New Horizons Writers Group

A “Currant” Affair

Bob Hirt

When little Charlie came in to the animal hospital he was wrapped in a blanket; not that it was cold, he was just unable to walk in under his own power. It all started at the beginning of a vacation for his owners, Mr. and Mrs. William Gillespie.

They started telling the story, fully emotionally composed, but within five minutes Mrs. Gillespie started sobbing uncontrollably. Then the story came out, with every minute detail, even including the stopover at a Tastee Freeze just before Charlie’s accident. The little guy, a Dachshund mix, always made it a point while travelling in their car to sit between them, his chin resting comfortably on Mrs. Gillespie’s ample left thigh. But as the miles rolled on the little fellow would become a bit bored and would get up and methodically make a leap to the top of the seat-back; from there he would easily leap to the blanketed rear seat and snooze for the balance of the journey. This was his routine, no matter where they went. They were a retired couple and travelled frequently with their faithful companion beside them.

But now Charlie was getting a little older, like the rest of us. In fact, he now rather hesitated to make the jump. Sometimes he would just give up and lie back down, only to attempt the jump an hour or so later. But this time he made the effort and almost made it to the top of the seat-back. Almost. He fell backward this time, something he’d never done before. He let out a sharp yelp and whined enough so that Mrs. Gillespie stroked his head and said “Poor, poor Charlie, huh?” He lay for a moment and then tried briefly to position himself the way he usually did when reclining between them. He made no effort at all this time to straighten his torso and re-arrange his legs.

At that point the dear lady noticed the wetness of the car seat, something that Charlie would never allow to happen to himself. Mrs. Gillespie motioned to her husband, “Bill, pull over, will you! Something’s happened to Charlie!” After pulling over to the side of the highway Bill noticed that the poor dog was paralyzed in his rear parts. Frightened by this bizarre occurrence, the Gillespies searched out an animal hospital in a little village in central New York State. They inquired at a nearby U.S. Post Office and were directed to one only two miles away. They were very concerned, prepared for the worst. After thorough examination and multiple X-rays by the friendly veterinarian the news was not good.

When Charlie had fallen backward his protruding spine made harsh, direct contact with a seat belt buckle, the one that his master didn’t secure after stopping to get ice cream at the Tastee Freeze. The impact of landing in the position he had fallen caused almost immediate paralysis. X-rays had shown that no bones were broken; the impact caused severe bruising and edema of the soft tissue immediately surrounding the spinal cord and although not visible there was likely some bleeding into adjacent tissue as well.

Charlie was admitted to the animal hospital with a guarded prognosis. The distraught owners agreed to leave him with Dr. Samuels with the understanding that there would be intensive treatment as needed, and regular contact with the Gillespies. It was the first time Charlie had been in an animal hospital in over a year and he too seemed frightened. The look on his face hinted fear and anxiety.

For the next three days Dr. Samuels and his staff administered intensive treatment, steroids, intravenous fluids, diuretics -fine care by all standards. But Charlie was not responding at all. There was no sign whatsoever of any change in his condition. Totally distraught, Bill and Fran Gillespie made a decision to abandon any further vacation plans and came back that same day with Charlie to our facility in western New York. They had been clients for years. I feared the worst, considering the intense treatments he had already been subjected to. Bill started to quiver, holding back tears as best he could and perhaps even contemplating the worst. I tried to divert my eyes toward the wall.

I explained that given all the intense care that Charlie had received it might be a thought to attack the problem from a different perspective. I had just finished my extensive course work and subsequent certification as a veterinary acupuncturist. Would they be willing to consider that approach? What could they lose? It was my first case to utilize my training in that specialty and I would give it my all. All those several hundred acupuncture points were still very fresh in my mind. Still, I feared failure, to a degree. There are many, many skeptics out there and I had to…wanted to, disprove their skepticism.

The rest is history. Using an advanced method rather than “dry-needling,” I treated Charlie daily with electro-acupuncture. For two days there was no response at all. Fear set in! But, on the third day the tip of Charlie’s tail would “wiggle” a little. Two days later more of it showed movement. And, there was a slight, very slight increase in muscle tone, and strength in his rear legs. From there forward there was at a one-to-three-day interval, a gradual and visible improvement in Charlie. Even his demeanor changed. Maybe it changed for the better because he knew us, trusted us. One never knows.

Charlie was a patient at my animal hospital for a little over three weeks. He was “my little experiment” and I felt so very confident. In this case acupuncture worked and it worked beautifully. Not all cases respond like Charlie’s. Some cases do not respond at all. But, unlike injectable or oral medications the positive aspect of acupuncture is this: if there is no improvement there also are no side effects, no nausea, no secondary issues, some of which can be very, very serious. Unfortunately one can never predict which way things will go.

Weeks later, this charming couple came by with Charlie to say “Thank You” and to let him demonstrate how well he got around – evidently quite happy, tail wagging with familiarity. It was then that I mentioned, after a brief chat about ice cream, Tastee Freeze and other goodies, that my family and I would be off on a trip for 10 days. I offered to let them stop by at our home while we were gone to harvest some over-ripe currants from a bush in our back yard. In my busy practice I had neglected to harvest them. Unpicked, they would soon rot. They knew what currants were, they really liked them, and readily accepted my offer.

It didn’t end there. Four days after returning from our vacation Mrs. Gillespie stopped by at the office and asked to see me for a quick moment. The staff hadn’t noticed the box in her hand. She had brought me a currant pie – homemade, of course. When I attempted to politely refuse, she chuckled, “Doc, I’ve got two more of these same pies at home, all from that one currant bush!” How thankful and gracious these clients were. Though not a usual thing, this was one of my many rewards of being an animal doctor.