The Lost Ball, from the Archives

D. E. Larsen, DVM

“I don’t know what is wrong with old Ben, Doc,” Gavin said as he picked his dog up and settled him on the exam table. “He started vomiting once in a while several weeks ago. I just didn’t think much about it. But now, he vomits everything he puts in his mouth. He takes a drink and turns around pukes it up.”

“Let’s give him a good once over, and then we will talk about what diagnostics we need to do,” I said.

Ben had obviously lost a lot of weight since I had looked at him, but everything else was pretty unremarkable.

“How long has he been vomiting, Gavin,” I asked?

“I said several weeks, Doc. But you know how time slips away. It could have been longer. I never noticed how thin he was until just now.”

I stood him up, but Ben was a little reluctant to remain standing. Finally, with Gavin holding him under his chest, I started carefully palpating his abdomen. He was thin enough, I could just about define every structure in his belly. 

The mass just sort of jumped into my hand as I palpated his mid-abdomen. Small, round, and solid, it was the perfect size to obstruct the small intestines. 

“Does he chew on rocks or anything like that,” I asked?

“No, he doesn’t do much of anything anymore. He is getting pretty stove up. He does retrieve my golf balls when I am chipping in the back yard.”

“Golf balls,” I said as I felt the mass again. “Have you lost any of those balls?”

“Gee, I don’t know, Doc. I really don’t keep track of them. Do you think that is his problem?”

“I can feel a solid round mass in the middle of his small intestines,” I said. “It is of the size that it could be a golf ball. It could be a tumor or something else.”

“What do you think we should do,” Gavin asked?

“We could send in some blood and get some x-rays to try to define the object. Or we could just do exploratory surgery. We can fix it, or it may be something that we can’t do anything about. Really, the only way to know is to go in and look.”

“Are you saying it could be cancer?”

“Could be, but I would bet on the golf ball. It was probably rolling around his stomach for a few weeks causing him to vomit. Then in the last day or two, it started down the small intestine. That is when the vomiting really got going. If it is the ball, it is a simple fix. If it is a tumor, we can probably take it out, and then it just depends on what type of tumor it is.”

“Let’s just do the surgery,” Gavin said. “When can you do it?”

“I think we can do it the first thing in the morning. We will give him some fluids overnight and get him started on some antibiotics. If everything goes well, he should be able to go home the following day.”

“Do we have any special care,” Gavin asked?

“Not much. We will keep him on fluids and nothing by mouth for 24 hours. Then he will be on a soft slurry of a diet for a week.”

The surgery went well. Finding the foreign body was not an issue. There was virtually no fat in the omentum or anywhere else in the abdomen, for that matter. Ben has had this problem for a lot longer than Gavin had recognized. I explored the intestine’s entire length and palpated the stomach for any trace of another foreign body. None was found.

When I opened the intestine and squeezed a well-worn golf ball from its lumen, it was apparent that it had been in the stomach for some time. The cover of the golf ball had lost most of its dimples.

I closed the intestinal incision, rinsed the area well, and replaced everything into the abdomen. I closed the abdominal incisions, and we recovered Ben.

Ben felt immediately better on recovered. I think he was looking for a steak dinner. “That’s okay, Ben,” I said. “We will give you some liquid steak tomorrow morning.”

When we placed a small bowl of water in Ben’s kennel in the morning, you would have thought that he had been in the desert for a week. It just disappeared. Then we followed with a small bit of dog food mixed to a slurry. Ben lapped that down and was wagging his tail for more.

Ben was bouncing around when Gavin came to pick him up. He was ready to go after having several small meals of slurry.

“He is doing well,” I said. “He is acting like he hasn’t eaten in a month. And that may have been close to the case.”

“He sure looks better. Thanks, Doc,” Gavin said.

I tossed Gavin the golf ball in a small plastic bag.

“It looks like it has been in his stomach for some time,” I said. “You want to keep it in that bag or air it out outside. It smells pretty bad. And you know the rules. It is a stroke and distance for a lost ball.”

“I think that Ben’s golf ball retrieving is over,” Gavin said as they headed out the door.

It was a couple of weeks later when Gavin brought Ben in for suture removal. Ben was a completely different dog. He had gained at least 10 pounds. You could still feel his ribs, but they were not visible, just looking for him.

“He is back better than he has been for a long time,” Gavin said. “That golf ball must have been in there for months.”

“Yes, as long as it was just bouncing around in his stomach, it was only causing him some vomiting. When it entered his intestines is when it caused him some major problems.”

We removed the sutures and patted Ben on the head as I sat him on the floor. He was straining at the leash to get out the door. 

“They never give me any credit,” I said as Gavin was being pulled along toward the door. “They just know this is not a pleasant place to be for any amount of time.”

Photo by Siddharth Narasimhan on Unsplash

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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