My trip with Nell to the cardiologist was somewhat uneventful yesterday, except for the news that she has degenerative heart disease. She got to ride in an elevator for the first time to get to the cardiologist’s floor, and given her enthusiasm for the experience, I don’t think she’ll be going with us on our next trip to the roller coaster park. She’s more of a Tilt-a-Whirl girl.
The people in the office were super nice, though, and incredibly welcoming. But in the process of being welcoming just about everyone that worked there kept getting in Nell’s face to say hello, which was pretty funny to me since they’d do this immediately after I’d warn them that she’s incredibly shy. They’d crouch in front of her, almost nose-to-nose, and talk to her in a really soft, whispery voice—the perfect way to handle an extremely shy dog. She handled it great and only stabbed one of them in the eye with a homemade shank.
In the electrocardiogram room, I was told to stand by Nell’s head to “comfort” her, like I was going to do any good for my people-shy dog while she was rolled over and held down by two strange men, and when I asked what I could do I was told that “we’ll handle everything.” But when the technicians tried to oh-so-gently roll her on her side to do the electrocardiogram, I did try to warn them:
Me: “I know you have to roll her on her side to do this, but be warned that she really hates that.”
Vet Tech1: “Will she bite me? Is she aggressive?”
Me: “She won’t bite you, but she does have a pretty aggressive defense.”
*Vet Tech looks at me like I’m crazy, grabs Nell’s legs and gently rotates her to her side. Nell promptly raises her tail and the smell of turds permeates the exam room.*
Vet Tech 1: “Oh no.”
Me: *trying not to sound too smug* “Did she just express herself?”
Vet Tech 1: “Oh yeah….wow…and still is.”
*A puddle of liquid starts to steadily run off the edge of the exam table. Nell’s tail stays raised for about a minute. Our tiny exam room turns into the Bog of Eternal Stench.*
Me: “Told you it was aggressive.”
*Vet Tech gives me a dirty look that suggests that I’m not being helpful. Dr. Peckens tries unsuccessfully to mop it up with a paper towel. When this fails, he brings over the entire roll and starts tearing off handfuls.*
Vet Tech 1: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog express their anal glands THAT LONG.”
Me: “She likes to make others experience her displeasure. Because she’s a giver.”
Vet Tech 2: *from across the room* “Oh, God! WHAT BUTTON DID YOU PUSH, NORMAN?”
I got to watch really cool images of her heart from a couple of different angles, both in the normal black and white image and with color that showed the strength of the blood flow through the valves. I told the vet I was disappointed that it wasn’t available in HD.
He showed me where Nell was experiencing “mitral valve regurgitation,” which means that there’s some backflow of blood on the left side of her heart. In a normal heart, blood flows down from the left atrium, through a one-way valve called the mitral valve, to the left ventricle. In Nell’s heart, the mitral valve has degenerated so that it can’t form a tight enough seal to prevent the blood from having some backflow from the ventricle to the atrium. As a coping mechanism, her heart has become enlarged through both the left atrium and ventricle with what’s essentially scar tissue. So the final diagnosis is that her heart’s slightly enlarged and she has degenerative heart disease.
This all sounds really scary by itself. But it shouldn’t be. Though the vet said Nell is relatively young (about 5) to experience this, he’s reassured that she hasn’t shown any external symptoms, other than getting kinda tired easily. (We only knew something was wrong in the first place b/c the vet heard a heart murmur during a checkup.) He said that he doesn’t know the trigger and can’t really predict how quickly it will continue to deteriorate, but he did say that this is “normal” heart disease—not one of those freaky other kinds, apparently—and that there’s a good chance it’ll be manageable once she’s put on medication.
At this point, he says it’s not bad enough to put her on meds—b/c the meds treat the heart disease, not prevent it—so we have to wait another 9 or 10 months before coming back for another EKG. By then, she’s probably have progressed enough that we can see how fast it’s degenerating and can plan next steps from there. So what am I supposed to do now? Wait to see if she shows any signs of heart problems, like coughing or vomiting (vomiting, really? For the heart?), etc. and to let her pick her own pace when she’s out playing with Sam. Which really ruins my plans to put her on stilts and train her to be a racing grayhound. But hey, everybody’s gotta have their dreams trashed sometimes, right? Teaches us to be better, stronger individuals.
She was cleared, though, to be put under anesthesia. So we can get her teeth cleaned and have that wart in the middle of her back removed (which kinda looks like Sauron’s eye right now since I cleaned it yesterday). When the vet cleared her to be put under, I was all, “YAY! Now we can buy you those big fake boobies you asked Santa for!” And the vet looked at me like I was crazy. Probably just jealous because HIS mom never bought him big fake boobies.