Last week was stressful enough without losing e-mail access for 72 hours. My conference trip to St. Louis, the canceled flight on the way back, and the fast pace of the make-up days that came after meant that even if I’d had e-mail access, some would have slipped through the cracks. So it went with Dr. Tony Johnson’s e-mail. Missed it.

Dr. Johnson is a veterinary critical care specialist at the Purdue University veterinary teaching hospital, and whose blog entries over at PetConnection are wryly witty and always worth a read. On this occasion, however, he was alerting me to a post he’d written that was as somber as it was ultimately uplifting. Just the kind of post to be proud of.

It was to do with a patient, Officer Shadow of the Terre Haute, Indiana Police Department. He’d taken a bullet to the face when he and his handler, Officer Brent Long, cornered an armed fugitive in a closet. Tragically, Officer Long took two shots to the head and was killed. Shadow, however, fared better. In Dr. Johnson’s words:

Police dogs are trained to be loyal and fierce. They exist to protect their handlers, take a bullet for them if needed, and to get the bad guy by cunning, cornering or chomping. For all their positive and potentially life-saving attributes, they are not the most cooperative of patients. We need to do things to patients that can be uncomfortable, and we are utter strangers. To a police dog, a stranger could just as easily be a bad guy out to get the handler as a well-meaning doctor out to dress their wounds. We knew we would have our work cut out for us.

That work turned out to be all about stabilizing him, managing his blood loss, and exploring his wound (right through the side of the face!) via both CT scan and surgery. But there were complications, some of which involved the media. Here’s more:

As we were working on diagnosing the extent of his injuries, a media presence slowly built up outside the teaching hospital. The whole incident, from the tragic loss of Officer Long to the efforts to save Shadow, was becoming a major local story and we were right in the center of it all. There is always a lot at stake when an animal or person is critically injured, but the high emotional toll that the deaths had taken on all involved, coupled with the scrutiny and intrusiveness of the media, made the stress level in the hospital soar that day. We were able to keep our cool and function as a team, however, as we knew that that was the best way to ensure a good outcome for at least one member of the police team.

Though Shadow was the obvious focus of the media-circus’s attention, the work undertaken by the team led by Dr. Johnson that day figured more than a little. With good reason:

The bullet had entered the underside of his jaw, hit the bone at the angle of his jaw, and broken apart. There was damage to the area of his jaw just below the joint; the bone had shattered into hundreds of fragments in a small area. There were two larger bullet fragments; the rest was a constellation of little blips on the CT readout. After confirming that the authorities did not need the fragments for evidence, the decision was made to leave them in. The body would efficiently wall them off, and they were unlikely to cause future problems for Shadow.

The surgeons and radiologists amassed and pored over the images. A 3-D computer reconstruction was made of the slices from the CT scan. As I watched from the control room, a spectral image of Shadow’s head appeared on the monitor as he slept inside the gantry of the CT scanner. I could only hope that he was dreaming of getting the bad guy.

After a brief consultation, it was determined that the damage was not in a load-bearing area, and was not near enough the joint to require surgery. The second wave of relief spread through everyone that day upon hearing this. It was the same feeling you get when the Space Shuttle takes off without a hitch.

After attending to his entry wound and closing one small wound inside his mouth, Shadow was fitted with a muzzle while still asleep. The muzzle would keep him from opening his mouth too far and moving the fragments, but would allow him enough room to lap up the gruel that will be his diet for the next six weeks or so as the jaw knit itself together.

From the officer who brought Shadow in, I learned that Shadow would most likely be retired from the police force and live out his days by the hearth of the Long family, where he had lived prior to the incident. Shadow walked around the hospital, seemingly enjoying his star status, and hopefully blessedly insulated from the horrors that had transpired to bring him to us.

OK, so these are only excerpts that can’t possibly do justice to Dr. Johnson’s heartfelt piece. You’ve just got to read it yourself, because by now I was almost in tears. OK, so I’m PMS-ing, too, but it was really sad and sweet, and I felt SO much pride in my profession for being able to make things like this happen.

If only there were more Tony Johnsons in my line of work, and fewer shooters for the Shadows of this world to contend with. Sigh...

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Dr. Patty Khuly

Shown above, Shadow, on the day of his release from Purdue Veterinary Teaching Hospital, with K-9 unit Sergeant Terry John. Photo credit: Andrew Hancock, Purdue University.

Pic of the day: Injured Terre Haute Police Dog Shadow, after his release from Purdue University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Shown here with K-9 unit Sergeant Terry John while attending a vigil for his fallen handler, Officer Brent Long. Photo credit: Jim Avelis, The Tribune Star /

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