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Does your pet’s fracture needs surgery? How would you know?

Posted Feb 04 2010 10:00pm

For the purpose of this postthink what would happen if your pet ran out in traffic and got hit by a car. Let’s say just one bone was broken and you’re breathing a sigh of reliefthinking: castpain in the rearbut it’ll heal. That isuntil your veterinarian starts in on the subject of surgery. As in...

“You have two choicessurgery or no surgery and here are the risks and rewards,” or...

“It’ll never heal unless we treat it surgically,” and...

“You have two more choicesveterinary surgeon or generalist.”

And that’s an easy case. After allthe veterinary surgeon might well offer you three or four more choices. 

Any orthopedic injury is worthy of a maddening flow chart of what-ifs. Which is why sometimes you wish you could wave a magic wand and have the decision done with so you won’t have to suffer the excruciating decision making moments––or for that matterthe buyer’s remorse should something go wrong. 

It’s a scenario I’m way too familiar with in my line of work. It also happens to play out in our human lives when trauma happens. Becauseas we all know first hand one way or anotherhumans are not immune to the slip-and-falls and hit-by-cars. 

This week was a busy one for me after a close relative had a run-in with a slippery supermarket floor. Lots of running around trying to get things done for said relative while handling the tasks she’d normally have helped me with. But the most stressful? Worrying about whether surgery was the best approach for the kind of delicate fracture she’d experienced. 

I meanI don’t know the doc she'd finally settled on. Surethey have a great reputation but I’m just not comfortable entrusting even Dan Marino’s knee surgeon to my family’s care. Not without a judicious review of the facts and the options. (Which is how everyone should feel about veterinary careIMO.) 

UnfortunatelyI wasn’t able to attend the all-important office visit (I still have to go to workafter all) and before I knew itsurgery had been scheduled for the following morning. Not a good thing from my perspective. Why so quick? Where’s the second opinion? Can’t they email me the images first? And if the doc is so goodwhy’s the cell phone reception in his waiting room so crappy?

YepI’m probably this orthopod’s worst nightmare. Because I could care less who he’s cut before or what kind of Bentley he now drives as a consequence. On the other handI think I’m pretty easy. All you have to do to earn my trust is come highly recommended by my general practitioner and answer five to ten questions knowledgeably and honestly. You don't even have to be halfway civil.

So here I wasleft out of the processfrustrated at not knowing what was going on. That’s when I was tipped off to the AO Foundation's website (AO stands for something I can't pronounce so don't ask). At this orthopedic surgery-focused site (run by human and animal docs) you can find great stuff on fractures and when they need fixing...and how you’ll more than likely have it fixed. ("Hundreds of surgical procedures explained step by step," it gushes.)

It’s the ultimate how-to for the rest of usthe ones who have to sit on the sidelines but need to know which questions to ask. To get it to work for youall you need to do is click on the part of the body you’re interested in and get thee to the appropriate fracture type. If you can manage that much you’re almost home. 

The problemhoweveris that the human body is the only model provided (so far). And while many of the bony breaks will tolerate the same kind of fixingit’s not always the exact right approach an animal orthopod would take. Because so much depends on the individual species and the extent to which the animal requires xy or z degree of functionalityextrapolating this [admittedly great information] to pets can be tricky.

But here’s what I think: Your veterinary surgeon (if he or she is a good one) knows about this organization. He or she may even be certified by it (if you’re very lucky). Getting information here whenever your pet’s got a break will at the very least earn you an appreciably raised eyebrow for your diligence––if not an extra-detailed discussion.

While it didn’t get me far with my family member’s doc (heckI never even got in the door)I‘ve at least gained the peace of mind that comes with knowing that 1) surgery was indicated and 2) the procedure being performed meets the standard of care. And as they say in those credit card commercials...that’s priceless.


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