Fluid therapy can be a life saver, writes Lanzarote vet Jane Burke, keeping a patient alive long enough to turn the corner in the fight against illness and injury. last month, she learned this at first hand.
I was proper poorly last month. A tummy upset escalated into a life-threatening digestive illness. I was rapidly too ill to be aware how poorly I had become, and I kept my life because of the fluid and electrolytes run into me 24/7 to replace those I was losing.
When I did get home from hospital my dogs were boisterously pleased to see me. I am so grateful to Geoff, who moved in to look after my motley crew, despite their demands and conditions. He takes the dogs for longer walks, pays them lots of attention, spends more quality time with them and is smitten with my black kitten/cats.
A couple of hours later, the dogs and I are snuggled up together on a settee. My mother’s old Lhasa Apso, Rosy, is licking my right hand and I pull it away as it is already aching, probably from the many intravenous lines I have lived with for the week. As I do, I catch a wisp of an unpleasant smell.
Rosy is most indignant when I inspect her mouth. She is a sweet little dog but a rubbish patient. Just sniffing the air round her fluffy face it’s clear that her breath smells of infection and she is in pain. So she growly-grumbles as she gets an antibiotic injection (it is much safer to remove bad teeth when they have good levels of circulating antibodies to guard against septic spread).
I feel exhausted with this little drama and just want to lie down again. It is amazing how feeble one feels after just a few days in hospital doing absolutely nothing! As I close my eyes the dogs play the boisterously loud ‘Uncle Geoff didn’t feed us’ game. Lots of barking, rushing in and out and on and off furniture. Eventually I tire of arguing with them and I get my phone out and pretend to start the conversation – “Hi. Geoff? Have my dogs eaten?” Who knows what they understand, but their response is immediate. With deep sad sighs they climb back up on the furniture and throw themselves down with theatrical despair. We are all asleep soon.
I was probably out for a good couple of hours. When I wake, my right arm has started to swell and I find texting uncomfortable. I escort the dogs outside and feed them before going up to bed. I have no appetite and have to persuade myself to drink water. Oh, but the bliss of my own bed and the sweet reassurance of my Basset snoring steadily on her bed at the bottom of the stairs!
By morning my arm is visibly swollen as I gradually ease myself back into the ungentle routines of our home, the cooking, the cleaning, the texts of reassurance, sending thanks to friends who looked after everything and fetched personal stuff into hospital. I anaesthetize Rosy and remove three loose and infected back teeth. Such dental work is not demanding but still I find my hand throbbing. I clean up and feed the rest of the family, then snuggle down with Rosy under a blanket for the afternoon.
The next day is coloured by escalating discomfort. I usually attach my dogs’ leads to a wide leather belt to walk them to protect my hard working hands, but the business of getting them in and out of their harnesses is painful. The walk was good but I am shattered. I try to be understanding with a few disgruntled clients who have texted their displeasure at my unavailability but I still politely, but resolutely, refuse all requests for veterinary attention.
On the morning of the third day my coffee addiction temporarily outweighs my self pity. I am completely recovered from the illness that took me into hospital but my arm is hugely swollen and I am poor company for the friends who had been so pleased to see me up and about. I try to concentrate on the paperwork that had bred and multiplied in my absence. This was never my forte and I make no headway. My appetite, at least, has returned and I try to distract myself with cakes and the remnants of my Christmas vegan chocolate stash.
But my arm is unbearable. Back to A&E it is, despite the knowledge that they will inevitably test me yet again for Covid (a seriously unpleasant nasal intrusion). Several hours later I get home with a stash of prescriptions and swallow NSAIDs like smarties. By late afternoon the pain and swelling has definitely lessened. Consequently, to my dogs’ dismay, I am soon fast asleep.
I hadn’t realised I was dangerously ill, I had only barely registered that I was clinically dehydrated. The antibiotics and pain relief all played a part, but intravenous fluid therapy saved my life. Despite the discomfort of an inflammatory reaction to the drip tubing, I am deeply grateful.
A two-edged sword
As with many blessings, the power of intravenous fluids to sustain life is sadly a two-edged sword. Two nights ago I was up through the night monitoring the drips of two of my patients: a beautiful cat with Key Gaskell syndrome and a poor little ginger stray with a severe viral flu. Whilst Key Gaskell can be fatal, my gorgeous fluffy grey friend steadily improved and was well enough to be discharged to his devoted family 24 hours later.
Sadly, my little Ginger is still unable to fight off the virus, unable to find the strength to wash or feed himself and is now too weak to protest or possibly to recover. Fluids could keep him alive, but I need to take the kindest decision.
Keeping creatures alive when they simply can’t get better is not a blessing, but a curse; not kind but cruel. As I write, I have wrapped him in a little duvet on his heated blanket and checked he is clean and comfortable. I pray he turns the corner in the direction of life or slips away in the night.
Let’s get our pets fresh water in clean bowls and rejoice that they can drink unaided, and pray for those that must decide for those that cannot.