Cervical Disc Disease: Hank's Story of Hope

by  Krista Magnifico, DVM

Hank was a statistic no one wanted to happen.

He is a beagle who is middle-aged, lazy and overweight. He also spends his time outdoors with a hyperactive over exuberant nut case of a brother, Moe. Moe has everything going for him. He is active, lean, muscular, and full of energy. This lifestyle has made him a powerhouse, it has also made him a liability to his brother, fat, old, slothy Hank.

Moe, Caleb, Hank

Hank was found laying on his side unable to stand, move, or walk on a Friday afternoon. 

He was shaking, trembling, and crying in pain. His family brought him to see me on a Sunday after it was apparent he was not recovering on his own. Now I am just like you. I heard his story, looked at his pitiful pathetic desperate self and thought, "Oh God! why did they wait to bring him in?"

This is what I saw when I entered the exam room the first time I met Hank and Caleb. I will never forget seeing them. I feared the worst...

I have been wearing a white coat for a while. It has provided me some important life lessons.

One is to not assume or rush to judgment. 

Hank's family was overwhelmed with caretaking for their son, Caleb, who has spina bifada. Caleb is 8 years old and preparing for his 6th surgery this year. It was very clear very quickly that this family was taxed beyond what many of us could handle on a routine basis and now Hank was down and out. When I discussed my concerns for Hank, how he needed to be transferred immediately to a neurologist and how the optimal care for his current condition would require an MRI and decompression surgery with its $8,000 to $10,000 price tag, his family went white with anguish.

Hank was Caleb's best friend. His lifeline, and his inspiration for all of his surgeries. At every surgery Caleb carried in a stuffed version of his beloved Hank to keep him company.

My bright idea of publicly posting Hank's condition in an effort to gain social media assistance to cover some, or all, of Hanks medical costs was abandoned when Caleb's mom quietly mentioned that they already had a GoFund me site set up to help pay for Caleb's next surgery. How could I ask for help with Hank's medical needs when Caleb's were in competition for those dollars? There was no way I was going to ask, or beg, for help and have it cost Caleb. So I did what I believed was the only option left. I took Hank's case on as my own. No advertising, no reimbursement, no discussion of anything except to say to his mom "You worry about Caleb and yourself, and I will worry about Hank."

And so it was. After two nights in the clinic Hank came home with me. 

I arrived at home late Wednesday evening with a paralyzed Hank and an almost absent ambivalent husband who now expects that I take the critical cases home with me. A few minutes of basic technician training and my husband was enlisted in Hank's care and understanding that verbal protests would only damage our relationship and fail at discouraging my maternal veterinary compulsions.

After 14 days with us, including a week of almost completely sleepless nights because Hank refused to sleep on a dog bed at the end of our bed, and would only stop crying, whining and bellowing when I put him in our bed. Which is a ridiculously dangerous place to be because who wants a paralyzed dog to fall out of bed? AND he is peeing and pooping at unforeseen intervals.

Hank required 24/7 care. 

Multiple baths at 2 am because had to go to the bathroom, multiple times getting up to try to figure out if the whimpering and discontent meant he needed something like, perhaps,, food?, water?, pain medication?, to go outside?, to sit up?, to get more attention?, to see the cat who believed she also belonged on the bed?, to cool him off?, warm him up?, etc. etc. There is no exception to these pups being an intensive amount of work with an unknown amount of recovery time.

There were days I went to work exhausted and cranky. There were nights my husband hated me for inflicting these restless nights upon our bedroom. And, there were the endless questions of whether this was all for naught? Would he ever get better? Would his family take him back? Would that be best for Hank? What would the rest of Hank's life look like? Would he relapse in a week? A month? A year? Would he recover the next time?

Here is Hank's YouTube diary.

There are a few critical things I hope that everyone leaves this blog with;

  1. These cases are difficult.
  2. There is no rule book for time and prognosis.
  3. These cases need affordable options provided to clients,
  4. Never surrender hope.
  5. Or let anyone steal your faith.
  6. These cases deserve an opportunity to provide and offer the fertile ground of miracles a chance. If any vet tells to you surrender your hope IF YOU DON'T have a couple grand available immediately walk out and find another vet. 
  7. Managing pain is possible, and these cases have a chance at recovery. Hank was trembling and panting for a week in discomfort. It was hard to watch, and I tried very hard to keep him as comfortable as possible, BUT, I did not out him in a drug induced coma. 
  8. We got through it together! Me, Hank, my husband, and the staff at the clinic. Provide a supportive network or encouraging helpful people. Death is not an option I considered. I understand this is on a case by case basis, BUT, I was prepared for a cart and a dog who needed help for as long as Hank needed help.

What does Hanks future hold? I am not sure. He is home with his family. We talk often and we will continue to do so. Caleb has his next surgery next week. Our best wishes and thoughts are with him. We have faith,,,, sometimes that is enough.

There is a whole lot more information on IVDD on my other blogs. Please visit them. I think they answer every question I have ever had on managing this disease.

IVDD. The Days Immediately Following the Diagnosis
IVDD. Dr Kelcourse's Advice
IVDD. A Tale Of Two Outcomes

Hank goes home, day 17


If you have a pet in need you can find a community of helpful people at Pawbly.com. Pawbly is free to use and open to anyone who loves their pet and wants to help them.

I am also available for personal consults at Jarrettsville Veterinary Center in Jarrettsville Maryland. Or find me on YouTube or Twitter @FreePetAdvice.

Articles by Dr. Magnifico:
Don't Make This Mistake: Ruby's Death To Heat Stroke 
Parvo: Cora's Story 
Jake's Laryngeal Paralysis
The Tip Of The Iceberg: The Unexpected Dental Dilemma
The Ear Ache That Wasn't Going Away: Tottsie's Story
Cody's Eyelid Tumor
Ruger's Mysterious Illness
The Day The Heart Stood Still: Timber's Story 
Different Definition Of Comfort Food: Levi's Story 
Savannah's Pancreatitis  
Histiocytoma: Rio's Mysterious Bump
Von Willebrand's Disease: Greta's Story 
Alice's Heart Murmur  
Jekyll Loses His Tail Mo-Jo 
Pale Gums Are An Emergency: Bailey's Story 
To Amputate Or Not To Amputate: Heidi's Story
Lessons From A Real-Life Veterinarian 
Charlie's Life Saving Lipoma Surgery  
Understanding and Diagnosing The Limping Dog, Why To Probe The Paw 
Angus' Dog Fight And The Consequences
When To Induce Vomiting And When It's Not A Good Idea  
Abby's Survived Being Run Over By Car But Sucumbed To A Mammary Tumor 
Palmer's Hemoabdomen: Nearly An Unnecessary Death Sentence
A Puppy That Doesn't Want To Eat Or Play Is An Emergency: Aurora's Story
Does Your Dog Like Chewing Sticks? Hank's Story  
Lexi's Bump 
Pyometra: Happy Ending for Pheonix 
Never Give Up: Bella's New Legs 
How Losing His Spleen Saved Buddy's Life 
Pyometra Emergency: Saving Chloe  
Limping Dog Checklist (part I): Did You Check the Toenails?
Limping Dog Checklist (part II): Did You Check between the Toes?
Limping Dog Checklist (part III): Foot Pads
Limping Dog Checklist (part IV): Broken Bones  
Limping Dog Checklist (part V): Joint Injuries
IVDD: Recovery, Post-Op Problems And How To Conquer Them All
Has Your Vet Given Up On Your Pet? Or You? Would You Even Recognize It If They Had?