Earlier, I posted about the sad loss of our beloved digital camera. As if that drama was not enough to bring on the tears, I had this waiting for me when I returned home from the rescue mission trip:
That is my sweet sweet TigerLily. Feeling quite downtrodden after a failed rescue mission trip…ready to come home to snuggle with the babypets…I was greeted at the door by a wagging tail and babycat running from the back room to greet me, as usual.
As she swiftly made her way to hand petting level, on top of the chair by the front door, I noticed an extra long whisker. Like, a 9 in long whisker… I lightly ran my fingers along it to try and understand this unusual sight when I realized…A very teeny tiny fishing lure with a horribly prickly barb on its hook that babycat must have been playing with- was now piercing her itty bitty kitty cheek.
I immediately went into emergency mode, which for me is quite calm with a heaping spoonful of urgency. I quickly assessed the situation- Lily was extremely calm and hiding her pain convincingly. Did you know that purring is not necessarily a sign of happiness but something cats do to comfort themselves? I had no way to tell how much she was hurting other than she was seemed to very much enjoy being held and wanted attention. I tried to figure out what course of action to take when I realized…
Things like this seem to always happen on a Sunday. You know, when the regular vets are closed and the only choice is to go to the very expensive Animal Trauma Hospital? I knew my wallet would be in for a wallop if I took her to the hospital. I assessed the options and knew I couldn’t handle this at home because 1) I was alone and one cannot usually manage even a cooperative kitty on a good day *alone* for grooming and such 2) Even if I had assistance, wire cutters, and the ability to prop an bitty kitty mouth open like the hood of a car to work in it, I worried that removing the barb would be beyond our skill level 3) How much pain would Lily have to endure to allow us to do this? And, if we actually removed the hook and barb in pieces, could we ensure that nothing would end up down kitty’s throat?! After a quick calculation, this did not add up to a let’s-handle-this-at-home decision.
I did make a few calls during this thought process, trying to ascertain my best bet for quick, comfortable and the least expensive/highest quality care for my darling cat. There are only two options that I’m aware of in Wimington. Banfield Pet Hospital which operates out of Petco is open on Sundays for walk in and then there is the Animal Trauma Hospital, which operates after normal veterinary hours and on the weekends. Banfield told me they were closing in 30 minutes, had just had another emergency walk in, one vet on duty and I would have more success at the Animal Hospital. Boo. So I chatted with the lovely receptionist at the AH and she could not give me any kind of estimate, price, shot in the dark, hourly rate….ANYTHING except that to walk in the door and have babycat assessed would be $85.00. Ouch.
**On a side note, Lily came into our lives (on a Sunday!) because she was crossing a busy intersection that I was driving through. After scooping her up and quicking checking her out, I noticed that she had a pretty severe eye infection. I was on my way to a baby shower and running late. Though I was prepared to take her to the animal hospital, a friend who I called about running late to the shower suggested that Banfield Animal Hospitals (inside Petco stores) would take walk-ins on Sundays. And guess what? When I did this…since I was a new client, the first visit was free! Check your local Petco to see if this is also their policy! It could save you a bundle!
Back to the fish hook story…
With no options to choose from, I packed up kitty, made sure there wasn’t any paperwork that I needed to bring and set off. She’s usually great during trips and loves being in the car so once she started shivering, I’m sure her feline intuition told her something was up in addition to the major discomfort she must have been in.
Since I called ahead and they were expecting us, we were seen very quickly in the hospital. I was handed several pages of paperwork that asked for permission to help my pet. I may have been calm, gently transporting babykitty and pleasant to the receptionist but make no mistake- my mind was racing and I was terribly upset as I rehearsed how this could have happened. I would guess that the majority of us would feel similarly. I had my wits about me for the most part but admittedly, my mind wouldn’t stop wandering to how much pain Lily was suffering, how this could have been prevented, the dent the cost would put in my wallet, the to-do list of how to kitten-proof the house and on and on.
…Which is why after I had turned in the paperwork and sat anxiously for a few minutes, a thought occurred to me…no one had talked with me (yet) about the procedure, length of hospital stay for Lily or the cost of all of it. I approached the receptionist and asked to speak with the Vet. A few minutes later, an assistant came to speak with me and had some paperwork. He explained the steps they would take then laid the cost out. Four hundred eighty three dollars. $483.00!
Words were escaping me (hard to believe, I know..). All I could mutter out was “absolutely not”. I definitely could not afford that. It occurred to me that perhaps there was an alternative procedure or another less costly approach. The assistant said he would see what he could do to bring the cost down and disappeared into the back. A short while after that, I was asked to meet with the Vet in an exam room. She explained to me that since I had signed the paperwork, I had given my permission to have them begin work on Lily. Evidently, Lily was already given pain medication and would soon be sedated. For one, I couldn’t understand why no one had spoken to me about the procedures taking place before they began. Second, why hadn’t I seen an estimate prior? Lastly, why was Lily given pain medication before sedation?! If she was going to be knocked out, she wasn’t going to feel anything anyway! Ugh!
The very professional veterinarian explained to me that my predicament came down to how I signed my paperwork. I checked a box that allowed the vets to begin work immediately- without consulting me on the details. I didn’t understand this vital point as my mind raced and I tried to recall important details for their records.
Lesson learned: Slow down, especially when your mind is racing….and even more so if you’re doing paperwork! I overlooked a critical note that proved to be pricey. I was reminded of this saying:
Given that I couldn’t change how much I could afford to spend to resolve Lily’s accident, the vet and I negotiated the price down. We did this by talking about procedure options and after care options. Instead of giving Lily intervenous antibiotics during the procedure as well as after, I opted for her to have a one-time shot after her procedure was complete. Mouths heal very quickly and after resolving to keep her under close observation- if she didn’t respond to the shot of antibiotics or in case she developed an infection, I would be able to obtain antibiotics later. Also, I opted out of post procedure pain medication. I know, this sounds awful. But so does $483.00 that I can’t afford. We talked about this in the exam room and made the decision that again, I would observe her closely and if needed, obtain pain medication from my regular vet the following day (Monday). The dose of iv pain medication that she received prior to sedation would get her through a few more hours so once she was home my plan was to keep her as comfortable as possible.
Lesson learned: Negotiate your hospital bills! This really needs to be done prior to the procedure so keep that in mind.
Once all the talking was said and done we had lowered the bill down to just under $200.00. We were able to do this thanks to a “calculation error” on the first estimate (look out for those!) and declining the post procedure pain medication and week’s worth of antibiotics. I returned to the waiting room and a short time later, out came sweet semi-sleepy/semi-alert Lily. She had a tiny laceration on her shaved cheek but seemed okay otherwise.
I am ever so grateful to the wonderful staff at the Animal Trauma Hospital. Of course, I want the best care for my pets. Without deep pockets, the price can be pretty hard to swallow for emergency care. One option I have heard of is Care Credit pet insurance. We didn’t feel that this option suited us but it might work for someone else.
There were many lessons to glean from our misfortune and I’m relieved that the emergency wasn’t any worse. Have you ever had a pet emergency? Did paying for it send you into debt? Has anyone ever tried negotiating their hosiptal bills down? What steps do you take ahead of time to be prepared for pet emergencies?