Charlie Goes to the Vet

In October while my Mom was visiting, I enlisted her help while trimming Charlie’s toenails. His nails are always long and have always varied in color; some are white, others on the same foot are black. He’s generally pretty good about getting his nails trimmed, but his trusting nature puts even more pressure on me not to take too much off. I’m always afraid of cutting his nails to the quick, which would hurt and cause bleeding. I noticed, and had my Mom look at it, one of his odd nails. It seemed to have split vertically. The way the split was angled, I couldn’t cut it. My plan was to leave it to Mother Nature for a few weeks and see if it got long enough I could cut it easily.

Fast forward a month and a half. Charlie is once again getting his nails and Clydesdale-esque foot hair a trim since we finally got some snow. His nail looks much, much worse. Though it hasn’t torn anymore, the area inside the nail is crumbly and brown. We called our vet, who has only seen Layla before, and made an appointment.

On Thursday at 4, we wrangled Charlie in the car (getting a 70 pound, claustrophobic collie into a 2 door car is hard enough; add in the addition of a car seat base to one of the seats and it becomes akin to the clown car sketches at circuses). It’s been excessively cold here in Alaska (highs around 1 or even in the negatives, temperatures staying in the negatives all day) and on top of that, we were under a high wind advisory. The biggest issue with the wind is that it blows snow drifts into very inconvenient places, like the middle of roads. It also blows snow off the parking lots, leaving a thick layer of ice without any traction on top of it. Being 37 weeks pregnant, I’m not a fan of this. Walking is hard enough; ice skating without the skates just seems cruel. We were so confident that this little toenail matter would be cleared up quickly, J almost left the car running.

If only we’d known. Before even examining Charlie, the vet mentioned that typically vertical splits were difficult to deal with, and the best solution was complete removal of the toenail from the nail bed, which requires sedation. My heart just about stopped. Sedation, to me, is surgery. The only other time Charlie has had surgery is when he, ah, lost the ability to procreate. He’s nine years old now, and all vets seem to think that makes him a ‘senior dog’. I don’t know why they don’t understand Charlie is simply immortal, because I’ve had him since he was 7 weeks old and he tormented me so much then that I was guaranteed never losing him to something as passive-aggressive as time.

The vet gave Charlie a full physical and determined he also has osteo-arthritis, another issue with older dogs. I didn’t feel the need to share my Charlie-immortality theory at this point. She then examined his toenail, and said he definitely needed to have the whole thing removed. J, being much more fluent in medical gibberish than myself, asked about alternatives to full sedation. His reaction reassured me that sedation seemed quite serious, especially over a toenail. Surgery makes me worry about Charlie simply not waking up, which would destroy me.

The vet explained that sedation was the best option because local anesthesia couldn’t guarantee numbness in the toenail bed, which is where the pain would be worst. We agreed to the sedation, signed some paperwork, and were told the surgery and waking-up process would take about an hour and a half. Though worried, I knew there was nothing I could do except wait and pray. So I did a little of the former and a lot of the latter. We went to grab a bite to eat (at this point in the pregnancy, I’m basically always a little hungry. Seeing as how we thought this appointment would be quite short, I hadn’t even had a snack between leaving school and taking Charlie to his appointment.) We returned to the vet and waited some more.

After the surgery, the vet explained that Charlie was awake, but not himself yet. She’d removed the toenail all the way to the base, hoping that it would grow back normally. His foot is bandaged, he can’t get it wet, he can’t walk in deep snow, he can’t lick it or chew on it. He has pain medicine he takes twice a day. His toenails are weird, most likely due to genetics, but we have to keep them really short because of their peculiarity. We need to keep him stimulated and alert to verify the sedation has fully worn off. The cold air and wind woke him up some when we got him outside, but he immediately wanted to doze when we got back in the car.

When we got home, J carried him in from the car; Charlie hates being carried, but was completely compliant. Nala and Layla thoroughly sniffed him while he swayed on his feet, leaning heavily against me. Layla licked his long snout. J made him walk all over, trying to keep him alert. Charlie laid down. We tried rubbing his face. Yelling in his face. He was still falling back asleep. Finally, I said, “Charlie, I’m going to run.”

No running, ever, for any reason, is Charlie’s number one rule. His head snapped up. I stood. His eyes followed me.

“I’ll do it. I’ll run,” I teased.
“Do it. Run,” J instructed. I looked at him dubiously. I’m currently the same size as a small whale. Running is not my friend. I slowly jogged in a circle around the dining table. Charlie made his typical groaning noise, but at a small level. I did another circle, all the while singing, “I’m running, I’m running!” Charlie’s groans increased in level and severity with each lap, until he stood up and barked and began what he thought was chasing me. If I was running slow for me, Charlie was running in slow-motion for himself. I’m sure he thought he was very fast, and his eyes were dancing excitedly for playtime, but he was walking.

When I tired, J began running through the house, Charlie slowly following and yelling at him, but clearly having fun. He was still pretty loopy. Once the running excitement wore off, we needed a new tactic. Since he was a puppy, Charlie and I have played Hide-and-Seek, where I hide and he finds me. So we did this for a while.

In our defense, we tried to get him to play with his favorite toys, but he chose sleep. If you’ve ever met Charlie, he greeted you with a toy in his mouth. His disinterest in his toys was the biggest concern.

When hide and seek lost its luster as well, we resorted to Pavlov. We’ve conditioned our dogs with the Jaws music. When we do the, “do-do, do-do,do do do do do do!” music, we tickle them at the end. Even though it’s just tickling, they think it’s the biggest deal. So we resorted to the Jaws music.

Finally, enough time had passed so we could let him rest. We needed rest too at this point; keeping him alert was exhausting!

I’m glad to report the patient is doing well, though he has developed a limp. He has shown only little interest in licking or chewing his bandage, and is very much over being walked instead of allowed to run around his yard. The wind has blown knee-high snow drifts around the deck, meaning he has to be walked in the front yard. Charlie is quite modest and doesn’t like doing his business in front of people, so he isn’t enjoying these walks very much. He’s whined and cried some from the pain, which is the hardest part for me. I give him his pain medicine as often as I can, which is twice a day, but he’s still uncomfortable and in pain. Poor guy. We also discovered he know weighs 79 pounds, instead of 70 as we thought. But the weight may just be his winter coat.

Thankfully, his bandage gets removed tomorrow. He has pain medicine for a week, but he’s getting lots of love and attention to help make up for the gap the medicine leaves.

Moral of the story: toenails are serious business.

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