Riley, my (newly) bionic dog

So…my already-amazing-and-fantastic dog is now even more special.

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

5:30pm I thought it was like any other hot Saturday afternoon. I had just finished a lovely ride on one of my favorite horses, was planning to unsaddle her and start wrapping things up for the day.

Upon returning to the horse’s stall, I looked at my phone (which was not with me when riding said horse), and saw I had received a slew of frantic phone calls from San Mateo County Animal Control, my neighbor Mayra, and Jim, my manager at my part-time job, notifying me that Riley had somehow fallen three stories from our apartment window. She was being transported to the North Peninsula Emergency Veterinary Clinic. In total disbelief, and not completely understanding the breadth of the situation, I raced to clinic and showed up just after the animal control people dropped Riley off.

7:00pm I was absolutely devastated to learn that the x-rays showed that Riley had completely shattered her right femur, and had a second fracture in the carpal (wrist) joint in her right front front leg. The emergency vet on staff told me that amputation could be an option, but considering the severity of each break, it would hurt the remaining leg more than it would help. If even possible, both surgeries would be complicated, expensive, risky, and require very intense rehabilitation. Corey had met me at the clinic, with my “emergency” credit card in hand, and told me it was going to be ok. We got to see Riley, who was lying on her side, panting heavily, and looking terrified. Her gums were pale, and the vet described her as “shocky.” (Being a horseperson, this scared the bejesus out of me. Horses who are “in shock” have a very hard time coming back.)

It was awful. I knew I couldn’t do anything to help Riley, I knew the vet and staff would do everything they could for her, and I made it very clear that I wanted to pursue the option of surgery. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Riley, and seeing her in pain was absolutely awful. Because there was nothing left for us to do, I paid the required $1700 deposit so Riley could be monitored, on IV fluids and painkillers, until they heard from the surgeon. Corey kept telling me it would all work out, that Riley would make it. I couldn’t stop crying; I didn’t believe him. Things were not looking promising.

Sunday, July 12th

1:00am Much later that night/early Sunday morning, the clinic called me and told me their surgeon was willing to work on Riley. She would stay at North Peninsula Clinic through Sunday day and Sunday night, then I’d pick her up at 7:30am and drive her to United Veterinary specialist/surgery center in Campbell Monday morning.

11:00am We visited Riley. She was obviously uncomfortable, but happy to see us. The vet on-staff assured us that they were were keeping a close eye on her and giving her plenty of pain meds.

10:30pm I had called around 9:30pm and was told she was stable. An hour later, the vet (same woman as the day before) called me and told me that Riley’s red blood cell count had quickly dropped from mid-30’s to 24, and that they had texted the surgeon and were waiting for his direction. “She might need a transfusion,” the vet warned, “because she’s bleeding pretty badly into that leg. I don’t know when Dr. Filipowicz is going to text us back.”

Of course, my panicked, worried sick, sleep-deprived, brain (which has definitely NOT been through veterinary school) wanted to scream a lot of things, like OK? GIVE HER AN F’ING TRANSFUSION! Can she not have a transfusion 12 hours before surgery? Should she have surgery sooner? Do I go get on the phone and try to find a surgeon who will do this tonight? How do I even begin do that? And the one that literally took my breath away: HOW WILL I LIVE WITH MYSELF IF MY DOG DIES BECAUSE I DIDN’T TAKE ACTION AND GET HER TO SURGERY SOON ENOUGH?

Instead, I calmly said, “Well, whatever you need to do, please do it.” The vet told me they’d let me know if anything changed,  and we hung up. I started to cry, then called another local emergency vet hospital to get a second opinion. The godsend of a vet tech assured me that if Riley needed a transfusion, the hospital that had her could give her one, and that while a 24 was low, it wasn’t that low. If they could keep her above 20, she would be ok.

Monday, 7/13

6:30am North Peninsula doc called to tell me Riley’s levels had stabilized overnight. She was being prepped and was almost ready for us to pick up and drive to the surgery center in Campbell. After paying the remaining balance of $1500+ we began the trip to United Veterinary Hospital.

The rest:

I don’t think I could even begin to describe the anxiety that ensued the next two days. Every time we advanced a step, we were presented with more possible complications. Not because anyone did anything wrong, it was just a very extreme, very delicate, very shitty situation.

For instance, on Saturday, when Riley first got to the emergency clinic, it was obvious she had at least one broken leg. Coming up with a prognosis was difficult because we didn’t know if she had sustained other injuries, and if she had, to what extent. Once we saw that she had two fractures, we needed to find out IF she was healthy enough for surgery, and of course, if a surgeon was willing to work on her.

Once those two questions were answered (yes, her labwork was good and we had an excellent surgeon ready to go), we had to consider other things: it very well might take two surgeries. That’s a lot of time under anesthesia. Two surgical sites = double the risk of infection, double the risk of implant failure. Who knew what the muscle and other tissue looked like?

Then, what if both surgeries went according to plan? We would be in for a long and intense recovery. We would have to follow the discharge instructions to a T, and even then, there could be problems.

The surgeon was willing to do both procedures, but was very up-front: each surgery, by itself, is a major procedure. Doing them both back-to-back made things much more complicated. I really appreciated his willingness to be honest with us, and I had to trust that if the best thing to do was put her to sleep, he would have told us that.

Oh, and the estimated total (NOT including the $3,000+ I spent at the first clinic, and how much aftercare would be, mind you) would be between $6,000 and $8,000. Great.

But…she was still Riley. Even on copious amounts of opioids, with multiple broken bones, she still looked like herself. She didn’t look like a dog who was ready to give up, she looked like a dog who was confused about why the hell the ground was so far from the window. And, thank my lucky stars, my mom loves Riley and was able to pay, up front, the portion of bill that I was not.


On Monday 7/13 and Tuesday 7/14, Riley underwent two separate orthopedic surgeries (of course it was two, that’s how we roll) to repair her femur and carpal (wrist) joint, utilizing plates, rods, screws, grafting and fusion to support the broken bones. She was hospitalized through Thursday, 7/16, then discharged with a walking sling, two E-collars, 3 prescription medications, a whole shopping bag full of bandaging supplies, and a 4-page packet of discharge instructions.

The total for her surgery and hospital stay was $9,828.76. In my opinion, worth it. (And my friend, Shyer very generously set up a fund for Riley so that people who wanted to contribute to her care could do so. I can’t even begin to express my gratitude to the people who have helped us.)

Where we are now

Riley had her 3rd follow-up vet appointment this afternoon, exactly two weeks after her second surgery. All sutures have been removed. We’re not out of the woods yet, but so far, so good. She’s happy to gimp around in her front-leg splint, with “help” from her humans holding up her back legs with the walking sling. We’ve perfected the art of disguising pain pills in Trader Joe’s sliced cheese, and sprinkling her other meds in a little canned food. She doesn’t like sleeping in her crate, having her bandage changed, or wearing her cone, but tolerates it all like a champ. I’m hopeful. We’ve made it this far.

riley recovery


One comment

  1. […] Riley had surgery (twice) two and half weeks ago, which you can read about here. Even before the vet clinic decided Riley was ready to come home, they told me how hard rehab was […]

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