I stroked Broccles goodbye, leaned close to his oversized ear and told him I loved him. With heavy heart, I left the veterinary hospital without him, quashing the thought that I might never see him again.
At teatime we had realised he had not moved from beside the back door for hours. We found his eyeball swollen to a frightening size, and the white sliver within it looked big and messy, as though it had exploded inside his eye. Crusty leakage congealed on his fur. It smelled rotten. While I called the vets, Bunty placed the pet carrier in front of him and he stepped in as though he had been waiting for it. (He had been to the vet a few times already about his eye.)
“He’s obviously in a great deal of pain,” said the vet. “It looks like it’s time to make the decision to remove the eyeball. Leave him with us tonight so that we can monitor him and keep his pain levels down.”
So we did.
The vet promised us an emergency consultation with a specialist who could provide more informed advice. She tracked down an opthalmologist and a rabbit specialist. They were at Glasgow University, and the following morning, Bunty and I collected Broccles and drove straight there. Broccles was dopey from his painkillers and his eye looked awful, but I was overjoyed to see him safe and alive.
A clutch of gangly students stood in a semicircle while the rabbit specialist examined Broccles and questioned us. Every so often he made a terrible pun, and the students laughed politely. Then they all trooped off with him to the opthalmologist’s room, where Broccles had his eye checked out. Bunty and I waited edgily in the consulting room, listening to feet passing to and fro outside. I grew increasingly anxious, and by the time the party returned, I was spoiling for a fight.
I had a long and pointless argument with the rabbit specialist about what may or may not have caused Broccles’s problem, and what shape his cataract used to be. We drew diagrams at each other to drive our points home. He maintained his good humour and his terrible puns, and answered my every question fully, using the proper terminology and not dumbing it down. He gave me as much time as I needed to vent. The students started to wilt.
I asked if Broccles could have a drink, and there was a sudden scramble to action as the students, finally given something to do, all rushed off to fetch him a small bowl of water. He drank some, and tossed his ears perkily at them. I began to feel hopeful.
The upshot was that Broccles’s lens had ruptured and his eye needed removing, but to remove it safely the swelling had to be reduced. The specialist prescribed a pharmacopoeia for Broccles. He was pleased when I chose injections over oral dosing.
“Oral dosing can unduly stress a rabbit,” he opined. Certainly, Broccles goes into a wild panic when his mouth is fiddled with. The specialist told me I could buy the medications there at Glasgow, but I would save money by buying from my own vets. He called them to make sure they had them in stock, and we stopped on the way home, to pick them up.
There had been a miscommunication. They didn’t have all the meds. They only had the antibiotic – the oral version. Dosing Broccles with it was a punishment for us both. In two days, he had had only a few mouthfuls of food and water, and now he was putting his last ounces of strength into fighting me when he should have been resting. It made me weep.
I had nothing to give him for the pain. For most of the night, he sat upright on the hearth, his body rigid, his ears set in a Y-shape. He has lop genes, and his ears normally stick out sideways like aeroplane wings. Every so often, he visited his food bowl or the array of salad I had laid out for him, tried to nibble, and gave up. His droppings were becoming infrequent, tiny and black. Then they stopped altogether. Googling told me that this is a very grave sign indeed: if his digestive system stops moving, a rabbit can die in a matter of hours.
At 5 a.m. I called the emergency vet for advice. She had not treated Broccles, but she had heard the other vets talking about him, and so she knew who I was without asking. She told me that how long a rabbit takes to die from not eating depends on the rabbit, but that I could try feeding him water and liquid food with a syringe. (Oh please, not that!) She offered the thought that, with his condition, he might die anyway, regardless of appetite. As forms of reassurance go, that was the worst I’d ever heard.
I forced a syringeful of water into him, and sat with him until the surgery opened.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t available when you came for his medicines”, said his usual vet. She provided me with everything Broccles needed, all in syringes for me to inject. I was missing just one medicine: anti-inflammatory eye drops. It was such a relief to have painkillers for Broccles. Fifteen minutes after a dose, his ears went floppy and he stretched out on the floor. We plied him with every kind of food we could think of, in the hope that he would try something. Eventually, when I brought a birch branch into the house, he immediately began to eat the leaves off it. Interestingly, birch leaves contain acetylsalicylic acid, the precursor to aspirin – an anti-inflammatory.
With the eye drops, everything changed. The swelling went down. He stopped needing painkillers. He started eating, and frolicking after the cats, and playing in the garden. At each of his subsequent check-ups, the vets were astounded.
“I never would have believed it”, they kept saying.
The receptionist began to recognise me and greet me when I arrived at the surgery.
“Hello, Mrs Broccles”, she called out cheerily. “Take a seat.”
I sat there giggling to myself for a long time. The receptionist was embarrassed, but I liked being called Mrs Broccles.
Provided you don’t fiddle with his mouth, Broccles is the perfect patient. I would show him his medication, tell him it was time for his injection or eye drops, and he’d lie down with his chin on the ground and let me dose him.
Yesterday was his fourteenth and last eye consultation. An examination showed no sign of abcess, infection or ocular pressure: it is as healthy as it can be. He will always be blind in it, but he won’t need it removed.
Here he is getting his booster vaccination for myxie, with happy aeroplane ears and a small ghost in his eye.