15st 10lb, zero units. The Dog has had a cough for at least a year now. It does not happen all that often, and does not seem to bother him unduly when it does. But I have to admit that it sounds dreadful – the sort of deep, rasping cough that my Uncle Bill used to demonstrate in the early morning as he enjoyed his first Senior Service of the day. And I happen to know for a fact that The Dog has never smoked, despite that tempting offer from the laboratory that was hoping to diversify out of beagles because their ears kept flopping messily into the ashtrays.
Mrs H, being a soft-hearted type, kept saying “We ought to get that checked out” and I replied “Umm” as I usually do in response to any suggestion that might involve me spending money. Then some interfering bastard gave her a manifestly ill-informed tip-off and she began saying “We ought to get that checked out – because it could be his heart, you know.” After which I started hearing the same thing from other people in other places. But always from women of a certain age, as it happened, so I was able to say “Forgive me for asking, but are you by any chance married?”
And they would reply, “Yes. Why do you ask?”
And I would nod sagely and say “Oh, no reason at all.” Then observe to Mrs H later, “Look, I told you it was an Old Wives’ Tale.”
But in a moment of weakness last week I agreed to take him to the vet’s to get this nonsense cleared up Once and For All, and this morning on the way to the office I dropped him off for a chest X-ray. Which is rather a bigger to-do for a dog than a human being because they have the sense to think “F*** off, I’m not letting you bombard me with almost certainly carcinogenic invisible radiation” and attempt to leg it. Hence they have to be given a general anaesthetic just to get them to the starting gate.
I knew it probably wasn’t going to be good news when I had a call to say that the vet would like to see me when I went to pick him up. But even then I had no inkling of the scale of the tragedy that was about to unfold. It was lucky – or rather, showed admirable foresight on my part – that I had arranged for Mrs H to meet me there and hold my hand in case I broke down.
First the vet gave us the good news. There was nothing wrong with The Dog’s larynx. Yippee. Then he showed us what he said was an X-ray of The Dog’s chest taken from the side, though frankly it could just as easily have been a Luftwaffe black and white aerial shot of French defences along the Maginot line, or some archaeologist’s doodle of a Bronze Age encampment. Lungs all right, tick. Heart as it should be, tick. But then look at this picture of the chest taken from above. Heart about 50 per cent bigger than it should be, apparently. The Dog has got an Enlarged Heart.
I should have asked “So what?” Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Instead I mumbled something about his life expectancy and got a well-rehearsed spiel about the marvellous advances in drugs and how he could expect to live a perfectly normal life if only we dosed him up with them. One of the drugs even came in a lovely flavoured tablet that he would absolutely adore, while the other was tiny and easily concealed in something like a lump of cheese.
Stupidly, I agreed to give them a go for a week and see how we got along.
Then I went to the counter in reception and asked for my bill, and the girl said “Is he insured?” and I replied “No,” thinking but not saying “Because if he was insured I’d have paid a huge sodding premium for nine years now, and then as soon as I submitted a claim form I’d receive a spiel about how the policy sadly didn’t cover that particular problem, as has happened with every previous insurance policy I have ever been daft enough to take out for anything, because all insurers are devious, thieving bastards.”
And she said, “Then that will be £369.73, please.” Bold as brass, in front of a waiting room full of people. Frankly I was surprised that none of them made an immediate run for the door and started trying to stamp their pet to death in the car park.
“Stone me!” I cried, when I was finally capable of speech, and the extent of my shock can probably be gauged from the fact that I didn’t think to use one of the other, richer epithets that I usually draw upon from my very extensive vocabulary.
A ripple of merriment ran around the waiting room. I thought of putting a stop to it by pointing out that for that sort of money I could have had The Dog put down, bought another puppy, had it microchipped and vaccinated, and still had enough change for a bloody good night out. But instead I decided to forfeit their sympathy by demanding an itemized bill so that I could see how much of it related to the drugs just prescribed – because if they accounted for the £369 rather than the 73p he wasn’t going to be taking them in the long term, that was for sure.
I couldn’t understand most of the resulting print-out, but the bulk of the cost seemed to be the X-ray and some blood tests and something else described as a “Profile”. So maybe they added him to Facebook or LinkedIn while they had him under the anaesthetic.
Naturally I paid up. With the sort of extreme reluctance I normally reserve for signing cheques to HM Revenue & Customs.
Note to self: in future, always ask for an estimate before embarking on any course of action likely to lead to significant expenditure. Especially when in veterinary surgeries or massage parlours.
Hope you are both recovered now.
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