Maia's Surgery

On November 14th Maia had surgery on her right elbow. (The photo above was taken November 17th.) I had noticed on our runs and walks over the previous two weeks that her elbow would swell with fluid. A day or two of rest, and it would disappear, only to reappear with the next round of exercise. This was eerily similar to something she had on that same elbow in 2003. My vet at that time feared it was a hygroma and was reluctant to attempt a surgical fix, but I pressed and it turned out she had an internal cyst that would fill with fluid. The surgery, then, was successful. Except that now the same symptoms were back.

My vet here had the same concerns and reservations about a possible hygroma, but again, I trusted my gut and had Maia undergo surgery. My vet later thanked me for being insistent and willing to try, because I was right - it was a fluid-filled cyst that she was able to remove.

My vet also shared that her husband had a similar cyst removed from his knee. They are apparently caused by pressure. In the husband's case, from kneeling to lay tile for years. In Maia's case, from preferring to sleep on hard surfaces. My vet said her husband was told such cysts could come back with continued pressure. Maia proved that to be true!

A photo of the rather gruesome surgery site, taken on the 17th, the day the drains were removed from the upper and lower ends of the incision. It's healing fast and well. Maia's on Novox, (generic Rimadyl) and in no pain. In fact, my biggest challenge - after finding a way to keep bandages and wraps from falling down from the elbow - is keeping her from playing. She keeps wanting to chase Meadow in the yard.

The purple sock was one method I tried, to avoid tight bandages, so the wound could breathe and heal. It worked fairly well (usually with duct tape at the top to keep it in place - Maia hated the feel of the tape on her fur, and I don't blame her), although it was impossible to keep it clean and dry if she chose to snooze in the yard. I washed the two purple socks I had a lot.

Maia resting on the bed. This photo was actually taken the day after surgery; you can see her right leg, on the bottom, still tightly wrapped in bandages and vet wrap, right down to her tippy toes. Meadow was providing moral support. Despite the bandage - which caused me to call her Peg Leg - Maia easily jumped onto and off of the bed.

Poor Maia was a fashion disaster during this recovery phase. The blue sweatshirt had been one of my favorites, for years, but was getting full of holes at the seams. I figured this was a good use for it. The only alternative was an Elizabethan collar (lamp shade). Maia unfortunately is very adept at licking and chewing bandages off, even after they've been sprayed with Bitter Apple. But I just couldn't subject her to the lamp shade.

A few days after surgery. Not only does Maia suffer the indignity of the blue sweatshirt, but for ease of ingress and egress, I cut open the chest, which I then secured with duct tape when she wore it so it wouldn't slip down her shoulders. Here she's giving me "the look" which says I'd better give her a treat to assuage the embarrassment.

Two weeks post-surgery, stitches out, hair growing back, everything great. By this time I've taken Maia on several 2-3 mile walks, and never even a hint of swelling or pain in the elbow. A total success.

Well, except that over Thanksgiving weekend I felt something odd as I was inspecting the incision. Something stiff poking out. Stitches? I couldn't see anything, just feel it. I got a small magnifying glass (one of those that comes in an eyeglass repair kit), but still couldn't see what I felt. Maybe a scab, maybe a suture?

Monday December 1st I took Maia back to the vet. By now, she's not happy to arrive there (usually she very willingly goes into the vet's office). The vet, nice woman that she is, agrees to look at the incision while Maia stands by the door, rather than taking her back to the exam room. The vet and her assistant both can feel what I had felt, but can't see it (making me feel a little better - it wasn't just my poor eyesight). As it happens, there was a short, upper incision, then a longer one lower down. The suture, though, went from top to bottom, closing both incisions. When I took Maia in to have the suture removed on November 28th, they only took out those they could see in the lower incision. On this final visit, the vet - not the vet who did the surgery, but her partner - did her best to remove what she could see and feel, but said it's likely there's still a small piece with a knot in there somewhere. I questioned her closely about any potential risk to leaving a suture in, and was assured it wouldn't abscess or cause any infection, that it would be fine.

Let's hope so. I don't want to put Maia through any more elbow surgeries.

Today, 2.5 weeks post-surgery, Maia's been for short runs and daily hikes and is doing great. It's so hard, knowing what's best for an aging dog. At 9 1/2 years old, I didn't choose surgery for Maia without serious thought and trepidation. But her blood work is excellent, she's otherwise in top shape, and I feel sure that she has lots of good miles left in her. I wanted to give her every chance to enjoy these last years of her life. And - selfishly - I wasn't ready to let go of having her with me on the trails. Nor was Meadow. When I tried to take Meadow for runs or hikes without Maia, as Maia was awaiting and then recovering from surgery, Meadow lagged and moped, even with Finn along. The girls are so bonded. Meadow doesn't know life without Maia. They've always been a team. We've been a trail threesome for over seven years.

I now have my lead dog back. Meadow has her pack mate back. Finn - well, he's always happy, no matter what.

Life is good.