything. He figured Phoenix was just "off his feed," that euphemism for "I don't know what's wrong with your dog." He gave Phoenix an injection to stimulate his appetite, gave me some canned dogfood to attract him to eat again, and sent us on our way. Well, Phoenix was having none of that. He simply would not eat. So I took him back to the vet. The vet said, "Good news: his weight is up. He's gained a pound and a half." I frowned and said, "That is anything but good news, because he hasn't eaten a thing since I had him here 4 days ago." That stopped the vet in his tracks. He flipped through Phoenix's chart and found the notes on the 2005 episode. So on a hunch, the vet took a chest Xray and discovered the pericardial effusion was back. No wonder Phoenix felt heavy. And looked thick.
The vet also found that, because of these effusions, and perhaps age, and whatever else he's got going on in there, Phoenix's heart has become quite enlarged. For you non-medical types, his heart is a muscle and it was being exercised more than normal trying to pump against all that extra fluid surrounding it, so it has gotten real big and strong. Think of Arnold Schwartzenager's bicep. Ugh. The problem with that is that the bigger the muscle has gotten, the less room in his heart's chambers to receive the blood it's supposed to pump around the body. As a result, the blood backs up and he ends up getting thick, as I put it, or in heart failure, as the vet put it.
After the vet removed the 700 cc's of fluid from around Phoenix's heart, I just assumed things would be like 5 years ago and we could forget about it. I'm such an optimist. It's one of my charms. But the removal of the fluid left Phoenix very skinny and boney. He looked anything but charming. I couldn't believe how different he looked. The vet wanted Phoenix to gain a pound or two. That was when he told us to do whatever we could get him to eat. I wondered if that included feeding him at the table.
We started hoarding all our leftovers at home and from restaurants and concocting meals for Phoenix. He loved it and ate very well all summer. He seemed back to his old self, except for his skinniness, which I have decided is mostly due to his old age. After all, he's anywhere from 10 to 13 years old, which, as we all know, is 70 to 91 years old in dog years. And think about it: how many fat 70- to 91-year-olds do you know? The elderly naturally lose weight. (See, girls? There's still hope.) So I thought, "Great, we've licked the problem again."
Not so. In September, Phoenix suddenly lost his appetite again. But when the vet shot another chest film, there was no fluid to be seen. That took us aback. So the vet put him on 2 medications for heart failure. Even after that, Phoenix didn't perk up. Usually, when he's feeling good, he's follows us everywhere. But he wouldn't even raise his head when we left the room. Two weeks later the vet took another chest Xray. This time the vet removed 200 cc's of pericardial fluid, but there was a change in the appearance of the fluid: now it was brownish colored. Not good. The vet said, "I don't know how many more times Phoenix can take it. There will be scar tissue building up from all these thorocenteses. But I'm up for draining the fluid for as long as Phoenix is up for it."
Well, it's been a month since that somber declaration and Phoenix is back to normal again. Still skinny, but he's the energetic shadow he always was. He doesn't even need people food to coax him to eat now. One night a couple weeks ago we couldn't find any leftovers and didn't have time to cook up anything, so we served him the same dry kibbles we used to. He dove right into them and licked the bowl clean. He wouldn't let Figaro nose his way into his bowl, no matter how persistant Fig was.
I said Phoenix has nine lives. His first four were saved early on. 1) In 2000, he was a lost dog, wandering around on his own for God knows how long, sad and lonely, filthy, skinny, hungry, and covered with burrs. Someone found him and took him to the animal shelter. 2) The animal shelter turned out to be a kill shelter. He was saved from that by a lady who rescues dogs from kill shelters and takes them to her own home in the country where she kennels and cares for them until she can find homes for them. 3) A dog the lady was kenneling was found to have parvo, a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus attacking the lining of the digestive tract. All the dogs she had rescued were quarantined for two weeks to see if any of them were infected. Phoenix was not. 4) We found him on the internet and drove all the way across the State of Ohio to bring him home with us.
Maybe you're a little obsessive-compulsive, a little legalistic, and you're saying, "Well, all those episodes don't add up to 9 lives. " May I remind you of all the times I wanted to strangle him for peeing in the house. That would add up to 999 lives. So it is a miracle Phoenix is still alive. And we hope he stays that way for a good long time.