The Worst part is Not Knowing

Let me tell you about Danny Boy. Danny Boy was a small, 5 pound maltese, who had a whole host of health problems of which, I confess, the details I do not remember. Danny Boy was owned by a nice woman and he came into the clinic I worked for prior to veterinary school. Given the foggy memories I have prior to the extraordinary events which led me to cement him in my memory, I suspect he had heart disease.

This clinic was a very large, busy, bustling hospital where I learned many things about veterinary medicine and what it was like to work in the field. It was so large a PA system was necessary in order to communicate. I was able to help with a large variety of cases and species, everything from helping revive puppies born via C-section, to tube feeding sick parrots, to administering chemotherapy, to finding ways to radiograph fish and turtles and snakes. I helped with my fair share of emergencies, and over time became more comfortable with my place in the scramble, knowing which tube or drug to grab and handing things to the techs and doctors. But in the beginning, before I really knew what to do in an emergency, I stayed out of the way and watched, learning, waiting to be given direction.

My brain has forgotten the details leading up to the day Danny Boy crashed in the treatment room, because there really was nothing spectacular about him until then. He was a sick dog, with a sweet owner who really loved him and wanted him to be around for awhile. Everyone on staff knew Danny Boy due to his frequent hospitalizations. He was a sweet, tiny, nervous, scrawny little dog who frequently shivered. One day on one of his many visits, he was in the treatment room, and he stopped breathing and slumped over. A flurry of activity ensued. Humans surrounded the table he was on. Attempts were made to resuscitate him, CPR was performed, he was intubated, IV catheter placed, epinephrine and atropine administered. He did not respond.

After ten or fifteen minutes, a time of death was called. His doctor began making the [literal] long walk to the front office, to notify the owner of his death. The technicians and assistants stayed behind to clean up the body and the room, in preparation for the owner to see him. Debris littered the floor, and I was bent down picking up syringes and trash, when an amazing thing happened. Danny Boy SAT UP. He opened his eyes. He was breathing, and alive.

Everyone stared at him for a second. Could we all be having the same delusion? No, Danny Boy, who had been clinically dead with no heartbeat for approximately 20 minutes, was looking around at us, wondering what had happened. It was as if a light was shining down on him from above (there was, it was a treatment room spot-light). After a few seconds, the flurry of activity started again. Someone turned on the flow-by oxygen. Someone grabbed a heat source. Someone paged his doctor over the PA system to return to treatment immediately. He did, angry that he was being interrupted in the somber task of telling the owner Danny was dead, until he saw Danny Boy, alive, albeit not well, on the table.

Danny Boy became known as the Miracle Dog after that. His owner was told of the events that had occurred. She said that Danny Boy knew she wasn't ready for him to go. She was extremely grateful to have him around, and he lived about another 6 months after that. I will forever remember the little Miracle maltese who I saw with my own eyes return from the dead.

Civilians have a romanticized view of CPR thanks to TV and movies, assuming that it works the majority of the time. In fact, cardio-pulmonary-cerebral resuscitation is only successful about 10% of the time in people, and even less in animals. And if they do manage to return, there is still a severe disease present that brought them to the brink of death. Most crash a second time and die or are euthanized. More often, they can't be revived. And the ones that hurt the most are the ones who go with no warning, no prior known illness. No answers for the owner. The worst part, on this end of it, is not knowing, not having any explanation to give to the people who just lost their loved one. I've had a few of these lately. I'm still thinking and wondering about them and feeling their losses.


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