You’ve heard it in the news. There’s the gazillion dollar budget deficit, declining academic test scores, state park closures, and never-ending heated discussion about gay marriage and illegal immigrants. What you may not know is that there is something even more sinister lurking in California. It is of the ilk that science fiction writers fantasize about- alien creatures that penetrate body cavities, migrate through tissues, and wreak havoc!
Take the recent case of Emma Louise, a darling four-year-old residing in northern California. One minute she was a healthy, happy, go-lucky little girl. The next minute she was writhing in pain. Doctors could not figure out what was wrong. Little did they know that an alien had invaded her being and poor little Emma Louise was incapable of describing the evil that lurked within…….
Hmm, as I write this I’m wondering if I’ve been denying in inner desire to write science fiction! I met Emma Louise just a few days ago. She came to me for a second opinion to try to figure out the cause of her abdominal discomfort. Emma Louise is undeniably adorable- part hound dog and part Brittany Spaniel- and there’s nothing she enjoys more than running through fields with her nose to the ground. The problem is, the fields are loaded with foxtails- awful little bristly weeds that grow rampantly throughout California in the late spring and summer months. They seem hell bent on finding their way into dogs’ noses, ears, eyes, mouths, and just about every other orifice. Not only is the dog’s body incapable of degrading or decomposing them, the foxtails are barbed in such a way that they can only move in a “forward” direction. Unless caught early, they can migrate through the body causing infection and tissue damage. Once foxtails have moved internally, they are notoriously difficult to find- they become the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Apparently Emma Louise was a “foxtail magnet” having accumulated several in her ears and nose over the years. Her current symptoms were different than any she’d experienced before- she appeared to have abdominal pain and was straining to urinate and have bowel movements. Other than a mild fever and some abdominal splinting, her physical examination findings were unremarkable. I performed abdominal ultrasound and discovered a gigantic abscess tucked up under Emma Louise’s spine and extending back (towards her tail) into the pelvic canal. Given this girl’s history, I just knew there had to be a foxtail somewhere in that huge abscess pocket. The question was, would we be able to find it.
I prayed to the “god of foxtails” and turned Emma Louise over to one of my esteemed colleagues (a surgical specialist) for abdominal exploratory surgery. After approximately two hours of me biting my nails and some expletives heard in the operating room, there was a shout of “Hurray!” My colleague had located and removed the foxtail! Now with some post-op exercise restriction and a course of antibiotics, Emma Louise will be good as new. Not finding the foxtail would have meant lifelong antibiotics, unless the foxtail migratory course happened to exit the body.
Perhaps you’ve always wanted to experience the unique flavors and marvelous beauty of California. After reading this, you might just have a change of heart- now that you know of the evil that lurks there!
Now, here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members much good health!
Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
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