Scariness

We had a bit of a family emergency in July, over one of my husband’s 4-day weekends. While we were out as a family Pokémon hunting at the Rose gardens, our dogs at home got into some ibuprofen and benadryl that was in a ziploc baggie on the table.

The benadryl wasn’t an issue, but ibuprofen is extremely toxic to dogs. We got home and saw Azura (our yellow lab) had thrown up twice, and he threw up again after we got home (about 6:30 pm). Sirius (our black lab) seemed fine, but he was in the room when the meds were eaten and dogs can’t talk, so …

I called the vet, but they were closed, so I had to call the emergency clinic instead. They said it would be $90 per dog to bring them in for an assessment, but if I called Pet Poison Control first and got a case number, it would be cheaper. So I called Pet Poison Control, who charged $49 for the call. Based on the info I provided about the weights and probable ingestion, they strongly recommended we take our pups to the emergency clinic for treatment.

So off we went to the pet emergency clinic in town, pups in tow. Azura threw up again on arrival; Sirius was just excited by the car ride. That was around 7:30 pm

It was pretty busy (a little puppy came in with its ear torn off) but around 9:35 pm, the vet called us back to a private room. He said he’d done a physical exam and looked over the Poison Control Center information, and he recommended an overnight stay with observation for both dogs with aggressive fluid therapy. We said sure, absolutely, no problem.

Mentally, I revised my cost estimate for the night up from maybe $200 max (from $49-$90 per dog) to maybe $1,200 max (I assumed it would maybe be $600ish per dog, with emergency services). It would hurt a little, but doable. The vet said he’d draft an estimate for us.

Around 10:30, they brought us the cost estimate–they were asking $1,900-$2,500 per dog to keep them for the night. At 10:30 pm on a Sunday night, mind you. And, it turned out, they haven’t actually done any bloodwork or started any fluid therapy yet, and wouldn’t until our payment processed. We were aghast. We did not have $4,500 on hand. With about $1,300 between two credit card balances, savings, and checkings, we did’t even have enough to keep one dog overnight.

I looked at the breakdown of costs, and asked them to at least start the bloodwork and kidney panels on Sirius, since I suspected he hadn’t even eaten the pills (and therefore hadn’t been poisoned) and I wanted to confirm that. That lowered his costs’ to $550. Meanwhile, we kept trying to secure a loan for Azura’s treatment, which was clearly necessary.

It was futile, because every financial institution on the East Coast is closed at midnight PST on a Sunday, which means all their customer service is closed, which means we were fucked.  Literally all we’d done was move our poisoned dog from Point A to Point B, where we were placed in separate rooms–so we couldn’t even sit with him–and a vet who could save him withheld treatment and watched him slowly die while we tried to secure funding.

We sat in the private room until 2 am. It was weird. We could hear everything happening in the waiting room–hear people coming in and out, hear them paying their bills, hear the staff complaining about the lack of available rooms and how busy it was, but they just left us there for these long stretches of time, ignoring us. No dogs, no staff. Just before midnight, they told us Sirius’ bloodwork had come back clean, and asked if we were ready to start Azura’s yet.

We were in tears, literally in tears–after the banks, we’d called friends and family, explaining the situation and that it would literally be a 24-hour loan because we could get the $2,000 to pay them back within 24 hours, but nobody else had $2,000 to hand, either. I hated the way the vet tech was looking at me, like I wanted to kill my dog. She sighed and said she would see what she could do, and left. About 30 minutes later, the vet returned, and said they would run Azura’s bloodwork along with Sirius’, so we would at least have the tests, and with Sirius’ tests our total cost should be around $675.

Around 2 am, the vet tech returns with the bill for Azura’s tests, which came to $400. We were so tired. We didn’t even argue. Altogether–with Sirius’ tests–the costs for the night were $950, and the bloodwork did show that Azura’s kidney levels were elevated. The vet gave him activated charcoal and some medications, and told us to give him lots of water and take him straight to our regular vet in the morning.

So the next morning, we took both dogs to our regular vet. Once again, Sirius’ blood work was normal, but Azura’s kidney levels were still elevated. The doc recommended leaving Azura at the office for observation for the day. Cringing, we asked how much that would cost, and were told $150.

Seems hard to believe, right? I still have a hard time parsing it, a month later.

Azura stayed with the regular vet for three days. We dropped him off at open, picked him up at close. Not only was it affordable, our regular vet didn’t demand pre-payment for life-saving services; they collected payment after saving our dogs life rather than holding medical care hostage. After three days of observation from 7 am-7 pm and morning/ afternoon kidney panels, the total damage was $650.

When they told me, I actually froze for a minute. I thought I misheard. Even though they’d told me it would be $150/ day, over the three days of treatment I’d started psyching myself out–at the ER clinic, they charged $209 for the Abraxis/ kidney panel. I thought, maybe that’s where the cost comes from. Maybe it’s not the fluid treatment and the IV’s; maybe it’s the bloodwork. Maybe doing kidney panels for three days straight will kick this bill back up into the thousands range.

So when they said our bill was $650 after three days of treatment, for a minute I lost my breath because I misheard them–I thought they said $6,500.

But no. $650.

I wonder how the emergency clinic justifies their price gouging? How is it even legal? Everyone just accepts it. When we told the vet, they nod knowingly and say, “That’s the emergency clinic for you,” as though it’s an accepted aspect of the field. Like, don’t have a pet emergency after hours–you’ll get gouged! Tests cost more when run at 10 pm as opposed to 10 am! You know how much the $209 emergency vet clinic Kidney panel/ Abraxis test cost to run at the daytime clinic? $48 fucking dollars. A quarter of the cost. A fucking quarter of the cost.

Can you imagine if anything else worked this way? Gods. You know how our ambulance system in the USA is fucked? Like, red/ firehouse ambulances are tax-funded so essentially free to user (no billing), and the blue ones are corporate and super fucking expensive? Imagine if the blue ones were affordable from 9 am-5 pm and only super fucking expensive overnight? Jesus christ on a cracker, it would be even worse than it is now, and it is pretty bad now.

I’ve been to the ER for overdoses and it cost less, and I’m a human person. I’m not talking about, “It costs less because insurance paid it,” I’m talking about the actual original bill amount–which, of course, insurance did end up ultimately paying most of–was less than what was quoted by the emergency pet clinic to treat my dogs.

How does a human bill come to less? How does a daytime vet bill for the same services come to so much less?

I checked the costs for my 2015 surgery, where my uterus was removed and I stayed overnight for 3 days in the hospital with a catheter in me. There were complications because they saw a tumor on an ovary and they had to remove the ovary for biopsy (benign), and the surgery ran long. I had anesthesia and everything. Guess how much that cost? Less than $4,000–and payment was after services.

Anyway, Azura is alive and well. Fat and happy and kicking around the house as stupid and lovey as ever. He’s been on medications for the last month to support his kidney function. There’s a possibility of long-term kidney damage. We canceled our long-anticipated motorcycle road trip, due to the $1600 in unexpected costs for the initial care, as well as the long term care and follow-up visits Azura needed over the next month.

One cannot help but (bitterly) wonder if the kidney damage might have been avoided had the bloodwork/ kidney panels immediately been run and aggressive fluid therapy immediately been started, rather than delayed indefinitely at the cost of my dog’s health. I now view the local emergency vet clinic as opportunistic price-gouging vultures who prey on the after-hours fears and emergency needs of frantic pet parents, and I utterly loathe them.

Unfortunately, with pets, it may transpire that we’re forced to use their services again. Unless I learn basic veterinary first aid or something, which I might well do.

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