Pets

The day I balanced hospitals for humans and for animals

My first indication that text messaging had gone too far in my household was the afternoon I checked my phone and discovered the following message: “Just wanted to let you know. I thought I might be having a heart attack so I checked myself into the hospital.” It had been sent from my husband’s cellphone.

My husband had taken our children skiing two days earlier. On this morning, he had done some moaning and groaning around the house. The problem is, I not only have to get ready for work myself, but I oversee care of the kids, the cats and the chickens before leaving. Getting to school on time is a mountain we climb every day. If it’s not worth opening your mouth to speak up about something, I’m not going to slow down long enough to start an inquiry. He knows where to find his Advil.

I confess I felt more irritation than anxiety when I read the message. Really? I’d had a full day and no lunch up to that point. So I called him. He answered. He sounded cheerful. Enough hours had passed before I’d discovered his message that he could assure me that his chest X-rays, his blood tests and his EKG were all normal and he wasn’t having a heart attack. So why are you still there? I reasoned. Well, he rambled on, this doesn’t explain the pain. “What about arthritis?” I asked. Oh no, he assured me, I’ve never had arthritis here. It’s on my right side. I was driving myself to the golf course and felt pain in my right arm, so I pulled over and Googled heart attacks. It said they would be on the left side, but I thought I should be sure. They’re going to run another test to see if I have blood clots. If it’s abnormal, I’ll stay for a CT scan.

OK, honey. I returned to my own patients. There was a cat that had been tumbled in the dryer for 7 minutes. She appeared dazed, with tiny bruises starting to appear on her skin where patches of fur were missing. She was a lucky cat. Only last month, another cat had actually died in a similar accident. We began treatment for shock and started the cat on IV fluids.

It was closing time when my husband called. My test was abnormal, he said. “What’s the name of that test, hon?” D-dimer. We use the D-dimer test in veterinary medicine. Platelets, the cells that help blood coagulate or clot so you don’t bleed out, will slowly break down after they’ve served their purpose. If your body is forming big blood clots where it shouldn’t, the by-product of platelet breakdown will be very high in the blood stream. The D-dimer test measures this level.

For a variety of reasons, I didn’t believe it. So while getting the kids squared away I researched the normal blood levels for humans. Armed with this info, I went down to visit my husband in the ER. He looked remarkably fit. In fact, he wasn’t feeling any pain, though he’d not been given any medication. I asked his nurse for the actual number on his D-dimer test. It was less than 200. I stared at the nurse. “But that’s normal.” Yes, the nurse agreed. I stared at my husband. “Who told you it was abnormal?” He frowned, concentrating. He wasn’t sure (What else did he have to do?). About then they came to wheel him down for his CT scan. They said it would be read that night. Forgive me my skepticism, but having assured myself that my husband was doing very well, I kissed him and told him to enjoy his scan. At this point I reflected that if they did find something wrong with him, it would not be what he’d gone in for. I slept poorly (despite my brave front). At 2:20 in the morning (5 hours later) my husband sent a text message that he had completed his CT scan but it wouldn’t be read until the next day.

I visited him on my way to work the next morning. He was cheerful and even complimentary on the hospital breakfast. They were going to run some more blood tests. I left him to it.

At work, my own patients were well. My dryer tumbled cat looked much better and was enjoying a hearty breakfast herself. Her blood work was excellent. By early afternoon I was discharging my patient to her ecstatic owner. Back at the human hospital, my husband had been leaked the information that he had a “non-displaced hairline fracture in his right rib”. My husband was now being offered an echocardiogram and had begun to call me every hour or so. I told him if he couldn’t relieve the babysitter by 3:30 to let me know. If he wanted to stay another night in the hospital that was on him. I was worn out.

Once he knew it was just a cracked rib, my husband felt lots better. I arrived home that night to find he had invited several people to dinner and cooked up a storm. Even better, he could go on his golf vacation next week.

Christine McFadden holds a license to practice veterinary medicine and surgery. She has cared for the family pets of Merced at Valley Animal Hospital for more than 30 years. Send questions or comments to drmc@mcmenagerie.com.

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