Friday, 27 October 2017

Lead up the garden path?

As some of you know, on Monday 18th September this year, I took my dog (Myrtle) to our vets as she'd been a bit 'under-the-weather'. Our appointment was at 09:00. At the time I assumed she had a bit of a 'dodgy tummy' and would be given an enema with maybe us having to administer some antibiotics afterwards. To my shock, horror and total fear, the vet made me sign a form saying I was ok for this test to be done, that test to be tried, and for her to undergo an anaesthetic, which carried a risk of death. The whole thing was a total and utter whirlwind, and before I even got chance to say "Goodbye" she was dragged off, legs splaying in all directions and I was ushered to the reception desk to give some details and the best number to contact me on. 

Later that day (around 14:30) I received a call to say that they had found an excess of fluid build up in her lungs and that I should book her into a specialist immediately or else she could be dead by the weekend. I was also told she would need to stay in overnight to keep an eye on her. I was at work when I received the call and once again felt as though I was being bamboozled by information I was hardly able to take in. An hour later I was called again and told I could pick her up that day - again a 'specialist was mentioned' as they believed she needed a CT Scan. 

Thinking about what I had been told I proceeded to ring my insurance, to see if I was covered for such a thing. My policy was only 2 days into it's renewal - I've been with them since the day I got Myrtle, 10 years ago. The woman I spoke to went on and on about it being a "new policy" and that there was a "cooling off" period, to which I kept replying "It's a renewal so the cooling off doesn't count". Eventually she agreed and emailed me over a "Claim Form". I had never in the 10 years, made a single claim. I printed it out in case I would need it at my own vet's as they'd quoted me £200-400 for the tests they wanted to do (which is £200-"400 more than I have in my bank account). Imagine my disgust when I got there to find the bill was £560. I was also given pills (that I was charged for) which weren't needed. 

Whilst chatting to the vet (who showed us umpteen Xrays, talking to us about things as if we should know what we were looking at and knew what she was talking about) dropped into the conversation was the fact Myrtle had "flatlined" during the Xray, but they'd worked on her for several minutes and were able to bring her back. This was thrown into a myriad of other conversations, so it wasn't until we got home that evening we realised what we had been told. Basically they had killed her but were able to bring her back to life. 

Arriving home that evening I had an answerphone message from the 'specialist' telling me an appointment had been made for 10:00 the next day. Working alone, and with a big funeral at the shop, there was no way I could get her there in time. Thankfully, my Uncle agreed to run her over there for me; Mum went with him. She came in to see me after she'd dropped Myrtle off with a form she'd been made to sign (again regarding anaesthetic and the risks). She was also told they would need to keep Myrtle in for 2/3 days to run all their tests. 

Firstly they wanted to do a heart scan; this would be followed by an abdominal scan and then a CT Scan. The estimated cost for this was £3500 - £4500. Way more money than I could ever dream of having in a bank account. However, she is insured for up to £8000. Also, when it comes to your dog, do you not take the advice of the 'experts' and do whatever is needed to be done? 

That afternoon I received a call to say there was fluid around and within her heart and it would need surgically draining. This is called "Pericardial Effusion". I had to agree to let her have the minor surgery required to treat this. I was told the fluid would be sent off for analysis to see if it was being caused by a cancer and the results would be back the next day - 50% of Pericardial Effusion cases are caused by cancer, the other 50% they have no idea what causes it. That evening I received a call to say she had come round ok from the procedure and they'd removed 500ml of fluid from her heart. 

The following day (Wednesday) she had a CT Scan and the abdominal scan - the latter of which showed up nothing. The blood work she had done showed nothing, and the fluid drained from her heart showed up nothing. I began to have hope it was a "one-off". The sinking feeling I got in the pit of my stomach when the CT showed up a shadow on the bottom of her lung is one I would never wish on anyone. However, all was not lost. I was told it could be down to "Focal Pneumonia". I will admit to being one of those annoying dog parents, when I kept phoning them to see what was going on as the calls I was promised by certain times hadn't materialised. 

