Amputation: A Kitten's Leg's Last Rites
Finally, it had to come to this. Three months after sustaining a fracture, Kitten’s leg made its final exit from the world swaddled in a surgical tube sock. When we tossed it into the freezer (for cremation along with more complete examples of cat-dom) we did so ceremoniously, yet pleased to see the matter done with.
Kitten’s leg has been a sore subject around the hospital for weeks. None of us wanted to amputate his leg but those of us charged with his physical therapy were frustrated at his lack of progress and traumatized by the pain that accompanied the daily sessions of flexing and bending a recalcitrant joint.
A recap (collected from five or so posts on the subject of Kitten):
Kitten was found dragging his leg in a client’s yard. Only four weeks old, he seemed oblivious to his limb’s declining condition. X-rays revealed nasty fractures of the left hind limb at the hip and halfway through the femur. Kittens are miraculous healers, but the mid-shaft fracture would probably warrant surgical repair. At the client’s request we treated the fracture conservatively—with a splint.
The next time I saw Kitten he was in desperate need of another splint. He had not tolerated the device so it had been removed and replaced at the emergency clinic. Swelling was the problem this time as well. The splint was dispensed with in favor of a surgical approach.
Kitten did well with the surgery (one of the few orthopedic surgeries I’ve ever performed—the owner did not have the funds for a specialist). He went home with strict instructions to return in two weeks and to continually flex and extend the limb to keep the knee mobile as the bone healed.
The owner went on vacation, charging a family member with his physical therapy. I next saw Kitten a month later. Good news: the fractures were perfectly healed. Bad news: the physical therapy regimen had not been maintained so the limb’s muscles had attached to the rapidly healing bone. Try to flex and bend a knee when its muscles are forcibly immobilized—that should give you a pretty good picture of our predicament.
A month plus of in-hospital physical therapy has yielded no new gains on his mobility. His leg grows like a stalk of corn, besting our daily progress. Pain relievers are insufficiently palliative and daily anesthesia is out of the question. We’re pissing in the wind, as the colorful language of the staff aptly sums things up.
Yet no one—least of all his owner—wants to see the leg come off. I beg the owner. I plead with the staff. I finally succeed. His owner—and the staff—finally relents. The leg comes off.
Less than four hours later he’s walking unsteadily on three legs and sparring gleefully with the toys in his cage. I’d say the procedure was a success—if long overdue