There was no shortage of things to talk about this week, with the a record-setting blizzard hitting the North-East, GOP feux-outrage over the use of “drones” as part of a secret National Defense policy where the government asserted it can kill anyone overseas deemed a threat to National Security… even United States citizens. And, of course, Tuesday night will be the President’s State of the Union Address, where he is expected to lay out his priorities for his second term. But something even more traumatic… for me personally… came up last Friday that I feel I just have to talk about first. “Lefty’s Autopsy”. You might remember me mentioning two weeks ago how my beloved cat “Lefty” passed away after being diagnosed with cancer but then being told I had to wait ten days for the next available appointment for a bone marrow biposy before they could perform life-saving surgery on him. But by then, he was too weak and died on the operating room table. 2-1/2 traumatic months and $3,400 dollars later, all I have to show for my ordeal is a tiny urn on my kitchen table. I told the doctor upon his death that I wanted… nay needed… them to perform an autopsy because I HAD to know what happened to him. I finally got those results back Friday, and what I learned turned my sadness into outrage.
First, the topics I’m glossing over this week:
- With regards to the recent snowstorm, I think my “myth-busting” report on “The Origin of the Global Cooling Myth” (with video), written almost three years ago to the day is worth checking out again. The fabulous 1970’s science-oddities TV show
“In Search Of…”dedicated an episode claiming to predict “the coming ice age”following the record-breaking North-East blizzard of 1978. Spoiler alert: the predictions were not based on actual science.
- On the subject of “Drones” and “war made easy”: Forgive my geekiness, but does anyone else remember an episode of Star Trek entitled “A Taste of Armageddon”? (watch it for free here.) Two neighboring planets that had been at war with each other for centuries found a way to “sanitize” war, eliminating the costly destruction caused by “real” war, by using computer simulations to wage attacks upon each other, upon which citizens living in the areas struck by “virtual bombs” then voluntarily walked into “disintegration booths” as the very real casualties of those “virtual attacks”. Their war went on for centuries with no incentive to seek peace because they had removed the horror & destruction of war from the equation. I see the same thing happening with our increasing reliance upon unmanned aerial drones to do most of our killing. We’ve made war too easy. With no draft and a dwindling supply of willing recruits to volunteer to be lambs to slaughter just to perpetuate the lining of pockets by
war-profiteers, we had to find new ways of conducting war without soldiers. The result: we now rely on drones… heavily. And as long as the risk to the lives of American troops is reduced or even eliminated, and the only consequences we see of our actions are blurry iPhone images flashed across the TV screen while we stuff our faces with Buffalo Wings and cheese-fries, there is very little incentive for anyone to take to the streets in defense of civilians living in the countries we are at war with caught in the cross-fire. That’s how you end up in “the longest war in American history” while Republicans question if we’re “leaving too soon”.
- And lastly, Tuesday will be President Obama’s first State of the Union Address since being reelected to a second term. I plan to cover that in more detail in a special edition Wednesday.
But back to Lefty’s autopsy. It all began last October. Not having much cash to spare and three cats to feed, I purchased “Purina Cat Chow” for the first time… knowing Lefty was unlikely to like it… because I had a $2 coupon that was about to expire. And sure enough, he didn’t, eating only small amounts. At the same time, I was growing increasingly concerned about his two sisters who are grossly overweight. Hearing them eat all night long as I tried to sleep, I started collecting their food before going to bed at night and putting it back out the next morning. After a couple of days of this, Lefty began throwing up in the middle of the night. The first night I didn’t think anything of it, the second night I became concerned, and after the third night in a row of him vomiting, I threw away the “Cat Chow” and called my vet to make an appointment, which wouldn’t be for another two days. Despite throwing away the “Cat Chow” and leaving other food out for him all night, he continued to barf for the next two days. I finally got him to the vet who diagnosed him as having “pancreatitis”, prescribed some bland wet cat food and gave him an injection of antibiotics that would last him ten days. I brought Lefty home the next morning (following a
Not willing to trust the first vet again, I called a specialist that agreed to see him the next morning. Another night with poor Lefty throwing up (I was now flushing his throat out with water after vomiting to prevent acid erosion damage… something I should have been doing all along), I rushed him to the specialist the next morning. By now, he was already in very bad shape after having not eaten very much in nearly two weeks (only “Cat Milk” and the bland wet food I was now baby-feeding him). He went from a healthy
On Monday, I brought him back for his Sonogram. It showed his spleen was indeed enlarged, so they performed a “needle biopsy” to check for cancer. The biopsy found the presence of “mast cells” indicating he had cancer… which seemed unimaginable as developing in barely two weeks, but I was told the cancer had probably always been there, dormant, coincidentally revealing itself only just now. The only treatment was to remove his spleen at a cost of “around $1,500”, being told it wouldn’t save his life, only alleviate his discomfort till he succumbed to the cancer in about a year. I couldn’t afford such an expensive surgery for something that wasn’t a cure, buying him just one more year of life.
