The Spica Splint 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

We stopped at the clinic to check on a cat that didn’t get picked up on Friday. Sandy and I had taken the kids to a matinee in Albany, and everyone was anxious to get home.

Brenda came back to the kennel room with a bit of a frown on her face.

“Dad, there is someone at the door,” Brenda said. “And he has a big truck in the parking lot.”

Getting caught at the clinic for some minor issue was always the danger of stopping on the weekend. At least we were on our way home this time. I unlocked the door.

“Good afternoon. I’m Doctor Larsen,” I said, extending my hand. “Can I help you with something?”

“Hi, Doc, I’m Bob Wilson,” Bob said as he shook my hand. “I’m sorry to bother you, but we have a little dog that hurt his leg a few minutes ago. Some folks over at Safeway said we might check to see if you were open. It looks like we caught you during some off hours.” 

“Yes, we just stopped by to check on a cat that got left for the weekend,” I said. “What happened to your little dog?”

“I drive a big rig,” Bob said, pointing to his truck in the parking lot. “I just made a delivery over at Safeway, and the wife wanted to pick up a few things for our trip home. When she got out of the truck, old Jimbo jumped out after her. It’s a long way to the ground from the seat in the truck, and he sort of landed hard. I think he broke a leg.”

“Bring him in, and I will get a look at him,” I said. “But, if this is a broken leg, I won’t be able to do any surgery until the first of the week.”

Bob ran back to his truck and helped his wife and Jimbo out. When they came through the door, his wife, Martha, clutched Jimbo to her chest.

Martha carefully placed Jimbo on the exam table. Jimbo looked at me and snarled. This wasn’t going to be a pleasant exam.

“This is our situation, Doc,” Bob said. “We don’t have a lot of time here. I have to be home to pick up a load Tuesday afternoon. That means we need to be on the road as soon as possible. We were hoping that you could do something to get Jimbo home. We live in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Jimbo usually goes to the vet school there at Oklahoma State University.”

“I know a professor there,” I said. “Doctor Hopkins, he was a resident at Colorado State when I was in school. He’s a cow doctor, though. He probably won’t be looking at Jimbo.”

“What do you think?” Bob asked. “Can you help us out?”

“I am thinking that I need to put a little muzzle on Jimbo before I’m going to be able to look at him much,” I said.

“You’re probably right there,” Martha said. “He isn’t very friendly in the best of times. With this leg, I doubt you will be able to get much of a look at him without a muzzle.”

Without Joleen around, getting a muzzle on Jimbo proved challenging. Joleen would just grab these little guys around the neck and hold them so they could be disarmed. Bob finally stepped up and got Jimbo under control enough so I could apply a muzzle.

As I started doing an exam, ignoring his fracture for the moment, Jimbo had his nose bounce off my hands just so I knew that he would be chewing me to pieces if he didn’t have that muzzle in place.

When I came to his left front leg, he quieted as I lifted the leg at the elbow. I could feel the bones grind on themselves in the elbow. I lowered the leg and patted Jimbo on the head. He made one more swipe at my hand with his muzzled mouth.

“It feels like his elbow is broken up pretty bad,” I said. “That is a common injury from a jump like that. I should sedate Jimbo and get a good set of x-rays, and I can probably get this leg immobilized in a spica splint for your trip home. But you want to get him looked at right away when you get home. I am certain this fracture involves the joint surfaces, and a timely repair is important.”

“How long is this going to take, Doc?” Bob asked.

“If you guys walk over to Mollie’s and have a bite to eat, maybe drink an extra cup of coffee, I should be able to have Jimbo awake enough to be good to go. If you could just give me a hand and hold this little paranoia while I get an injection into him.”

Bob held onto Jimbo while I gave him an injection of pentathol. Just enough for me to get him on a mask for some gas anesthesia. That way, he would be under my control, and I could wake him up quickly.  

I put two films in each x-ray cassette so I could send a set of films with Bob and Martha. I snapped the pictures and started on the splint while they were developing.

Sure enough, the x-rays should the end of the humerus was broken into three pieces at the end of the bone at the elbow. This would be a repair that would require a screw and a couple of pins, or sometimes on a dog this size, I could get a good repair with three pins. But that would have to wait until they were home.

I put a soft wrap on the leg and secured the wrap by encircling the chest with the wrap also. On the outside, I laid a length of fiberglass cast material along the leg and extended it up over the back. Once this with included in the wrap, the elbow was immobilized, and it would hold them until they got home, at least.

When Bob and Martha returned, I handed them copies of the x-rays and the paperwork for the vet school.

“Have them call me if they have questions,” I said as Martha handed Sandy a credit card.

“Yes, I will make sure we let you know how things go,” Martha said. “We want to thank you guys again for taking care of our little guy. I know we sort of caught you here.”

We walked back to Jimbo’s kennel, and he was up and almost bouncing.

“I will let you pick him up out of the kennel,” I said. “I am sure he would love to get me a parting bite.”

“He looks like he feels better with that splint,” Bob said as Jimbo almost jumped into his arms.

“That leg was pretty broken up,” I said. “Having it immobilized is bound to make it feel better.”

We all went out the door together, and the kids were in the car before I locked the front door. 

“I want to thank you, kids, for being so patient,” Sandy said. 

“How far is it to Oklahoma?” Amy asked.

“It’s a long way, about as far as it was to Colorado,” Sandy said. “If you can remember that trip.”

“I can remember that trip,” Brenda said. “It was a long way.”


Martha called the following Friday to say that the vet school decided that the splint was doing well. They would just let Jimbo heal in it.

“Does that sound right?” Sandy asked.

“It’s hard to say who made that decision,” I said. “Jimbo is not a spring chicken, and when Bob heard the repair cost, he could have influenced that decision a bit.”

Photo by Boys in Bristol on Pexels.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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