Saturday, November 23, 2013

Week 14; mini research: The Dog Bite

Here is Max 8 weeks after his surgery and his buzz cut.

Here is Max a few days before his surgery. The "cute" picture mentioned below.

Max is a 13 year-old Lhasa Apso. Max is totally deaf. Max has skin polyps.

His owners left him at a kill shelter in South Carolina, with the parting words: 'He is just too old.' A dog rescue group called PetConnect removed him from the SC shelter a few days before he was due to die and had him taken to the Washington DC area, where they found a cage for him in their own shelter.

After two weeks, they got a call from a woman in Bethesda Maryland who was willing to foster and possibly adopt Max. The adoption idea disappeared very quickly the first night when the woman's husband tried to use his Teva-shod foot to separate Max from the food bowl of their other dog.

A dog bite is a discouraging business.

The husband said, "He's gone. Take him back Monday." The woman was in touch with her sister in Maine who told her husband the story of Max. The Maine husband derided his Maryland brother-in-law for letting himself get bitten (and for wearing Tevas, but that's a different essay.) The Maine wife said, "Back to the shelter for Max. Let's see if we can find his picture on the PetConnect website."

Max did seem awfully cute. The Maine husband said, "Let's talk about this. Can we handle a sixth dog? Or would that cross the line from eccentricity to insanity?"

A day later PetConnect had enlisted a volunteer pilot who liked spending his weekends flying his two seater. The first weekend, storms kept Max grounded, but before too long, there he was taxiing up to the terminal of the Belfast Maine airport sitting tall in the copilot's seat.

He was not quite what we had expected. A few days before he flew out, the rescue group decided to remove some of his polyps and shaved him down to the skin. Don't believe anyone who tells you looks don't count--they count hugely, especially in dogs, where hundreds of breeds have been developed, a breed for every esthetic opinion. A buzzcut Lhasa Apso was not cuddle material.

Not that Max was a cuddler. Max has a few things that interest him and at the age of 13 and deaf, one doesn't expect to develop too many more interests. Max was interested in food. Max was interested in sleeping. Max was very very very interested in cats. Max gives a few signs of interest in my wife. Like never leaving her side.

The end. That's all Max cares about.

Here are some dog things Max no longer cared about, if he ever had: exercise, going for a ride, meeting new people or dogs, toys, carrying around favorite slippers, barking at the Fed Ex man, learning new tricks, getting rubbed or scratched. (To be fair, Max did come with one trick. He would sit pretty, and we very soon taught him that when he saw an EMCC safety whistle/flashlight'keychain, he should do his trick. When the red light flashed, the trick was over and the treat was on its way.)

We had two problems we hadn't expected. First, those darned cats: because Max would chase them heedless of traffic or anything else, he had to be kept on a leash around the dooryard.

Second, he loathed the collie, Maddie. Loathed, as in growled and barked furiously and very loudly if Maddie walked between Max and my wife or came into the kitchen when food was around or lay down too close to my wife. Really loudly. Giving no indication that anything short of death would stop him.

The easiest solution to Max's barking is to put Maddie out on the porch. She's glad to get away from him and a few pieces of kibble sweeten the deal too. The harder solution is to put the evildoer on the porch. A kibble or two in his supper dish will get him out there, but immediately he begins barking and scratching. It's easier to put Maddie out, but it isn't right! She's the victim and she winds up in the cold and the perp has it all his own way, getting everyone to dance to his tune.

Now we come to the dog biting. I'm not likely to be wearing Tevas indoors (or out), not like my brother-in-law, and Max has bitten my hiking boot many times. I put a boot on the threshold and no dog, not even Max, is to use the door until I step out myself. Lesson learned, Max! You can teach an old dog new tricks. He waits; he even waits while I call the hearing dogs to go out first. The bites never hurt, and I ignored them, though Max was always upset afterwards for blowing his cool.

(How do you know a dog is upset? They look upset, and if you don't believe dogs have facial expressions, you simply aren't paying attention. If facial expressions don't impress you, fear and stress will loosen a dog's bowels and bladder. Perhaps a more convincing sign?)

Last night I was watching a movie on the computer, a comedy from the 30s, 'My Man Godfrey.' There's a lot of that clever dialogue and subtle humor...and Max began barking. I can't rewind a movie I'm downloading. I'm missing all this repartee and these witty ripostes. No point telling a deaf dog to shut up, however sternly.

