Most of you know the current saga of our cat Buddy and his health. For those of you who don’t, here’s a quick recap of our lives for the past 10 days:
Sunday: We notice Buddy is “can’t cough up a hairball” and is having a really hard time breathing.
Monday: We take him to Green Mountain Animal Hospital and it turns out he’s real sick. They do x-rays and find lots of fluid around his lungs. He’s breathing at 25% of his capacity. He needs an ultrasound, which they don’t provide.
Tuesday: We take him to Burlington Emergency Veterinary Services (BEVS). They do an ultrasound. They find masses in his stomach and chest. They drain the fluid and send it off to be tested.
Wednesday: GMAH calls us to tell us they are pretty sure he has FIP, a deadly feline disease, or lymphoma.
Thursday: We call BEVS for test results. Nothing.
Friday: BEVS calls our vet, and they call us (at the bowling alley) and say it’s not FIP, and they’re pretty sure it’s not lymphoma either. They say to come back in on Wednesday.
Saturday-Tuesday: Buddy’s breathing slowly gets worse and we await our next appointment at GMAH for him to get drained again.
Today we took Buddy to his highly-anticipated follow up appointment. We were told by our vet on Friday that they should “definitely” be able to get some of the fluid out of his cavity, that another ultrasound is not needed, and that in general, this should be a pretty “routine” follow-up appointment. We were pretty psyched to hear all of this, because, well, Buddy thinks we’re trying to torture him. I’d probably have the same reaction if some chick in a white lab coat stuck a giant needle in between my ribs to drain fluid. But, clearly, since I’m writing a freakin’ blog post about this whole ordeal, it was NOT a routine follow-up appointment.
First of all, the fucking weather ruined everything. We were supposed to take him in at 2PM so he could see the vet we’ve been working with. Fearing this highly publicized snowstorm would trounce our ability to get there, we ask if he can be seen earlier. “Come on in. We’re wide open.” Perfect!
Well, not exactly. Our regular vet is in surgery and we’ll have to see a different doctor. Sounds ok to us. I mean the guy is a doctor, right. What could possibly go wrong?
We talk to the new doctor for a while about how Buddy’s been doing the past couple of days. We explain his breathing has gotten worse, and that the other vet suggested we come back in today for him to be re-drained.
“Well, we could drain him today, but I have some concerns.”
Concerns? What concerns? The other vet made it seem like it would be a walk in the park.
“When fluid develops in the lung cavity, it sometimes accumulates into small pockets. These pockets can be throughout the chest and without an ultrasound, there’s no way of knowing if you’re tapping into them or not. It’s kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
“Oh,” we say. Confused. These “pockets” were clearly new to us.
“So…what you might want to do is actually go back to BEVS. They can do another ultrasound (at the tune of $300) and really see what they’re getting. And I bet because of this weather, they have a bunch of openings. Would you like me to call them for you?”
“Uhhhh….I dunno…” we say. “Does this mean that you can’t drain any of the fluid?”
“Well, no. I mean I could. But I just might not get a lot of it out. It might be for naught.”
“Uh-huh. So you are suggesting we go back to the other vet.”
“It’s up to you guys. I know how expensive another ultrasound is and if you don’t want to pay it I don’t blame you.”
“It’s not about the money,” I say. “Buddy hates being in his carrier, traveling in the car, and especially coming to the vet. Today has already been dramatic for him (this is where I’d like to point out the need for a cat thermometer that doesn’t need to be shoved up an animal’s ass). I just don’t know about bringing him somewhere else.”
“Right. I understand. Listen, you basically have two options. I’m offering you the Gold package, but you can certainly take the Silver if that’s what you want to do.”
Annnd, I think this is the point where I lost it.
“I am just so frustrated,” I say, throwing up my hands. “The other vet specifically told us we did NOT need another ultrasound. She didn’t mention anything about these ‘pockets’,” I say, using big hand quotes, as if they were made up.
“I can assure you Dr. L. is a very capable Doctor. She’s the best of the best. She graduated from Cornell.”
“Well yeah, I mean I’m sure she’s a great doctor. However, we’ve sort of been waiting ALL WEEK to come back here. Had we known that it actually would be more beneficial to take him to BEVS instead, THAT’S what we would have done. On Monday. When his breathing started getting back again.”
“I can drain him if you want. It’s not a big deal. I’m just telling you I may not get it all.” Oh so now you CAN do it.
Turning to Liam I say, “I think we should just have him to do. I mean, we’re already here. This freakin’ visit alone has already cost us $100. We might as well see if he can get something out.”
“Yeah…” Liam says, unsure. He asks the vet a lot of questions, questions that he’s spent many nights researching. He throws out drugs he’s read about on the internet. I ask about a diuretic. We search for any sort of answers.
The vet mostly shakes his head and says, “Ehh…those could work if he had X disease…” and since they can’t be sure what he has, he doesn’t want to give Buddy any medicine yet. We finally agree to have him drain Buddy.
“Ok, so I wouldn’t normally ask patients this, but given Buddy’s breathing and his condition…there’s a chance he could code when we’re draining the fluid. I really don’t think that’s going to happen, but it could. Do you want us to resuscitate him if need be?”
Without even flinching I blurt out, “YES.”
“The reason I ask is because we can’t see what we’re doing, and well, we could puncture his heart and send him into cardiac arrest.”
“Also, resuscitation is super expensive. It really starts adding up. We give him this drug, and that drug, and do X,Y, and Z, and it can get pricy.”
“Like how pricy?”
“Couple hundred dollars, easy.”
“Well I don’t want him to die!”
“Yeah, the other thing is…even if we do resuscitate him, his chances of ever leaving the hospital are slim. Of the animals that are resuscitated and survive, only 5% EVER go home.”
Well Jesus Fucking Christ. This just keeps getting better. Not only is our cat very sick and you can’t figure out what’s wrong with him, he may now DIE during a procedure the other vet called “routine.” I was really starting to question why we ever brought Buddy to them in the first place.
Liam and I were bewildered. We didn’t know what to do or say. We had no idea we’d be deciding on a DNR for our 4 year-old-cat.
“Oh my God. Ok. Well. God. I just really don’t know.”
“You have to think about his quality of life, too,” the vet says, trying to help. But it doesn’t help. “If we do resuscitate him, he could just go back into cardiac arrest within an hour. I know it’s a hard decision.”
In the end we can’t make up our minds. The vet agrees to let us go sit in the waiting room, and he’ll “come out and talk to us” if need be. We kiss Buddy good-bye, certain this is the last time we’ll ever see our cat alive, and make our way to the waiting room benches.
After 30 minutes of uncertainty, and hearing the vet over-head page “assistance to surgery!”, the doctor and a side-shaven Buddy emerge, both perfectly fine.
“Well he did great. I was actually able to get quite a bit of fluid from his lungs. A quart of a liter. Or about a cup,” the vet tells us.
“Wow. That’s great. We’re so glad to see him and that everything went fine.”
“Yeah! He was great,” the vet says.
Seriously. Am I on some sort of sick Candid Camera episode. This dude had us convinced Buddy was going to die, that we were doing the wrong thing by getting him drained, and in general made us feel like the shittiest human beings ever. And now he’s hanging out in this waiting room acting like life is grand, and he and Buddy are tight.
The vet is going to send the fluid he obtained off to be re-analyzed. We should hear back in a few days about the results. No matter what the tests reveal, I do know one thing: It’s time for a different vet. No one should go through the drama we went through today.