BonBon’s Injured Paw and the Value of Pet Insurance

Warning: Some images might be disturbing to some viewers, especially those who love puppies.

On Thanksgiving, we took BonBon for a long walk down by the Humber River, to watch the salmon jumping over the dams. As she was jumping over the wet rocks, BonBon slipped and fell onto another rock, and briefly lifted her paw in the air and hobbled around a bit. It only lasted a few seconds, and she soon regained her footing and was off and running again as she normally does. We had no idea this would be the beginning of a two-week ordeal that might have had dire repercussions…

That night, I took BonBon for a one-hour walk and she seemed totally normal. Her pace seemed a bit slow near the end of it, but I didn’t think anything of it. At least, not until the next morning, when she couldn’t put any weight on her paw, and it swelled to about twice its normal size! I called the vet immediately, and they had just opened, so we booked an appointment for 10:15am and I cleared my schedule for the day.

(Graphic images after the jump)

Here’s what her paw looked like when we first arrived at the vet:

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The vet’s first concern was some sort of infection, but she couldn’t find any cuts or holes in her paw, so she suggested x-rays instead. After two x-rays, she announced (much to our relief) that BonBon didn’t have any evidence of fractures, so she figured it was just a sprain, gave us an anti-inflammatory medication, and sent us home with a prescription for lots of rest.

BonBon was very sad and clearly in pain, so I put an icepack on her paw to help with the pain:

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But her paw continued to swell, and started to turn red:

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Until it actually opened up and started to ooze blood and pus. At that point, I knew it was an infection and not a sprain, so I rushed her to VEC, the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in downtown Toronto. It was around 9:30pm and her regular vet was long since closed.

For those who don’t know, VEC is about the most expensive place for animal care you can imagine. It costs over $150 just to get an exam, and when you arrive, the first question they ask is, “Have you been here before?” immediately followed by, “Do you have pet insurance?” I figure that’s how Americans feel when they try to access medical care in the USA…

By the time the doctor looked at BonBon’s paw, it had gotten much worse:

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So he cleaned up the area and shaved the hair so he could get a better look at the wound:

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He had to sedate her in order to clean it, because she was in so much pain she wouldn’t even let him touch her paw without recoiling in pain and fear, but he was able to clean it with a special antibiotic solution:

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Four hours after we arrived, BonBon’s finally able to put pressure on her paw and walk normally again, so we make our way home, with a prescription for antibiotics and a bright orange bandage on her paw:

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The next two weeks involved more wound cleaning, bandage changing, and eventually, stitches to close the wound. Here’s how it looked the next day:

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And then again at the end of the week:

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Here’s the part where pet insurance comes up big for us:

X-rays & anti-inflammatory: $372
VEC visit and emergency care: $746
Bandage change and wound cleaning: $112 times 4 (for each bandage change)
Removal of dead tissue and insertion of stitches: $554
Total cost: Over $2000 (and still climbing – she still has to have her stitches taken out at the end of the week) All of which is covered by our insurance plan, minus the $100 deductable. (Phew!)

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Now, there’s no question we would have paid it out of pocket if necessary, because BonBon is the most important thing in the world, but knowing that we had insurance in place meant we could go with the best care available to us without concern for cost. Without it, perhaps I might have asked them to bandage her a little less frequently, or tried to avoid the more-expensive VEC and waited until morning to get her infection looked at by her regular vet. If we had done that, there’s a chance the infection could have spread to her bloodstream, or the bone, and could have had far worse long-term implications for her. Knowing she would be cared for without concern for cost allowed us to take immediate action

Those are the choices that uninsured people are forced to make, either with their pets or their kids or their own health. The Allegory of BonBon’s Paw can be seen as an indictment of the pre-Obama US Health Care system, and an illustration of how people are forced to make unfathomable choices when they’re not sure how to pay for the care they desperately need.

Or, you know, it could just be seen as a difficult time for a puppy whose humans love her and care for her so much that they’ll do anything to keep her healthy and safe. Whatever works.

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