I enjoy all forms of surgery as it involves using manual skills as well as my brain. Orthopaedic surgery involves the use of a drill, screws, screwdriver and metal pins, rather like carpentry. This month I dealt with a whippet which had escaped from the owner’s garden and been run over, sustaining a broken front leg. The radius and ulna below the elbow had both broken and couldn’t be aligned so a plaster cast wasn’t a suitable method of stabilisation. In this case a rigid stainless steel plate about 1 cm wide by 10cm long by 3 mm thick with 4 screw holes along its length was attached along the length of the radius by 4 screws put through the plate into holes drilled through the bone, 2 each side of the fracture which had been pulled back into place during the operation. The patient can bear weight soon after such an operation and the fracture should heal in 6-8 weeks. Dogs and cats make good patients for such surgery because they have 3 other legs to do the work whilst the break mends.
One long term complication which can occur if the plate is not removed once the fracture has healed is weakening of the underlying bone because the plate is taking all the strain of day to day activity and the bone gets ‘lazy’. I could hardly believe it when less than a week after putting a plate in the one dog I had to remove an identical plate from another similar sized dog before problems occurred.
If only both dogs had come on the same day I could have taken the plate straight out of one into the other!!!