I brought Lefty home, saddened by the thought that my pet… who was perfectly healthy just four weeks ago, was now predicted to be dead of cancer in just two months. I jumped online and started Googling “needle biopsies and cancer” to discover “needle biopsies” have a whopping 25% error rate, lending support to my suspicion he could not possibly have developed cancer so quickly.
The following weekend, Lefty started vomiting again. The Specialist was incredibly expensive (two visits totaled $2,300), and not trusting their diagnosis of cancer, I took him to a third vet. I expressed my concern and they reviewed his chart only to “agree” with the previous vet that cancer seemed all but certain and he needed surgery to remove his spleen… which, as I already mentioned, was a lot of money for something that wasn’t a cure. They prescribed some anti-nausea medication and a pill for gastrointestinal upset. I also continued the steroids the Specialist had prescribed even after the prescription ended because it was the only thing keeping his strength up (ironically, I take the exact same pill every day, so I gave him some of mine until the vet renewed his prescription.) Lefty did quite well and went another ten days without throwing up. By now I was crushing all his pills together in a pill grinder and filling empty medicine-capsules because forcing three pills twice a day down his throat was pure torture (for us both). Lefty had become quite adept at faking swallowing his pills only to spit them out the moment my back was turned. So forcing three pills became “twelve” as I redeposited the same pills over & over until he finally swallowed them. By now, Lefty was actually eating on his own again, which was good because trying to force specially prescribed bland wet food down his throat was a lesson in futility.
When Lefty started vomiting again about ten days later, a family friend (also a vet) told us of a veterinary surgeon that could remove his spleen for only $700. She referred us to a local veterinary oncologist (pet cancer doctor) that I (incorrectly) presumed was the same doctor that would do the surgery. She wasn’t. All she did was examine Lefty, look at his chart, agreed with the first vet’s diagnosis of cancer based upon the
I went home and started calling every local vet to see if I could find someone that could remove a spleen for less than $700. Instead, I was quoted everything from $3,500 to $4,800. Another family friend suggested “Texas A&M Veterinary School”, having once taken his own cat there years ago and only being charged the cost of anesthesia. So I called, but they wanted $2,300 and could not see him for at least a week, which was way too long. Suddenly, $700 didn’t sound so bad. I had to stop Lefty from vomiting, even if it only bought him one year, as least it would be a good one with no suffering. I called and scheduled Lefty for surgery in 36 hours.
A day & a half later, I brought Lefty in for surgery and the vet expressed concern over his apparent anemia, saying he would have to run some tests first. I left him there only to receive a call a few hours later saying his blood count was now so low (having fallen from a marginal 19 to just 10 in barely a week) that it suggested the cancer had spread to his bones meaning his cancerous spleen might be the only thing keeping him alive (producing red blood cells) and removing it could kill him. The only way to know was a bone-marrow biopsy. Here I was thinking I’d finally be bringing home a pet no longer in discomfort, and now he would have to wait still longer for yet another test. I once again called every local vet only to be told that “only two places left do animal bone marrow biopsies: one is in California and Texas A&M.” So I called TAMU to schedule an appointment and was told the soonest appointment I could get with a veterinary oncologist is in ten days! “Nothing sooner?”, I begged? “No, that’s the first appointment we have available.” How on Earth was I going to keep this poor animal healthy for another ten days?
