Two pitfalls, both alike in dignity,
In California, where we lay our scene
Threaten our heroine with penury
And cost a lot of dollars flat and green.
Yeah, so, oral surgery is expensive. You know what else is expensive? The veterinarian. This is a story of unexpected bills and how one household chose to deal with them.
At time of writing, it’s just past the summer solstice, or more prosaically, the very middle of the program year for our medical and dental insurance coverage. In our household there are two adult human primates, one Canine-American, and one little gray parrot. Three of us have some variety of health insurance and the other is basically a ball of fluff with a beak.
Last October, our dog wasn’t doing too well. We took him to the vet and came back with a chilling diagnosis. He had a liver tumor. It was nestled into a very complicated area. The vet spent almost two hours with us, drawing diagrams and going over her recommendations.
They wanted to do exploratory surgery to take a biopsy of the liver tumor and find out if it was cancerous.
If he survived the surgery and the biopsy indicated cancer, then they recommended chemotherapy and radiation.
Best case scenario: our little 11-year-old dog would live as long as one more year. The exploratory surgery would cost $9100, plus obviously more for the chemo etc. Without treatment, she said, he had two months to live.
Then the vet left the room to give us some privacy.
We cried on each other, talked it out, cried some more, and declined treatment. It wasn’t the money, although that was a factor. Cancer treatment was fresh in our minds and we didn’t think it was fair to put our dog through that. An extra year of life just to spend all of it at the vet? A dog’s worst nightmare? We knew if he died on the operating table that we would never forgive ourselves.
The cutting, the sedatives, the cone, the stitches, the pills, radiation burns, we couldn’t do that to him. There was no possible way to explain to him why we were torturing him and why he felt so sick. We’d give him his last few weeks or days with lots of love and a dignified exit when his time came.
The decision to forego treatment, in retrospect, was really smart because the little guy was up bouncing around and chasing his tail the very next day. At time of writing, his “two months to live” is closing in on ten, and as far as we can tell he feels fine.
Now it’s my turn. Fortunately, my diagnosis is nowhere near so dire, and it certainly helps to have that perspective. My problems are merely dental. The dog in question has had several teeth removed, as well, and every time he grins with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth we are reminded that teeth, they’re a good thing.
I’m midway through a series of oral surgery. I still have sutures in my gums that come out this week. Still a crown to go. We’ve maxed out our dental insurance for the year, will be paying for that crown in cash, and to my understanding it doesn’t even come with rhinestones.
This is where our financial decisions really start to matter.
The thing about oral surgery is that it’s a race against time. There are different options depending on whether the tooth can be saved. The more time goes by, the harder it is. The options get progressively more complicated, more painful, less attractive, and more expensive.
This is why we can’t just wait until January to accommodate the billing cycle of our insurers.
Hey, Mister Endodontist Sir, please can’t I set up a payment plan for this rather large bill?
So far we are $3500 out of pocket for copays. I’m crossing my fingers that the suture removal will be fully covered because I don’t plan to be doing that myself.
The crown? Who knows? Let’s just say that we’ll probably be exchanging homemade potholders for the holidays this winter.
The years in question are 2018 and 2019.
When we were told it would cost nine thousand one hundred dollars to find out whether our dog’s liver tumor was cancerous or not, we had no idea that we would be spending thousands of dollars on dental work within the next year.
If we’d done it all, the veterinary surgery and the root canal and the resorption surgery, we would be over $13,000 into it with a few thousand still to go.
Can you afford that?
Yeah? Want to Venmo me?
We always find a way to “afford” things. Veterinary work is one of the big ones. They have it down to a system, with private cry rooms well-stocked with boxes of tissues that they undoubtedly order by the case. Cry it out and pay the money. A few years ago, we also passed on paying for a spinal tap for our dog, who turned out to have wrenched his furry little neck shaking his stuffed tiger toy. He wound up being fine, although we don’t let him have that type of toy any more.
I wish I could say that all this oral surgery I’m having done is unnecessary. Historically, it would be. I’d just have three missing teeth on the top right, and, at forty-four, I’d look eighty-four. Probably like the majority of ladies still walking the earth at our advanced age. Technically it’s optional to continue to have teeth.
Confirmation bias plays a role here. We have the benefit of hindsight to say that “we were right” in passing on our dog’s spinal tap, in passing on a liver biopsy. What’s important is that we had policies in place, decisions we talked out while Spike was still a little blind pup you could hold in one hand. We made decisions about his likelihood of survival and roughly where the financial line was versus the statistical odds that any given veterinary expense would do him any good.
If I were ninety, would I still pay to save three teeth? Not sure. Eighty? Probably. Seventy? Yes. I’m not even fifty and I plan to get a lot of mileage out of these things. We lived through an earthquake of significant magnitude this weekend, though. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I spent the summer in a dentist’s chair, only to be crushed by a falling building before the stitches even came out?
We can’t know the future, but our decisions influence it. We’ve been faced with some tricky ones. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t revolve around money, around our sense of what we can and can’t “afford” and a dollar value on such intangibles as our beloved pets or the teeth in our very heads. In this world, well, sign here.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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