Emergency Vet Care – Be Careful of costs when emotions are high

Christmas Day, 2014, I received a call no pet owner wants to get. My Jack Russell, Zipper, had to be taken to the emergency vet.

I had made the decision to leave them at home this year. It is never easy determining the best course of action for your fur babies, but I felt I had left them in capable hands. They always seem to do best staying in their own home when I have to be away from them. With the addition of a third dog, a Great Dane I had agreed to watch for a couple months while his owner was in transition from one home to another, boarding them would get extremely costly AND with the Great Dane and my Neapolitan Mastiff, it was difficult finding a location with enough room. I had found a very capable dog walker. She seemed to genuinely love being around my three, was very accommodating to the many issues surrounding the three, and was affordable.

I know my dogs are not easy. Zipper has dog aggression and food aggression. Bella, the Mastiff, is very loving but can, at times, get annoyed with her little brother when he is in his mood. I needed someone who was very detailed & methodical to keep them all on point. The person I hired fit that bill. I was impressed with how she handled Zipper during our first interview and with all our interactions following ; picking up and dropping off the key. I had used her at Thanksgiving as well with no issues.

A couple days before Christmas I was told Bella got upset with Zipper over a longer than normal lasting treat. She had rolled him over when he gave her attitude and lightly nipped his leg. She cleaned Zipper up, checked the wound, and everything was all right in the world again. Because of the negative interaction, my dog walker was being extra careful. She made sure all treats and food were consumed before releasing them to play and interact with each other again.

Fast forward to Christmas morning. I received my typical text, alerting me she had arrived to feed and care for them. The plan was minimal time with them so she could go and enjoy the day with her family.

Sadly, the day did not go as planned. Through no fault of my dog walker, a scuffle broke out between my two. A third party had arrived on the premises and a door had been left open. Before she was aware the door was open, she heard a squeal from my JRT. She rushed in see the fight happening. There was dog food in the room and we can only speculate as to what transpired between the two dogs. A 100lb dog mad at an 18lb dog. Not a good combination.

The bites were pretty severe. He needed to be checked out. She had bitten around his leg so there were about 4 bite marks. As you can see (taken 5 days AFTER the attack) the wounds were pretty big. He had to go for treatment.

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He was taken to VCA Mission Animal Referral and Emergency Center in Mission, Kansas. Typical to most emergency veterinary locations, they required a deposit to start seeing him. This is my baby. I’m up in Michigan. It’s Christmas Day. Of course I gave them a credit card and told them to take care of him. When I spoke to the vet, she informed me I would be looking at roughly $700. I told her to go ahead. About an hour later I received a call stating she had looking at him, they were getting ready to sedate him to get him cleaned up. They also needed to X-Ray his leg to make sure there was no other damage. I was told everything had been put in the computer and it would be about $800. Again, I agreed. This is my baby. He was going to be taken care of.

Later in the day I was told he was resting peacefully and would be able to go home in the morning but he would need constant care because they couldn’t stitch him up yet. They wanted to allow the wounds to breath a few days. I was also told leaving him there a couple days would be another option. The vet told me she would call me in the morning to discuss my options.

I was relieved. I knew he was ok, he was getting strong anti-biopics and pain medication. Bella, my Mastiff, was getting care at home, and the Great Dane was with his owner. My emotions had been running high all day trying to decide if I should stay or head home. It is never an easy decision.

I received the call the next day. Zipper was eating fine but he was heavily medicated. I was told they could keep him there for $80 a day or I could come pick him up and bring him back every day for a dressing change. It would just be an office visit of $25 every day. $25 vs $80 when I am 13 hours away. I made the decision to keep him there a couple more days so he could have the utmost care and be watched. With the wounds still open, we had to be careful of infection. It was worth the extra $50+ for him to be cared for better than I could care for him.

