Ten minutes later the vet walked back into the room with the x-ray in hand. He put it up on the light board and turned it on. The black and white imaged of Alfalfa’s body blazed. I have little experience reading x-ray. But, I could tell that the image was not good. The vet began to talk about the x-ray results. I did not hear a word he said. I went into a bit of a shock. I looked down at my guinea pig sitting on the exam table loosely wrapped in a towel. I had the sudden urge to pick him up and comfort him. I gingerly grabbed him and placed him on my shoulder. I turned my back to the x-ray, the vet, and his words and began to gently sing to my pet.
The vet stopped talking. After several minutes, he interrupted me with, “Kerry Anne? Do you understand what I am saying?”
I began to cry as I rocked Alfalfa back and forth. “No,” I replied through my tears. “I lost you… I’m sorry…”
The vet handed me tissues and gently urged me to sit down. “His lungs are very bad…it’s from spending all of that time on those cedar chips… You did nothing wrong…”
“I know,” I replied blankly, “I took him in because I saw how bad he looked…I couldn’t let him just…just suffer…”
“I know,” the vet comforted me, “I know… I remember you and Petey. You took him in too although he was a special needs guinea pig…”
“Yea…” was all I could say as I kissed the top of Alfalfa’s head. “Ok, now what?” I asked bravely.
“I’m going to be totally honest with you,” the vet said looking at me, “It may be best to put him down.”
“What?!?” I yelled standing up reflexively and grasping the bundle in my arms even tighter.
“Please sit and let me explain,” the vet pleaded from his seat below. I sat down. I stopped crying the best I could and turned to hear out what the vet had to say. “Ok, his lungs are infected and damaged. They are scared. We can treat the infection… However, the damage is most likely permanent. This means that his lung function is compromised. He may never recover from this… Kerry Anne, you may take him home and he could die…”
“Die?” I asked rocking the bundle in my arms.
“Yes,” the vet explained, “The fluid in his lungs…the mucus could cause him to drown. The risk is very high right now. Guinea pigs can’t get that stuff out of their lungs very easily…”
“Ok,” I said. “What if he gets over this initial issue? What then?”
“Well, that’s tricky,” the vet explained, “If he gets sick again, he may not be strong enough to fight it. If he needs surgery, he may not be able to survive. I don’t think you will ever be able to neuter him. I wouldn’t want to risk putting him under. He may live a very short life. I just don’t know…” I began to cry again.
“I want to fight for him,” I said through my tears. “I want to try to get him better…give him some time…two weeks…then if he doesn’t get better or gets worse then I’ll make the decision…the decision to put him down.”
“Ok,” the vet said. “You are going to have to keep a close eye on him for some time. And I’ll need to see him back here in about two weeks…sooner if he gets worse or there is ANY change…”
“Ok,” I said wiping my tears, “Ok…” Just then Alfalfa let out a small wheek followed by a mucus cough. I think it was his way of saying thank you.
“I think he does that to clear his lungs,” the vet remarked, “You may hear a lot of that over the next two weeks… On the bright side, if it gets louder and stronger, it’s a good sign.”
I laughed at his comment and held out my hand to shake his. “Thanks for everything.” We shook and I left to settle the bill out front.
The receptionist smiled at me and offered me a tissue. “That bad?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “It’s going to be a fight. But I have a feeling this guy is going to be just fine.”
“Good,” she said handing me the $450 bill, “I’m glad to hear that…” I paid my bill and left.
The next two weeks were hell for me and Alfalfa. Each cough brought me running to Alfalfa’s cage in a panic. He did not like taking his medicine and fought me each time I tried to give it to him. Slowly, Alfalfa began to recover from his infection. His squeals got louder. They less often ended in a mucus cough. He began to eat more and drink more. I was encouraged by his progress.
Alfalfa’s next vet visit went much better. He had gained weight. The infection was mostly gone and needed only one more fourteen day course of antibiotics. He was more alert and his wheeks were almost at “Abby” volume level. The vet was glad to see he was doing so much better. And to show his appreciation to the vet, Alfalfa peed on him during the examination.
Over the next several months the damaged to Alfalfa’s lungs began to heal. Currently his is at about 90-95% lung function. His lungs are permanently scared. I need to closely monitor him for any lung problems. One of the most important things I can do is keep his cage clean and the house dust free as best as possible. The vet said to treat him like a kid with asthma. So, I have made an extra effort to keep the house as hypoallergenic as possible. He still does that mucus cough every once and a while. He may do that for his life. The vet says his lungs may produce some extra mucus. It may be their way of dealing with the damage that was done. It is a type of chronic lung fibrosis. I am amazed with his ability to survive and recover from the damage that was done to him early in his life. I am also amazed that a simple decision about which bedding to use could cause so many problems for one small guinea pig.
Alfalfa is fighter…and so is his mom…and I’m proud to say that’s me!