I was typing, frantically, cursing every misspelling that I had to backspace and correct, sweating on the hubbub of the overflowing waiting. Trying to get the last case written up, and the medications sorted and… maybe, if I was lucky, take a sip of the vile, cold caffeine kick of my poor neglected coffee. A knock came on the consult room door.
“Yep, what is it?” I asked, a hint of frustration in my tone.
A worried face peered through the cracked open door, one of our overworked, tired, harried vet nurses. “Sorry to interrupt!” she said “but there is a labrador just come in, an emergency, he’s screaming in pain for no apparent reason intermittently, so I thought I’d better shoot him straight through, and jump the queue… Are you ok with that?”
“Absolutely!” I replied. I felt the weight of the crowd of people and animals in the waiting room, stacked in at 5 minute intervals to be greeted, a history sought, a “thorough” examination made, diagnosed, and medicated… lift off my shoulders. I felt about 50 kilos lighter, free for a little while.
The nurse ushered them in- a couple wrapped up in scarves and jackets, and a big black labrador with eyes like pie plates, shaking like a leaf. He came in, turned around, and suddenly uttered a shriek so piercing that it nearly lifted the top of my head right off. We all jumped, winced, and looked at each other.
“He’s been doing this all morning, he was fine yesterday,” they explained.
“Ok then, I will have a good look at him, see if I can find out what’s hurting him,” I explained.
I squatted down beside him, and he sniffed my hand, lovely friendly fellow. I took a moment to take in how he was standing, and something, something just wasn’t quite right. It nagged at me, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Something was missing from this labrador picture. Then, all of a sudden, I realised. His tail was still. No thrashing, waggy joyfullness!
“Is he normally a waggy dog?” I asked.
They looked a bit mystified, but replied… “Well yes, he is super waggy.”
“Not today though,” I pointed out to them.
“Why, he isn’t, is he!” they replied.
I laid my hands on him, slowly, carefully, letting him get used to my touch. I started at his head, gently feeling into the complex of joints and muscles, palpating, sensing, feeling. His neck was ok. Then I moved down towards his ribcage, through his lower back, and all was fine- tense, jumpy, afraid of the pain, but nothing wrong. As I approached his tail, his head swung around all of a sudden, and his eyes got even wider. I soothed him a little, lightened my touch, and slowly, ever so slowly, worked my hand to the base of his tail. Here, the muscles were spasmed, tight as a rock, trembling with pain and tension.
Keeping my hand on the base of his tail, very carefully watching his eyes as I started to release some of the tension, I explained what was going on. “His tail is out, a bit like having your neck out – so when he moves it the wrong way, or bumps it, it really hurts, and he screams.”
I continued to gently ease his tail, stretching it from side, working my fingers into the deep knots of tension. I was watching him very carefully, as I had to calibrate the pressure of my touch with exquisite sensitivity… His eyes were so eloquent- widening with worry every time I moved to a new area, then going all heavy lidded and sleepy looking as I ever so carefully released the pain and tension. At the same time, the strung tight tension in his body slowly let go and relaxed – his head started to soften and drop, his ears slid down the side of his head, and after a while he took a big deep sigh. His jaw unclenched, and he looked around at me with a big dribbly labrador grin. His people relaxed too.
“I didn’t know vets did this stuff,” he said. “I can see that it’s really helping him though!”
“Most vets don’t,” I explained. “This is something I’ve learned for myself over the years.
I worked right along his tail, and then gently stretched it out from the base right to the tip three times. He shook himself, gently, very carefully, gave a snort, and then even gently wagged his tail a bit.
“Look at that!” she said. “He’s wagging!”
“He is!” I replied. “He’s a lot better- I will give you some pain relief for a couple of days, and have you back in the day after that finishes to see how he’s going.”
“Thanks so much,” they said. “We’ll see you then.”
He came back in later that week, tail thrashing like a threshing machine, jumping all over me, a thoroughly happy dog!