Even though I was concerned about him, I made the decision to keep my trip as planned, let him stay in the animal hospital, and let Bella be cared for as we had scheduled.  I felt good about this decision, as good as I could while still being concerned about Zipper.  On Saturday, I received a picture of Bella and could see she was sad.  I even responded as such.  The reply I received was enough to tell me I had to head home.  Bella was starting to break down.  She went from a home with me and two other dogs, to me being gone and the other two dogs taken away from the home quickly with emotions running through the humans.  She was starting to not eat.  She was distressed.  I had to go.  I finished up a few errands I needed to do in Michigan, loaded up the car, and headed out.

I ended up stopping in a rest area to sleep for a few hours, driving overnight is never easy.  I let my dog walker know to go ahead and feed Bella Sunday morning so her schedule wasn’t off.  I didn’t need anything else to stress her out.  I had planned to get home, unload the rental car, take a quick shower, then go and get Zipper.  Plans changed quickly.  I was not ready for Bella’s attitude.  She cried and whined.  From the minute I walked in the door she started searching the house and just kept crying.  I could tell she was happy to see me but it wasn’t enough.  Every time I went out to get something from the car, I could hear her non stop.  The problem was, I didn’t know what to expect from Zipper either.  I knew he would need 24 hour care and could not be left alone, but could he be left alone long enough to go out and finish unloading the rental?  Would him and Bella be ok?  She bit him HARD the last time he saw her.  Would he forgive her?  All of these thoughts were going through my head.  I didn’t know what I was getting into.

I made the decision to just unload the perishable items and my suitcases.  I chose to skip the shower.  I was going to get Zipper.  It BROKE MY HEART leaving Bella again.  To shut the door on her and hearing her cries as I walked to my vehicle.  It was almost more than I could take.  I could not take her.  I didn’t know what the attitudes would be and could not risk it with Zipper being so injured.

I arrived at the vets office and was presented with the bill BEFORE I could see Zipper.  I understand the reason behind it, they need to get paid, but I just wanted to see Zipper.  I didn’t even really look at the bill, handed over my credit card, and signed the receipt.  Once it was paid, they called back and said he was to be released.  While I waited for him, I looked over the bill and was shocked at what I saw.  Not only had the $800 quote moved to $1200 but the “$80 a day” had switched to $141 a day!!!!  Are you kidding me?!?! A 76% increase OVER what I was quoted!!!  What choice did I have?  The work had been done.  I wanted my dog.

No, I couldn’t let it go.  It’s not RIGHT to take advantage of people when they are emotional.  I saw Zipper.  My heart BROKE.  He was so heavily medicated and bandaged up.  He looked horrible.

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As you can see from these pics, it would be easy to just focus on him and not think about the costs as the time.

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I started to walk away and stopped. I had to say something. I asked the associate at the front desk about it. I explained my concern. He said he would talk to the business manager and have her get back to me.  I was coming in the next day so I was ok with waiting, plus it was Sunday so I figured I wouldn’t get an answer.

I arrived home and was careful to not allow any apprehension creep into my thoughts.  I wanted a positive greeting.  I walked in, dropped the leash so I could go and block the dog door.  Zipper was supposed to only go out on a leash long enough to go potty, and then back in.  We had to minimize his risk of infection.  Before I could slide the lock down, Zipper was OUT THE DOOR cone and all! The little brat!  I popped the door out and went out on the deck to get him.  He was going to the bathroom, so I waited.  Bella was ecstatic!  She was hopping all over the deck.  Leaping into the air.  Spinning.  She was so happy to have her brother back!  Zipper finished going to the bathroom and ran up onto the deck and was sniffing her like crazy.  He was pretty groggy so I took him in, showed him his new dog bed, and he proceeded to get in it and lay down.  Bella seemed to understand she had to be easy around him.  My fur family was going to be ok.

