The operating rooms at Washington State University’s new veterinary teaching hospital weren’t scheduled to be used Tuesday, but Puff couldn’t wait.
Puff, a 10-year-old pit bull who serves as Seeing Eye dog for a blind boy from Trego, Mont., had a brain tumor. Her owners chartered a plane to rush her to WSU veterinarians.
By Monday, the expanding tumor was pressing her brain against the back of her skull, causing seizures and unconsciousness.
So Tuesday, as workers and faculty moved into the new building, veterinary students and technicians rushed to outfit one of the new operating rooms for surgery.
Veterinarian Rod Bagley snipped away Puff’s scalp, exposing the skull.
“OK, we’ll need the drill,” he said.
The high-speed drill, whining, cut through the skull. A veterinary student dripped saline onto the bone to keep it cool.
After four hours of surgery, Puff was wheeled off to the intensive care unit. Bagley said she’s expected to be in critical condition for the next few days, although he said the surgery went well.
About 10,000 animals per year are treated at WSU’s veterinary teaching hospital, which began in 1895 as a $60 shed. The new hospital cost $38 million.
Since the early 1950s, the hospital has been based in McCoy Hall, where generations of students and workers cobbled together animal pens and clinic space. There are 335 students in WSU’s vet school. Each year, the college awards approximately 65 doctor of veterinary medicine degrees.
In McCoy Hall, “most of the cold water supply was hot, because it ran alongside the steam lines,” said veterinarian Ron Sande, who signed on as a faculty member 29 years ago.
In summer, he said, temperatures in parts of the building would rise past 100 degrees, he said, causing equipment to shut down.
The new hospital includes CT scanners, laser surgery, ultrasound, a linear accelerator for treating cancer, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). There is a pool with a hydraulic floor to float animals recovering from leg surgery.
“We have gone through the transition from country doctor to pretty high-class medical and surgical support,” said Sande. Many of the college’s graduates will go on to be “country doctors,” he said, but the facility will help develop new procedures for use out in the field.
Since the hospital’s MRI table can hold 500 pounds, instead of the usual 300, human hospitals have inquired about using it for obese patients, according to Charlie Powell, information coordinator for WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
In fact, Pullman Memorial Hospital and Whitman Hospital and Medical Center in Colfax will routinely have human patients scanned by the veterinary hospital’s MRI machine. Sharing expensive equipment, the human hospitals point out, saves money.
The veterinary hospital treats horses, cows, birds of prey, pigs, goats, snakes, ferrets, tropical birds, lizards - even fish.
Two years ago, someone brought in an Amazonian knife fish that was wasting away. Veterinarians dripped anesthetic into the water and examined the fish’s digestive tract with a scope.
They found it had eaten the suction cup holding a thermometer to the side of its fish tank. Once that was removed, the fish was fine.
Two years ago, surgeons repaired a dog’s congenital heart problem. A month ago, they removed a tumor from a snake’s throat. A current patient is a horse for the Seattle Police Department. Most of the animals are referred to the hospital by veterinarians.
“The nuclear family is dissolving, and people are putting a greater value on their pets,” said Powell. “Animals provide unconditional love.”
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