I have been struggling with the decision of whether or not to have Popeye's hind legs amputated since August 2008. I've changed my mind at least a dozen times since then. Now that I've finally decided to go for it, the days seem to drag ever so slowly and the wait is almost unbearable. The surgery was originally scheduled for Monday, April 27 but I couldn't take the wait so was able to push it up to Wednesday, April 22--3 days from today.
Once I decided to have the amputation done, I took Popeye to 3 different vets before deciding on which one to perform the procedure. All 3 of these vets felt it would improve Popeye's quality of life to have his hind legs removed, but it was very interesting to get their various takes on the more specific details.
The first was an orthopedic specialist who performed Bandit's surgery. By now, I had learned to bring a long rug along so that Popeye would have a carpeted area on which to move. Vet office floors are too slippery for him so he usually remains in his stroller. This doesn't give the vets a very good picture of what he's really like and how he really moves.
This orthopedic surgeon said he was very impressed with Popeye's ability to get around so well. At first he said he would amputate at the hips. But when I told him that not having any kind of stumps would compromise his ability to use his cart (the cart has a straddle for the legs to go through, so without anything to go through, he wouldn't have an anchor to the seat), the surgeon said doing it high up on his thigh would be ok.
When asked how they would bandage the wounds, he said they would have to wrap his entire lower body so the bandage wouldn't slip off--including his penis, meaning he would have to wear a urinary catheter. Thought: no having to change diapers for 2 weeks, just changing the urine bag. Pretty sweet deal, at least in theory.
This surgeon also said he'd want to get video footage before and after, possibly for years after to document the procedure. I kind of liked that, the thought that the surgeon would be there long-term to follow up. Estimate: $4000 range, including overnight stay and 15% rescue discount.
The second vet I consulted with about the surgery is Popeye's regular vet who also performs orthopedic surgery. He too recommended amputating at the hips at first (apparently, this is the norm), until I mentioned the cart. Then it was the same thought on upper thigh as the first surgeon.
As far as bandaging the wounds, his answer was similar to the first surgeon's, but he said they wouldn't wrap the penis so I could still manually express him. Although the idea of not having to express him for a couple of weeks was enticing, I was really more comfortable with keeping things as routine as possible. This wasn't a factor in my decision though. Estimate: $2000 range, including 50% health plan discount (Popeye has a health plan with this clinic), no overnight stay.
Compared to the first estimate, this estimate was almost a sigh of relief. If it had just been between these 2, I probably would have gone with the 2nd vet because the price was half and I didn't think the first vet would add very much to what the 2nd vet could do.
By this time, I was almost considering canceling the appt with the 3rd vet, another orthopedic specialist, because the $2000 estimate sounded like such a sweet deal. But I had taken Popeye to this 3rd vet many months before and was very impressed and wanted to see if this vet would do or say something the other 2 vets hadn't. He had also gotten rave reviews by many people I'd mentioned him to.
So off we went to see vet #3. And I was utterly impressed by his thoughtfulness and consideration of a lot of the minute details that I think most other vets would have taken for granted. First of all, he measured Popeye's legs in the cart. When I had mentioned measuring to the other 2 vets, they said it wasn't necessary. But the thing that makes Popeye's surgery tricky is that it is usually best to leave as little stump as possible (hence, the tendency to remove at the hips) but I needed just enough to put through the straddle of the cart. "Just enough" is the key phrase. This was very important to me.
Vet #3 pulled out his ruler and measured exactly how many cm he would leave. We deliberated on which point on the thigh would be "enough" for the cart. I liked that he took the measurements on each leg twice. When asked about bandaging the wounds, he said he would try to flap the skin over the end and sew it up on the side of the leg so that it wouldn't rub against the floor. That way, all he would need to use would be a large bandaid for just that incision area. That impressed me too.
There were several other minor things that this vet pointed out that maybe in the end might not make that big of or even any difference, but which made me think that he truly thought out this procedure as to how it pertains specifically to Popeye. The surgery itself is not very complicated, it's the little details and the after care that make the process tricky.
Going home, I felt that this was the vet I wanted to use. And of course, he had to be the farthest, over an hour away without traffic. It would take days before I got an estimate from this specialist, and during that time, I of course fretted a little about what it might cost.
I played little games with myself. Would I still use him if it cost $5000? Yes, because sometimes peace of mind is worth a dwindling bank account which can eventually be replenished through hard work and creative thinking. Would I be willing to spend $7000? Probably not, because I didn't think vet #3 would be adding 3x the value as vet #2. There's always the risk that the stumps don't work out and a 2nd surgery would need to be performed to shorten or remove them, and there's no way I could afford a 2nd surgery if the first cost $7000.
I kept thinking it would be perfect (or as realistically so) if his estimate fell between the other 2, somewhere in the $3000. And that's exactly where it did end up. Estimate $3419, including overnight stay and 15% rescue discount. So that's who will be removing Popeye's legs in 3 days.