Our Own Emergency Vet Horror: Jasmine’s Brush with Death—Veterinary Mistakes, Misdiagnoses, and Miscommunication
Stories of veterinary ER horrors are close to home—we had our own emergency vet horror. Jasmine’s life was nearly cut short if we went with their conclusions.
If we had taken the ER vet’s word for it, we would have put Jasmine down because that was their recommendation. But that was only a small part of the whole ordeal.
For a long time, Jasmine was suffering from episodes of pacing and panting nobody could explain. There were many theories, but none of the various treatments made any difference.
There were underlying issues that were suspect, such as inflammatory bowel disease and allergies. However, the connection was weak, and her episodes didn’t resolve as these problems were addressed and improved. No matter how well everything seemed, the episodes persisted.
At the same time, Jasmine tore both her cruciate ligaments—one as soon as the first knee healed enough to withstand the load. She had surgery and regenerative cell therapy for both knees, and her recovery was going well. Her legs were doing well. She had the bounce back in her step. She could run and jump and was enjoying her time outside.
While all that was going great, Jasmine’s episodes kept getting worse. They became more frequent and lasted longer, and the level of her distress was higher. The episodes could last for up to two days straight. It was time to get to the bottom of the episodes with everything else sorted out.
The latest hypothesis of choice then was her heart or her lungs. Together with Jasmine’s veterinarian, we decided to do more x-rays to confirm or exclude that idea.
We booked an appointment for early morning Friday. Hubby had a day off, and the plan was to swing by the vets, get the x-rays done, and continue to the horse farm for the rest of the day. Nobody expected what followed.
Our perfect plan couldn’t have been further from how things played out.
When Jasmine woke up from anesthesia, she seemed uncomfortable. Could it have been a prelude to things to come? Of course, nobody could have predicted that.
The veterinarian assumed Jasmine was in pain from having her neck manipulated to get the images. To relieve her pain, Jasmine received a shot of Buprenorphine.
And then the whole hell broke loose.
Without warning, Jasmine spiked a fever of 42.5ºC (108.5 ºF)! The only potential explanation was an adverse reaction to the Buprenorphine. Despite an injection of naloxone to counter the drug and alcohol rubdowns. It took hours to get her temperature back down.
It was the day we almost killed our dog
All we were trying to do was to diagnose her episodes. Who would expect that routine x-rays would lead up to such a disaster?
Buprenorphine is known to cause hyperthermia in cats rarely. No such case has been reported in a dog.
By the end of the day, Jasmine seemed exhausted but stable. With the best of intentions, the veterinarian sent her home. Was that a mistake? In retrospect, clearly so. But the idea was that she might recover better in her own environment.
When Jasmine returned home, she looked like a train wreck but seemed comfortable enough.
She went to have a drink once, walking like a drunken sailor. Very unstable, having a hard time with it, but with her usual determination. I was trying to provide some support with a towel, but hubby felt I should let her have some dignity and let her do it on her own. Well, she fell. With dignity.
After that, she tried to get up a couple of times but thought better of it. So that night, we all slept with her on the kitchen floor. Well, I didn’t sleep …
We were told that Jasmine should be better by morning
The morning after
The morning came, but she was not better. She struggled to get up and needed help. Finally, with extreme difficulty, she made her way into the yard to go potty. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, her pee was brown!
Her body was still in a bad place. Time was wasting. As often happens, it was the weekend, and Jasmine’s clinic was closed.
We helped Jasmine back inside and onto her bed. I got on the phone with an emergency vet while printing out Jasmine’s medical records.
We called the emergency vet ahead of time while I was printing out Jasmine’s records. They wanted a urine sample, but she didn’t want to go pee again, and we didn’t want to torture her—standing was very exhausting for her. So if they wanted to see her pee, they’d have to grab some directly from the bladder.
The emergency vet
With Jasmine unable to get up on her own, barely making it out to potty, peeing brown, we were on our way to the emergency.
How could this be happening? Could whatever was causing her episodes also be behind this? That was the emergency vet’s question also—why was Jasmine in for the x-rays in the first place?
They were expecting us, and when we arrived, they came out with a cart to load Jasmine on.
After a physical examination, the veterinarian asked about what preceded the situation. Jasmine’s temperature at this time was below normal, and so was her heart rate. In addition, there was bruising on her tongue, which we did notice, and more bruising on her abdomen, which we were unaware of.
They took Jasmine in the back for testing. Jasmine received IV fluids. The veterinary staff tested her blood, took some x-rays, and whatever else they did back there.
The emergency vet verdict
When they returned, they presented us with x-rays and horrible news. They told us that either her liver or kidneys were failing, and her platelets were tanked (thus, all the bruising everywhere).
The biggest bomb was when they showed us on the x-rays what they believed was an intestinal perforation.
They told us that Jasmine was finished.
There we were, shaking in shock. This cannot be! They asked us whether we wanted to put Jasmine down or get a second opinion at the teaching hospital first.
The last thing we wanted was to prolong Jasmine’s suffering.
If she was finished anyway, wouldn’t euthanasia be the humane thing to do? But where the heck would the intestinal perforation come from? None of what was happening made any sense.
Getting a second opinion
We decided that we wanted a second opinion before ending Jasmine’s life. So we got the referral paper and left for the teaching hospital. We knew Jasmine was in bad shape, but the diagnosis didn’t make sense.
Getting a second opinion saved Jasmine’s life!
As we arrived at the teaching hospital, they, too, took her in the back for their own testing (And yes, we got to pay for everything twice). Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, they came out with their verdict.
Jasmine’s kidneys were okay, and her liver shot but not beyond repair. There was no intestinal perforation!
Instead, they found a large abscess in Jasmine’s abdomen. Jasmine needed surgery as soon as possible but would have to wait for the platelets to reach safe levels. They explained all that would need to be done to treat Jasmine and gave a cost estimate.
All we wanted to know was if we did all that, was she going to be ok.
The veterinarian told us that if everything went right, Jasmine should fully recover. And even though it was a very rough journey for her, she did!
Jasmine was five and a half years at that time. She had almost five more years she wouldn’t have if we had followed the ER veterinarian’s s recommendation.
I don’t know what the emergency vet was seeing, but they saw wrong. And it almost cost Jasmine her life.
PS: Another thing I had a hard time getting over was a note on the emergency vet’s file, which I got to see after Jasmine’s vet uploaded it to her online medical records: “Owner insists that if you get Jasmine in standing position, she will be able to hold herself up.”
I get it that one cannot trust everything the owners say, but to assume we’re so dimwitted that we couldn’t tell the difference between a walking (even though with extreme difficulties) and a non-walking dog? Truly?
We had the same difficulties trying to be heard at the teaching hospital that before the incident, Jasmine was walking perfectly fine. However, once they saw bilateral cruciate surgery, they were convinced that was why Jasmine wasn’t walking the entire week she was hospitalized, even when we had Jasmine’s main vet telling them otherwise. We were very concerned that her mobility was not improving, but they would ignore it because they had made up their minds about the cause.
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Missed Diagnoses: What to Do When You Think Your Vet Is Missing Something
Lucky for Jasmine you kept pushing.