Afternoon surgery was already overflowing when an extra patient appeared, to add to the list. Wilfred the Labrador peered out, sadly, from under a chair in the waiting room, looking both guilty and poorly at the same time.
The notes on the computer told only half of the story: “Labrador vomited two gardening gloves.”
I called the owner and his son into the room and began my interrogation.
“And you’re definitely sure he vomited two gloves out? And they were both completely intact?” I quizzed, to firm nods from both owners.
“We know there were two that came out, ’cos we checked them. Definitely two,” confirmed the son. “That was the day before yesterday,” added his father. “But all of today and last night he’s looked out of sorts and can’t keep any food down.”
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Wilfred’s gloomy face and tense abdomen suggested there was something else stuck. I set about palpating his tummy. Despite the tight abdominal muscles resisting my probing, I could feel there was something very wrong.
“We’ll need to do some X-rays to see if there’s anything else in there.” I said: “Leave him with us and we’ll get on with it this afternoon.”
The X-rays showed a funny stripey thing, causing an obstruction in Wilfred’s abdomen. Surgery would be required for sure. What on earth was down there? More garden accoutrements? I could not think of any other gardening equipment that would be as tasty as gloves. Not that gardening gloves would be at the top of many people’s list of favourite snacks.
Before long the very hungry Labrador was ready for his operation. I made a long incision to facilitate a thorough check of all the parts of his stomach and bowel. A dog’s intestine is very long and, when looking for a foreign body, it is crucial to follow it all the way from stomach to rectum.
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I was expecting to find the offending article in the stomach, but the red-verging-on-purple- colour of the first part of his small intestines highlighted the region to investigate. At its centre was a distended area, which warranted attention. As I cut through the bowel wall, an alien-like object appeared. Slowly but surely a lime green, very smelly, very rubbery thing emerged, finger by finger, as if it was waving. It was a bright green gardening glove. A third one to add to the collection.
We always clean up and keep these foreign bodies, sealed up in a clear plastic bag, to give back to the owner. This gardening glove smelt so bad that, even after cleaning, two plastic bags were required. I am not really sure why we thought we should give it back – I was certain it would never be used again.
As I repaired the intestines and closed the muscle layer and the skin – a painstaking job because the incision was so long – conversation in theatre turned to speculation about why a dog would eat a gardening glove. A colleague related a story of a dog who had eaten a pair of tights. It had vomited one foot whilst, at the same time, passing the other foot out of its bottom, the gusset (not a word I’ve ever used before) still being stuck in its stomach. Whole crab apples don’t do a dog’s insides much good and neither do rubber door stops – all things we have had to remove after a hungry dog has swallowed them without a second thought.
And there still remained the mystery of the fourth glove – had it been chewed up into finger-sized portions, eaten and passed? I had visions of a frustrated gardener cursing his poor memory.