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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rosie Versus the Crane of Doom*

(or, The Case of the Forgotten Coveralls)

* This is quite a long post, and can be a bit graphic in parts, but I do hope you read and enjoy it!

The other night we had a vicious, spontaneous thunderstorm. As you may know, there are many dogs that can’t handle the experience of thunder. It’s not just the noise that bothers them but also the barometric pressure change that accompanies thunderstorms. Certainly, the loud noises bug them out to a large degree, but the reason your dog knows a storm is coming before you do (if you’re like me and don’t pay attention to forecasts at all) is because of this ability to sense the pressure drop. That’s why sometimes when little Laddy or Monty heads for the underside of the deck or clings to you like a shadow it means half an hour later you will hear distant peals of thunder.

Or sometimes the storm will be right on top of you before you even know it’s coming.

Well, the combination of the fireworks a month ago for Guy Fawkes and this booming thunderstorm the other night served to make a dog named Rosie bug out of her house in the worst kind of way. Incidentally, we obviously didn’t know her name until way later in the story. I am only using it now to make telling this go a bit easier.

You see, she somehow managed to squeeze her ample sixty-five pound frame (she should be only fifty pounds) up inside the inner workings of the right tread of a crane. Think of this as a tank tread, although until the other day I’d never been up close enough to see how these things are designed.

There was a sliver of a semi-circular opening on the belly of the crane, which lead up into the insides of the tread housing. In the middle of this semi-circle was a solid iron bar that bisected it, narrowing the potential entryway even further. Clearly, this is not an opening designed for frightened dogs to come and go through as they please, like some doggy door to safety. But I guess in her frenzied state, Rosie managed to squeeze her fat arse up into the tread where she figured she would be safe from the evil thunder.

Poor thing couldn’t have been more wrong. As it turns out, her family, who love her dearly, spent all night and all the next morning looking for her, calling her name, but she never responded. The crane in question is no more than 100 meters from the owners’ property, yet I guess Rosie was too panicked to try and get back out, or perhaps she couldn’t get out once she had gotten in. Kind of like getting your head trapped between metal bars in a fence or railing – it’s easy enough to squeeze through to have a look on the other side, but entirely too painful to pull back out again easily!

Not that I’ve ever done anything stupid like that, mind you.

Anyways, the crane operators, upon arriving for work that morning (the crane is being used these past few weeks to help rework and strengthen an old bridge) were suspicious a dog or some kind of animal was nearby, as their own canine companion was barking and carrying on. This dog helps them to flush out any stray cats, dogs or possums that might be hiding in the nearby bush, so as they don’t get run over or, say, get caught up in the machinery once they get to work.

In spite of running their dog around the bridge area twice, they couldn’t find anything unusual, and of course who would suspect that there was a sweet, plump, but terrified Rough Collie cross stuck up inside one of the crane’s treads?

So the crane operator got to work, fired up the crane, and began to move it forward. That’s when he heard the painful yelps.

Alarmed, the guy turned off the crane and jumped out, and now Rosie was sticking her snout out through the tiniest of square openings in the forward aspect of the tread housing. She only yelped in pain once, while the crane was in motion, but otherwise was just sitting there, patiently waiting and now hopelessly entangled in the tread’s chains.

Panicked, the crane operator called his regular vet, who for whatever inexplicable reason refused to turn out. So the operator called us, the only other vets in town, during our morning tea.

Donna took the call, explained the situation to me, and in a minute a nurse named Claire and I were off in the truck to head out to the work site at Karapoti bridge, which is just off a notoriously windy but highly scenic road called Akatarawa (pronounced ACK-uh-TEAR-uh-wuh). I hadn’t driven it yet but had heard many stories about it, and there are lots of wrecks along it due to many crazy drivers taking the blind curves too recklessly and quickly.

Along the way it occurred to me that this was going to be one of those situations that required total improvisation. The device has yet to be invented that can safely and painlessly extract oversized dogs from inside the inner workings of crane treads, so without any obvious or easy solutions I knew Claire and I would be faced with a stiff challenge once we got there.

