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A Voice for Lola: My Fight for Veterinary Accountability

My story is neither sensational nor driven by bitterness. It's a straightforward account of a series of regrettable events that began with what was supposed to be a complex, yet routine tumor removal surgery for my beloved dog, Lola. I am sharing this not for revenge, but for accountability, to ensure that no other pet or family endures what we experienced.

Additionally, I have changed the names of the veterinarians and surgeons involved to focus on the establishments rather than the individuals who wronged Lola and made our lives unnecessarily painful.

After recently losing Lola's brother, Jude - a 14 and a half -year-old King Charles Cavalier/Toy Poodle mix, life became extremely hard. Jude was the first pet I had lost to a known but sudden condition. He was full of life until the very end.

No one can truly prepare you for the loss of one of the greatest loves of your life. Honestly, it was more difficult than losing my father at a young age, whom I adored. Jude and Lola had been with me through everything.

There's no love quite like that between a human and their dog. Suddenly, life was a whirlwind of deep sadness, and nothing felt quite right.

Despite the heartache of losing Jude, I remained committed to ensuring the wellbeing of the other love of my life, my 15-and-a-half-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, Lola. Although she appeared to be in good health, I became concerned about a cough she had developed, so I took her for a routine veterinary checkup.

The vet initially suspected a collapsed trachea, a common and typically non-life-threatening condition in dogs. However, in light of the recent loss of Jude, our Cavapoo, the vet decided to conduct an x-ray for a more thorough assessment.

The x-ray results were a shock: a large, non-cancerous mass was pressing against Lola’s windpipe and heart. While this news was devastating, I was focused on finding a way to help her. Lola, nearing 16, was in otherwise great health, except for this growth.

After discovering the growth, I was referred to a surgeon at Central Hospital in Guilford, Connecticut. The surgeon was very confident about the surgery. I asked her, "Would she recommend this surgery for a dog of Lola's age?" She affirmed that terriers can live into their 20s and that Lola was also very healthy.

She also mentioned that she successfully performs surgeries on her own dogs all the time. I completely trusted what she was saying, so I scheduled Lola for the soonest available surgery date, which was just a few days later.

The surgery date happened to be on my birthday. Which I convinced myself was a good sign. I thought to myself that nothing could go wrong on that day.

On September 26, 2023... the day arrived to take Lola in for her surgery. Despite feeling apprehensive, I put on a brave front, dropped her off and waited at home for the first update. About an hour into the surgery, I received a call. Immediately, I could sense from the woman's voice on the other end that it wasn’t good news.

It wasn't the surgeon calling but one of the other resident vets. Speaking nervously, she informed me that Lola only had 50% lung capacity; they couldn't remove the tumor; and that Lola would most likely be brain dead after an hour with so little oxygen. She told me Lola was still open on the operating table and they needed me to give the okay for euthanasia.

In that moment, I was overwhelmed by a wave of sickness and confusion. I was hysterical, an absolute wreck. Lola is the first dog I've ever had and she means everything to me. The thought of her leaving this world in such a way was unbearable. Through my tears, screams and disbelief, I cried out into the phone, "Just do it, just do it... don't let her suffer."

After I hung up the phone, I was so overwhelmed that I ran through the house, completely distraught. My partner, seeing how upset I was, quickly called my sister who lives overseas for support. It's been about 14 years since Lola, Jude and I moved to the U.S. and they have always been by my side. The anguish of that phone call and the devastating decision I had to make was indescribably painful, easily one of the hardest moments I've ever experienced.

I struggled to grasp the reality of the situation. In a state of shock, I found myself repeatedly asking, "How could this happen? Why is the universe so cruel?" Amidst the turmoil, I remember screaming, "I need you, Lola... please stay with me."

While I generally consider myself more spiritual than religious, in that moment of crisis, I found myself desperately pleading with any higher power that might be listening. Even as I knew the veterinarians were preparing for Lola's euthanasia, my heart poured out in a raw expression of anguish and helplessness.

Then, in a twist that felt almost surreal, about half an hour later, I received another call. Answering it reluctantly, almost mechanically, I braced myself for more bad news. However, this time, the voice on the other end was upbeat and excited. "We can't believe it ourselves," she began, "but right when we were about to administer the morphine for euthanasia, Lola's lungs started functioning at full capacity... We removed the tumor, stitched her back up and she's now awake, showing signs of full brain function."

I responded with an astonished "Oh my god," and admittedly, a few expletives slipped out as well. I was completely stunned. How could such a dramatic turn of events even be possible? It was as if we had swung from one extreme to another in an instant. The vet's words only added to my amazement. "We've never seen anything like it," she said. "It's like a miracle."