I stopped the movie and stopped thinking as well. My lizard brain was running the whole show without input from my higher cognitive centers....

I reached down to grab Max to put him on the porch--probably the first time I've ever tried to carry him, and he saw my plan and immediately rejecting it, trotting from the living room into the kitchen, out another door into the dining room, and then back into the kitchen. We went around this way for a minute like characters in an old Warner Brothers cartoon, until I reversed course and we ran into each other at which point, I reached for Max again, and this time--WHAM!

I screamed. I cursed. I watched blood streaming across my palm. The other dogs who had been watching in horror now crouched with round eyes and flattened ears. This was almost as bad as a thunderstorm. And, finally, ten seconds too late, I started thinking and found some heavy leather gloves, picked Max up, and removed him to the porch, where he stayed for a few hours until I could bear the sight of him again.

The wound was a deep puncture about the diameter of a Bic pen in the bulge of muscle between thumb and wrist. It pretty much looked as if someone who didn't like me and had no fear of the police had jammed a classic Bic right in there with all his strength.

I rinsed the wound with alcohol hand sanitizer and some hydrogen peroxide and held a paper towel against it till it clotted enough for a bandaid. Then I did what I always do when faced with a medical issue: went into a deep state of denial, aka 'stupidity.'  Instead of marching into the bathroom and immediately starting a regimen of Amoxicillin, I began imagining myself thousands of miles from home with an infected salivary gland (don't ask; it happens), and a strain of resistant bacteria running all through my body.

 Overuse of antibiotics leads to resistant bacteria, I know. I googled 'antibiotic resistance,' just to fortify my resolve. Then I specifically checked for 'reduced efficacy of amoxicillin' to see whether it was in some way more prone to eventual uselessness than its antibiotic cousins.

Apparently it isn't, but the memory of that swollen salivary gland bloating up the left side of my face, pressing against my trachea, swelling my tongue, hurting like hell, and the fear of the hypothetical future return of that infected gland over-rode any concern I had just then for the dog bite.

Furthermore, I fibbed to myself and rationalized. I thought, 'Well, there's a chance it won't get infected; time is the great healer; why borrow trouble; cross that bridge when you come to it; sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof; time and chance happeneth to all men; etc etc' Amazing the number of wise sayings one can adduce in a bad cause!

Where were these wise sayings: 'Penny wise, pound foolish; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; better to light a candle than curse the darkness; an amoxicillin a day keeps the doctor away'?

I was still in a state of denial when I woke up next day. Was my hand looking a bit swollen? Did it feel a dite hot? Was it a mite tender? A tad itchy? A shade red? Was that pus in the wound? And just how bad could a dog bite be anyway?

Come to find out, dog's oral hygiene is not the greatest, and any myths you've heard about the healing powers of dog saliva ('Let him lick the wound--it heals fastest that way!') are just that: myths. Various websites were telling me that with my symptoms and a dog bite as the cause, I needed to get me to a doctor.

If for no other reason, the websites said, than because death from tetanus was such a horrible way to go. A doctor would give me a tetanus booster, I was told. Except that my doctor, who has an M.D. degree from the School of Doom and Gloom, told me a year or two ago that there was no point in someone my age getting a booster. I probably had enough residual resistance. 'Probably' was good enough that day in Dr D & G's examining room, but looking now at Max's handiwork, I was not so sure.

Of course, the official advice is also to avoid Q-tips in your ears, to sterilize a needle before sending it after a subcutaneous splinter, and to deprive yourself of most of the best foods in the world! All advice I disdain. So, after a second's consideration, I ignored this new online medical advice.

What I could not ignore by late afternoon, about 20 hours after my run-in with Max, was the intensifying of all the earlier symptoms: more heat, more pain, more swelling, more redness....

What about toughing it out without antibiotics? Haha, what was the worst that could happen? I googled 'infection untreated sequelae' and in very short order was informed that "Chronic untreated infection can lead to significant morbidity, serious life- threatening sequelae, and premature death." But, apart from that?

The old joke runs that when a dog bites a man, it isn't news, but when a man bites a dog? Hold the presses! I've kissed dogs often, I've licked one or two over the years, but I doubt you will ever see me biting one, since one good bite deserves another, and 'another' is a place I never want to go to again....


  1. Great story! Thanks for avoiding sleep apnea and pouncing on the dog bite instead.

  2. it flows in reading as it did for you in writing. :)