Some people say dog owners tend to look like their dogs. On more than one occasion I have gazed into Ace’s perfect bulging eyes and wished I could be as beautiful as she is. Perhaps I’ve even wished she could take on some of the qualities I’ve cultivated in myself, such as my toilet manners or my attempts to hide my burps and farts from my loved ones. Unfortunately, it seems Ace and I will soon be alike in a way I would never have wished: we’ll both have undergone right knee surgeries. A further misfortune is that, unlike my surgery, Ace’s will not be free, nor will it be covered by her health insurance.
Ace has been intermittently limping since Wednesday. As soon as I noticed it, a lump formed in my stomach and I had trouble sleeping, worrying about luxating patella. The condition is a congenital abnormality in some small breeds, particularly BTs. It requires surgery to prevent arthritis and impaired mobility, not to mention chronic pain. I was worried about the anesthesia as much as the surgery itself, since flat-faced dogs are more likely to die suddenly when put under than other breeds. I tried to ignore my financial fears, because I couldn’t even begin to imagine the estimated cost (which turns out to be even higher than my most feared guess).
Jefe and I brought Ace to our vet, who I was excited to note was wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt and Keds under her lab coat and spoke to us with the right mix of seriousness and humor. She knew the diagnosis almost immediately and explained the anatomy to us using a model of a knee (I should note that this is more than was done for me before my own knee surgery). Because a specialist surgeon needs to be brought in, we have to wait to find out when the surgery will take place and what the final cost will be. I was one of those sad patients who gets handed the medical credit card application with an apologetic smile. As we were waiting to pay, a woman with a 14-year-old blind, incontinent BT in a diaper sat next to us and warned us never to let Ace play with tennis balls because they will grind down her teeth. I tried to smile but I think I was grimacing.
I’m so upset that I don’t know what to do with myself or how to process this. It feels gross to be as upset about the money as I am about Ace’s suffering and the accommodations our family will have to make over the next few months to help her recover physically. She has to miss out on her daily adventures; when I thought about this I was finally able to cry. I can also hear the castigating voices of the professionals and pet owners I have encountered over the last 1.5 years who like to tell me that Ace is always at the vet because pure bred dogs are by nature damaged and sick, and that it is my own vanity that paid for her creation in the first place.
What is the lesson here? Could purchasing a well-mixed mutt have staved off all medical illness until old age, when we expect people and animals to be broken as a matter of course? Would that have been any easier? How much are my fears about my own illness ratcheting up my emotions now, watching Ace suffer and knowing what is in store for her? Because I can’t explain this to her, how will she interpret what is happening when she is unable to walk at all? How will we pay for this? And what will be next; is Ace marked to always be sick despite her physical fitness?
Maybe the lesson is the same lesson I always extract from my injuries, because I am never able to identify anything other than this: Life is marked by suffering and loss, so enjoy health and abundance in even their smallest doses. I am thankful Ace has a problem that has a solution. And I am thankful that we somehow were matched for life so that she will always be taken care of no matter what her injury. If she has to have an ugly scar then at least I will have one to match.