The “routine” dental appointment

Since Sam’s breath is now less “doggy” and more “week-old feces full of rotted fish,” we finally made her an appointment to have her teeth cleaned.  When we last did this with Nell, a normal cleaning turned into an $800 tooth excavation effort that produced the two-inch canine Nell now sports around her collar (to ward off bullies).  But, by all expectations, Sam’s was expected to be “routine,” as she’s in great health and recently received a stellar wellness exam a few weeks ago.  But still…I’ve never had a pet go in for something “routine” and have it stay “routine,” so I’ve been warily eyeing both my office phone and my cell, wondering which one would get the inevitable call and at what time of the day (read: how close to payment time).  With Nell, the call came toward the end of the day and was more like something out of an exchange with the Russian mafia: “You have 3 hours to come up with money or you never see dog again….”

I even post on Facebook about being anxious to drop Sam off, to which Carnedge, one of my former Pony Clubbers in TN, jokes about my being nervous because “teeth cleaning turns into needing a tooth extracted, etc.”  I laugh, because at the time, this is funny.

The call comes just after lunch.  Which wasn’t a relief to me at all, since the time of day my vet calls is usually inversely proportional to the amount I’m going to have to spend.

They tell me that Sam’s doing great, but “some things have come up.”  And I’m all, “I was waiting for this call,” which puts the dr. on the defense immediately.  She informs me that while the cleaning will go fine, they discovered not only that Sam has 3 broken teeth that need to be extracted, but also that there are 3 masses at various places in her mouth—2 smaller and 1 large one under her tongue that the vet is “really, really concerned about.”

Then the vet tech gets on and explains the cost breakdown of all the new actions they have to do.  And the extra costs associated with JUST the “things that came up” is about $1,200 on top of the $600 estimate from that morning.  So, about $1,800 for a “routine dental cleaning.”  It’s like a poker game where they call $600 and then immediately see that $600 and raise me a grand.  This is not how poker works, people!  And I’m not sure how she did it, but somehow I know all of this is Carnedge’s fault…

However, because I was waiting for this call, I’m not really surprised.  So while on the phone, I silently reenact Wash’s dinosaur fight with the beanie dinosaurs on my desk.

With the vet tech, I employ the learned survival techniques taught to me by my mother and my mother’s mother at Saturday garage sales: I haggled.  I read back all 8 of the new actions/expenses to the vet tech and ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being ‘life-or-death vital’ and 1 being ‘just for the hell of it,’ how necessary is this action?” after each one.  Some are vital: the broken teeth have to go and the masses removed (and the actions that go with each).

But when we get to the charge for biopsying the masses and sending them off to the lab for testing, I stop her.  I explain that while we love our dog very, very much, I’ve been down the “better-safe-than-sorry biopsy testing” path before.  And I have found it to be quite ugly and expensive.  And while it’d be nice to know if it’s cancerous or not, that’s awfully expensive peace of mind.  Besides, we’re really not in a position to aggressively treat for cancer should it turn out that way.  So, like removing a tick in a tender area, I gently but firmly extract that $300 expense off the estimate—it resists, but I am full of resolve, and fear what I know would be the resulting divorce more than I care about how awful an owner my vet now considers me to be.  Clayton has always been reasonable about paying for necessary expenses, but he gets a bit twitchy when the extra stuff gets tacked on.  Plus, I like my marriage.

I haggle it down to about $1,500, and we agree on a monitoring process to watch for the warning signs that may indicate, in the future, whether or not the masses were cancerous and hang up.  Then I spend a few quiet minutes with my forehead in my hands, contemplating the combination of the 1 with the 5 and some zeros and a comma in there somewhere.

Fifteen minutes later, another call:

Vet Tech: *brightly* “I’ve got a better estimate for you.”

Me: “Really? What changed?”

Vet Tech: “We actually can’t remove the biggest mass—“

Me: “The one the dr. was really, really worried about?”

Vet Tech: “Uh, yeah, that one.  Without dental x-rays, we don’t know how complicated it would be to extract.”

Me: “Can’t you just go in and roto-rooter around and see?”

Vet Tech: *I can almost hear her deflate* “Uh, I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that…”

Me: “So why not just do the x-rays, then?”

Vet Tech: “We don’t have the equipment.  She’ll have to go see Dr. Whoever [at another facility] in Leesburg.”

Me: “…..”

Vet Tech: *forcefully cheerful* “But that means that your bill will be less than the last estimate I gave you.”

Me: “THIS bill will be.  But now we have to go to a dentist, get the x-rays, then come back, and schedule ANOTHER session under the knife.  Which will probably require more blood work beforehand, I’m betting.  And perhaps the promised soul of my second-born child.”

Vet Tech: *giving up all pretenses that this is an enjoyable conversation* “I’m betting you can keep the child, m’am.”

Me: “That’s what they always say.”

This is called karma, boys and girls.  What? the universe says.  She doesn’t want to pay for cancer treatments for her precious furry family?  We’ll see about that…


P.S.–When I first tried to post this, WordPress yelled at me because it said words like “require” and “indicate” were Complex Expressions and suggested easier words for me to use, like “need” and “show.”  So I’m now left wondering how to upgrade my WordPress Editor to an eighth grade reading level.


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Filed under disasters, dogs, financial misadventure

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