Intensive care units are intensive care units, whether they deal in humans or animals: they are places of extremes that play on the emotions like stringed instruments. Boston Globe writer Croke (The Modern Ark: The History of Zoos: Past, Present, and Future, 1997), with a seasoned journalist's appreciation of pressure-cooker situations, relates here a sizable clutch of stories from the veterinary emergency room. The Foster Hospital for Small Animals at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine is the kind of place you want at your disposal when your animal falls ill: gathered under its roof are the latest in veterinary medical technology and experts in animal internal medicine, dentistry, ophthalmology, and oncology. Croke spent a good amount of time in the Foster emergency room, talking to vets and experiencing the near constant, barely contained frenzy. It may be an African gray parrot with a prolapsed uterus, a cockatiel that sucked a seed down its windpipe, a water dragon with a ruptured ulcer, a pet guinea pig chewed on by a pet rat. Croke has a way of writing that subtly allows readers to almost hear the vets" train of thinking as they engage in high velocity medical sleuthing: why is this dog twitching? Neurological, infectious? Did he eat a moldy meatball? Suffer a head trauma? She also has the delicate touch that manages to ventilate the fury of the ER—the rapid escalation of trouble when a swollen abdomen suddenly becomes a cardiac arrest or when the emotional upheaval goes critical and flashes with palpable grief—without becoming hyperbolic. And this is a cautionary tale. Such care comes with a price, sometimes a real high price, like $4,000 for a ventilator, and pet health insurance is no longer a joke. A breath-baiting glimpse of animals in medical peril and the very beautiful emergency room choreography of those who attend to them.
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