About a month ago we noticed that Lady's left hind leg was a bit swollen. She didn't flinch or run away if we touched it, but rabbits are horribly stoic so we feared she might be in great pain and hiding it. Alex and I put her in her carrier and hurried to the 24 hour vet a couple towns away. I hadn't been back there since the night we had to put down Fergus. I did my best to reason away my feeling of foreboding. The vet on duty that night wasn't an exotic specialist, no great surprise, but she could rule out a broken leg. A fracture was still a possibility, so she recommended we see our usual vet the next day.
The next morning I dialed our vet, feeling hopeful that we'd have some answers in an hour or two. Unfortunately, our vet was out of town. My body sagged a little as the receptionist listed other specialists in the area. Not for the first time, I wished rabbits weren't considered an exotic species. What must it be like to know that if your usual vet is unavailable, her colleagues are equally trained to help you?
I called a couple places before finding one with an exotics specialist on duty on a Saturday.
The walls of the waiting room were decorated with fabric panels covered in frolicking dogs and cats. I could see an alcove full of leashes, kibble and toys. How often did they treat an animal that wasn't a dog or a cat? My own vet's walls had paintings of creatures ranging from kitten to cow and everything in between. I knew the decor didn't necessarily reflect the vet's knowledge, but it left me wondering whether the receptionist had heard me correctly when I made the appointment for a rabbit.
Once we were in the exam room, Lady couldn't wait to get out of her carrier and explore. It was that love of exploring that had made me suggest the name Amelia (for Amelia Earheart) when we first got her. She hopped right up on the scale, her feet sliding every which way on the smooth surface. I looked at the ruler-like markings on the scale and wondered how the vet could possibly tell if a small animal lost or gained a little weight. A quarter pound change either way is significant when your whole body weighs less than five pounds.
Lady both charmed and scared the vet tech by hopping from the exam table to the slippery scale and back again as if she were exploring at home. I could almost see a thought bubble over the tech's head with the words "Please don't fall. Please don't fall". Lady clearly preferred the higher vantage point the scale provided, so I bribed her to stay put by rubbing her head while the tech and then the vet asked question after question.
"Is she eating? Pooing? Where does she spend the day? Could she have been dropped? Where is she at night? Could she have jumped off something high? Have you noticed any change to her behavior? What do you feed her? Could she have taken a bad jump off something high? Could something have fallen on her? When was the last time she saw a vet? Is she free range or in a pen?" I started to feel like I was at fault for not having security footage of her comings and goings. In the end they gave her a physical, took her temperature (which she really did not appreciate) and an x-ray.
The tech scooped Lady up in her arms and they disappeared through a door into the mysterious world of "employees only". I tried to read a book I'd brought, but couldn't concentrate. So I read and reread a flier about the importance of caring for your dog's teeth.
Soon enough they returned and the vet pulled up Lady's x-ray on her computer monitor. "There are no broken bones or fractures, which is both good and bad news." How can that be bad news I wondered, but I would soon find out. The vet switched to a closeup of Lady's abdomen. Her anatomy appeared utterly foreign, so different from a human's, her ribs were the only familiar landmark. The vet was discussing possible explanations for some faint marks on the lungs. I'd clearly missed something. The marks looked like water spots on a glass, nothing substantial.
"But how is that related to her leg?" I asked.
"Ah. The edema in her leg is due to the tumor in her abdomen. It's blocking the flow of..." I didn't so much stop listening as stop hearing her. The large pale blob on the x-ray that I'd assumed was an organ, was actually a tumor! No wonder her poo had been smaller lately; her intestines were probably squooshed. "The tumor could be benign, or it could be related to the mottling on the lungs. We will know more after the aspiration." I nodded dumbly. The vet and the tech stared at me as if waiting for something. "May we do the aspiration?"
My mind raced. An aspirate in linguistics is a consonant pronounced with a puff of air. How could blowing air tell them anything about a tumor? Had they already explained it and I missed it? I wished Alex were there with me. "Sorry. What exactly does 'aspirate' mean?" She explained. I understood enough to give permission, and then I was alone again, reading brochures about proper tick removal methods.
They returned with Lady and said they'd be in touch on Monday, 48 hours of uncertainty and fear from now. I thanked her and paid the bill.
The car felt very full as I pulled out of the parking lot. Lady happily shuffled about her carrier, tipping it slightly this way and that as she searched for the choicest bites of hay. Thoughts of how I would explain her condition to Alex when I barely understood it played on a loop in my head. A bottle of Metacam, pain reliever, rattled in the cup holder. As the vet prescribed it she'd said, "I don't know if it will help, but it can't hurt." In that case, I wondered, was the prescription more for Lady's comfort or my piece of mind?
Why did rabbits never have a crisis when our vet was available?
And what about Lady's leg? It would be two days before we'd know anything. Two days before any treatment could be considered. Would her leg just keep getting bigger and bigger? Could her skin split from the pressure? Nah, the vet wouldn't have let us go if that was a possibility. Right? I replayed the visit all the way home, trying to connect the dots of how we'd gotten from "no broken bones" to "tumor".