One More Day
The veterinary ER. Often a place of high anxiety for pets, their family members, and veterinary professionals. I worked as a veterinary technician in the ER for a number of years and during my time I witnessed heartbreaking situations along with miraculous recoveries. Many animals came through those double doors, but there is one case I will never forget.
It was a rainy Wednesday night at the ER, and we had only seen a couple of patients – always a bad omen – when I heard the receptionist page back saying “HBC on the way. I believe it’s a young dog. I couldn’t understand the owners very well over the phone, they are very upset.” Hit. By. Car. A pet parent’s worst nightmare, yet not an uncommon situation at the ER. HBC injuries can range from minor scrapes and bruises to fractures to life-ending injuries so we always have to prepare for the worst-case scenario when a HBC is admitted. A few minutes later Tugger arrived, and we knew this was going to be a long night.
Tugger was the most adorable German Shepherd puppy. At five months old he had barely began his life, and now he was fighting for it. He had been involved in a hit and run – thankfully his family members heard it happen and brought him to us right away. Tugger was brought immediately to me and the veterinarian on duty. Working together to assess his condition and stabilize him at the same time – we realized he was in very critical condition. The accident had left Tugger completely blind and unable to hear. He had broken 2 legs: a front and a rear. He had severe neurological deficits and was unresponsive. In the world of human medicine, he would have been considered a vegetable.
This was a case that, in most circumstances, would be an immediate recommendation of humane euthanasia. However; something about Tugger made everybody – from the owners to the veterinarians – continue to push through. One more day. One more chance. One more hope for life.
Our first priority was, of course, to make sure he was comfortable and in as little pain as possible. Many diagnostic tests were performed to assess all the damage and make sure his organs continued to function. He was set up with an IV fluid line as well as a nasogastric tube (a tube through the nose into the stomach) allowing us to get nutrients to him.
Tugger was adorable (hello! Shepherd puppy!) and it was absolutely heartbreaking to see him lying in his kennel completely helpless. I worked with the veterinarians (yes, many veterinarians were involved – from specialists to ER vets) around the clock to help save Tugger. Each night when I showed up for my shift, I just held my breath and prayed for a miracle because beyond that none of us were sure that any of our life saving efforts would truly bring this sweet boy around. But we kept pushing: One more day.
I walked through the doors on the third day with bated breath, and started my daily treatments on Tugger when I noticed an ear twitch. It was quick. It was subtle. But I was sure I saw it! Nothing else moved. He still could not see. He was not responding or lifting his head, but his ear twitched! And from that moment on, each day, we noticed the tiniest, smallest improvements each day.
He began trying to lift his head ever so slightly from the pillow we had propped him up on. Then, he tried moving one of his front legs forward. He continued to stare straight ahead (indicating to us no vision or hearing function had returned) and it was unclear to my team exactly how much function he would regain. Admittedly, we were all shocked (and excited!) at his progress. But we remained cautiously optimistic because despite these seemingly small improvements – they were huge hurdles for Tugger. And it did not indicate a full, or even functioning, recovery.
Each day Tugger continued to surprise us with his improvements. About 7 days after being admitted to the ER, he was able to lift his head and sit upright. He could hear us when we talked to him and would turn in our direction to lick our faces. He began eating and drinking on his own with a little encouragement, but preferred that one of us snuggled him in our laps while we hand fed him – which of course we all loved doing!
We were able to get him to stand up and start taking small assisted steps with the use of a sling as he had two casts on his broken legs. Tugger was so proud of himself as he stumbled and tripped over his own feet. He was up and he was moving and each day he became more and more stable on his legs. One more day.
The very last thing to return was his eyesight. We were already so blown away with his miraculous recovery to this point, we figured we should be thankful for how far he has come and recognize that he may remain blind for life. However, our little fighter Tugger had other plans, and one day, almost 2 weeks after his accident, he started to respond to all the tests for vision.
I have seen many serious cases throughout my years in the ER and still have never seen a recovery quite like Tugger’s. I consider myself an optimist. I wanted so badly to believe he was going to make a full recovery, but if I'm honest, I thought Tugger’s story was going to have a very sad ending and even if he did survive, he'd never be the same.
Six months later I got paged to one of the exam rooms at the ER. Thinking there was another emergency needing my help I rushed there and when I opened the door, a handsome long legged German Shepherd bounded towards me. He jumped up on me and showered my face in kisses. Tugger’s Mom had brought him back to the ER to thank us for saving his life. I had tears rolling down my cheeks. He was perfect. He was happy, and he was so full of life!
I rarely have the opportunity to see my patients months after they've come through the doors at the ER. Seeing Tugger was a very, very special day and one I will never forget! Tugger taught me to never give up fighting. Never give up hope, and to show those who are important to you all the love and thankfulness you can possibly give.
– Alana Porterfield, LVT