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Matthew Sisk: No reason found for dog's almost lethal illness
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I have a love-hate relationship with my fax machine.

Well, at least half of that. It doesn’t like me, and the feeling is mutual. But this morning, I hover over it and silently beg it to give me a surprise.

Lemmy arrived at the referral facility two days ago. With most cases I send there, the report comes back in 48 hours. But as is typical for my nemesis the fax machine, no relief is in sight.

Halfway through the morning appointments, an assistant pulls me out of a room. Instead of a fax, I’ve received a call from the head of surgery at the referral practice. He taught me in school. It’s a big deal, relatively speaking.

After a few greetings, he thanks me for the case. He calls it the most interesting one he’s seen in years. That could be good or bad, so I bite my tongue and offer “hmm.”

“Idiopathic pericardial effusion with secondary cardiac tamponade,” he said.

If you’re not into spelling bees, it means the fluid was there for an unknown reason but contained no signs of cancer or infection. There were no signs of trauma or any evidence of a clotting problem to cause bleeding into the sac. And the fluid around the heart was compressing it, so it couldn’t beat properly. All in all, a recipe for death and for no reason.

This is frustrating, but it is life in medicine. Or more accurately, it is medicine in life. To paraphrase the saying, stuff happens.

The surgeon called me because Lemmy was treated, not just diagnosed. Using the same equipment that might be used on a human, a small window was cut in Lemmy’s pericardial sac, to allow draining and prevent further compression of the heart.

The fluid might cause the same compression of the lungs, so a strip of absorbent tissue from the abdomen was tacked through the diaphragm, near the window. Hopefully this will avoid fluid accumulation in the chest.

Only time will tell, but as I hang up the phone, I grin.

In two weeks, I will recheck Lemmy.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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