Surgery day came. I set up a small kennel for Wuzzy, put her gently into it, and wrapped it with a towel. On the way to the hospital, my oldest daughter’s words echoed in my head, “You haven’t spayed her yet, Mom?” 

My kids went through a, “We’re going to raise puppies when we grow up” phase, and rather than agree with them that puppies are cute and leave it at that, I went into an in-depth explanation about pet overpopulation, health issues of intact pets, and the importance of sterilizing most pets. 

My three point lecture with visual aids was met with eye-rolls from my children.  I was OK with that. I figured I had their entire childhood to both educate them and change the world. My plan (and that of many others) is to move towards a world in which there is a lifelong, loving home for every pet. There will be more room there for excellent breeders, and my daughters will be free to raise their puppies without worrying that their cute fuzzy litters will edge out the rescue pets waiting to be adopted. Apparently, they heard me the first time, and now my own lecture had come back to judge me.

Wuzzy is not at risk of contributing to pet overpopulation. Her only same-species friend is Fuzzy, and she too is female. I considered spaying Fuzzy and Wuzzy as babies. I would like to say that I decided against it for sound medical reasons. Most hormone-related mammary tumors in rats are benign, and other reproductive system-related illnesses are uncommon in rats. These issues did play into my decision, but truthfully, I was also scared. Their surgeries would have coincided with the end of the chilling crisis we had just been through in which we nearly lost Fuzzy, Wuzzy, and their littermate, Cookie Roo. I knew intellectually that the risks of anesthesia were minimal, especially for young, healthy rats with no respiratory issues, but my fears won out, and they remained intact…until now. 

We arrived at the hospital right on time for Wuzzy’s surgery. I prepared her fluids and pain medication. Angela and Dr. Wittler painstakingly rerouted the tubing of the anesthesia machine to ensure that Wuzzy Rat would inhale as little carbon dioxide as possible, and replaced the rebreathing bag with one made especially for the smallest of patients. The majority of our anesthetic patients are at least several pounds. Wuzzy is 242 grams, just barely over one half of a pound, which is small even for a rat!

All veterinarians I know react in one of two ways to the anesthesia of their own pets. We either go (in our minds) to a quiet place as far away as possible and sip a pretty blue drink while we wait to hear that our pet is waking up smoothly, or we stand an inch over our anesthetized pet with a surgical instrument in each hand, threatening to use the sharp one to poke anyone who gets too close.

We are not more neurotic than you are. In fact, we understand well the physiology and medicine of veterinary anesthesia, and that it can be done as safely as human pediatric anesthesia is done.

We leave or hover because we can. We leave because we know our teams well—we know that we can trust them completely and that they are perfectly capable of doing what needs to be done without us present. We hover because we have access to every part of the hospital and every patient. You would be a neurotic person of extremes in these situations, too, if you could. 

Our veterinary team will not ever rush a surgery or dental procedure. But once your pet is waking up safely, one of us surely will rush to the surgery suite exit. We know that you are neither far away waiting calmly, drink in hand, nor hovering over your anesthetized pet. You are at work or home wondering why we have not yet called. I know how you feel.

For Wuzzy’s abdominal exploratory surgery, I went with the second option, standing an inch over Wuzzy. She’s very small! And I needed the scalpel for surgery! In all seriousness, I am comfortable with complex surgeries and with very (very) small patients. Of course, the hitch for me on this day was that this very small patient undergoing complex surgery was MY Wuzzy. 


Post  from one year ago today...

February 4, 2016