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Mulder’s Nightmear

A recent photo of Mulder (Image: Shirley Marsh)

It started with blood gushing from her ear. We were out in the yard, Mulder seemed fine, then suddenly she walked up to me and blood is just flowing from inside her ear. I carried her inside and rushed to the emergency vet clinic. By the time I got there, the blood had slowed significantly.

The veterinarian who examined Mulder explained that she had a mass inside her ear that had ruptured. It was impossible to tell without a CT scan if it was a small, benign polyp or the tip of a large, cancerous mass. The bleeding was likely to continue and surgery by a specialist was required because regular vets don’t perform the type of surgery needed (total ear canal ablation). The emergency clinic has several specialists in-house including surgical but unfortunately their schedule was fully booked for the day so I would have to bring Mulder back in a few days. This sounded very expensive and I asked for an estimate.

I was handed an estimate while the vet explained that the final cost was contingent on what the CT scan revealed. The bottom line: a $5000 deposit was required in order to get started.

My heart sank and my mind raced. It seemed unlikely that a small, benign polyp ruptured and started pouring out buckets of blood. In my head, I kept hearing cancer, $5000, continued bleeding.

I explained the surgery was not financially feasible and asked about conservative management options. The vet stood silently, looking at me as if I’d started speaking in dolphin clicks. I tried to help her snap out of it by asking for something specific.

“Could we do an x-ray to get an idea of what it looks like in there?”

“Due to the number of bones in the head, an x-ray would not give us the information we need or show us the soft tissue. A CT scan by the specialist is the only thing that will.”

More silence.

“What about pain medication?”

“I don’t think she’s in any kind of terrible pain but I could send you home with something.”

It was like pulling teeth to get anything out of this vet. We finally resolved to send Mulder home with pain meds, an herbal powder to help stop the bleeding, and a plan to follow up with my regular vet.

I texted my regular vet from the lobby while waiting for the bill. She asked for pictures. I sent some. She called me and said this dog needs help, if you can get through the night I’ll see her first thing in the morning. Ok.

(Image: GPI Anatomicals)

What a long night that was. I slept, or tried to, in my clothes so I’d be ready to get on the road early. I spent most of the night listening to Mulder breathe in the dark, thinking about all the things. She had been brought to us on the day after Thanksgiving, 11 years ago, Thanksgiving is coming up soon, would she be here then, why hadn’t I thought to ask the emergency vet about infection, is this finally the scenario I’ve feared my entire adult life, being forced to euthanize a pet due to lack of finances, etc.

The next morning we saw our regular vet. She did an exam, saw massive infection in the ear canal then suggested head x-rays (apparently canine heads have less bones at the regular vet’s office), in-house bloodwork and shaving the area to get a better look. Hell yeah, a conservative management plan was hatching!

After Mulder was finished, the vet found she’d been bitten on the neck by one of our other dogs. And while she couldn’t say for certain, it’s possible that this whole episode developed from the bite leading to an abscess, infection moving up the neck to the ear until it finally burst. The x-ray showed her tympanic membrane was still intact but something, possibly infection, was squeezing the ear canal and running all down the neck. Her blood results were overall good with just one elevated value which the vet said could be consistent with cellulitis from the bite. Since the infection was a raging behemoth, she gave Mulder an antibiotic injection and sent us home with systemic and topical antibiotics.

At that point, my emotions were on rapid fire: angry that the emergency vet hadn’t even said the word infection or offered antibiotics when I asked for conservative management options; relieved that now there was some reasonable hope of getting through this; oh and thank fuck I didn’t kill my dog because I couldn’t come up with a $5000 deposit for a surgery she didn’t need. A lot that.

Mulder’s case is not resolved. We need to reevaluate her in two weeks after the antibiotics are finished and the infection is hopefully significantly beaten down. The vet will look at the mass and see if it seems like something that was involved with the bite or if it’s something else. We’ll come up with a plan then. My vet called last night to check on Mulder and asked me if it seemed like we are on the right track. I told her I think we are. Haven’t heard a word from the vet who sent us home with a serious, undisclosed infection and no antibiotics.

Today I’m hopeful though I can’t help wondering how many other pets have been seen at this emergency clinic, given a false diagnosis based upon an inadequate exam, and received zero options when the owners couldn’t afford the recommended treatment. Have any of those animals been euthanized by heartbroken owners who thought they were preventing suffering they could never afford to end?

I should provide some context as to how Mulder likely got bitten. She’s a jerk. Every family has one, right? She’s been a “mommy guarder” all her life. Every day, all day long she growls as soon as another dog comes into the room with me and if a dog approaches me to say hello, she will nip them right in the face. She’s never broken the skin or even left a mark but her behavior is very rude and I have always worried that one day, someone is going to get fed up with her. Apparently someone did.

It wasn’t a terrible looking bite, just tooth marks and not at all noticeable without shaving her, but obviously it got infected. So although I didn’t see it happen, most likely she got what was coming to her. Don’t get me wrong, I love her dearly and I will be keeping an even closer eye on her in future (policing her already seemed like a full time job) but I’d hate for anyone to think she’s an innocent bystander or that our other dogs are fiends.

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