Life Gets in the Way

I have essentially been a persona non grata for the last few months.  There are several reasons for this; the most simple being that I’ve been incredibly busy.  I’ve been working full time walking dogs, boarding dogs, and visiting cats.  I’ve been volunteering with SJA, volunteering with Doberman Rescue Ontario, and assisting in classes at When Hounds Fly, several hours a week.  I’m also taking another class through Coursera, so yes, I’m a busy girl.  However, the most important reason I’ve been absent, is my baby, Athena.  While I was off having the time of my life in Bahrain, Athena, clumsy pup that she is (all legs!) fell down the hill in the Dog Bowl at Trinity Bellwoods.

My very good friends who were watching her (whose lovely catahoula is the star of all those adorable photos I post) picked her up and ran her to the vet immediately, and messaged me immediately.  We all – vet included – assumed it was just a sprain.  The gave her Metacam (read: doggy asprin) for the swelling, and a pain medication.

Once we got back from the Middle East, a few days later, Athena was still very swollen and limping.  Dogs, generally, heal fairly quickly.  Athena was not putting any weight on the paw at all.  We took her back to our vet, who recommended x-rays.


First round of x-rays
First round of x-rays

They look… normal, right?  No visible breaks or fractures?  That’s what we thought too.  And that’s what our vet thought.  But, just to be sure, she sent it off to a radiologist to have a look.

The radiologist confirmed what we all saw: no notable breaks or fractures.  This was bad news, though it may not sound it, because that means that something else was wrong.  We were sent off to the Central Toronto Veterinary Referral Clinic for a consult, and it was confirmed: Athena had a “carpal hyperextension injury” (read: an overextended ligament).  Sounds okay, right?

No, not right.

What this means is that Athena needed surgery in which they would remove all the cartilage from her wrist and replace it with metal screws and plates in exchange.

What this means is months of pain and recovery and confusion and medication for her.

What this means is over $10,000 in vet bills – and no, before you ask, we don’t have pet insurance.  I looked it up in a horribly masochistic moment, to see what we could have saved, and they would have only covered a couple thousand dollars anyways.  Frankly, at that point, in for a penny, in for a fucking (pardon my language) pound, right?

Let’s gloss over the painful bits, because I don’t like to think about them:  Athena had surgery.  It went as well as possible.  I felt ill informed about the process and didn’t know much about the surgeon herself, but I trusted the process.  She spent two nights at the CTVRC, during which I knew very little, other than that she was okay.  I was in a wine-and-tears stupor for for the majority of it.

When we got her home, she spent weeks on two separate pain pills, sedatives, and an anti-inflammatory.  She was in and out of the vet constantly – more in than out, it felt, though in reality she went once to twice a week.  She slept roughly 23 hours a day.  The very worst part though was that she was not herself.  My good friend, the lovely catahoula owner, made a joke that she seemed like she got a lobotomy, and it breaks my heart because it’s true.  She was tired, in pain, and lethargic, compared to her normal optimism and constant snuggles.  She was also in a splint and cast, and not allowed to put any pressure on her leg, including walking!  This means that, other than going out to pee and poo, she was not allowed any activity at all.  We dismantled the bed frame so she could step onto the mattress, and we disassembled the couch.  Our apartment was chaos.

Photo cred: Denyse Cowan


A few weeks post surgery, Athena seemed on the cusp of recovery, and hadn’t been bothered by her cast at all.  She seemed to pretend it didn’t exist, walking on only three legs.  She didn’t even need to wear her cone, she was pretending it didn’t exist so hard.

Then, on a Friday night, she became OBSESSED with her cast.  Licking, chewing, you name it.  And she was whining, and she was even more lethargic than usual.  She literally chewed a hole in her cast, and let me tell you, it smelled vile.  She had a (free) bandage change and check up scheduled for the Monday morning anyways, so I bided my time, but by Sunday morning, I took her in anyways (for a $500 emerg vet visit).  I kid you not, I could hear her screaming in the back while they changed her bandages.  The emerg vet (not our normal surgeon) was wonderful.  She ran out immediately and explained what was going on, and Lindsay, their eternally-optimistic receptionist, offered me free hugs, as I sat in the lobby and sobbed.  Athena had pressure woulds from the bandaging that had gotten infected, and her own flesh was essentially rotting.

Athena's "elbow" (?) pad that ended up falling off due to infection.
Athena’s “elbow” (?) pad that ended up falling off due to infection.
One of Athena’s pressure wounds from her bandaging

She was running a fever.  I promise you I am not exaggerating when I say I have never seen Athena so unhappy in her entire life, and it was breaking my heart.

Between then and now, a lot went down with the CTVRC that I wasn’t very happy about, both with how Athena was treated, and how we were treated; however, it has all been resolved now, but let me say this: I was very, very unhappy with them throughout.  Athena’s infections got worse rather than better, and that was only remedied when I took her to our regular vet, instead of the CTVRC, who figured out that they put her on the wrong anti-biotics.  I don’t think they kept us in the loop, and I don’t think Athena got the care that she deserved.  However, I spoke with the owner (Dr. Boyd) of the CTVRC personally on the phone, even though she’s on maternity leave, on a Sunday night, and she apologized and made amends.  She was lovely, and took time out of her very busy new motherhood to explain everything to me and tie up loose ends.  She has said that if anything goes wrong with Athena’s arm in the future, she’ll take care of her personally.  I feel, now, content.  So, all that said, I’m not going to bitch about the process here, but suffice to say, it wasn’t an easy summer.

Let me simply say this: Athena has turned a corner, and is finally on the mend.  She is wearing a custom fit orthopedic brace made by Pawsability, and Janice – who owns Pawsability – was amazing, and a huge comfort to me.  With her custom brace, she took her first steps on her bad paw again, and is now walking mostly regularly on it  She is healing “as well as can be expected”.

6 weeks post-op
6 weeks post-op

Our regular vet, Cabbagetown Pet Clinic, has also been a huge comfort throughout this whole process, going above and beyond for Athena.  Without Dr. Low, Dr. Bernhard, and Ali the tech, I honestly don’t know where we would be.  They got her on the correct antibiotics, they did free cleanings and bandage changes, they called the CTVRC for me to get the information that was over my head, and they called to check up on her.  I am convinced they saved her leg, and my sanity.

Athena is on the road to as full a recovery as she can have.  In five weeks, she should be out of her brace.  She should be able to run and play, though she’ll never bend that wrist again.  She may break a screw, but the surgery to fix that is, apparently, quick and minimally invasive.

Her limp will become a cute quirk rather than a heartbreak and a deterrent.  She’ll get stronger, as her bones regrow, and I’ll grow stronger as I care for her.

Very long story made semi-short, Athena has turned a corner and is on the mend.  I am more mentally and physically present, and will be blogging more regularly again!  I hope all of you have had less stressful summers than I have, so far.


One thought on “Life Gets in the Way

  1. An emotional, harrowing and soon-to-be-triumphant tale. Thanks for telling it so wonderfully well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *