Even vets get the post-surgical blues: Sophie Sue's disc surgery
Sophie is my ten year-old French Bulldog. She’s been at the specialty hospital for the past 24 hours and the worst is over. But I’ve been a nervous wreck—as any of you might be if faced with a similar crisis.
Sophie’s neck pain has been dogging her for six weeks now. She’s had anti-inflammatory drugs, opiate pain relievers, muscle relaxants, nutraceuticals, Reiki, massage, exercise restriction and TLC in the extreme. But her pain still comes in crippling waves, leaving her hunched and shivering whenever it hits her.
When the pain comes, her neck muscles spasm uncontrollably and she can barely move a step without wincing. Predictably, she never cries and she never wants to be left behind. Waiting patiently for me to lift her when she reaches any step (even the teensiest), she accepts being carried, babied and slathered with attention.
After more than a month of this episodic onslaught of serious suffering, I chose to have her undergo the myelogram and neck surgery I’d been so reluctant to elect on her behalf before now. That’s because usually we vets consider paralysis or other obvious motor problems the clearest indication for surgery. Pain is less evident in many cases and even when it is, as in Sophie’s case, we’re always hopeful it will subside with a judicious application of “tincture of time.”
Six weeks of this on and off stuff was finally long enough for me. So off she went to the place she and Vincent both had their soft palates cut and where all my serious pet care is typically dealt with: Miami Veterinary Specialists.
After confirming her pristine bloodwork and placing IV catheters, etc., Soph was shot up with drug cocktails and intubated. Her lower back was clipped and scrubbed. Dr. Wosar, vet surgeon extraordinaire, then took spinal X-rays before popping a needle into her spinal column. He instilled a dye there to help subsequent areas elucidate the outline of the spinal cord and show where it might be compressed by rogue discs. We call this procedure a myelogram.
Predictably, the myelogram revealed two nasty areas of blown discs pressing on her cord—almost certainly the genesis of her pain. Here's a pic. Can you see two indentations on the underside of the tube-like structure above the vertebrae?
Next up: the surgery. The underside of Sophie’s neck was clipped and prepped after she was harnessed into her favorite cockroach pose. And here’s where I bowed out. I couldn’t watch anymore—nor did I want her surgeon to stress on my behalf. Here's what she looked like when I left her:
We vets have a way of feeling your pain whenever one of our own pets has a perilous crisis. For the record, (and I’ve said this many times before) I would never want to work on my own loved one. In this case there was no way I’d ever be capable of it anyhow—not without a three-year residency and years of neurosurgery experience.
Even Dr. Wosar was likely to be having a harder time of it than usual—he spends a lot of time with Sophie Sue (she’d spent the morning in his office instead of one of the cages, befitting her status as “special friend of the surgeon”). But surgeons and their egos always power through under these conditions. He admits to being unwilling to let anyone else ever operate on his own cats. I, however, could never be so dispassionate. I turn into a blithering idiot when it comes to my own.
After Dr. Wosar removed all the offending disc material in a procedure commonly called a “ventral slot,” I received notice that all was well and that I could safely return. I found Sophie twitchy, whiny and disoriented—likelier the result of the myelogram than the pain of the surgery, but I couldn’t be sure. Despite her opiate drip, gobs of muscle relaxants and other pain relievers, she was still looking horribly pathetic. I could tell I was making things worse by keeping her awake with my presence, so I backed off and watched her fall asleep.
I went back to visit with her a couple more times before leaving her there for the night, certain that she’d be well cared for as they watched for seizures all night and kept her well medicated--but not at all happy to know she was uncomfortable and away from those of us who love her.
This morning she looked brighter—but still painful. She’ll likely stay another day due to all the pain meds she still requires but by tomorrow I’m hoping she’ll be able to turn her neck to look at me. It’s at these moments, watching pets recover, that I tend to wonder whether the pain of a procedure is worth it. For five more years of comfort? The logical me says "YES!" but the mommy in me says, “Omigod I can’t bear to see her go through this.”