My dog swallowed what?
I learned a new word this weekend: radiopaque.
It’s not the kind of word you just throw out over coffee, or really, in most polite conversation, but it is the kind of word you’ll learn when you wake up to your dog puking blood.
Friday was a busy day. A dozen people were meant to be flying into town for a football game, and many were staying here on Mt. Willis. Most had flights through Chicago, and if you know what happened there Friday, you know everybody’s day went sideways pretty quickly.
I don’t worry much, and I especially don’t worry about my dogs. They are of hardy Labrador stock, a breed so stout that our longtime veterinarian says, “Labs are so tough, you’d need a gun to kill them.” I remember that advice any time any of the two dogs starts doing something stupid, whining, or, you know, puking blood.
So, as we moved to DEFCON 3 on a weekend we’d been planning for six months, Black Dog was in a bad way. Anything she ate came back up, and when it did it brought some…well, let’s not get too graphic. It wasn’t a lot of blood, but it was enough. It was gross, and it was mildly alarming.
But, hey. Nobody had shot her with a gun, so I figured she’d be fine. I gave her a Pepto-Bismol tablet (Pepto works well for dogs) and got on with trying to get everybody safely into town.
It didn’t help.
By 4pm, Black Dog was still throwing up and looking terrible. She seemed obsessed with a snake hole in our yard and the shed skin coming out of it. I was losing track of the plot on my Friday pretty quickly. My buddy Joey Two-Hands watched from the wings with a beer in his hand.
“Dogs, snakes, and blood!” he said. “This is a suburban Friday!”
Our weekend plans had us out of town most of Saturday. If the dog was still decompensating, it was going to throw a bloody wrench in our plans. So, at 4pm, I asked my wife to take the dog to the vet. An hour later, while I tended to the grill, she sent me this picture.
It could’ve been a dime. It could’ve been a nickel. It was impossible to say. If it had been a dime or nickel, that would’ve been not great but okay. But—and I’ve had five dogs in my 40 years—I didn’t know that any penny minted after 1982 can kill a dog pretty easily. It’s called Zinc Toxicosis, and it’s the type of things that sends veterinarians to DEFCON 4. We know this, because that was exactly what happened on Friday night.
While I cooked the corn and beans, my wife lugged the dog to the local emergency clinic where they prepped Black Dog for what looked to be an emergency scoping and/or surgery.
So, there we are. People are now driving in from Missouri. My wife and dog are at an emergency vet on a Friday night. I’m at the grill. Joey Two-Hands is loving the corn. He had two helpings.
The older you get, the more you come to realize that most things that feel like emergencies usually aren’t. It’s what makes aging better than being young and less experienced. My best friends have taught me to relax and recognize, for the most part, things are going to work out. And, as Two-Hands said, “And if it doesn’t work out, worrying about it probably wasn’t going to change anything anyway.”
So, I reminded myself of all of this, put a plate in the microwave for my wife, and waited for the news. Dime? Nickel? Penny? Zinc Toxicosis?
The text message came in just as I finished my food.
“Want to hear something totally (messed) up?” my wife asked.
And, that friends, is when I learned my new word: radiopaque.
It’s pretty much what it sounds like. Things with radiopacity don’t let x-rays pass through, so they appear opaque on the film. Simple as that.
Or, not so simple, as it turns out.
Why? Well, let me introduce you to a substance called “bismuth.” It’s a white crystalline metal that can have sort of a pinkish hue. It has a high atomic number, and, hence, is radiopaque.
Wait. Pinkish hue, you say?
You ever wonder where the name Pepto-Bismol comes from? Neither had I. Turns out because it’s a…wait for it… bismuth subsalicylate.
Yes, just as the vet was preparing to put Black Dog into happy doggy twilight, she turned to my wife and said, “Wait. That Pepto-Bismol your husband gave the dog? Was it a chewable tablet?”
Yes, folks. Yes, it was. It was a chewable tablet that was just about the size of a penny. It was a chewable tablet that my doofus dog swallowed whole. It was a chewable tablet that is radiopaque. It was a chewable tablet that—because it is meant to be chewed—does not break down in a dog’s stomach.
So, what caused the bloody vomit? We don’t know. Maybe it was some mildly poisonous pokeberries that had sprung up in our woodpile. Maybe it was nothing. We may never know. What caused the x-ray to show a penny-sized circle in my dog’s stomach.
That was me. Yep, that was me.
You’d think I’d be mad, but I’m not. And you know, I wouldn’t even bother mentioning it but for the fact I actually learned a lot and thought it was all worth passing on. And hey, who knows? It may help you save your dog’s life. And if not, it may save you $1,000.