By Dr. Ed Mapes
Stonebridge Animal Hospital
McKinney, Tx

“Hi Doc, I’ll need some help with this one”. Jerry was a large burly man, even swarthy in appearance, but was possessed of a nature gentle as a butterfly’s wings. He was a “dog-catcher”, but his city Animal Control Unit brought injured animals to our hospital on a regular basis rather than routinely putting them to sleep; Jerry was most responsible for that kindness.

“I’m not so sure how to handle this one”, he said as I followed him to the truck on a blustery Michigan day in December. What I saw when the big man opened the door was hard to believe. A young adult Chocolate Labrador Retriever sat at attention and wagged his tail – the kind of wag that involves the whole body – even though he was gasping for breath. Blood still dripped from a wound on the right side of his chest, a hole through which the shank of an arrow protruded. Tissue and hair hung from the three-pronged barb of the arrowhead, adding an exclamation point to the malicious act that put it there.

The other end of the shaft had entered the left chest wall, and now stuck out from that side as if to add symmetry to the scene. I talked to him slowly while approaching the big dog, he licked my hand while I rubbed his ears, and then carefully picked him up and walked straight to the hospital’s treatment room.

We clearly had to place a chest tube to remove air and blood from the thorax, or this patient would soon be dead. While a technician placed an intravenous catheter in his front leg, I listened to his heart and lungs – heart beating rapidly but OK, lung sounds not so good. We started IV fluids and various medications, and hooked him up to the monitors. I gave an injection to provide light anesthesia and we breathed for him through a trachea tube; then I sawed off the shank at its entry point so we could lay him on the table. A minute later the chest tube was in place and we were aspirating air from the thorax – the breathing improved immediately as we let him breathe on his own.

With the EKG reading more normal levels, we took two fast X-rays of the chest. The arrow had pierced the chest wall, broke a rib, and apparently nicked one of the left lung lobes. I began to slowly remove the arrow from the other side as we watched the monitors. With the wounds on both sides sutured, we removed all remaining air from the chest and woke “Ranger” up.

Over the next two days we monitored his breathing, temperature, blood parameters and another round of X-rays, and retrieved less air and blood every time we suctioned the chest tube. On the third morning, I removed the tube and watched as our new favorite patient wolfed down his brunch – we called Animal Control with the good news that Ranger was ready to leave the hospital. He would be taken to the shelter, and they’d try to find a suitable home.

A lady clad in a sharp grey pinstriped business suit with red silk blouse threw open the passenger side door of Jerry’s city truck. She fairly sprinted up the walk leading to the hospital – one high heel flying in the air behind her as she ran – and burst through the front door. “Where’s Bronco”, she panted, “Can I see him now?”

“This is Mrs. Leyton”, beamed Jerry as he brought up the rear. “She owns the guy you’ve been calling Ranger!” Jerry had somehow tracked down our patient’s owner!

If not for the shaved areas and stitches on Bronco’s chest, you’d never know what he’d been through. I hung on to the leash for dear life as he pulled me through the doors to the waiting room, where he’d heard his owner’s voice. That full-body tail wag was in high gear when he reached her; the happy ending to “Ranger’s” miracle story.

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