By: BVECCS Admin
On: November 28, 2014
The miracle of life never fails to surprise us all with its absolute sheer beauty. To be able to witness the birth of animals as part of your job is just an honour that can never be taken lightly. Saturday afternoons in our 24 hour vet Brisbane clinic, like any other day, are unpredictable. The shrill racket of the phone, the rush of staff as patients come through, and the excitement of the unknown create a constant adrenaline rush. Today was no exception. Towards the end of my shift, a once petite staffy walks, or should I say, shuffled in.
She could not be any more pregnant. Her belly hung so low that the sides of her abdomen were carved, accentuating the prominent hips sitting atop of her fragile body. She swayed side to side as she walked, still graceful in her own way, but the look on her face alike that of a woman in her last week of pregnancy – get these babies out of me. She had been in active labour since at least that morning, most likely the night before, but with all the work and sweat she had only produced one baby so far.
One baby for all that work had exhausted her, and the stress of it all wore heavily on her face. When you watched closely you could see her abdomen contracting, straining to push out the next puppy into the world, but he just wouldn’t come.
On go the examination gloves, somehow they always manage to make that smacking sound we all associate with them. Lubrication, and so begins the vaginal examination. There wasn’t much examining until the gracefully moulded features of a puppy hit my finger. I think my heart skipped a beat. He was wedged in the birth canal, likely struggling to make his way out, but with shoulders too big to fit- a problem we see all too often. Creating traction didn’t progress him any further, it only increased the ferocity of Mum’s contractions – she didn’t appreciate that. Even placing mum in a position to help open her pelvis a little more made no difference, he was not coming out via that route.
As humans, we have a bit of variety in our sizes as adults. Some of us are tall, while others are on the smaller side of the spectrum. In dogs that spectrum is hugely diverse. At one end we have the Chihuahua’s, no bigger than the foot of the larger end, the Great Dane. This Mum was on the smaller end, but Dad, well he was a big boy. Unfortunately, to Mum’s dismay, the pups took after Dad in stature. A quick abdominal ultrasound confirmed these pups were big and in foetal distress, and poor Mum was ready for them to pack up and leave their cosy little home in her belly. It was time for a caesarean.
If you ever want to see teamwork at its absolute best, a caesarean is that time. My first experience with puppies is watching 101 Dalmatians – a pot of water by the fireplace, warm cuddly towels and two loving dogs watching lovingly over their new litter. 101 Dalmatians move over, Team BVECCS is here.
A caesarean is an emergency. The longer they stay in Mum, the higher the mortality rate. We need to have mum anaesthetised (no epidurals here folks!) with minimal drugs (they pass on to the pups) in speed timing. It’s a little like a Dance – on one side of the stage we have Mum being anaesthetised, her abdomen clipped and surgically prepped for the surgeon. The nurses buzz around her, preparing and checking vitals. The machines connected to her create a steady beat for the dance. On the other side of the stage we have surgeons washing and gowning as fast as possible, yet with such precision and intent to every step. They meet in the middle of the stage, we call it the theatre. And here it begins.
After confirmation that Mum’s anaesthetic is stable, her abdomen is opened in record timing to reveal her massive uterus. This part is not beautiful – the uterus resembles something I imagine you would pull out of the depths of the ocean. A pink slug, but filled with these dark black to green sacs. Once the uterus is exteriorised, you cannot fathom in a brief second how on earth that fit in her abdomen. Yet there is a job to do, and time is of the essence. A tiny slit with the scalpel, followed by very gently cutting with scissors so as to not hurt the puppy underneath, and out comes puppy number 1. And here begins the puppy production line.
The nurse monitors Mums anaesthetic so the surgeon can begin removing pups one by one from the uterus. Each one milked out with proficiency and a delicacy that seems impossible given the size of her uterus. Yet, out comes the puppy and into a fluffy towel in the hands of a nurse. She transports the puppy from the theatre to the ICU outside where a team of vets and nurses wait patiently.
With each puppy that comes out, there is this methodical, almost premeditated pattern that emerges. The nurse or vet takes the puppy, their airways and heart are checked. They are rubbed vigorously with a towel, and most often this elicits that first breath, and ultimately the first cry for Mum. This rubbing will continue until the pup is screaming for Mum, a sign that the lungs and brain are working well. Pup is then passed along to rest on a premade warm bed, and he waits for his siblings to join. Sometimes the pup may not cry or breathe, and further work is warranted. There is oxygen lines, suction lines and stethoscopes everywhere, yet every piece of equipment serves a purpose and never seems to be in the way, only in the perfect spot at the perfect time it is required. From the theatre, I see them working.
This part of the job is what reminds me of the sheer determination and compassion of my fellow colleagues. No one complains, everyone is encouraging each other, and working as a team. Not one of the 8 puppies is left untouched, they are all checked thoroughly and given every chance at life. The team works non stop all while Mums uterus is removed and her abdomen is closed. There is no doubt in my mind, these puppies have received the highest level of care possible, by the best team around.
As Mum is wheeled out of theatre, now considerably lighter, the news is delivered. 5 of 8 puppies have survived, not great numbers, but a common scenario in a dog that has been in active labour for many hours. I know that in everyone’s mind there is a lingering sadness for the pups that are lost, but there is no time to wallow in this, there are 5 puppies that now need to have their first feed. While poor Mum is slowly reawakening, now a mother of 5 hungry puppies, nurses are placing the puppies on Mum to begin their first critical feed. Most of them latch on quite quickly, one of them takes a little longer to get the gist of it, but when she does she’s off at top speed.
A relieved Grandpa and Grandpa are informed of their new family additions – 5 new furry kids they weren’t quite anticipating.
While not every day is filled with new life and squealing puppies, the days that are remind you to stop and marvel in the beauty and complexity of it all. In what seems on surface value to be such a simple natural process, is actually a complicated, life threatening procedure underneath. From the initial diagnosis of a puppy stuck in the birth canal, to puppies feeding for the first time, barely an hour had passed. Yet in that time, teams of incredible nurses and Vets had anaesthetised Mum, surgically opened her abdomen and removed the puppies from her uterus, revived 5 puppies and recovered mum from her anaesthetic. All in all, it makes you appreciate the amazing people you work with.
Now Mum will go home and begin the steep learning curve of parenthood. While we mourn those pups which were lost today, we are grateful of the privilege to see 5 lives saved.