Mulder’s Nightmear

A recent photo of Mulder (Image: Shirley Marsh)

It started with blood gushing from her ear. We were out in the yard, Mulder seemed fine, then suddenly she walked up to me and blood is just flowing from inside her ear. I carried her inside and rushed to the emergency vet clinic. By the time I got there, the blood had slowed significantly.

The veterinarian who examined Mulder explained that she had a mass inside her ear that had ruptured. It was impossible to tell without a CT scan if it was a small, benign polyp or the tip of a large, cancerous mass. The bleeding was likely to continue and surgery by a specialist was required because regular vets don’t perform the type of surgery needed (total ear canal ablation). The emergency clinic has several specialists in-house including surgical but unfortunately their schedule was fully booked for the day so I would have to bring Mulder back in a few days. This sounded very expensive and I asked for an estimate.

I was handed an estimate while the vet explained that the final cost was contingent on what the CT scan revealed. The bottom line: a $5000 deposit was required in order to get started.

My heart sank and my mind raced. It seemed unlikely that a small, benign polyp ruptured and started pouring out buckets of blood. In my head, I kept hearing cancer, $5000, continued bleeding.

I explained the surgery was not financially feasible and asked about conservative management options. The vet stood silently, looking at me as if I’d started speaking in dolphin clicks. I tried to help her snap out of it by asking for something specific.

“Could we do an x-ray to get an idea of what it looks like in there?”

“Due to the number of bones in the head, an x-ray would not give us the information we need or show us the soft tissue. A CT scan by the specialist is the only thing that will.”

More silence.

“What about pain medication?”

“I don’t think she’s in any kind of terrible pain but I could send you home with something.”

It was like pulling teeth to get anything out of this vet. We finally resolved to send Mulder home with pain meds, an herbal powder to help stop the bleeding, and a plan to follow up with my regular vet.

I texted my regular vet from the lobby while waiting for the bill. She asked for pictures. I sent some. She called me and said this dog needs help, if you can get through the night I’ll see her first thing in the morning. Ok.

(Image: GPI Anatomicals)

What a long night that was. I slept, or tried to, in my clothes so I’d be ready to get on the road early. I spent most of the night listening to Mulder breathe in the dark, thinking about all the things. She had been brought to us on the day after Thanksgiving, 11 years ago, Thanksgiving is coming up soon, would she be here then, why hadn’t I thought to ask the emergency vet about infection, is this finally the scenario I’ve feared my entire adult life, being forced to euthanize a pet due to lack of finances, etc.

The next morning we saw our regular vet. She did an exam, saw massive infection in the ear canal then suggested head x-rays (apparently canine heads have less bones at the regular vet’s office), in-house bloodwork and shaving the area to get a better look. Hell yeah, a conservative management plan was hatching!

After Mulder was finished, the vet found she’d been bitten on the neck by one of our other dogs. And while she couldn’t say for certain, it’s possible that this whole episode developed from the bite leading to an abscess, infection moving up the neck to the ear until it finally burst. The x-ray showed her tympanic membrane was still intact but something, possibly infection, was squeezing the ear canal and running all down the neck. Her blood results were overall good with just one elevated value which the vet said could be consistent with cellulitis from the bite. Since the infection was a raging behemoth, she gave Mulder an antibiotic injection and sent us home with systemic and topical antibiotics.

At that point, my emotions were on rapid fire: angry that the emergency vet hadn’t even said the word infection or offered antibiotics when I asked for conservative management options; relieved that now there was some reasonable hope of getting through this; oh and thank fuck I didn’t kill my dog because I couldn’t come up with a $5000 deposit for a surgery she didn’t need. A lot that.

Mulder’s case is not resolved. We need to reevaluate her in two weeks after the antibiotics are finished and the infection is hopefully significantly beaten down. The vet will look at the mass and see if it seems like something that was involved with the bite or if it’s something else. We’ll come up with a plan then. My vet called last night to check on Mulder and asked me if it seemed like we are on the right track. I told her I think we are. Haven’t heard a word from the vet who sent us home with a serious, undisclosed infection and no antibiotics.

Today I’m hopeful though I can’t help wondering how many other pets have been seen at this emergency clinic, given a false diagnosis based upon an inadequate exam, and received zero options when the owners couldn’t afford the recommended treatment. Have any of those animals been euthanized by heartbroken owners who thought they were preventing suffering they could never afford to end?

I should provide some context as to how Mulder likely got bitten. She’s a jerk. Every family has one, right? She’s been a “mommy guarder” all her life. Every day, all day long she growls as soon as another dog comes into the room with me and if a dog approaches me to say hello, she will nip them right in the face. She’s never broken the skin or even left a mark but her behavior is very rude and I have always worried that one day, someone is going to get fed up with her. Apparently someone did.

It wasn’t a terrible looking bite, just tooth marks and not at all noticeable without shaving her, but obviously it got infected. So although I didn’t see it happen, most likely she got what was coming to her. Don’t get me wrong, I love her dearly and I will be keeping an even closer eye on her in future (policing her already seemed like a full time job) but I’d hate for anyone to think she’s an innocent bystander or that our other dogs are fiends.

12 thoughts on “Mulder’s Nightmear

  1. I am currently caring for Rose, who was part of the neighborhood colony that we started feeding. She came to us this summer with a massive infection in her eye, top of her head and, as we know now, left side of her face.
    She was BAD when she asked for help. We could see crusty stuff on her head and as we washed it off a chunk of fur fell off and we had…maggots. Everywhere.
    We put her in a carrier and ran to the CLOSEST emergency clinic. I pulled up at 8pm and we were seen within the hour. The vet came back with a HUGE list of things that *MUST BE DONE* in order to start treatment. In the middle of this list was x-rays (nearly $400) and then a fee to READ the xrays.
    Sigh. OK.
    Then they demanded a full blood panel.
    Minimum charge is $1200, to treat a neighborhood cat, and I can’t do that.
    I also don’t want her to die.
    The cat was super skinny (they refused to tell me her weight, only that she had a body score of 1.5-2 on their 1-9 scale, with 1 being bad) and her left eye was horibbly infected.
    The vet then said she thought she’d die in 2 days anyway and I should put her to sleep.
    I told her that wasn’t the outcome we wanted and texted my daighter and a couple of friends.
    We came up with a plan and said we could spend $800 to get her cleaned up, get some pain meds into her and make her more comfortable.
    The vet argued with me for TWO HOURS.
    I said “I’m going to hand you a pile of cash to clean her up and make her comfortable. If we get two days then at least she’ll have had two decent days out of her life.”
    I sign the consent forms, write on them in big letters “DO NOT KILL” and leave her.
    At 2:30am the vet calls to tell me they’re going to treat her now.
    Passive aggressive anyone?
    At 5:30am they call and tell me to come pick her up, and if I don’t get her within the hour they’ll call the county and say she was abandoned.
    I get her, she’s out of it but seems comfortable. We get home and clear a bedroom for her, feed her some canned food which she GOBBLES down, and she’s asleep.
    We’ve got antibiotics and pain meds and for two weeks she willingly takes the antibiotics. She didn’t like the pain meds but seemed to do ok.
    They’ve shaved the top and left side of her head, the top heals quickly. The left side isn’t so happy.
    Three days later I get a text from the clinic “So how’s Rose doing?!”
    I text back a picture so show them she’s not dead.
    Now we’re three months later. She’s over 9 pounds (finally got that she was 3 pounds that night) and mostly healed. The left side of her face is still an issue so my vet ran a culture on it and she’s got 4 different kinds of bacteria in there. We’re now starting her on two different antibiotics, fingers crossed that she heals.
    I’m glad I refused the entire nealy 2 grand bill. I’m REALLY glad she’s not dead.
    That vet will be getting a christmas card from us with Rose’s picture on the front and inside will say “Glad you didn’t kill me”
    I hope Mulder recovers quickly and well <3

  2. I had a similar experience recently with one of our rescue dogs. The family called me in distress to say they were going to have to put her down at age 2 because they couldn’t afford $12,000.00 to their emergency vet for surgery for bladder stones. I got them to get her down to my vet specialist the next day (a couple hundred miles from them). $297 later she has a special diet to dissolve the stones and is stabilized and most importantly, not dead. If the stones don’t dissolve she may yet need surgery but her regular vet will do it for under $2K and our rescue will help with the bill.

  3. It’s very hard to think clearly in an emergency situation & it’s sad to think of people rashly agreeing to expensive treatments or, even worse, opting to have their pets euthanized because they can’t possibly afford such treatments. All the cases above show the value of having a trusted vet in the picture & not panicking (easier said than done!) There does need to be scrutiny of the ethics of practicing emergency vet medicine (a relatively unexplored subject).

    1. The factors that play into these kinds of scenarios have some validity. ER vet hospitals are expensive to run as most staff get higher pay rates for the night, weekend and holiday hours. But I think the base issue is that new vets are not being taught how to diagnose issues without the use of lab work and expensive scanning and testing. All my old time vets use their eyes and hands more than fancy/expensive testing to diagnose most ailments. Vets also need to learn the KISS principle, (keep it simple, stupid) and know that some things are just a common illness and not the Martian flu or something equally bizarre. New vets also push for pet insurance which is fine for many folks and beneficial, but just like human insurance plans, they can be tricky and have a host of exclusions because the basis for insurance companies is to make money for them, not do the best for you or your pet.

      1. My vet was telling me about the first vet she ever worked for and how he taught her to always use your eyes, hands and nose on every animal bc if you don’t, you’re going to miss things.

  4. I think for the common good you need to write to the vet who initially treated her as well as the emergency clinic director & explain exactly what you have learned. They should be willing to learn from this event themselves. I don’t think the negligence involved in failing to consider infection rises to the level of a complaint to the state vet board, but it may — you have time to think about that. It will be interesting & significant to see how they respond. The point you make in your final paragraph is spot on. Mulder is a lucky girl.

    1. When my vet had the ear cone in Mulder’s ear, she told me to come look. All I saw was infection dotted with what looked like burst capillaries. If the emergency vet used a cone, and IDK how she found the mass without one since it’s not visible just by looking at the ear, there’s no possible way she missed it.

      1. I don’t know but If you make a complaint to the vet board they will have to provide written answers to that question & related questions in detail. Have you ever done such a complaint? I’ve only done NC but presume SC is very similar. The more I think about it the more it seems a good idea. Therefore you could do that rather than write to the vets involved — but you should do one or the other. Your current vet sounds like a gem.

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