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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
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The Sickly Susie Saga

So, my dog Susie (obligatory adorable snapshot) has cancer.

That’s not a joke, unfortunately. The pooch started looking sick about a month ago, and after several vet visits, a major surgery and a pet hospital stay later, we got the bad news. It was disappointing, and a little shocking, and certainly depressing. You might think, in such a trying time, that it would be impossible to find anything amusing about the situation.

You would be wrong.

Here are a few of the moments over the past few weeks (in chronological order) that I’m sure I’ll someday look back on and laugh. If I haven’t already.

Comatose Canine

A week or so after Susie started looking ill, we got our first snippet of diagnosis: an enlarged spleen. Dogs (and people) can live quite happily without a spleen, so the recommendation was to have the overinflated organ removed.

“The mutt’s either got the sunniest attitude on the planet, or the shortest memory on record. Or she’s a fuzzy-eared drooling idiot.”

(The spleen actually does some good in the body, it turns out; it’s just not absolutely essential for survival. So it’s not an entirely useless bit of vestigial fluff, like an appendix, or a prehensile tail, or the electoral college.

Rather, the spleen performs some useful work — but when there are complications, you’re sometimes better off without it. More like a prostate, or a gallbladder, or a bicameral legislation.

Look, it’s November. I like to get my one political joke for the year out of the way in an election month, all right? Moving right along.)

So a few Tuesdays ago, we scheduled the pup for a splenectomy on the following Monday. I came home that Tuesday night and found something resembling a dog-skin rug lying on the living room floor. Only not as comfortable. And a lot more gassy.

The point is, she wouldn’t move. For anything. Wouldn’t eat. Wouldn’t drink. Wouldn’t wag and yap for a squeaky toy. Nothing. If I got right in her face and stared at her all bug-eyed and cooing, then she might — might — grumble and turn away. But that was it.

(Except for the farting. Good gravy, the dog could’ve dropped a moose at forty paces with those air biscuits. I began to wonder if she was actually going to shit her spleen onto the carpet and save us a trip to the surgeon.)

The next morning, nothing much had changed, so I decided to cancel the next week’s surgery and take the poor pootying pooch right to the animal hospital. She didn’t have the energy to make it down our stairs, so I had to carry her to the car. While avoiding pressing on her spleen — which was quite a neat trick, since I don’t know where the hell the spleen is located, exactly. If I hadn’t been able to scoop her up behind her back legs, I might have just thrown her in a sack and hoped for the best.

Of course, Susie is a ‘people person’ sort of mutt, so as soon as we got to the hospital, she perked up. Which led to a rather awkward exchange with the emergency nurse:

Me: Yeah, the dog has been really listless. Just won’t move at all.

Nurse: I see, I see. This dog here?

Me: That’s right. Like she’s on her last legs, almost.

Nurse: Mmm-hmm, got it. Low energy, no interest… this is the dog?

Me: Right.

Nurse: Uh-huh. So, could you tell her to get off of my lap? All that wagging and panting is kind of distracting. And what’s that nasty smell?

Luckily (for my credibility, at least), the pooch ran down pretty quickly and was soon resting on the floor. The hospital took her info, admitted her, and scheduled the surgery for that afternoon. Which was a relief, because I’m not sure Susie would have made it through the weekend.

And I know we couldn’t stand the farting that long. The floorboards under her ass were starting to warp.

The Universe is a Smartass

Susie didn’t fare so well immediately after the surgery. The procedure went off without a hitch, but the pooch still wouldn’t eat for the next couple of days. The hospital staff managed to get a little food into her — given their descriptions, I pictured them with a turkey baster full of Alpo frappe, trying to squeeze it down her gullet when she opened up to yawn — but mostly, she was getting by on an IV.

I planned to visit the persnickety pooch in the recovery area that Friday evening. If she’d taken a turn for the better or would eat for me, there was a chance I could take her home with me. When I arrived, I found her in about the same shape she’d been before — listless and cranky, only now in a strange place with weird smells and sounds and a needle jabbed into her leg. And by the way, without a fist-sized organ that she had probably been planning on using for a while longer, thanks.

Nothing much changed in the hour they let me stay, so I had to leave without my dog and hope that she’d perk up soon. Or ever. As I drove home that night in a cold, steady rain, I have to admit I got a little emotional. With my eyes tearing up and a lump growing in my throat, I tried to hold myself together. I turned on some music to take my mind off the worry and dread and worst-case scenarios bubbling through my head; I’d recently burned a CD of some older, upbeat ‘poppy’ sorts of songs, and I thought it would do the trick. I slipped the disc in, hit ‘Random’, and waited for the tunes to take me away from my troubles.

First up was a song by Tonic:

If you could only see the way she loves me, maybe you would understand….

Well, shit. That’s not helping. Next.

The Eels. Novocaine for the Soul.

Life is hard, and so am I. You better give me something… so I don’t die.

Damn it. That lump’s getting bigger. Next.

An old song by X called The 4th of July. As far as I can tell, it’s about a troubled couple finding a glimmer of hope together when they quit arguing long enough to remember it’s the 4th and share a moment watching fireworks together. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s a metaphor; I can never tell with these kooky rock stars.

At any rate, the song’s got nothing to do with dogs, dying, hospitals, spleens, or anything else I didn’t want to hear about. But here’s how it starts:

She’s waiting for me

When I get home from work…

Oh, but things just ain’t the same.

