Tonight I almost lost my heart dog, the dog that changed everything for me. Kai. I want to share it with you because it’s all I can think about right now and because nothing has shaken me more in my years of having pets. I want to share it because maybe it will help one of you, one day in the future. I think I am in shock right now. At the very least I am discombobulated and everything seems surreal and bizarre to me. When I think of holding Kai’s lifeless, limp body in my arms… of begging him to come back… softly cupping his jaw and trying to see if his pupils responded to light…well, I already feel like it’s a dream. Things that horrible shouldn’t happen to dogs or people.
This is what happened. I had a pot roast that hadn’t turned out well. It was cut up in chunks and I planned on giving it to the dogs as a delicious snack. As usual, they were in a semi-circle around me with drooling lips and and beseeching eyes. You know, even as I handed out the chunks I thought in my head, “you’d better chew”. I’d like to say I decided to cut them up smaller or handed them out slower but I didn’t. My dogs and I have done this a hundred thousand times. But this time, Kai started choking. At first it was some coughing and hacking and I watched to see it come fly out of his mouth. He started running around and I became concerned. Dogs don’t do that type of thing unless something’s wrong. They can’t say, “hey, I’ve got a problem here” so they switch locations as if hacking outside on the porch might have a better effect then inside by the fridge. I followed him out into the backyard. The other dogs were in his face waiting for some morsel of regurgitated meat. I put them inside, turned on all the lights for the outside and ran over to Kai. He was laying down as if quietly resting. Head up, eyes open, mouth slightly ajar. He looked totally normal. I gently turned his head towards me, wanting to make sure he was doing ok. The second I touched him I realized that he was NOT ok. His eyes were fixed and his jaw was completely passive as I moved it. He flopped on the ground, tongue and gums gray. I don’t know if I made any noise or not but I picked him up and tried to do the Heimlich Maneuver on him. But picking up his 40 pound body was like picking up a sack of flour. I couldn’t feel any difference with pushing my fists up into his ribcage. I put him on his side and reached into his throat. I could feel the beef. I jammed my hand in and tried to pull it out but I kept coming out with shreds under my nails, nothing more. I was talking to him, saying silly things like stay with me, c’mon kai you can do this come on come on come on. I even thought that was probably ludicrous. If dogs can’t understand English on a good day, certainly my unresponsive and dying dog wasn’t going to hear my requests now. But you know, I was only speaking so that if he could hear he would hear LOVE and he would the voice of someone who has always been devoted to keeping him safe.
My hands were covered in spit and blood pooled in the beds of my nails where I was gouging at the meat and catching the spongy soft issue of his mouth and throat. At this point, I was wild with panic. The thoughts going through my head were like this. Where is the closest sharp thing I can cut him with to open his airway? Oh my god, he’s dead. He is dead in my arms from choking. He can’t die. This isn’t how it’s supposed to happen, I have lost Kai. I don’t know what to do. I can’t get it out. I’m going to break his jaw from shoving my hand so hard down his throat. Is he going to accidentally bite me (no, that’s seizures). WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO TO SAVE HIS LIFE? Help me. I can’t save him.
I can’t tell you the despairing sensation of believing my beloved dog was dying or dead coupled with my almost angry determination to get the meat out of his throat. I was not gentle, I did not care if I broke his jaw or ripped his tongue. I had to get it out. And finally I did.
But he still did not breathe or blink. There was no spasm-sounding cough like in the movies when the food comes out of the person’s mouth. No relief. I don’t know if his heart was beating. I started CPR. I felt clumsy and, again, questions were going through my head in slow motion about how many compressions and what if there was something else in his throat and how in the world would this possibly work – it’s not doing CPR on a dummy in a class. His gums were gray, his tongue was hanging out and he had froth stuck all over his face. But I tried. It was the strangest sensation to breathe into him and feel his chest expand. I did it and then I did chest compressions. I thought I saw a twinge of movement. I wasn’t sure. I did it again. And then I realized I could feel his heart beat. It was faint and erratic but I could feel it. He took a slow breath and then another. He didn’t move. He just lay there, softly breathing. I didn’t know if he could move or if he was brain-damaged. How long can a dog go without oxygen? Without a beating heart? I picked up his head to place it in my lap and he was still utterly passive. I sat there like that for I don’t know how long. I just kept watching him breathe, listening to breathe, and keeping my palm over his heart. He started to close his eyes and I panicked again wondering if dogs can go in shock and die. I asked him to get up and then as if he’d forgotten why he was there he simply stood up and looked around, kind of in a daze.
That’s what happened. From there, I took him inside. We went into a room and laid on the floor together. He definitely was out of it but seemed normal enough. I called an emergency hospital and they said I should bring him in since his gums were still gray. At this point, let me tell you some of the preposterous things I thought. 1. How much would it cost (didn’t want to waste money to have them tell me was was fine), 2) I had to find something to wear (I had just showered before dinner for the dogs and was in PJ’s), 3) crap, I didn’t have any make-up on. Now, those are some stupid things to think. In my life, I’d say I’ve noticed that people are a little absurd in crisis. I used to find it offensive but tonight I understood. It was the only thing I had to try and restore some normalcy.
There will never be anything is devastating as what it felt like to helplessly hold Kai in my arms, limp and dying. Having him totally unresponsive while I wrenched the meat out of his airway, hauled him up for the Heimlich and more. But he’s ok.
There is a no way we can account for all of the possible things that might happen to our beloved pets in this world. I believe in giving dogs balls and other toys and chewies. I know that some dog, somewhere has probably choked or injured themselves because of those things but it’s a risk to take. Bot do you know what risk I don’t think any of us should not be willing to take? The risk of unpreparedness. I made many mistakes tonight but there are also things I did correctly and most of them were because I was prepared. I took a CPR course. I didn’t know if I was doing everything correctly tonight but I knew enough to stumble through the steps… and NO DOUBT it saved his life. I knew where the emergency hospital was. I had my vet and the emergency vet numbers easily accessible.
I often write about the many ways Kai has saved me. He has taught me so much patience and acceptance. But tonight it was my turn and although I would never wish a situation that called for saving, I am so glad I able to save Kai. It feels wrong even saying something like “I’m glad”. It’s not possible to express my thankfulness.
Be prepared. Use common sense. Love your pets a little extra tonight.