It was early March and Manette and Zac had gone away for some vacation while I stayed home to finish writing The Gravy Train and take care of Styles, our 9-month-old rescue pit bull puppy. The weather had warmed up; the yard was sloppy with water, half-melted snow and mud. And the driveway was too wet to play catch with the ball outside. So I took Styles into the basement to play with his blue, rubber pull-toy ball. It was an eight-inch hollow ball constructed of a series of hexagons. It bounced great and it gave him lots of surfaces to sink his teeth into, allowed me to get my fingers through it for a good grip, and stretched to about a foot long for some serious tugging and exercise. After about a half-hour of it we both got tired. It was around 4:30 p.m, and low blood sugar also got the best of me so I napped on the sofa in the basement while Styles continued to work on his blue ball on the floor. He'd done it hundreds of times before and the thing was indestructible.
Or so I thought.
About a half hour later I awoke to the sound of Styles chewing on his ball, then looked up to see a few pieces of it on the floor. Damn. I got up and pulled the loose pieces away from him, then grabbed the ball and saw that about 40% of it had been gnawed away. I looked around the floor; the pieces were nowhere to be found. He had to have swallowed them. I sighed. Styley-Wiley up to his tricks. He'd eaten pens, notebooks, TV remotes, tissues, smaller chew toys and CD cases when he was younger, but by nine months-old was growing out of it. I gave him a little extra dinner, thinking it would help him pass the pieces of the ball.
The next morning Styles was completely himself: energetic, and alternately picking up one of his Chuck-It balls and licking me so I'd take him outside to play. I gave him a bigger than normal breakfast. By mid-morning he'd pooped twice but hadn't passed anything. That was when I started to worry. I called Dr. Buchoff's office and they told me to bring him in. I brought the ball and the extra pieces with me to show him how much Styles had eaten. He listened, then took one of the pieces into the x-ray room. He came back with a smile on his face. "We're in luck," he said. "It shows bright white on the x-ray." When he commented that the rubber must have some metal in it to show up that well, I thought, Great. Wait till Manette hears about that. Dr. Buchoff went on to say that Styles should be able to pass the pieces easily, unless because of their structure they could clump together in the bottom of his stomach so they couldn’t enter his intestines, causing a blockage.
I didn't ask what would happen in that case.
It took four of us to position Styles on the stainless steel table in the x-ray room. Shelley and Diane, Dr. Buchoff's assistants, and I lifted him up and held him while Dr. Buchoff manned the x-ray. They didn't have enough lead protective vests and Dr. Buchoff suggested I leave. No way: I figured I could take a few for the team while I stroked Styles’ head and muzzle, and whispered to him to keep him calm. He's a good boy, but he was being forcibly held down and I could see him eyeing the equipment above him; he was freaked out, struggling against Shelley and Diane, panting. Then he was making eye contact with me, his eyes wide as if appealing to me for help. I felt like someone was clamping my heart, like I was betraying him, now gritting my teeth and just praying he'd lay motionless so they could take the x-rays. I continued stroking him, telling him, "It's okay, it's okay." And then either he believed me or gave up. He went still.
I saw Dr. Buchoff's face after the first x-ray and knew it wasn't good. And even an investment banker-turned-novelist could see the clump of white in the monitor at the bottom of Styles’ stomach, with nothing in his intestines. When we got back to Dr. Buchoff's office, Styles was himself again. Sitting on the stainless steel examination table, he licked Dr. Buchoff's hand every time he got near enough, wagging his tail, panting, his tongue sticking out of that broad pit bull mouth. I got my share of licks, too, so he obviously wasn't holding it against either of us.
Dr. Buchoff said, " It's the worst-case scenario. We'll have to wait and see how it goes this weekend. I'll give you my cell number, but if he starts becoming lethargic, vomits or has any diarrhea, you'll need to call me."
I felt my stomach muscles tense. "What do we do then?"
"We'll have to surgically remove the pieces."
"Is it risky?" My legs were starting to tingle.
"Somewhat. If it stays in his stomach, it's pretty easy. If some of it gets lodged in his intestines and I have to go fishing around for it, the risks are greater." When I didn't respond right away, he added, "But I've done this more times than you can imagine." He smiled. "You wouldn't believe some of the stuff these guys can swallow."
He instructed me to feed Styles more than usual, add some olive oil to his meals and give him extra water. He also gave me a little vial of an oil to apply to Styles’ stomach a few times a day. He said it was like Pepto-Bismol, that it would loosen him up. I got Dr. Buchoff’s phone number for over the weekend and walked Styles out to the car.
When Styles and I got home, I gave him a small meal even though it was only early afternoon. He hated it when I rubbed the oil on his tummy, probably because it had a pungent scent like the herbal oils some of the artsy-fartsy girls wore in college. We played ball and he was as obsessed with it as usual. Afterwards he slept and hung out until dinner. I put extra bowls of water around the house: his regular one in the kitchen, one in the library, and one by the back door. I even lifted the basement and first floor toilet seats so he could go have at it whenever he wanted. After his dinner it was raining, so I put him on a leash and walked him in the yard with a golf umbrella over both of us. And then he finally squatted, and Eureka! A piece of turquoise blue showing in the mound in the grass. My heart started pounding as I brought him back inside, put on rubber gloves and went out with a Maywood's Market plastic bag to pick up the poop and retrieve the piece. There was only one, but it was a start. I had already put a plastic bucket of bleach water on the gas grill standing next to the back door. I dropped the retrieved piece of the ball in it to soak. I walked back inside, humming to myself, elated.
That evening, Styles actually barked (he almost never does), and ran around the house like a wild man. But then after another nap he woke up antsy and whiny. I started to feel that same pressure on my chest I’d experienced when he looked up at me, scared, in the x-ray room. The rain had stopped and I let him outside, then found him eating sticks and some of the ornamental grasses, which he usually only does when he has to throw up. When he came back inside he was still whiny. Not like him, but at least he isn't lethargic, I thought.
At about 10 p.m., early for him, he stood by the stairs. I asked him, "Up, up?" but he didn't want to go up to sleep, just sat there, looking antsy, then started pacing. Finally, he trotted upstairs, banged the master bedroom door with his nose, went inside and jumped up on the bed. I wanted to keep an eye on him, so I kept one of the bedside lights turned on, bent low so as not to disturb him, and worked on my Mac for a while. He was restless. At 1 a.m. he got down off the bed. I opened the door and got ready to take him downstairs to go outside, but he wouldn't come down with me. He looked back at me over his shoulder where I stood in the hallway, then tried to jump back up on the bed. He slipped off. After that I had to help him up. I'd never seen him do that before. Either he was completely exhausted, or something was wrong. I felt a wrench in my stomach and that pressure in my chest again. Now I was really worried.
Read The Blue Ball Incident -- Part Two
Read The Blue Ball Incident -- Part Two