It was shaping up to be an especially joyous Christmas for us this year. Our daughter would be transitioning to a new position just after the first of the year following a months long deployment. She elected to spend her holiday with us in Maine. A few days after catching a military flight out of Bahrain, she finally landed at the Bangor airport a few days before Christmas. Sadie, our 13-year-old rescue dog, went with us to the airport to pick her up. We adopted Sadie from the Bangor Humane Society just after Becca graduated from college and was commissioned as an officer in the Navy. Except for the year we moved to Maine, my husband and I have always shared our home with at least one dog and they were all “rescued” from shelters, friends, and even a stray that the kids found under the bleachers at the Little League baseball park. In all that time, most of our encounters with vets were routine annual physical exams and vaccinations. Every once and a while, one of the dogs would get into a tiff with another animal and require some special services (porcupine quills removed, a squirrel bite treated, and so on). But by and large, they were healthy and happy until their final days. I never realized how fortunate we had been all these years.
The first week Becca was here, we took outings to the coast, Acadia National Park, and to the University. Sadie loved to tag along as we walked, hiked and explored giving no indication of any discomfort. The Friday after Christmas, Sadie didn’t seem to be feeling well, had lost interest in eating, and drank copious amounts of water only to later throw or spit it up. It came on suddenly and with the weekend fast approaching, we decided it would be best if I could get her in to see her vet sooner rather than later. I called and was able to get a late afternoon appointment that same day. After a physical exam and a panel of blood work, the vet shared his concerns. While the physical part of the exam didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary, her red platelet count was elevated beyond the normal range. So much so that he felt it was necessary to keep her overnight hooked up to a catheter administering saline solution in an attempt to dilute the blood and reduce the red platelet concentration. And so I returned home with just her leash and a foreboding regarding what this all could mean. Saturday morning my husband and I returned to learn that the RBC concentration had been reduced only slightly. The vet said Sadie might have a type of slow-growing blood cancer (polycythemia vera). He wrote out a prescription for predisone (the same drug that has been administered to humans for a number of conditions) which we were able to have filled at the pharmacy of our local supermarket. The pharmacist even gave Sadie her own discount card. The Vet asked me to bring Sadie back in two weeks for a follow-up.
The very next day, even before we gave her the first pill (hidden in a piece of liver-sausage), she seemed to be so much better. She was back to enjoying her daily walks and other adventures. Don did change her food from dry kibble to canned food in an attempt to provide some additional liquid to her diet. If you hadn’t seen how miserable she was when we first took her into the vet, you would never suspect that she sick at all. After two weeks on the daily pills, I took Sadie back to the vet for her follow-up. He took another blood panel which showed that her red platelet count was back in the normal range and he had to admit that she indeed look a lot more like herself. Together we decided to cut back to one pill every other day for a month and then recheck. I know it is too soon to know for sure that she does not suffer from a serious blood disease but her sustained recovery is a welcome sign. If nothing else, evidence shows that with proper care and management, dogs with polycythemia vera can live many years with the disease. Being the eternal optimist, I’ll take that.