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Day 3- Megan Sleeps 45 minutes

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September 29th, 2021

Kevin had to get up and go to work at 5am, so I was on my own with about 45 minutes of sleep. Atticus still was not getting up or walking without heavy assistance.

I was reaching the level of sleep deprivation where I was about to start sobbing. I couldn’t leave Atticus unsupervised, and the cone of shame was not happening. I couldn’t leave him alone to go buy a soft cone. Luckily, I was able to call my mom and she came over to sit with him for a few hours. I called in sick to work and slept maybe an hour. My mom helped me take him out to pee. He still was not walking without me mostly carrying his weight. He did have a few moments where he could stand unassisted on 3 legs, but not walk.

On this day I could see swelling at his incision, so I tried to ice it. Atticus was NOT having it, so I stopped trying. We kept up with his meds (gabapentin and carprofen every 12 hours, codeine every 8). I could tell he was getting uncomfortable when each med started to wear off. To get his to get up and potty we had to pull him up by his harness, which made him yelp and cry. Daggers to my heart every time. We all hated potty time.

More swelling on Day 2

When the clinic called to check in, I asked if some dogs never get back up and walk again after surgery. They told me no, not for hind-limb amputees, and that some dogs just take time. It was understandable he was taking more time than most, considering how much muscle tissue he had lost.

That afternoon I had an important meeting that I couldn’t reschedule. I was a confused zombie for most of it. Later that night I had to go and teach the worst kickboxing class ever. I really should have found a sub. I also really should have taken the entire week off work. This was a really miserable time for both of us. We knew surgery would be tough, but we weren’t ready for Atticus to be struggling as much as he was, unable to walk independently. The sleep deprivation was not helping.

That night was much of the same- he cried for a long time, and moved around, clearly unsettled. I took the early shift, and switched with Kevin at 3 am, so we both could sleep a bit. Of course Kevin fell asleep during his shift, and I woke up with Atticus having got up, and walked two steps over to me! I’m still surprised he managed this, and I had to help him back to his bed.


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Day 2 Bringing Atticus home- First Night at Home

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Dr. Perry called us in the late morning, after Atticus was bused back to VCSS. He was clearly very unhappy to be at the clinic. He was not walking, but Dr. Perry thought that might because he was so anxious, and he might not walk until he was home with us. No poop or pee yet either. I was really dismayed at the thought. I had seen videos of other tripawds walking out of their clinics the day after. Why not Atticus? Dr. Perry wanted Atticus to stay for most of the day, so he could get some more IV pain meds. We planned to get there at 4 to pick him up.

Before we went to pick up Atticus, we dropped Spaghetti off with a kind friend. Spaghetti is too large, clumsy, and playful. I couldn’t let him step on Atticus or knock him over right after surgery. So he got to spent the week with his girlfriend, a really rude pitbull named Willa.

We headed over across Portland to pick up Atticus, full of worry. I knew it would be tough to see him and keep it together. When we got to the clinic, his tech, Jordan, sat us down in their outdoor bench area, to talk about aftercare and give us his prescriptions. She told us he still wasn’t really walking, and he was howling a lot. There was a puppy in the kennels near him, and he barked at him all day. Which is pretty classic Atticus- he’s vocal when he’s cranky. They thought he would calm down a lot, and feel comfortable enough to walk when he was home. Part of the struggle to walk was also because he had an epidural that would last another day, and perhaps all the pain meds.

Then came the moment of truth. Out he came, with Dr. Perry. I wasn’t prepared to see him struggle to walk. His front end was moving, but with every step his hind end collapsed.

I was really nervous to look at the incision. Before surgery, to prepare myself I had looked at pictures of fresh amputation incisions, and they seemed so huge and awful. I struggle with gore. Dr. Perry made us look, so we would know what it looked like, what was normal, and what to watch out for. It was smaller that I thought it would be, and it was all internal, dissolvable stitches.

Atticus’ incision, the day after surgery.

They lifted him into the car (cone off, because he couldn’t walk with it on), and away we went. About a block out from the clinic he went to lick his incision, so I crawled in the back of our car (we have a small SUV where we fold up the back seat to give our dogs room), and rode back there with him.

I got really carsick riding backwards in the car here.

When we got home, Kevin lifted him out of the car, and then I grabbed his harness and helped him walk in. Helping him walk meant carrying his entire weight when he went to move his hind leg. On the way he I steered him to a bush (he loves to pee on bushes), and was relieved when he peed for a long time. We slowly walked in, and walked him to his dog bed in our living room. He pretty much collapsed in his bed, and went to sleep.

At about 9 he woke up, and ate a little kibble mixed with wet dog food that I hand fed him. He also drank a little bit of water. As much as I didn’t want to make him get up, at 11 I figured we should probably get him out to potty. I had to completely pull him up, and force him off the bed. We slowly made it to our back door, where I went down first and had my husband support him down the two steps to our backyard, where I was waiting. I helped him to his normal pee spot, and back inside we went. He was still moving his front legs, but baring no weight on the remaining hind leg.

Kevin and I settled into an air mattress in our living room, and put his cone on. He was not having it- I could tell it was bothering him. He was whining and struggling to settle, and we weren’t anywhere close to time for more pain meds. He really wasn’t trying to lick or chew at the incision, so I wound up pulling the cone off, and staying up to watch him.

Kevin had to get up at 5am and drive an hour to work, so I stayed up with Atticus all night. There was a lot of crying and moving around, so I wound up pretty much laying on his bed with him, petting him and talking to him the whole night.

Surgery Afternoon/Night 1 at the ICU

After I told Dr. Perry to proceed with the surgery, I waited for the phone call to let us know he was done, and tried not to think about the brutal thing happening to my Crunchy Bear. I got in bed, snuggling with Spaghetti, and watched Supernatural while I waited for a phone call. One hour passed. Then two.

