The experts say that people with a positive mental attitude stay healthier and recover faster from an illness compared to those without a positive mental attitude. I believe the same thing is true for dogs. This is a story about a special dog with a very positive mental attitude.
Lady was a ten year old Golden Retriever. She was adopted from a local Golden Retriever rescue group by Mr. and Mrs. Carson, a very nice retired couple. The Carsons brought Lady to me a couple of years ago on November 17. After talking briefly about Notre Dame Football, Mrs. Carson said: “Dr. Vince, Lady has been very lethargic and has hardly eaten anything for the past 3 days.”
Ordinarily when Lady would come to our animal hospital she would have a smile on her face and a tail which never stopped wagging. However, on this day, one week before Thanksgiving, Lady walked up to me with her head hanging low and no wag whatsoever to her tail. I knelt down next to Lady, pet her head and asked “What’s the matter Lady?” (yes, even though our patients never talk to us, most vets can’t stop talking to their patients as if they will one day answer us). I noticed that Lady was breathing harder than normal and acting very tired after the short walk from the car to the exam room. With my stethoscope, I tried to listen to Lady’s heart but it had a very muffled sound.
“Mr. and Mrs. Carson”, I said, “I’m worried that Lady might have some fluid either around her lungs or around her heart. We need to take her back and get an x-ray.”
“Do whatever you need to do”, said Mr. Carson, “we don’t want to lose her, especially a week before Thanksgiving.”
Lady is one of the most cooperative dogs I’ve ever met. We quickly took x-rays of her chest and abdomen as she laid perfectly still on the x-ray table. On an x-ray, fluid looks very gray or white and it makes it impossible to see the internal organs, including the heart. Lady’s x-rays were virtually solid white in color: fluid had accumulated around her lungs and around her internal organs. The next step was an ultrasound exam which showed that Lady had a small tumor on the right side of her heart and fluid around her heart, in the sac that covers the heart, called the pericardium. This fluid was preventing her heart from beating properly and that was causing fluid to accumulate throughout her body.
“I’m afraid I have terrible news”, I told the Carsons, “Lady has a tumor on her heart and it’s inoperable. It is causing the fluid around the heart. The only thing we can do is try to remove the fluid around her heart so her heart can beat better.”
“Do whatever you can do”, said Mr. Carson once again, “we don’t want to lose her, especially a week before Thanksgiving.”
Using ultrasound as a guide, I inserted a needle into the fluid filled sac around the heart, carefully trying to avoid hitting the heart itself. After five or six minutes, I was able to remove about 6 ounces of fluid. After removing the needle, Lady sat up and her tail started wagging.
I told the Carsons to take Lady home and spoil her because I did not know if the fluid would return quickly and how much time she had.
“Do you think she’ll make it through Thanksgiving?”, Mr. Carson asked me.
“It’s possible”, I said, “but unfortunately the odds are against her.”
Six days later, the day before Thanksgiving, the Carsons returned with Lady.
“She had a very good week”, said Mrs. Carson, “but about two hours ago her tail stopped wagging and she became very lethargic.”
Lady was unable to walk. My technician, Michelle, and I carried Lady from the car back to our ultrasound room. Just as we laid her down, she made a wheezing sound and stopped breathing. I felt for her pulse, listened to her heart with my stethoscope, but heard nothing. I knew her time had come.
I turned to the Carsons and said “I’m sorry, but she’s gone….” Just as I finished my sentence, all of us were shocked by a loud gasp, and saw Lady move her head slowly and slightly from side to side.
“Give me a needle, Michelle”, I shouted, as I placed the ultrasound probe on Lady’s chest. Her heart, surrounded by fluid, was slowly trying to beat. I thread the needle through the sac around her heart and into the fluid, and started pulling on the plunger of the syringe to remove the fluid preventing her heart from beating. Seven minutes later, Lady was walking around the hospital, wagging her tail, asking everyone to pet her. I stood amazed.
Lady enjoyed Thanksgiving the next day. And so did the Carsons. We had to remove fluid from around her heart twice during the month of December. At home, Lady was happy as could be, and enjoyed the extra attention from the Carsons, their family and friends. We rechecked her on December 24th just to see if we needed to remove fluid to avoid her having a problem on Christmas. To my amazement, there was very little fluid present, but I could tell that the tumor was getting slowly larger.
Lady lived three more months, until the middle of March. To the end, she remained one of the happiest dogs I’ve ever known. Her constant tail wagging was the best indicator of her positive mental attitude and I believe that is what gave her the ability to live happily through Thanksgiving and Christmas.