Instead of feeling panic about that, however, I was more worried about the dog. Certainly, I expected it to be in massive shock and pain, depending on the amount of blood loss. I was quite expecting to have to euthanize her on the spot if she was truly hopelessly entangled and/or destroyed by the machinery. No sense making her suffer while we try to get her out in one piece just to then put her to sleep. Above all else, do no harm, and all that.

But I really didn’t want to have to put the dog down. Also, was there an owner? None of us knew if she had an owner or not. Wandering dogs are not that common in NZ (unlike cats) so she was unlikely to be a total stray.

After many twists and turns, we finally got to the worksite at the bridge, and saw the crane perched on the pavement on the far side. Claire grabbed the tackle box containing all of our anesthetics and syringes, and we met the crane operator at the near side of the bridge.

As he recounted what had happened earlier that morning, we made our way across several sets of rickety planks that bowed and creaked dangerously underfoot. At one point later on, while sprinting back and forth between the crane and the truck, I nearly plunged through one of the weakest planks. Claire started laughing and pointed out that it wouldn’t do us any good if I also needed surgery this morning.

I laughed along with her, although inside I was breathing a deep sigh of relief as I really did come close to cracking right through that damned plank!

I have to say this now, that at no point did this amazing dog ever cry out in pain or try to bite me or Claire or anyone else, as I expect any animal in distress and pain to do. I know animals have higher pain thresholds than most of us humans, but she is above and beyond even that.

So after seeing the size of the dog relative to the size of the opening, I knew the only way she was coming out was unconsciously – in spite of her great disposition. As stoic as she was, she would not want to cooperate with me as I tugged on her limbs and backside. I could see how torn up she was and there were parts of her I couldn’t even see so I wasn’t a big fan of pulling hard on her anyways.

So I gave her a strong jab of Domitor (thank the heavens for that stuff – a handy reversible and reliable anesthetic), but instead of ‘in the muscle’ or ‘in the skin’ it went ‘in the dog’. I wasn’t entirely sure where I had injected it, only that she had gotten a dose. But after ten minutes or so, it was clear she wasn’t asleep enough to tug on without difficulty, so it was back to the drawing board.

To get to Rosie, you had to lie flat on your back or stomach and inch your way under the crane, just like when you are working on your car. Her left front leg was sticking down through the front portion of the semi-circle, so with Claire lying on the ground right behind me, we sort of spooned together and Claire was able to grab hold of Rosie’s leg and roll off the vein while I injected some more drugs at an upwards and backwards angle. Those who have worked with me back in the States know how much I dislike the front leg vein, but for once I hit the damned thing, when it counted most!

In a couple of minutes, the poor dog finally relaxed under general anesthesia, and the Easy Part was now officially over.

We could now appreciate the full extent of her injuries. With the dog face-planted into the tread, her front legs were now hanging down on either side of the lower chain. Her tail was caught fast in the chain itself, her left hind leg was a mere bloody stump and her right leg was on the far side of the chain and the part of her backside we could see was a gory mess. As nasty as her injuries were, there was an astonishingly small amount of blood on the ground. Since her injuries were crushing and tearing, as opposed to slicing and dicing, her blood vessels had actually twisted off instead of being surgically severed. This was a major reason she wasn’t in shock when we got there.

Nonetheless, Claire and I began to puzzle over just how the hell we were going to get the dog out of the crane.

First, we tried pulling her straight down, but we couldn’t get her right side and left side through the narrow opening together. Also, with Rosie now fast asleep, she was all dead and flabby weight, and lying on my back with only one good arm to push with, it required too much effort to try and lift parts of her while pulling others simultaneously. Quickly we grew tired and it became more obvious she wasn’t coming out of there easily.

Before I came back to begin getting the uniform dirty under the crane, Claire had suggested I run back to the truck to grab myself some coveralls. This was after I had given the anesthetic but before it was fully manifested, so I had a couple of minutes to prepare. Back at the truck, I spied several pairs of coveralls in the middle seat, grabbed a pair that would fit me, and returned to the crane. The coveralls will be significant later.

