When my mum’s dog – my faithful posturing companion – started to develop a bit of a waffy eye one Friday in July, it didn’t create too much concern. Both Gillespie and his brother Dizzy (I know, I know – my sister and I tried to dissuade our mum from making these name choices but she was having none of it) have always been prone to developing eye infections as a result of pollen or grass seeds and usually a course of eye drops clears it up fairly quickly. So after a ‘phone call to the vet’s, it was established that Gill should simply be given the usual eye drops. By the Sunday evening, my sister reported to me on the ‘phone that matters had worsened to the extent that his eye seemed to be covered by some kind of film and he clearly wasn’t at all happy.
First thing on the Monday morning, Gill was taken to the place pet owners refer to in hushed tones, often only by its initial letter. The vet (shhhhh!) diagnosed him with an ulcer on his cornea, which apparently could have been due to a number of potential causes including age, genetics, trauma, or a combination of all three. He was also diagnosed with keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea. This is a condition which can also affect humans. It’s very painful and as it can progress rapidly and lead to loss of sight, it requires urgent treatment. Gill was prescribed antibiotic eye drops and the vet instructed that he must be kept quiet indoors and return for a further appointment that evening to see how he was. A makeshift dog hospital was created at my sister’s flat and all instructions were followed to the letter before she and my mum returned the patient to the vet’s that evening. The decision was made to see how he did overnight and return first thing the following morning for further assessment. My sister had already broken the grim news to me that if the drops didn’t work, he would have to have his eye removed – something which I could hardly bear to think about. However, we took the fact that the vet was happy to see how he did overnight as a positive sign that things were improving.
Unfortunately, this glimmer of hope didn’t last long. Shortly after their early morning trek to the vet’s the next day, my sister sent me a text to say that they’d had to leave poor Gill there for the operation. Any surgery under general anaesthetic brings risks, but with a dog of Gill’s age (he’s twelve years old now), these risks are far greater. So a few stressful hours of attempting to work whilst lacking any concentration whatsoever were spent, as we waited for a call from the vet. Finally, I received the news that Gill had made it through the operation, which thankfully had all gone well. He returned to the makeshift dog hospital later that afternoon, where he spent the next week being closely monitored and gently dissuaded each time he attempted to scratch his eye.
I visited that weekend, en-route to my own eye appointment at Moorfields. My sister had already told me that in the area where his eye once was, it looked as if someone had been practising sewing. So I approached with trepidation, choking down the desire to wail. Gill appeared to have no qualms as to how he’d be received in his newly disfigured state, as he bounded over in a slightly arthritic manner, tail wagging as usual, with just the odd unbalanced wobble, and attempted to climb onto my lap. I inspected his stitches with dismay, but was heartened by the fact that he seemed almost back to his old self again.
Somewhat unbelievably, we’d already experienced a case of canine eye removal a couple of years earlier. My aunt and uncle’s dog, Wallace, had suffered from glaucoma for about six months before it worsened to the extent that he had to have his eye removed. Although equally upsetting, it was less of a shock as he’d had the issues for a while before it became necessary to remove his eye. The whole family has become used to ‘one-eyed Wally’, as my cousin affectionately calls him, and fortunately he’s adapted remarkably well. He only has difficulty catching sticks and spotting people approaching from his blind side. It should also be noted that ‘Wally’ is a shockingly inaccurate nickname as he’s actually the most intelligent dog I’ve ever met.
Hopefully, Gill will adapt just as well as Wallace. He certainly seems happy enough, and his behaviour has gone some way to reassure me in the concern I voiced to my sister, “But what if he’s traumatised by having his eye removed and he can’t tell us?” “I don’t think he is”, she replied, pointing out that he’s enjoying his food and likes being made a fuss of, and gets excited at the prospect of walks, just as he always has done. When he went to have his stitches taken out a couple of weeks ago, the vet was very pleased with his recovery and said he’d done remarkably well. The one thing which keeps nagging in the back of my mind is: what did the vet do with his optic nerve when he took the eye out? When I asked my mum about this, she replied airily, “I expect they just fastened it off.” “Fastened it off?! Fastened it off?!”, I screeched in my head… “It’s not as if it’s a piece of electrical wiring – this is the nerve which carries information from the back of the eye into the brain!” Maybe it’s a question for an ophthalmologist next time I speak to one. Then again… perhaps it’s just better not to know…