Caught between shock and overwhelming joy, I managed to ask, "When can I see Lola?" I kept up a steady stream of phone calls, possibly to the point of being annoying, just to stay updated. Fortunately, they allowed me to visit Lola the very next day. My excitement was almost too much to handle; I could hardly wait to see her again.

Understandably, Lola looked quite distressed, but her eyes widened with recognition when she saw me. Aware that she hadn't been eating, I brought along her food and a blanket so we could be comfortable together. When the nurse carefully handed her to me, a huge sense of relief overwhelmed me. Holding her close, it felt like I could finally breathe again after so much stress and worry.

Lola was quite weak, but somehow, she found the strength to lie down next to me. As she let out a sigh of relief and drifted off to sleep in my arms, I felt a sense of cautious optimism. It seemed like we had made it through the toughest part. "Just a little more patience," I thought to myself "and soon she'll be back home with me."

After a few days, I received the call that I could bring Lola home. I prepared our home for her, knowing she would need to remain bedridden for about a month. I wanted everything to be just right, so I raced around organizing and preparing before picking her up. Once we were back home, I stayed close to her side, making sure she had everything she needed.

Lola had a significant amount of oozing from the wound area, leading me to call the vet multiple times to make sure this was normal. They assured me it was. However, after a few days of her soaking through numerous blankets and sheets, I asked if I could bring her in for them to examine her, change the bandages and show me how to do it. I'm not a medical professional, but I knew that sitting in one's fluids, particularly in such large amounts, couldn't be good.

When I brought her in, they bandaged her up like a mummy. At home, I felt it was too tight and restrictive, so I took her back to have it loosened and to check the amount of fluid being released. The staff, while calm, told me I could bring her in every day or every other day for bandage changes. The situation seemed strange given the amount of fluid and the staff's nonchalant demeanor.

During this supposed recovery time, Lola couldn't lift her neck, lie on her belly where the incision was and started choking on her own fluids if she rolled onto her back. I was a complete exhausted mess, not sleeping, as she was heavily medicated but clearly in distress.

Yet, I kept being told it was all normal, and the doctors at Central Hospital in Guilford kept wrapping her up and sending us on our way.

About five days post-surgery, I had a one-on-one meeting with the surgeon who performed the procedure. It was then that she mentioned a revision might be needed, explaining that the wrong stitches had been used. To my alarm, by "revision," she meant redoing the entire surgery! Yet she also assured me that I should not worry and to just keep watching her and bringing her in for bandage changes.

My heart sank at this news, but I tried to listen and stay hopeful, trusting in the process. I had assumed there was just a small gap in the outer layer of skin, not fully comprehending the gravity of Lola’s condition... until many days later.

The surgery Lola underwent involved cutting through multiple layers of skin and using a surgical saw to cut through the entire sternum to access the chest cavity near her heart, where the tumor was located.

After the surgery, as advised by the surgeon at Central Hospital, in Guilford, Connecticut, we waited and watched, continuing the routine of bandage changes every other day.

Despite the lack of sleep and constant worry, I hoped for the best. Then, on day nine post-surgery, during another bandage change, I met Dr. Hope (an on-call surgeon at Central Hospital.) This was our first encounter with Dr. Hope.

After wrapping Lola, he came out and commented that even though he is a surgeon that this wound was so bad and the discolored infected fluid was making him queasy. He said that if it had been his surgery, he would have been "freaking out," describing it as an "emergency surgery redo."

Adding to my concern, Dr. Hope revealed that he had been working with another vet, named Dr Blackheart, just two nights before. He mentioned that even then, there was a putrid smell. However, Dr. Hope explained that it wasn't his place to make decisions; it was Dr. Blackheart who had the authority to decide whether Lola should go home. I had met Dr. Blackheart myself those two days before and he had reassured me that everything was alright and that it was safe to take Lola home.

Not once did he mention anything about a potentially deadly infection or the necessity for antibiotics. Not even anything about odor or discoloration.

Dr. Blackheart did however make a strange remark during that visit, saying, "Well, at least you have had a few extra days with Lola." At that time, I was so exhausted that I thought I misheard him, but my partner, whom was also there, confirmed he said exactly that. It was baffling why he would say such a thing, if Lola was supposedly fine and just being monitored.

Hearing Dr. Hope describe the situation as an emergency left me shocked. I immediately inquired when the surgery could be rescheduled, only to be told by Dr. Hope that, "The surgeon who performed the procedure is away at a conference for a week... in fact, all of the vets at this location are," he said. This news left me completely stunned.

We had not been informed of their absence at all. It seemed as though they had all vanished without any communication and up to that point, I hadn't received any follow-up calls from the surgeon or any of the vets at Central Vet in Guilford.

