Veterinary Cock-Ups: On Vets, Competence, Attention, Trust, and Misdiagnoses: Cookie’s Lumpectomy–The Unpublished Bit

What do you do when a veterinarian diagnoses a lump that doesn’t exist and misses one that is actually there?

Veterinary cock-ups happen. There are poor outcomes due to things one cannot predict, there are mistakes, and then there is just not paying attention.

Veterinary Cock-Ups: On Vets, Competence, Attention, Trust, and Misdiagnoses: Cookie's Lumpectomy--The Unpublished Bit

When I wrote the article about Cookie’s lumpectomy, I left out some stuff because it was irrelevant to the point I was trying to get across. It is a lesson in itself, and it deserves its own article.

Out of the blue, Cookie grew a lump on her belly.

I’m not saying it popped-up overnight, but it as well might have. Cookie’s belly almost always has somebody’s hands on it. One of those hands would have to have felt it.

After our evening walk, there is always a lot of petting and rubbing going on. There is always a lot of petting and rubbing going on. As I ran my hand over her stomach, I felt a lump. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t hate finding lumps or bumps on their dog. I was not happy about that.

On Vets, Competence, Attention, Trust and Misdiagnoses: Cookie's Lumpectomy - The Unpublished Bit

We examined it and didn’t like it the least bit.

So it happened that this was the night just before we were leaving town so we couldn’t make an appointment with our vet. The only thing we could do was to make an appointment with a local vet at our destination, and that’s what we did. The plan was to have it aspirated to find out what it was.

Hubby drove Cookie to the appointment while I stayed home with JD. JD doesn’t like being alone, and all of us in a small exam room just complicates things. Unless we feel that I really have to be present, hubby is the one who drives the patient, and the rest of us stay at home. This problem seemed straightforward enough.

The vet looked and sounded seasoned and competent.

Hubby had a good feeling about her. She examined Cookie and advised against cytology. “It’s going to take two weeks to get the results, and I don’t like this lump the least bit,” she said. She strongly recommended making an appointment for removal instead.

We discussed it all and decided to go with the advice.

The vet didn’t like the location – neither did I. The vet didn’t like that it seemed highly proliferative (growing fast) – neither did I.

We had a long phone discussion on the issue of clear margins. The ideal process is to identify the lump, then treat/remove it. That way you know how much extra tissue you need or don’t need to remove.

We decided to treat it as cancerous and remove enough.

While I didn’t like the idea of cutting out a bunch of healthy tissue, it was the better strategy under circumstances.

The morning of the surgery, hubby drove fasted Cookie to the hospital.

And then I got the confusing phone call.

“I examined Cookie once again, and it turns out it’s just a fat pad. It is symmetrical to the other side. So we are not doing any surgery today.”

Ugh.

I mean I was happy to hear that. Or, more accurately, I would be happy to hear that if it made any sense. What we found could by no means be a fat pad, nor it was symmetrical to anything. It was a single lump.

Are we talking about the same lump???

I don’t know what exactly the vet found when she was examining Cookie but I was starting to get a good idea she did not find what was the reason for the visit in the first place! I got her to go back and take another look, this time searching for the actual lump that was on Cookie’s belly.

“Oh, this one.”

The vet finally found the lump in question. “Oh, this one doesn’t look good, it seems highly proliferative; it  needs to come out.”

So Cookie did have surgery after all, but now with my faith in the vet seriously damaged. Fortunately, the surgery was done well. I’m gonna leave the fact that Cookie was sent home with zero pain management alone for the purpose of this article. We worked that out with the help of Jasmine’s vet and the fact I still had some Deramaxx on hand.

Do you know how people who are going to have an amputation have somebody write “Not this one” all over the healthy limb? Tough luck that both legs or arms look the same, huh?

How does one find a non-existing lump while missing one that is right in their face?

All is well that ends well, I suppose. The lump was removed. It turned out to have been a benign histiocytoma. Knowing that, could we have left it alone? Perhaps, perhaps not. According to the pathology report, it was already ulcerating. So it was just as well that it got cut out. Cookie got through the ordeal without complications. But still … seriously?

Related articles:
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: What Is that Bump?
Common Limping Misdiagnoses in Dogs
Common Dog Misdiagnoses: Skin Issues

Further reading:
Missed Diagnoses: What to Do When You Think Your Vet Is Missing Something

Categories: ConditionsDog health advocacyMisdiagnosesReal-life StoriesWorking with Veterinarians

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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