Train Chaser Pays a Steep Price


First in a series
“Dr. Nichol, Charlie Garcia’s dog Ruby has a stick in her chest. What shall I tell her?” Martha Peterson, our composed client service specialist, had appeared quietly at my elbow. I could feel her presence before she spoke.

Emergencies of all kinds seem more common just before closing time. We’d been busy that day with the usual vomiting, coughing, limping pets. I was just finishing a medical record, ready to head home. A stick in her chest?

Maybe it was a small stick causing a minor wound but I had known Charlie Garcia for years. She and Ruby shared little in appearance but woman and dog had much in common. Some people become understandably anxious and prone to exaggeration, even hysteria, when their pets are sick. But Charlie and Ruby were calm regardless of the circumstance. I asked Martha to send them in ASAP.

It was wintertime in New Mexico. The parking lot was almost dark when my excellent nurse, Amos, and I met Charlie at the back of her SUV. On her side, not daring to move, laid Ruby with 10” of an elm branch protruding from the front of her chest. We carefully moved her onto a stretcher and carried her inside. Ruby’s grip on life was tenuous.

We started IV fluids and rapid-acting corticosteroids to reverse shock and, after adding propofol anesthesia to eliminate pain and movement, we took a quick set of x-rays. The stick was about 2 feet in total length, having entered at the base of Ruby’s neck, advancing through her chest (just missing her heart), piercing her diaphragm, and finally lodging in her liver. There was no time to waste.

I found out later that the BNSF Railway tracks ran right past Charlie’s yard. Ruby raced the train as it thundered past in the late afternoons. Galloping with wild abandon, one front paw had stepped on the end of the stick, flipping its opposite end in front of Ruby’s chest, driving it all the way to her abdomen. Next week: Racing with time.
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Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Post pet behavioral or physical questions on or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.