I went in for my follow up and Zipper was taken back right away.  The vet came out to discuss my options.  I could either stich him up (which would be a ridiculous cost; he said it would be about $800 – $1100)  or I could remove the bandages, keep him on an anti-biotic and pain medication, and let nature heal him correctly.  He would have a small scar but his hair should cover it up.  He was upfront and said he wasn’t recommending the surgery.  He didn’t feel it was necessary.  Zipper came out of sedation rough the first time and he didn’t feel it was in his best interest to sedate him again.  He warned me there would be some discharge from the open wounds though, so if that was going to bother me, I should consider the surgery.  I know there are people out there that would opt for the quicker, less messy, fix.  For me, it wasn’t about the cost, it was about what was in Zipper’s best interest.  I didn’t want him sedated again.  I would take on the responsibility of putting warm compresses on the wounds three times a day, I would deal with the oozing, healing, wounds.  I knew it would take an extra week for him to heal; stiches would be about 10 -12 days, letting it heal naturally would be about 21 days.  I was prepared for that.

They brought Zipper out to me and I went to check out.  I asked again about the bill and the associate checking me out was looking at me like I was speaking a foreign language!  Ugh!  Here we go again.  I re-explained my concern about the bill. She assured me she would discuss it with the business manager, she handed me a business card, said she wouldn’t charge me the office visit , and she would have the business manager give me a call.  I made my appointment for the following Monday and left.

I arrived for my follow up and was handed some receipts.  I glanced at them quickly, saw a “-” sign by a dollar amount and assumed they had just corrected my bill without calling me.  Not a great business practice but I didn’t care as long as my bill was adjusted.  Zipper entertained the waiting area with his Terrier cuteness, cone and all, so I watched him.  While he was back for his follow up, I glanced at the papers given to me.  There were the EXACT SAME RECEIPTS I already had!  Are you kidding me?  Zipper was brought back out to me and I went to the front desk to check out.  It was the same associate I had talked to talked to the previous Monday.  I asked her about it again and she looked at me like it was the first time she was hearing it.  I showed her the card she gave me the previous week.  I was told to have a seat.

I was met by the director of client services.  She took me back into a room and I explained my concern yet again.  I explained my frustration with the lack of communication.  As we talked, she explained all phone calls are recorded so she would be able review the conversations between me and the veterinarian I talked to.  I said “Great!”  I was genuinely happy to have them reviewed.   She seemed a little surprised I was encouraging the review.  I knew I was right about what I heard so I wanted the review.  She apologized for the lack of communication and assured me I would hear back from her. I was happy with the communication and was glad I had said something.

The week days passed.  By Thursday, I still had not heard from her, so I called the office.  I was told they were having problems with their phone systems, they had a technician coming out, and was asked to be patient.  I felt like I was just getting the run around, but I said ok and continued to wait.

Zipper and Bella were doing well.  Zipper was healing nicely.  They were starting to interact again, rather than just tolerate each other.  Bella wanted to play and would paw his cone to get his attention.  I could tell he was still a little nervous around her, but was just encouraging positive interaction and letting them take it at their own speed.  I was so happy the day I looked over and Zipper was giving Bella kisses!

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About a week later, I finally received the call I was waiting for. I was told they were finally able to review the conversations and I would be getting a refund. She wasn’t sure how much because the business manager was out with the flu and she would need to discuss it with her. I was understanding and said I would wait, figuring it wouldn’t be until the next week since it was already Friday. I called Monday to follow up and was told the associate I was dealing with wasn’t in. I understood. I called again on Wednesday. They took my name before telling me if she was in or not. They came back on the phone telling me she wasn’t in but I could leave a voicemail. They were expecting her in later in the day.

Well, a month after I started talking to them about the cost, I FINALLY received a call back and I am happy to report they are refunding me some of my payment. My perseverance paid off. I am EXTREMELY happy with the outcome and believe they are being fair.

do not believe they practiced good business behavior on the front side. I wonder how many other pet parents paid the bill without saying a word? I do appreciate their correcting the situation.

Bottom line, even in emotional situations, you have the right AND the duty to be informed and follow up. In any medical situation, human or animal, go through your itemized bill. If there is a problem or concern, voice it. The outcome may not always be in your favor but YOU are your own best advocate!

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