This story refers back to a previous post “Quality over Quantity”. In that story, my own dog, Skeeter, was going through chemotherapy for stage 3 hemangiosarcoma. You can read the full post here: https://drbrunke.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/quality-over-quantity/
During the chemotherapy she developed a slight cough and began having intermittent vomiting. Prior to starting chemo, we had established (via x-rays and ultrasound) that there was no cancer in her lungs, stomach, or the rest of her GI tract.
In some cases, coughing can be associated with cancer that spreads into the lung known as a lung metastases. Metastases will be solid and not allow air to move in that part of the lung .In some cases vomiting can be associated with different types of chemotherapy. However, in Skeeter’s case this wasn’t true. We took special precautions around the one drug in her regiment that could possibly cause vomiting and she never vomited during that medication. This would be random vomiting weeks after that drug was given.
Disclosure: During this time I was not completely objective. As a veterinarian, I wanted to know what was causing the problems. As a caregiver, I didn’t. I wanted to ignore it because I didn’t want to have to face the possibility that this was a possible sign that her cancer was spreading elsewhere.
During her follow-up ultrasound exams (looking at the cancer in her liver as it shrunk from chemo) we did not see any problems with her stomach. This was an appeasement to myself, I had looked (a bit) and that sufficed for now.
One Friday, while working at the emergency room, Skeeter’s coughing got worse. At that point, I took x-rays of her chest. I stared over them and peered from different angles trying to find a reason for her cough. I didn’t see anything obviously wrong with her lungs or heart.
I’m lucky to have great friends. My classmates and I keep in touch via smart phone and social media. We all bounce cases off of each other looking for ideas and insights to problems that baffle us. I sent out photos of Skeeter’s x-rays to the group and asked for opinions.
Amy wrote back a moment later, “Yeah, lungs look ok, but what’s that in her stomach?” Then, two other classmates chimed in and said the same thing. I took another look. Just at the edge of the x-rays was part of Skeeter’s stomach. And sure enough it looked like something was in there. (She had not eaten yet that morning) I took another set of x-rays, focusing on her abdomen. And sure enough it looked like there was a foreign object in her stomach.
I sent all the radiographs to another friend for verification. Sean, a boarded veterinary radiologist, took a closer look as I needed to be as close to 100% sure that this was an actual problem in her stomach. Being on chemotherapy and therefore suppressing her immune system did not make her a fantastic candidate for surgery and anesthesia.
Sean wrote back saying that he didn’t know what it was exactly, but it definitely did not belong there. I explained to him her current condition but his thoughts didn’t change: Whatever it was, it needed to come out.
I had two options here: The first was that I could get Skeeter to a specialist to try and remove this via endoscopy. This is where they put the animal under anesthesia and pass a scope down their esophagus with a mini-grappling hook to grab the object and pull them back out. This is called minimally invasive since it doesn’t require surgery and having to heal from an incision. In some cases it is very successful. Sometimes it does not work (object too big, can’t latch on, etc.).
Since it was a Friday, I would have to drive to Cornell for this procedure, unless I wanted to wait until Monday. At the time there was no weekend option for endoscopy in our region.
The second choice was to go in surgically myself and check it out. Anesthesia is a minimal risk for both cases. The hesitation I had was being wrong and not actually having an object to remove as well as having Skeeter need to heal from two incisions: one in her stomach, the other her abdominal wall.
Second disclaimer: Skeeter had never been a chewer and never really played with toys. So, there wasn’t anything that I knew of that could cause the obstruction. This fact contributed to my hesitation. But there was definitely something there. I just didn’t know what it was.
Ultimately, with support from Sean, Amy, and others, I went forward with surgery that afternoon. Skeeter did great through anesthesia and I found a small “U” shaped piece of flexible rubber in her stomach.
She recovered very well and didn’t have any further vomiting, coughing (likely the rubber getting stuck in her esophagus) or other problems during her chemotherapy.
I have no idea where the piece of rubber came from, or why she chose to eat it.
It can be daunting to face your fears. I was scared of what I would find with Skeeter’s vomiting and coughing. Facing my fear and finding the support of good friends helped me get through a difficult time and I am lucky that it had a good outcome.