Charlie 2, Cone of Shame 0

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So I went in on Saturday morning to give Charlie his breakfast and saw that he had managed to work off the second e-collar overnight. Fortunately, the vet wrapped him so snug and secure that he can’t bend his neck or torso enough to reach his incision area, and he’s actually a lot quieter now that the cone is off – he kept flailing around trying to get it off. So I’m letting him keep it off as long as he isn’t bothering his stitches.

You can see how tiny he looks in the front with his leg gone. I suppose this is what the vet meant by it being a “less cosmetic” amputation. He’s also bald along that whole side because the vet wasn’t sure if she would need to do skin grafts. Fortunately she was able to tug his loose belly skin forward enough to close the incision without it being under too much tension. So I guess he got a tummy tuck as well!

Cone of Shame 2: now with even more shame

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It turned out that Charlie had popped a few of his sutures and some others were starting to work loose, so they had to sedate him, redo the whole line with staples instead, then wrap him up even more than before and add a new, extra-large e-collar to discourage him from messing with it. He was at the vet all day Friday and got another 24-hour pain shot. This cone was so big that I had to hold his food and water for him. He also REALLY hated it. The blurry pic above is him trying to shake it off.

The other conclusion is that Charlie needs to stay confined until he’s more healed, because he kept trying to jump up on furniture and such (even when I tried to make him some steps!) He needs to stay still and NOT MOVE AROUND so his incision can heal. So Charlie is sentenced to bathroom jail until further notice.


Charlie comes home

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I went to pick Charlie up late on Wednesday afternoon. He yowled piteously the whole way home; it was heartbreaking. He was obviously groggy and unhappy. He’d had a 24-hour opiate pain injection right before he left the vet; I was given a bunch of buprenex syringes to start the next day. The instructions were to rub it on his gums; he wasn’t supposed to swallow it but to absorb it through his mouth.

Charlie ate some dinner, though I had to hold it up for him, and then was mostly interested in sleeping. His wound was still seeping a little, so I was supposed to take him back to the vet on Friday and Monday to have it looked at. He mostly wanted to curl up in his little den, but several times tried to clamber up in my lap. I didn’t know whether it would be better or worse to try to help him!

On Wednesday night and Thursday, we shut Charlie in the small half bath while we were sleeping and let him out while we were awake. Unfortunately, as he got more awake, he started wanting to do more, and also started trying to work off his e-collar. I turned it around so that it faced down toward his body rather than up around his face, which seemed to settle him a bit.

Friday morning, I could tell that he had been bleeding a little, so I took him in to the vet early.

Charlie’s surgery

I dropped Charlie off early Tuesday morning, then went to have surgery of my own–a root canal. All in all, not a fun day. The vet called in the afternoon to let me know that Charlie had come through his surgery fine and was awake, though she had him on the good drugs and he would be pretty groggy for the next few days. They wanted to keep him overnight, which I knew was a probability.

She was “80% pleased” with how the surgery had gone. Her one exception was that part of the tumor had grown too close to Charlie’s jugular vein to be able to get as wide a margin as she wanted (she tries for 5cm.) She wanted to send the entire amputated limb to the pathology lab so they could see whether they got all the cancer. I agreed. Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I should expect the results to be somewhat delayed, though.

I comforted myself by buying Charlie two new beds and a new fuzzy blanket and a pop-up dog kennel to make a little den for him under the table where he likes to hide from the vacuum cleaner. At least that way I felt like I was doing something.

Charlie’s diagnosis

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Charlie was going to need to be sedated for his x-rays, both to avoid hurting him and because he gets extremely tense and unhappy at the vet due to the other animals he can smell. I was expecting to wait for half an hour, but the vet came back for me almost immediately to give me the bad news; upon further examination, she was sure that it wasn’t, in fact, some kind of injury; it was a tumor. We’d know more once they got a look at the x-ray.

I was utterly horrified, and when the x-rays came back and the vet told me that the only treatment option was to amputate Charlie’s leg, I broke down sobbing. I felt terrible; how could he have a tumor this bad and I didn’t notice until he started limping? I had been picking him up and carrying him, holding him and petting him and playing with him, and I somehow hadn’t felt it growing.

The vet reassured me. Cats are extremely good at hiding illness and weakness, she said, plus this kind of tumor grows very fast; it might not have even been noticeable for much longer than the week, especially because Charlie’s chest is fluffy and Charlie is… well-padded to begin with.

The good news was that as far as they could tell from the x-rays and physical exam, he seemed in good health otherwise; there was no obvious metastasis or other illness. Nothing could be certain until the pathology came back from the leg, but if they were able to amputate soon and get clean margins, he might very  well live out a normal cat lifespan. She assured me that three-legged cats could and did adapt very well; he would need to lose some weight to lessen the strain on his remaining legs, but after he recovered from the surgery would be happy and healthy.

The only complication was the cost. The estimate they gave me for the procedure was $2500, and I knew that there would be additional costs for follow-up care and the like. This was in addition to the $400 that the first visit would cost.

I had $1200 in savings and could swing a few hundred more, but I couldn’t manage anywhere near $3000. I was shaking and crying, terrified that I would need to have Charlie put down because I couldn’t afford his surgery.

Finally, I decided to take him home and frantically look around to see if I could find someplace that could do the surgery more affordably.

In Googling around, I found a company called PetAssure. Basically it is a discount program; you pay a membership fee, and in return you save 25% off in-house procedures at the vet. That sounded promising, so I used their lookup tool to find a vet nearby. They were still open for a half-hour that day. I called them, verified that they did indeed take that program, and asked how much their cat amputations generally cost.

$800-$1000, I was told.

I knew that Charlie’s would likely be more due to the size and location of his tumor, but this was starting from a place I knew I could afford. The next week was Thanksgiving, and I had already planned to take the week off work. I booked him an appointment for Monday.

This vet agreed that the leg needed to come off, and that it needed to happen ASAP. They were likely going to have to take the shoulder blade, too, which, I was cautioned, was “a less cosmetic” amputation. I told them that I didn’t care what he looked like after, I just cared that he would be okay and not hurt.

The estimate range was $1000-$1500.

I booked the surgery for the next day, and took Charlie home to coddle for the evening. Either he was feeling pretty bad or he could pick up on my feelings or both, because he wriggled as close to me as he could get, nudging his way between my arm and my body and purring.