Well, after a couple more bouts of struggling with our unconscious dog and trying to push her up and over that blasted middle iron bar in various directions, we were growing more frustrated and exhausted.

Rosie just lay there and snored, her nose pasted up against the iron.

One of the bridge workers suggested we just put her to sleep and be done with it. Claire and I shared a glance and admitted that this might have to be the only solution. But another worker said that, dead or alive, he didn’t want to start the crane up again with her in there or else there would be body parts everywhere!

I wasn’t ready to give up just yet, though. I noticed there was lots of room above Rosie inside the tread housing, but the crane had no way of elevating itself, like a car on a hydraulic lift, so we were stuck with the miniscule space we had underneath its iron belly. There was just no way to get good leverage to push up on Rosie and manipulate her from beneath. I had one last idea before I was going to be fresh out of them, so I asked Claire if we had any rope or calving chains, which she said we did, and then she ran back to the truck.

Through that little window in the front of the tread housing, I had Claire feed me down looped ends of rope, which I fitted around Rosie’s front paws. Once both paws were snug in the rope, I pushed them back up into the space above and had one of the crane guys grab hold and pull forward with all of his might. This served to elevate Rosie’s front end a good deal, and with Claire crawling in from the other side of the crane, she and I were able to sort of push Rosie’s body forward, getting her completely over that middle bar. Then, we were able to pull her fat behind and right hind leg down and out – a huge breakthrough, and at this point I knew we could get her out.

With much pushing and pulling, we were able to get her chest out, and now all that was up inside the crane was her front legs and her head, and she was still thankfully completely passed out. I could see her still breathing and occasionally hear her snort so I was reassured as she had received a heavy dose of total anesthesia.

I had the guy let all the tension off the ropes, and I unhooked them from around her front legs and had him remove the rope. One by one I pried her front legs free and got them below to us, and very soon after that we got her head and she was out completely.

Out of the crane at last! We saw that she did indeed have a collar with a city tag on it, so she had an owner for sure. Lying on her side, we could see that what remained of her poor little stripped tail was hopelessly stuck inside the chains, so we had no choice but to grab the sheep castrators (which look like nothing more than a vicious set of pruning shears) and snip off her tail. I did this as close to the chain as possible, and amazingly Rosie bled very little if at all the whole time we were there. When I first got there, I could see her nose through the little front window of the tread, and saw that her gum color and perfusion were both good.

With her tail snipped, Rosie was now well and truly free. In that split second where we realized we had got her, Claire and I paused for an instant. It was tempting to relish the fact that she was out of there for a moment, but then we realized that we now had to rush.

We dragged her snoozing form unceremoniously out from under the crane, each grabbed an end (I got the bloody end as I was the only one in coveralls), sprinted back to the truck, over the rickety boards and avoided the one treacherous plank.

Bless the crane guy who helped with the rope as he ran right behind us and had thoughtfully gathered up our tacklebox, my stethoscope and even my bandage and suture scissors that had fallen out of my pocket.

We got to the truck, threw open the back hatch, lifted her gently inside, thanked the guy for his help, and got into the front seat.

Before taking off, I reversed the Domitor, knowing she might start waking up but I didn’t want her under anesthesia any longer than she had to be as I was concerned about her blood pressure being too low. Even though she hadn’t seemed to lose much blood or to be in shock, I didn’t like her being as passed out as she was.

About five minutes into the trip, we heard Rosie starting to whimper and whine a bit, and I was comforted by the noise. Much like with a Cesarean section, you are glad to hear all those little puppies or kittens start yelping and whimpering once they’re out, for this means they are starting to revive from the anesthesia and are going to be all right. It is much preferable to complete silence.

Also on the way back, Claire and I had a chance to break the tension for a moment, as we had been on the go since arriving at the bridge and knew we were in for an even more hectic scene once we got Rosie back to the clinic, so we allowed ourselves to unwind for a little bit.

