Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Vets are the Best!

Lesson Number Fourteen: Always Get The Best Care For Those You Love

We had been gradually treated to clues of Bijoux’s neuroticism early on in her puppyhood. In fact, these little episodes—such as jumping the baby gate, pooping in front of the box fan, only eating certain flavors of Milk Bones—were merely a warm-up from the Big Daddy of all neuroses. And it only cost us $775 in veterinary bills (almost two months rent at the time) to make the discovery.

In December of 1990, Jim, on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, left on a six-month cruise, heading towards the trouble zone in the Middle East. It was quite a stressful time, as the threat of war loomed on the horizon, and Jim was supposed to be released from the ship to shore duty in Great Lakes Illinois in May of 1991. Shortly after he departed, I began my final semester at Old Dominion University, a semester in which I would be consumed with the duties of full-time student teaching, along with keeping my evening job at Leewards Craft Store.

So that's how it went: he was in the Middle East, and I was teaching and working almost every waking moment. Bijoux became very sick. She was vomiting constantly, and having diarrhea constantly. She didn't want to eat, and she was getting skinnier and skinnier. I had her in and out of the vet's office several times: they even kept her there for a 3-day period and then, less than a week later, a 4-day period. Blood work was done, and the University of Virginia (where Dr. Fisher sent it) couldn't find a darn thing wrong with her.

Dr. Fisher had a theory: She was lonely. Wha??? It made sense on a logical level I supposed, but could a dog really get that sick from a period of loneliness? The proof that Dr. Fisher—bless his soul—was right came to us in the second week of May. Within that one whirlwind week, Jim flew home from the Persian Gulf, I completed my student teaching assignment, quit my job at Leewards, and graduated from Old Dominion University. Within days, we moved north so Jim could begin his shore duty assignment at Great Lakes. Like magic, Bijoux was completely “healed”. She became the normally digesting, playful puppy we had grown to know and love.

Another veterinarian made an indelible mark on our family, starting when we moved to Illinois. A neighbor referred me to the Animal Hospital that was less than two miles from the house. It was a group of doctors much like a family practice; each time we took Bijoux in for a visit, we never knew which doctor would come through the door. Since her illness as a puppy, Bijoux was always frightened on a visit to the vet. Upon arrival, she trembled and shed hair in bunches. She often hopped up to sit on my lap in the lobby (or even on the bench next to me, like a real person!), and when we were shown to a patient room, she would either hide under my legs if I sat on the bench, or she would press her shaking body against mine if I joined her on the floor. She absolutely hated being placed on the exam table and constantly sought a way to try to jump past us to the floor. The doctors were all great with her, but one day we found our favorite.

Dr. Dena Heflin entered the patient room, where Bijoux and I sat on the floor waiting. She greeted us, smiling, and as I shook her hand I explained Bijoux’s nervousness. Dr. Heflin said, “Oh, that’s okay! I’ll just check her out here on the floor!” With that, she plopped down onto the floor next to us, and spent a couple of minutes just talking sweetly to Bijoux and petting her, trying to make her feel as comfortable as possible. Bijoux responded by gradually wagging her tail and eventually licking the doctor’s face. I was amazed, and speechless. Dr. Heflin then examined her slowly and carefully, speaking to her as she worked.

Her kindness and consideration for this animal so impressed me that I requested Dr. Heflin each time Bijoux needed shots or had some medical problem that needed to be checked out. I always called the vet to make sure she was working on the day I wanted to bring Bijoux in, and if she was not scheduled to work that day or had surgeries to perform, I changed my schedule to make sure that we could meet with her.

For nearly the last seven years of her life, Bijoux was examined on the floor by Dr. Heflin. Dr. Heflin diagnosed Bijoux’s allergies, performed her knee surgery, removed a “fatty tumor” from her hip, and kept a close eye on other “fatty tumors” that popped up as Bijoux advanced in age. We breathed a big sigh of relief together when a battery of tests showed that Bijoux’s sudden (over a four month period) eight-pound weight loss turned out to be the result of a regular exercise “routine”: playing with her new friend Minnie. Dr. Heflin easily made herself available to speak to me by phone when I just had a quick question, and she always knew exactly how to reassure me when there were problems. Her cheerful greeting of "Hey Bij!" is a sound byte that is still in my head to this day.

As Bijoux got older, I began dreading her eventual death. I wasn’t obsessed hour-by-hour with the idea, however I thought about it now and then and although I was a mature adult who knew the life cycle, I became upset at the mere thought of losing her. One of the thoughts that I was able to comfort myself with was that at least when something happened to Bijoux, she would be in great hands with Dr. Heflin.