Thursday afternoon I collected her and you would never have known there had been anything wrong with her. I was sent away with 2 weeks worth of antibiotics for her (little white pills which she took without issue) and was told to book a follow-up appointment with my own vet in 14 days where I should collect some more antibiotics and then another CT Scan would be needed 2 weeks after that for her to see if the lung issue had cleared. 

For 2 weeks Myrtle was, well, Myrtle. We weren't allowed to take her for long walks (which was fine) and were asked to check her breathing every day, a couple of times a day. If it went over 35 then we were to ring them. We were also asked to weigh her every few days. At her check-up (on a Thursday) with our regular vet I was told there was no sound of any heart murmur (a good sign) her weight was excellent (she'd lost - putting on would mean the fluid was back) and we were sent on our way with more pills - these were different to ones that she'd been on though. This appointment cost me £79. Just 24 hours later she kept acting as if she wanted to be sick, and her heart rate began to gradually creep up - she'd gone from 14 - 24, to 20 - 28 (still under the 35 mark but enough to set off a few alarm bells). By Monday she'd begun to experience a really bad upset tummy, so I assumed the pills weren't agreeing with her and phoned the specialist to see if I could get the ones she'd had from them. I was passed around different people, and it wasn't until Tuesday I was finally able to speak to her nurse. She didn't seem that keen, telling me how they are all generic, but finally agreed to get me some ready, so after work I drove to Winchester to pick them up - they cost another £53. 

By Thursday of that week (3 weeks after I'd bought her home, one week after the change of pills) I noticed she was bloating a bit and she just didn't seem happy. She had also put on 1.2kg in just 7 days, so I rang the vets - THREE times during the course of the day, before finally getting through to someone at 18:00 where I was asked if she'd bloated over several days or just in the past 24 hours. I was then told "not-to-worry" and asked to ring back at 08:30 the following morning to speak to her nurse, which I did, to be told she was busy and could I ring back at 09:00 - which I did. I was then asked to ring back at 10:00. which I did, to be told she would call me back. At 14:00 I rang again, to be told she was busy and would call me back. By 17:00 I was a little more than pissed off, so rang my own vets demanding an appointment which I got for the following morning. 

The vet saw her and said she had "no issues" with her heart but was concerned by the abdominal distention and thought she should see the 'specialist' again to be on the safe side. For this I paid another £50. That afternoon I received a call telling me she was booked in for 12:30 on the Monday (16th October). I was able to rearrange work so that I could take her over, to then get a call that evening asking me to get her there for 09:00 on the Monday. That was never going to happen. Eventually we came to an agreement on 11:00. We waited while they took her for heart scan, coming back half an hour later to tell us the fluid had built up again and she'd need to be drained. 

Back in the vet's office that evening to collect her, he told me there was "NO sign of cancer" and that her pericardial effusion was "idiopathic" meaning they have no idea what causes it. He said she could fill up again, and we discussed how often we allow it to before we look into surgery - surgery he told me WOULD solve the problem. He removed 200ml of fluid. That was when I set up the Just Giving page, because the thought I may have to have her put-to-sleep because I couldn't afford for her to have life saving surgery, was not one I would ever be able to live with myself over. I came away from that meeting feeling upbeat, knowing that if it was to flare up again, there was a solution. He told me her age for having the op if needed wasn't an issue and that it could give us her for another 3,5 or even 7 years. This appointment cost £819. I was quoted around £5000 for the surgery (hence the Just Giving page).

We still had a CT Scan booked for the 25th which he told me to keep as that was to check the lesion in her lung, and he said he would get them to do a heart probe just to check there was no more fluid build-up. 

For those 9 days between visits, my crazy dog, was, well, my crazy dog, In fact I even considered ringing them on Wednesday to say I really didn't think there was any need for her to have the CT Scan as she was as 'good-as-new' but obviously I sent her along for it anyway. 

