After calling our regular vet to confirm they were closed for the night, we hopped in the car and headed to the local 24-hour emergency vet (which, thankfully, is about a 10 minute drive from our house). We'd caught someone at our vet's office before they left for the day, so they were able to fax over Pepper's medical history while we were on our way.
It didn't take long before we were in an exam room. A vet tech came and took care of all the normal stuff: temperature, weight, all that jazz. My perception of time is all out of whack, but I don't think it was very long after that before the vet came in. He checked Pepper over, asked us to tell him what happened (which we had already told the receptionist and the vet tech, so we were pretty good at getting all the details out by then). By this point, Pepper was so lethargic and weak that he was simply lying on the exam table, barely lifting his head. It took everything in me not to start bawling.
We learned a few things right away. The first was that the vet believed Pepper's heart murmur was at a grade 4 or 5. Now, grading heart murmurs can be pretty subjective and it obviously varies by vet, but the last we knew he was at a 2 or 3 so that kind of hit me like a truck. The other thing we learned was that they were going to keep Pepper... for 2 or more days. I HATED the idea of him being away from us, but I also understood the importance of monitoring him and keeping him safe.
One thing that kept resulting in perplexed looks and confusion was that Pepper hadn't been vomiting or had any nasty shits since getting into the garbage. We admitted that we had been surprised by that as well, and no one was sure if that was a good sign or a bad one.
We were given a rundown of the tests he would undergo: x-rays and ultrasounds to check for blockages, an echo to see how his heart is doing, etc. He would be put on an IV right away to keep him hydrated, and they would be keeping him in an area that has someone on duty 24 hours a day. They offered to take us on a tour of the facility, which we gladly took them up on. They showed up where Pepper would get his testing done, where he would be sleeping, where the other animals would be... I was glad to see that he would have plenty of space (the crate he had there was bigger than the one he shares with Maxine) and that someone would be there to check in on him. After a lot of fussing and near breakdowns, we left our little man in their hands.
They told us we could call or come over to check on him whenever we wanted. We started taking advantage of that the next morning. I had a dentist appointment that morning (yay cavity) and was originally supposed to work before and after, but with my baby in the hospital, I wasn't able to concentrate on anything else. I got through my dentist appointment, got back home, and asked Hubby what he'd learned. The truth was that there wasn't much to know yet. They had done the echo and the x-rays, but hadn't found anything conclusive. They said he had been walking fine when they took him out around 3 that morning, and again around 8, but that when they walked him at 10 he had regressed, and was back to being unsteady and uncoordinated. They decided that the next step was an ultrasound, but after that they were pretty much out of ideas. They suggested we consider seeing a neurologist.
What Hubby said at that point about killed me. "Putting him down is starting to look like a real possibility."
I wasn't ready to accept that. I called my mom and talked to her for awhile. She helped calm me down and after talking about things, I decided to go the vet to visit. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have reservations about driving in Milwaukee. Hubby drives me damn near everywhere I need to go, and driving in the city makes my anxiety jump through the roof. I'd already had to drive myself to the dentist that morning, and here I was about to drive to the vet. I wish Pepper could understand how much I love him. I was not just willing to drive to see him, I was determined to. You couldn't have stopped me. Because if putting him down was even an option, I was going to spend as MUCH time with him as possible.
I spent an hour with him that afternoon. They put a blanket on the floor for me to sit on, and they opened the crate so I could get close to him. I talked to him. I pet him. I kissed him and hugged him. He was still so lethargic, I could hardly believe he was my little man.
They stopped by to draw blood from him at one point. He was slightly more alert after that (probably because they had taken him from the comfort of his blankies), but not much. He perked up a bit when he heard another dog getting fed, and they told me that he had been eating while he was there, which is always a good sign. I left reluctantly (only because I knew we'd be back later), and managed not to cry until I got into my car.
Hubby and I came back that evening to talk to the vet. Little had changed, but we were going to try something new. We were going to put him back on the thyroid medication (the stuff we had tried in June for a couple of weeks), because it appeared clear to the vet that the thyroid issues were the predominant concern at the moment. After spending some more time with Pepper, we left, hoping the morning would bring some better news.
To be continued...