Claire pointed out that it was funny how I had only brought back one pair of coveralls – for myself – and neglected to get her the same luxury! I honestly had no idea at the time that she might like a pair of coveralls as well. And I was following directions – just in a literal sense, as she had told me to get a pair of coveralls. We joked about how that was so typical of us vets, thinking only of ourselves and letting the poor nurses suffer and do without. I truly felt bad about not grabbing her a pair, and to my credit I did take the bloody end of our patient for the mad dash back to the truck.

Anyways, we got back to the clinic, screeched into the carpark, and bolted into action. Donna and Sally, two other nurses on duty that day, met us at the gate and jumped into the fray. I just remember four people running off in four directions, but I got back to the truck too soon as I had a stretcher but no one to help me load Rosie onto it. Eventually, we got her inside the hospital.

Within minutes, we had IV fluids going full-bore, had pumped Rosie full of morphine and antibiotics, and were working on getting radiographs of her abdomen. The external trauma was the thing I could see: severed left hind leg, severed tail, large gaping open wound over the right side of her rump. But I didn’t know how much damage those treads may have done to her internally so we needed more info on what was going on inside. We also had a red blood cell volume running and were working on contacting the owners, as Denise the receptionist called the council to report the number on her tag.

Not long after getting Rosie set up, some of her owners appeared: the father and the eldest son. They clearly were deeply concerned about their family dog, especially the son, a huge strapping bloke who looked on the verge of tears. The middle son showed up with the mother soon after, and the mom was in tears with worry over Rosie, as she now told us was the dog’s name.

They were glad to see her alive, but were very concerned as I was when I saw her first radiograph: it appeared that her stomach was not only bloated with air, but also possibly twisted. ‘Bloat’ or ‘GDV’ (gastric dilatation-volvulus) is one of the worst things that can happen to a dog and one of the most stressful things you can see as a vet.

My heart sank as I realized that this potentially lethal, sudden complication could now do her in, even after all of our efforts to extract her from inside that crane.

So it was another brief anesthesia for Rosie as I passed a stomach tube down her throat, and with a nurse’s assistance was able to empty her stomach of lots of gas and a little bit of fluid. Sally pushed on Rosie’s stomach and the noises of a dog belching never sounded so good.

I was instantly reassured at how easy it was to pass the tube into the stomach, as in most cases of volvulus or torsion, the tube will not and cannot get through. So it was a simple bloat instead and although this isn’t as dire as torsion, it still signaled that we had to watch Rosie carefully as she wasn’t out of the woods just yet.

Anyways she never re-bloated, and later on that day Peter the surgeon finished off the amputation of her left hind leg, her tail, and did a lovely job stitching up the gaping wound over her right backside. Rosie is the sweetest dog and is getting around on three legs just fine, as if she has done this all along. The only cries she ever made were when she was recovering from anesthesia or when she noticed you outside her cage and wanted you to come over and pat her.

She went home today I believe and has to wear one of those ridiculous Elizabethan collars because she is being a bad girl and trying to chew out all of her stitches. This is understandable, of course, as the area must be quite irritating to say the least. But still, Rosie has not once howled in pain or tried to snap as we handle her, and never once did she really seem to be in shock.

I am very thankful that we could get her out of that crane, and also very glad that my only mental mistake on site was forgetting to bring Claire a pair of coveralls. Good old-fashioned rope saved the day here, and if Rosie were a cat this would certainly count as one of her nine lives well and truly spent. Another thing to be thankful for is the beautiful sunny weather we all had that day, for the very next morning it was back to full-force gales and blowing sheets of rain around here.

No amount of coveralls would have made that experience any less miserable!


Blogger Beechball * said...

I know you warned me it was long, and I do plan on reading it, but I just haven't had enough time yet. I started to without checking how long it actually was, and stopped instantly afterwards because I knew I wouldn't finish then. Anywho, I will read and I will post again, I just need some time! :P haha

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Brooksie said...

No worries there, my Nanook of the North. I really should have posted this in serial format as opposed to imposing it on the blog-reading public! Take your time reading it, please, as I know you've got exams to prepare for and all that!

12:44 AM  

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