I worked like a dog to keep him healthy, giving him his pills, keeping him hydrated by squirting water in his mouth because by now he had stopped drinking on his own, and making sure he had food at the ready any time he straying into the kitchen looking to eat (he still had an apatite, which was a very good sign, but he was only eating a few bites, which was bad.) I went back to squirting wet cat food in his mouth. The fact he fought me so vigorously was amazing considering how emaciated he had become. I nursed him day & night to keep him reasonably healthy till his scheduled biopsy (eventually the vomiting became more frequent, reaching twice a day towards the end.)
On Day-8, I called TAMU to confirm the appointment I had made the week before because I didn’t want to make the 90 mile journey only to be told there was a problem. The nurse on the phone asked me for the reason I was bringing him in. “Bone-marrow biopsy. The surgeon won’t remove his spleen until he has one to see if his cancer has spread.”
“When did you make the appointment?” (“Uh oh!” I thought.)
“Eight days ago”, I told her.
“Is there a reason you are waiting so long?” I explained that that was the earliest appointment I could get.
“You always could have brought him into the Emergency Room”, she replied, and my heart just sank. Here I was desperately trying to keep this poor animal alive and free of discomfort (never any sign of pain) for the past eight days and now I was being told there was never any need to wait??? I told her that I therefore would be rushing Lefty up there the next morning a day early. I was told to call once I was on my way so they could prepare for him, which I did.
My father and I made the 90 mile drive the next morning and after an hour wait, a nurse finally came out to talk to us and take Lefty in back for some tests. I never saw Lefty again. Another hour later we were told that Lefty needed surgery immediately to remove his spleen whether the cancer had spread to his bones or not, with a “20% chance” of not surviving the surgery. My $700 surgeon back home said he was booked, meaning TAMU would have to perform the surgery for $2,300. Out of options, we agreed and left Lefty there for the night where he was put on an IV due to dehydration to prep him for surgery (I gave Lefty as much water as he’d allow, but clearly it was not enough.)
The next day I received a call “before 11am” as promised to let me know how the surgery went. At 10:30, the doctor called, started using words in the past tense that I knew meant the worst had happened, and told me Lefty was in cardiac arrest, was being given CPR, and even if they revived him, he would probably be on a respirator at a cost of $10,000, asking me what they should do. Knowing Lefty’s quality of life was now over, I tearfully gave them permission to stop their resuscitation efforts and greenlighted an autopsy for an additional $50 because I HAD to know what killed him. With two more cats at home, I couldn’t risk this happening to them. I was told (not at that time) that it would take two weeks for the results.
Two weeks was last Thursday and no call. Friday I called and they agreed to email me the results. I was stunned (but not surprised) by the findings.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I was right and Lefty didn’t have cancer. Reading the report with my jaw agape, the words “Cause of death: unknown” stood out like a dagger in my heart. Plowing through lots of medical jargon (which I’ve gotten quite good at interpreting following years of battling my own health issues years ago), buried towards the end, almost in passing, I read that an ulcer was found in his stomach. The poor animal suffered for two weeks and died of a completely curable stomach ulcer (which would explain why he responded so well to the antibiotics the first vet put him on despite the misdiagnosis of pancreatitis.) Lots of internal damage from the chronic vomiting, and the presence of precancerous “mast cells” in his spleen and liver were reported. His bone marrow was fine, and the words “cancer” or “carcinoma” appear nowhere in the two-page report, but the word “presumed” appears several times.
I never trusted the diagnosis of “cancer” based on a single test with a “25% error rate”. It just made no sense. My own determination of what happened? Lefty was allergic to something in the “Cat Chow” resulting in vomiting. By day three, it created an ulcer that kept him vomiting even after I threw the food out. Repeated vomiting damaged his spleen (just behind the stomach) resulting in it being flooded with precancerous “mast cells” (naturally present in the system) which were detected by the needle biopsy. No one ever did a “tissue biopsy” to confirm the diagnosis. They all just looked at the first test result, nodded their heads in agreement and charged me hundreds of bucks. Once they had made up their mind it was cancer, Lefty’s fate was sealed. All that misery they put my poor pet through, and all I have to show for it is a bank account that is now several thousand dollars lighter and this:
The Moral of this story: No one cares about your health (or the health of those you love) more than you do. If something doesn’t sound right, you’re probably right.
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