There are some cases that make me proud to be part of such an incredible vocation. Medical cases that reaffirm my devotion to the profession of veterinary medicine, and reaffirm my faith in humanity. My faith in animal kind needs no reaffirming.
Rambo was one of these cases. Rambo is a shepherd mix dog owned by an elderly couple. They are devoted to him, and he brings great joy to their lives. Rambo was sitting on the couch one moment and the next moment was paralyzed from the neck down. At 110 pounds, his owners needed to call their children to help get him to Veterinary Medical Center.
When Rambo arrived, an exam revealed he had damaged his spinal cord. The most likely culprit was a fibrocartilagenous embolism, a type of clot to the spinal cord. Only an MRI could diagnose for sure, but the owners did not have the resources for this procedure. They wanted him treated nearby. Rambo was hospitalized in the ICU and given pain medications and anti-inflammatories. Meanwhile his predicament was pondered. How to manage a quadriplegic 100 lb dog? He couldn’t even lift his head to eat. We tried to support his big body in a sling to take pressure off joints. To do anything at all for Rambo took three or four people, because he was so heavy and completely paralyzed. By most measures, it looked hopeless. Family and friends of Rambo’s owners even recommended euthanasia. But it was clear to us Rambo wanted to try. His owners believed he had a chance. Rambo was their special boy and brought them so much happiness. They wanted to do everything for him, and were so thankful we wanted to try.
He was given one week to show any sign of improvement; we also decided to absolutely quit if his spirits got low. That next week was really hard – emotionally and physically. Rambo needed so much time and attention. We were discouraged by how much work he took (several hours a day for several people) and with how little progress he was making. He would not have made it without an inspiring group of veterinary technicians who diligently changed his bedding, hand fed him, expressed his bladder, and carried him outside so he could lie on the green grass in the sunshine. His favorite technician spent part of each day feeding him treats and massaging his neck muscles; he wailed if she was not nearby.
At first it seemed like our imagination – a tail wag or twitch of a foot. It was soon realized as real! Small movements became larger movements, and by week two he could wiggle his way around his kennel like a snake. In some ways, this mobility made everything harder. Rambo, realizing he could move a little, tried to move a lot. He tried so hard to push himself forward and stand that he fell forward on the bars of the cage and injured his nose. Our hearts sank as one step forward seemed to turn into one step back. Nonetheless his mobility was encouraging. There was no giving up now!
Rambo’s attentive care did not begin and end with technicians. Soon even VMC clients were asking about him and bringing him treats and toys. As he gained strength and some ability to move his legs, he could walk outside with the support of a sling. After a month, one morning we arrived to see him standing in his cage, eagerly looking at us with a “where is my breakfast?” look on his face, as if nothing was awry. With continued physical therapy, a week later, Rambo walked out of Veterinary Medical Center (albeit slowly), home to his family. More than anything else, Rambo proves that there is more to medicine than fancy equipment, technology and expertise. The most important thing we have to offer are the softer things: compassion, teamwork, and faith. To give all beloved pets a chance when all seems lost! What a miracle.