The Nightmare before Christmas

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

After a soft knock, our receptionist partially opened the door and peeked into the examination room. Apologizing for the interruption, she told me Bobby's owner was on the phone very worried because after vomiting several times overnight and being weak and wobbly this morning he had now had a seizure. Bobby, the client had reported over the phone, had consumed several bunches of mistletoe that had decorated their home for an office party the previous evening. I told our receptionist this did not sound good; better get Bobby over immediately for me to see him.

I returned my attention to Polly, a 5 year old African grey parrot sitting in her cage now, on my examination table. Polly was feeling very poorly. Her owners had decorated their mantle with fresh bows of holly, replete with those lovely red berries, cut from the bushes in their backyard. Unfortunately, many of those red berries were missing when Polly was found perched on the mantle partaking of the Christmas decorations. Now Polly was going to have to be admitted to the hospital for some intensive care.

It was the day before Christmas and I didn't like the way this day was shaping up. It was going to be stressful for me, my patients and my staff trying to deal with all these critically ill animals.

When I took Polly back to be admitted, I reviewed the hospital treatment chart. I still had a waiting room full of patients to see but I was anxious to know how things were going with the in-hospital patients. I was happy to learn that Socks had been able to eat a small bit of breakfast. Two days ago Socks had chewed through the electrical cord on the Christmas tree lights in her home and had a severe electrical burn on her tongue, and lips. We would need to continue her intravenous fluids and supportive care and she still would likely need to have a tooth extracted, as soon as we were able, because of damage to her jaw on one side of her mouth. Thank goodness she was feeling some better.

I noticed that Snoopy, the beagle, had received his pre-anesthetic medications and was ready to go to surgery as soon as I gave the word. Snoopy had consumed a lovely Christmas tree decoration. The large Styrofoam ball covered with miniature marshmallows and sparklers must have looked and tasted great. Sadly, those shining sparklers and marshmallows were attached to the ball with straight pins and now I was going to have to surgically remove thirty or forty pins, some still in his stomach and others spread along Snoopy's small intestine.

As I was heading back to see another patient, one of our vet techs told me Sandy's x-rays were up for me to view. Sandy, usually a bouncy 6 year old slightly overweight female yellow Labrador was standing in a hang-dog stance in the x-ray holding cage. She had been admitted earlier this morning, not having eaten anything for a whole day. She had vomited several times and was drooling long strands of saliva from her lips. This had all started after Sandy had consumed the remains of a turkey feast she had found in the garbage after a family gathering. The x-rays revealed several turkey bones in her stomach and small intestine. But, were these indigestible bone fragments the source of her trouble or had the turkey skin and fat she had consumed triggered a potentially life-threatening pancreatitis? This wasn't the night before Christmas it was the nightmare before Christmas.

I would have to sort that out later; right now I had to deal with my next patient. It didn't get any better. Samson, a nine year old Siamese, had always liked to chew on house plants; nevertheless, the sweet senior lady who owned him could not resist a large lovely red poinsettia to add to the Holiday atmosphere in her home. Now Samson had vomited all night, was weak and dehydrated and the poinsettia plant, stripped of its leaves, shed no seasonal cheer at all. I began to explain what I thought was Samson's problem and I couldn't believe what happened. Normally so grandmotherly, gentle and soft spoken, Samson's owner flew into a rage. She began to berate me for not warning her about the poinsettia danger for Samson. She stormed around the exam table, grabbed my shoulders and began to shake me.

Suddenly I came to, opened my eyes and sat up in my chair. Our receptionist, standing over me, had roused me with her shaking. "Time to go home, Dr. B.", she announced, "it's been so slow this afternoon, you must have dozed off. Isn't it wonderful, all our clients have been so careful with their pets this Christmas and we haven't had any Christmas Eve emergencies?"
May I take this opportunity to wish all pets and their people a Peaceful and Joyous Holiday Season.