Accidents happen. Farm accidents are common. Things could have been way worse in a number of ways. I get all of that. But still. I can’t seem to forgive myself for running Waggy Tails over with the tractor last summer. It’s been hard and I hung on to her useless leg for way too long.
Three weeks ago we were starting a major yard project and spent the entire weekend outside from sun up to sun down. The dogs were out with us and I kept an eye on my Wags. She was getting around fine having long gotten used to dragging the useless left hind leg around but things looked different. She was no longer using it for balance or push off. Instead, she carried it forward and off the ground. Something had changed.
After the first night I had Dusty unwrap the foot from the multiple layers protecting the skin from damage. The stink was evident even through the last 3 layers of padding. The oozing sores on the top of her foot looked bad. Back on antibiotics for the dozenth time but I knew then. The leg had to go. Her lymph nodes were rock hard and enlarged up to the knee and the nerve had stopped it’s regeneration to just above the ankle months before with no more distal progression.
I have had this talk with my patients a lot over the years. A dysfunctional leg is worse than an amputated one. The risk of sepsis is too high. I sighed, gave her a big hug and told Dusty I was finally ready.
He removed the leg two weeks ago. It was a bloody affair due to the chronic inflammation the infection created. He had to disarticulate it at the hip due to the femur plate so no prosthesis can fit. Another hard blow.
We did find out the reason for her nerve damage. It had always been so odd. Yes, I broke her femur but outside of being non weight bearing due to the break, her foot and leg had functioned fine right after the accident. The specialist performed the open reduction and internal fixation procedure placing an intramedullary rod, compression plate and circlage wire the morning after it had happened. She walked out of the hospital with a fully functional leg. Then three days later she had immense pain and began chewing her foot off. Dusty took an X-ray and called the surgeon about the change. He was told “I’m too busy to see her. Keep her 2 week follow up”. We were both pissed. The intramedullary rod, which had looked proud to me on initial xrays, had backed out and was now in the muscles. We knew she couldn’t wait 2 weeks so Dusty went in and removed the pin himself. She seemed to calm down after that but the foot got worse and eventually lost all function.
The nerve eventually regenerated from above her knee to just above the ankle but then stopped there months ago with no more advancement. All along I’ve thought the pin most likely severed her sciatic nerve when it backed out. Well, when he was doing the amputation he found the real culprit. They had entrapped the sciatic nerve in the circlage wire killing it.
In a way it was comforting. No matter how long we would have waited that leg was never going to become useful again. The nerve was irreparably damaged and while it didn’t technically happen in the accident, I still feel so much blame for it all. She wouldn’t have had surgery had it not been for the accident. It all comes back around.
She recovered ok from the amputation though the first several days she was in pain, even with pain meds and laser therapy, and depressed.
Finally she started to travel out of the house and then one day I was doing the horse chores and looked up to see my beautiful girl laying in the barn door way like she always does when I’m out there. It made my heart sing.
She is getting around ok again. She has had a year to adjust to a non functional limb though she would use it from time to time for balance in turning. Watching he fall down while making a turn breaks me but she is adapting and will get better with time.
When we returned from our week away, she was a much changed dog. She is much closer to being the big goofy pup we know and love. This weekend we did yet another major arena over haul and she ventured out to the arena and played with Einstein. It still breaks my heart when I see her struggle and I know the right hip is going to pay the toll of her lost left, but I cant go back in time and I can’t keep beating myself up. She is happy and always has a tongue out, tail wagging greeting. I’, sure there is a life lesson to be learned in that.