I drove away from the 'specialist' on Wednesday full of hope because of how she had been. Just as I was leaving a garden centre car park I got a call from her nurse who uttered the words "I'm afraid I have bad news". I was pulling out of the car park as she called so pulled back into a bay where she proceeded to tell me the fluid had built back up again, and it was caused by some rare but very aggressive cancer; they had a surgeon available the next day to operate so did I want to leave her there overnight for them to proceed with the surgery the next morning.  The call really was that quick; my brain didn't even have time to digest the fact the fluid had built up again (there had not been a single one of the signs or symptoms she'd had before to suggest this would happen). This was just one week after being told the fluid was idiopathic and that there was no sign of cancer. The one bit of good news is that the lung lesion had gone (I was told it may not have been pneumonia after all and could have just been where the heart had expanded again the lungs and caused a compression). 

There was no way I was going to agree to anything sitting in a car park, other than allowing her to have the fluid drained again. 

Back in the 'specialist's office that evening she almost guaranteed us that the fluid had built up because of this cancer, and the fact the scan had shown 3 areas on the pericardial sac which had not been there before. There was a very "slim" chance these areas were down to the lining of the sac thickening but very doubtful. The fluid they drained though was sent off for analysis. I then had to make a decision about whether to leave her there and allow them to do the surgery (which would remove the pericardial sac) and would stop it from filling up again; it would also let them take a biopsy of these lumps to find out if they were cancer - although she seemed adamant it is and several times I was told "The numbers add up". The cancer would not be curable, and she would need to have chemo every 3 weeks after the surgery at the 'specialists'. The bill for this visit was another £1600 meaning the insurance now have claims from them for just over £7000. I personally have paid £1200 of this so it's not quite as bad as it could have been, the very first claim of £500 has never been processed so I won't get that back. I was also told that Myrtle had gone in last week with cystitis (first I'd heard of it) and that a litre of fluid had been drained from her (when the surgeon I saw and the letter I was sent away with told me 200ml)

Now, the surgery. This involves 5/7 days of Myrtle being kept over there monitored while she heals. She would then have to spend 4 weeks at home not really allowed to do anything (definitely not jumping) and anyone who knows Myrtle will know it's virtually impossible to stop her jumping. Had it been a case of being told the fluid was still "idiopathic" there would have been no option; I would have sold my car and put her through the op. 5 weeks of discomfort weighed up against another 5 years of sloppy kisses and smelly bums I would have put her through. However, the fact the vet was so determined it was cancer causing it, an aggressive one at that which may give us 6 months if we are lucky and would be of no benefit to Myrtle at all, I made the decision to bring her home, let her be as spoiled as she can be and when the time comes I would have her put-to-sleep (I honestly have no idea how I will ever be able to cope with watching the vet do it when the time comes, but I will do what I have to do for her sake - I don't think I will ever get over it though). 

As you can imagine there have been many up-and-downs over the past 6 weeks. Way more tears than I even knew were possible. Imagine though, my anger when I got a call from the vet to say the fluid they drained had been tested and there was NO sign of cancer. Again the operation was put on the table, because that really is the only way now to tell if the fluid build-up is being caused by cancer or not. 6 weeks, over £8000 in vet bills and I still have NO idea what has made Myrtle poorly, or if she is treatable. I'm actually beyond angry today and am now wondering if the 'specialist's' have been stringing me along to make as much money as they can (I'd like to think that's not the case) but I just don't get how they cannot know if she has cancer, or not. They've done enough bloody tests. And I don't get why they can't do a biopsy of one of these lumps which have appeared, without her having major surgery. They're able to get a needle through the sac wall to drain the fluid, so why can't they get a needle into the lump attached to the sac wall to test it for cancer? 

I am now sat here wondering if I should try to find the money for the surgery (I literally have nothing, in fact I have many MINUS nothings in my account) in case it is idiopathic and we can keep her alive for another 5 years, or if I just stick to hoping they are right, that it is an undetectable, and very aggressive cancer which is causing it and my decision to allow a vet to murder her when the time is right, is the correct one. 

Oh, and the insurance are still arguing at paying out more than 20% which means if they don't I have still have to find almost £6000 to clear the debt to the 'specialist' that they are refusing to pay. 

I put my trust in these people, I put my dog's life in their hands. I've allowed them to run test-after-test and yet here we are, 6 weeks later, still with no clue what is going on and whether she can be fixed or not. I am sad, scared, angry, disappointed and extremely disillusioned by it all. 

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