Even after a two decades of emergency work, I never quite knew what to expect when the next patient came clanging through the swinging doors. It’s this constant uncertainty that made emergency work exciting, gave me my nightly “adrenaline rush," and made me grey years before my time.
One summer night, the familiar crash of the gurney against the doors caused me to look up from the laceration I was suturing. What was the staff rushing back? A hit by car? A seizure case ? A heat stroke? No, not quite. What I saw was so bizarre that for a split second I thought my chronically sleep deprived mind was playing tricks on me! On the gurney lay a small black cockapoo, thumping a scraggly black tail against the table top, with a woodstove on its head.
This poor little bugger had been minding her own business just a few hours ago. She had been enjoying the lovely summer day, playing in the cool fragrant grass, just another happy dog in the beautiful uncomplicated animal world when a fuzzy devil with long ears and a little white tail ran right by her. She gave fervent chase across the freshly mown lawn, into the barn, and was within inches of her quarry as it ran right into a woodstove. She ran right after it--or tried. Physics has never been a canine strong suit and in the heat of the chase Missy the huntress did not have time to figure that her 18 inch rotund had-too-many-table-scraps body would not fit through a 10 inch iron opening.
But her head would.
Unfortunately, getting in the stove was the easy part. Now that she was in past her large ears, she couldn’t slide her face back out. She was stuck--hopelessly stuck! The more she tried to remove herself, the more stuck she became. And you can bet that Beezelbub in rabbit fur just sat there and howled squeaky bunny guffaws.
Meanwhile, poor Missy was starting to get in real trouble. Now her neck and face were starting to swell, and she was starting to have trouble breathing. Luckily some neighbors happened by and heard Missy’s desperate cries. They tried a variety of lubricants and techniques, but try as they might, they could not extricate the panicked pooch from the iron prison.
Missy’s owner was nowhere to be found, but the kind, concerned neighbors could tell that something had to be done to help Missy soon or she would suffocate. So, they gathered up the kids, started up the car, and brought Missy into my clinic.
Woodstove and all.
The neighbors had actually been able to remove the door from the stove so what actually came crashing back through our swinging doors was poor Missy with her head through the door, her neck encased in the stove pipe, and her swollen, panicked face visible above the door. The neighbor couple kept hold of the door to keep Missy’s neck from cracking under the weight of the twenty pound door.
It was a classic case of WGD--Whatcha Gonna Do? Some things they just don’t teach you in vet school! I couldn’t hardly look in a text book for advice on this one. Let’s see....Woodstove on head....or in the Ohio State professional vernacular: Ferric lignite oxidation chamber ensconced on cervical region of spayed female canine resulting in submandibular swelling, laryngeal obstruction via exogenous pressure source and subsequent inspiratory dyspnea...see also dogs that think they’re Houdini.
No, we were definitely on our own on this one.
After surveying the situation, we decided if we could just open the pipe up a little, we would have enough space to bring back Missy’s ears, and then slide her head out. Piece of cake! My assistant Robert grabbed a massive pair of bolt cutters we keep on hand to cut off collars, leash clips, and other assorted metal pieces that dogs find ways of getting caught in their fur. Robert was very tall and very strong and applied all his might with the bolt cutters on the edge of the pipe, just hoping for a small gap in the pipe.
That woodstove just laughed at our feeble attempt and broke our bolt cutters in two.
Our next attempt was to try and slide Missy out. Using a mess of petrolatum, we tried furtively to extricate Missy. Her swollen face and entrapped ears made this completely impossible. We decided our only other option was to deliver her, like a calf in an iron cow.
When I was a young girl, my mother would futilely try to steer me away from my dream of being a veterinarian and toward the more lucrative profession of pediatrics. “You have such small hands,” she said, “They would be perfect for pediatric surgery.” I did have small hands, and hated them, especially when trying to play ragtime on the piano. Though I will never have the 3 octave stretch that Scott Joplin and Zez Confrey and the other ragtime greats, I have found that when trying to deliver puppies and kitties, small hands are a blessing.
And it was my glove size 6, never to be a “real doctor” according to my heartbroken mother, never to play the Maple Leaf Rag like Mr. Joplin meant, itsy bitsy hands that were just small enough to reach into the iron birth canal entrapping Missy. Once inside, I was able to lubricate and manipulate Missy’s ears and face and inch her out of the pipe back into the free world.
Little Missy was able to return to her rabbit-chasing ways in no time, though she became somewhat of a local celebrity. The local paper carried her story and included a happy Missy with her owner after the ordeal and the picture we had taken of her when she had arrived. She had the most curious look in her eyes, though--as if to say: “Why are these people taking my picture instead of getting me out of this bunny trap? Another inch and I would have had that sucker...“