Three.

Four.

Five.

Finally, a phone call from Dr. Perry. He made it! Surgery was a success. It was much more complicated and longer because of the suspected sarcomas up in his hip muscle. Dr. Perry had to remove much more muscle than normal to get good margins. We would send those growths in with the leg to be biopsied. I hoped that they were lipomas, but that looked unlikely.

Atticus would spend the rest of the day at the clinic. Before they closed, they would load him on a dog ambulance to spend the night at the ICU at Dove Lewis, an emergency/specialty vet clinic in Portland. He would be under vet supervision all night, getting IV pain management.

Jordan, his surgery tech called us again around 5, to let us know he was still doing ok, and that Dove Lewis would check in with us after he was there. I got a call from one of the vets at Dove at about 8pm. She said he seemed confused, but stable. They wouldn’t call me again unless something went wrong.

My heart still breaks at the thought of him waking up from surgery, scared and in pain, and realizing his leg was gone. What must he think? Would he hate us because we took his leg off? I didn’t sleep well that night. Whenever I slept, I woke up after a few minutes to check my phone and make sure Dove wasn’t calling.

Early that morning I got an email update from Dove Lewis. He was still stable and resting. He wasn’t really interested in food, but he was happy to eat some pill pockets. They sent me this picture, which I still can’t look at without crying.

Atticus rests at the ICU at Dove Lewis Animal Hospital

Surgery Morning

We had to leave our house at about 6am to make it to the clinic on time for drop-off. I’m not a morning person (I usually roll out of bed 5 minutes before I have to log on my computer for work at 8 am). But I had no trouble getting up to give Atticus his trazadone at 5am, because I couldn’t sleep at all. I spent all night on the Tripawds website, looking at forum and blog posts.

Dropping Atticus off was so tough. I hugged him hard and held back my sobs until after he walked off, so I wouldn’t upset him. One of the surgery techs would call us when he was under anesthesia and ready to start surgery, and surgery would take around 3 hours.

I wound up taking a sick day from work. There was no way I could focus knowing what was happening to Atticus. I got the call at about 9am that he was under. 10 minutes later, I got another call from VCSS. I picked up, and it was Dr. Perry. My heart dropped. Was Atticus ok?

He was, but being completely under, Dr. Perry was finally able to get a really good exam on his leg. He found two lumps that he was highly concerned were possible sarcomas. He gave me the final out- if I wanted, we could biopsy the lumps, and put the surgery on hold pending those results.

I had to make the choice fast. Kevin was in a meeting, I couldn’t even ask his opinion. The cancer spreading in his leg was really bad news, but I remembered the pain he was in the day before, and what Trish said about the relentless pain he was in. The only way to get rid of that pain was removing the leg.

I told Dr. Perry to proceed with the surgery.

The Last Weekend on Four Legs

Where we last left Atticus he was struggling a bit to shake off the sedation from him ultrasound. He had a good night’s sleep and woke up completely back to normal. That morning, as I worked upstairs, I picked up on something that bothered me. I could hear Atticus groaning.

I spent some time with him, and he continued groaning, and getting up and down a lot. He clearly couldn’t get comfortable. It kept going like that all morning. Hearing Atticus groan is this huge trigger for me, I really struggle to keep it together when I hear pain vocalization from him. I can deal with grief and loss and terrible news, but I can’t deal with standing around while my animals suffer. I just don’t have any tolerance for that. I knew, from previous conversations with our vet, that he was maxed out on his carprofen dosage. Cue another upset call to VCSS to talk to our angel nurse, Trish.

Trish kindly and compassionate let me tell her what I was observing, through my tears. We got a plan to supplement him with some tramadol I had on hand from when baby Spaghetti had a bout of growing pains (it’s an actual thing in giant dogs!). She suggested we go for a walk in the sun, to calm down and clear our minds. She thought a change of scenery might take Atticus’ mind off his pain. This was a really good idea.

I decided to take him for a walk first thing, before finding the tramadol. I grabbed the leash, and out we went. We got about one house away and Atticus took a HUGE poop, that turned to diarrhea. He had a bit more diarrhea as we continued our walk. he wasn’t limping anymore than usual.

We got back in, and Atticus settled right in. No more groaning. I was wrong- his leg didn’t hurt more than usual. He just had to poop really bad. What a weirdo- he didn’t even go to the door and ask to go out! I called Trish back and gave her the update, and asked if I should hold off on the regular carprofen dosage, in case it was causing his upset stomach. She told me no- he needed the carprofen. Osteosarcoma pain is pain like none other- constant, gnawing, unrelenting. We needed to keep up with the carprofen, regardless of the GI side effects.

Poop groaning sorted out, we decided to spend our last weekend doing fun things on four legs.

The last photo I took of Atticus before surgery. He was sharing the sunny spot in our theater room with our cat Basil (and Groku, Spaghetti’s favorite toy).

Saturday was wine tasting at a very dog-friendly winery. We brought Atticus’ bed and shared our charcuterie with him. Sunday we went out for brunch and sat outside. Atticus got his own order of bacon. Afterwards, we went to our favorite city park. It has a dog park, but we hadn’t been there since Atticus’ diagnosis . I was too concerned about him running too much on his bad leg and being in a lot of pain afterwards, or worse, a pathological fracture. We couldn’t go to the dog park, but there is also a short (Maybe ½ mile) nature trail loop. Hiking is his favorite thing, so we took him on a final four-legged loop, which he loved.

Even that short loop was enough to make him visibly sorer on the bad leg. I was so nervous about the surgery, but I was also relieved. The leg needed to go.

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