Oh… come on. Can I get one freaking song here–

She turns out the light

And cries in the da-ark…

And she won’t answer when I call her name…

Right. Fuck. You.

I turned off the music. And cried halfway home.

The universe is a perverse little shit when it wants to be. And aparently, my taste in music is a lot more depressing than I realized.


The good news is that our plucky puppy perked up the next day and started chowing chow again. The missus and I returned on Saturday afternoon to retrieve what was left of our woozy woofer, and took her home.

That’s when we saw… the staples.

Apparently, the spleen is a pretty large organ in dogs, proportionally speaking. And an enlarged spleen doesn’t exactly get sucked out through a straw. Or for that matter, a garden hose. The incision on our pooch’s underbelly runs a good six inches, from the base of her rib cage well down near her nethers. Maybe her withers are involved, or her brisket, or her hock. I have no idea. Does she have a brisket? Who the hell knows. I heard it on a dog show once, but maybe they were talking about the handler’s brisket. Whatever.

Anyway, a cut that long has to be held together by something, and evidently super glue isn’t the closer-upper of choice for these dog docs. So they used surgical staples — twenty-four surgical staples, to be exact — to put all our puppy’s horses back together again.

The silver lining was, this was just a few days before Halloween. So I almost — almost — made the dog a ‘costume’ involving taping a “100% Cotton” tag to her ear and calling her a stuffed plush toy. That would have gone over great with the kids trick-or-treating, I think.

Sadly, removing her spleen did nothing to help her flatulence, so we didn’t parade the rancid thing out to see the children. Nor did we let her anywhere near the candy. Who wants Kit-Kats that taste like dog ass?

Helpful Hints? Hardly

Sadly for Susie, the biopsy on her liberated spleen eventually revealed that she has lymphoma. That’s a circulatory sort of cancer, so it’s highly unlikely that removing the offending organ wiped it out entirely. So now, my dog’s a chemo patient.

Luckily for her, animals don’t respond quite as poorly to chemotherapy as some people do. The hair they shaved for her incision won’t likely grow back soon, but the rest of it shouldn’t fall out, either. And she probably won’t get nauseous — at least, any more nauseous than usual on a diet of horse meat and rawhide and whatever it is she’s licking off her privates at strategically embarrassing moments.

But she does have to return to the hospital for her treatments. Which is fine with her — she doesn’t seem to mind stepping paw into the place where she was poked, prodded, split open, poked some more, and jabbed into repeatedly. The mutt’s either got the sunniest attitude on the planet, or the shortest memory on record. Or she’s a fuzzy-eared drooling idiot. Based on the past experiences I’ve shared, I’d say it’s a little bit of all three. And maybe a lot of the last one.

Speaking of fuzzy-eared idiots, the hospital ‘offered’ us a ‘helpful’ little ‘client feature’. When I say ‘offered’, I mean ‘foisted upon, without asking’. When I say ‘helpful’, I mean ‘entirely and utterly useless’. And when I say ‘client feature’, I mean that they send us email reminders about our early-morning appointments, which also include a number to call — at least twenty-four hours before — should we need to reschedule.

They send these reminders, invariably, at four o’clock in the morning, on the day of said appointment. Gee. Thanks. If I have any schedule conflicts, I’ll hop in my time machine and get right back to you. Jackholes.

So that’s the Susie saga so far. Three weeks post-op, her staples are out and she’s still wagging her tail, wolfing down food, and generally doing all the goofy, questionable, mostly disgusting things her old canine self used to do. I’m hopeful for quite a few more good weeks or months for our pooch, and in the meantime, I’m trying to keep a sense of humor about the craziness going on. So far, I think it’s going okay.

Now if they could just open her back up and take out that farting gland. Good god, this mutt could peel the paint off a Pontiac. Jesus.

Permalink  |  6 Comments

6 Responses to “The Sickly Susie Saga”

  1. #Debi says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your dog! I would guess that it’s almost as traumatic as having an ill child, but having neither dog nor child I can’t really imagine either. The closest I come is when my car breaks down. :^} Anyway, I’ll send up a little prayer that Susie makes a quick recovery.

  2. Monkey says:

    Oh dear. I hope pup stays happy and all goes well, Charlie.

  3. Lori says:

    Sorry, little rescue foster girl dog died at age 3 of lymphoma last month – she had a good last few months. I’m glad your dog has you.

  4. Mark says:

    Must be the season for it.

    My cat just got diagnosed with diabetes which I thought wasn’t too bad (bar having to learn to inject the little bugger twice a day) but a visit to pay the spiralling bill for treatment last night also revealed anaemia with the most likely cause being feline leukaemia.

    Vets always know just what to say to cheer you up.

    I’m crossing my fingers that it’s not leukaemia and that I can just switch his diet to Guinness, broccoli, and liver to get those iron levels up. I, of course, will only be able to afford to eat cereals for the rest of my life.

  5. Elisson says:

    Here’s hoping for a speedy and complete recovery for Susie. And meanwhile, there’s gotta be a way to make a few bucks off a paint-peeling pooch. I mean, why use messy solvents when it’s time to refinish the family hoopty…or the dining room furniture?

  6. shelley says:

    Poor stinky dog. I hope Susie responds well to the chemo and has a full recovery!

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