Dr. Hope took action, by arranging for Lola and myself to go to their North Haven, Connecticut location at 5 a.m. the following morning. He also took a sample of Lola's infection, known as a culture and started her on antibiotics overnight. I couldn’t help but think that this culture should have been taken much earlier, ideally on day three, not day nine.

The following morning, I brought Lola to the alternate Central Hospital location. The surgeon on duty assessed Lola's condition and agreed that the surgery needed to be redone. Then informed me that she, too, would be attending the conference in Atlantic City, making her unavailable to perform the surgery.

By this point, the financial burden was mounting: I had already spent $10,000 on the initial surgery, an additional $1,500 at this second location where they told us they couldn't do the surgery and now faced a further $15,000 charge to correct the initial mistake, bringing the total to an astounding $25,000.

At North Haven Central Hospital, when the surgeon reiterated that the cost for the second surgery would be $15,000, I voiced my concern about the substantial amount. Her response was disheartening. She said, "If you can't afford it, you could euthanize her right now."

I was taken aback. After spending $11,500 on Lola's treatment, I was shocked when they suggested euthanasia, especially in light of their previous mistakes. The lack of empathy and poor bedside manner I encountered was appalling. This suggestion felt especially cruel and insensitive, given that they were aware that just two weeks earlier, I had rushed to the same 24/7 veterinary clinic one terrible September night to unexpectedly euthanize my other dog, Jude.

It felt like a nightmare that just kept on giving, relentlessly unfolding one devastating event after another.

So, with the second Central Hospital location in North Haven unable to assist us because their surgeon was also away at a conference in Atlantic City, we were directed to Pieper Hospital in Middletown. Upon arrival, we faced a lengthy 8-hour wait, but eventually, Lola was seen by the medical team.

The staff at Pieper Hospital acted promptly; they immediately took a culture of the infection and arranged for surgery to be performed the following morning, with Dr. Chance scheduled to carry out the procedure.

Dr. Chance successfully performed the redo surgery and afterwards, I received a detailed call from her, along with comprehensive notes on the procedure. What I learned from Dr. Chance was shocking.

She told me that before even making the first incision, she could see that Lola's sternum was completely open. That after the first incision, "she could see right through her chest." Lola's bones had been completely open for 10 days, explaining why she couldn't move.

At Central Hospital in Guilford, Connecticut, they had simply bandaged Lola extensively, despite being aware that her chest and layers of skin were open.

During the redo surgery at Piper Hospital in Middletown, Connecticut, Dr. Chance made some alarming discoveries. She found that Lola was suffering from not one, but three types of infection. Additionally, there was an extensive amount of fluid and pus, so much so that Lola's vital organs, like her heart and lungs, had become adhered to the walls of her chest. Dr. Chance highlighted the severity of Lola's condition, stressing that she must have been in excruciating pain throughout this entire ordeal.

The care provided by Central Hospital for Lola was deeply troubling. Following her surgery, their method was to heavily bandage her and send her home every two days, even though they were aware of how serious her condition was. This pattern of care persisted until, unexpectedly, the entire veterinary team departed for a conference. This left us completely without any means of communication or support from the hospital during a critical time in Lola's recovery.

The lack of communication and apparent disregard for Lola's critical state felt like a blatant case of neglect and, frankly, cowardly animal abuse.

Lola was left to suffer in a critical condition with an open sternum, a situation that inevitably led to a severe infection. Our attempts to seek answers and assistance from Central Hospital in Guilford, Connecticut, were met with evasion. We were consistently redirected to a concierge who then systematically avoided our emails.

In late November, 2023... we were told by the same vet tech, turned conceige, that their insurance would get in touch with us regarding the situation. However, to this day, we have received no communication, leaving us with no choice but to continue reaching out to them on our own.

Lola's ordeal at Central Hospital is a stark reminder of the importance of compassion and accountability in veterinary care. Her story is not just about medical negligence; it's about the need for empathy and ethical responsibility towards our animal companions. Lola's resilience in the face of such adversity is a testament to her spirit and it fuels my determination to advocate for better standards in veterinary practices.

As I continue to fight for justice for Lola, I hope her story raises awareness about the critical role of veterinary ethics and the duty of care owed to our pets. They rely on us to be their voice and it's our responsibility to ensure their well-being and to speak out against any form of neglect or abuse.

Lola's journey is far from over, and neither is this fight. I am committed to ensuring that what happened to Lola at Central Hospital does not happen to any other pet. It's a call to all pet owners to be vigilant and proactive in their pet's care and to demand the highest standards from those entrusted with their health. Lola's story is a powerful reminder that our pets are not just animals; they are beloved family members who deserve our utmost care and advocacy.



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