Little Miss Danger Dog. Scar Face. Scalp Dog. Neoma has once again won a shiny new battle scar.
Unfortunately Neoma got chewed up in a dog fight. And for once she wasn’t even asking for it! She didn’t fight back and it was over in seconds (thankfully I was there to stop it), but the fight left her with a grotesque scalp wound and a bum leg. No skin was torn on her leg, but her knee had been chewed and bruised badly. Her scalp was shorn open. The tear was 2 inches long, vertical, almost dead-center on her face. The skin had been pulled up and away from her muscle, creating a massive opening and exposing her muscles. I could clearly see her sagittal crest, and on either side of it her muscles flexing. Oh my goodness it was gross. At least it wasn’t bleeding much, and there was no damage to the muscles themselves. I almost photographed it, but I decided that it would be a little too ‘graphic’. I didn’t even want to look at it, let alone preserve the memory in a photograph.
So we had to steel ourselves and prepare for a little bit of suturing. Ironically, I had just ordered a heap of suture needles. I just had a hunch I would need them. More ironically, they arrived in a paper mailing envelope that I promptly misplaced and failed to locate in my time of need. So I sedated Neoma with medicinal cannabis oil, and while we waited for it to kick in, we prepped our supplies. I gave up looking for the suture needles and dug out a sturdy-but-petite sewing needle. With a pair of needle-nosed pliers, I bent a smooth curve into it, then took it to the whet stone and ground a cutting edge onto the tip. We prepped vinegar-water, headlamp for maximum clarity, gloves to keep the wound as clean as possible, tweezers, fishing line, pliers, and some rags.
With Neoma sufficiently relaxed, Andy snipped the hair as short as possible all around the wound and began cleaning the wound out with cotton swabs and tweezers. Neoma accepted the haircut and swabbing without complaint. As much dirt and hair needed to be removed as possible to minimize risk of infection. We flushed the wound out thoroughly with syringes of vinegar-water (using organic apple cider vinegar in this case) and carefully tweezed and swabbed out as much foreign debris as possible.
With the wound sufficiently cleaned, we were ready to stitch it shut. Neoma sighed and pressed into my arms while Andy worked. Cleaning was the easy part. Suturing without a proper suture needle was the real work. Skin is tough, and it’s hard to poke through! Suture needles are usually designed with a keenly sharp cutting edge to help slice through living skin more effortlessly. My ground-down edges helped the process, but I was kicking myself for misplacing my brand-new needles. Andy wanted the experience of stitching a wound for the first time. I’ve stitched plenty of torn-up chickens, but never a (living) mammal. (That’s a reference to my taxidermy days!) I was happy to let him handle this one. With my empathy on over-drive, it was hard enough just to witness!
Before he began, I put the make-shift sewing needle over a small flame for a few moments to ensure it was sterile. We swilled it off in vinegar and began. Neoma whined softly as the first two punctures were made. I snuggled her and gave her all the good scratches and rubs on her back and belly to help her mind focus on stimulation sources other than the gaping hole in her face. The other three stitches didn’t seem to bother her much. Within just a few minutes, Andy placed four neat and tidy stitches. The gaping hole in her forehead was now reminiscent of Harry Potter’s lightning scar. Just a slightly zig-zagged line.
I flushed the wound several more times with vinegar-water and put a pot of basil, usnea, and horsetail tea on to steep. The basil for antiseptic pain relief, the usnea to help ward against infection, and the horsetail to stimulate tissue healing. I soaked the wound in the tea and dabbed it over with a similar healing salve to keep dust and debris out. With a clean strip of gauze, I bandaged her head, weaving the gauze under her chin and around her ears, leaving a funny little bow on top to tie it off. She was utterly pathetic looking. Still sedated, Neoma tried only briefly to remove her head gear. I scolded her gently and she gave up and resigned to sleep. Good, calm, deep sleep. It was only noon-time, and we still had a full day of work ahead of us! But I worked with less worry, knowing that she would slumber peacefully for most of the afternoon- until the sedation wore off at least. After that I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know how bad her leg was, or how much pain she would be in…
That evening I took Neoma’s gauze off to let the wound breathe. It had bled a modest amount, just enough to scab the wound over lightly. Perfect! I continued to give her flushes and compresses of the herbal tea. Her leg really bothered her. She wouldn’t walk on it, but there was no trace of blood or broken skin, no heat, no indication of a break. All indications pointed to bruising around the knee. She remained indoors and slept fitfully that night without the help of any additional sedative.
The next morning her wound looked fantastic. She barely limped on her bruised leg. I flushed her wound and gooped it in salve once again, just to make sure debris stayed out of it until it scabbed over properly. Her energy levels were lacking ever so slightly, but she had an active day relatively unhindered by pain. And by the next day, you couldn’t tell anything had happened to her, aside from the shaved forehead and funny lightning-shaped line with little translucent stitch tails poking out.
We are now 6 days out from the incident. Thus far no heat, inflammation, or redness has set in, indicating that no bad bacteria has colonized the wound yet. All good signs. Today the wound was totally scabbed over- dried, crusty, and hard. Which was not the best thing. There has been mild swelling around the wound, specifically on the left side (the side that really got torn back from the muscle), which is entirely expected considering her skin got pulled completely away from her muscle and crammed with junk. I having been helping to drain out any lymph fluids (blood and oil) pooling up in that pocket. They carry debris out of the wound with them.
The scab itched her fiercely and she scratched it open this evening, tearing one stitch out. Thankfully there was no consequence for this, as her skin has re-adhered to the muscle and is staying firmly in place. The one missing stitch makes no difference. None-the-less, we took the opportunity to sedate her one more time (just to keep her from scratching it over night until we can soften the scab) and compress the wound with the same herbal tea to soften the area so we can clean it up well. Tonight she has a lovely bandana tied about her noggin holding tea-soaked swabs in place over the wound. If we let her scratch it to her heart’s content, she may very well rip the whole thing back open! We will first try to relieve the cause of the itching, but if that doesn’t work we’ll have to fashion a Cone of Shame for her.
Up to this point I’ve been soaking the wound with the same tea at least twice a day. Neoma hides her face when I bring the jar of tea out, but still she readily accepts a tasty bribe as an exchange for letting me dump cold, bitter tea on her noggin.
The next 5 to 10 days will tell us our measure of success. The main focus is keeping infection at bay. For the moment, we couldn’t be more pleased with the healing progress! All is as I would expect it to be.