On the Wheel with a Broken Wheel, From the Archives

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Pat was standing at the counter, clutching a shoebox in her hands.

“I know we impose on your generosity, Dr. Larsen,” she said. “But the class is heartbroken over Blossom. Can you get a look at her?”

“Don’t feel like you’re imposing, Pat,” I said. “I see all the classroom pets in Sweet Home at no charge.”

“I think this is a major injury,” Pat said. “You are maybe not going to be able to fix it.”

“Let’s get a look at Blossom,” I said as I led Pat into the exam room.

I opened the shoebox, and Blossom was huddled in the corner of the box. She was almost in a ball, and her fur was fluffed up. This was definitely a hamster who was not feeling well.

I started to reach into the box to pick Blossom up, so I could get a better look at her.

“Oh, be careful, Dr. Larsen,” Pat said, reaching out for my forearm. “She bites at times, especially if she is unhappy.”

I put my hand over her body, securing her head between my thumb and index finger. I carefully lifted her from the box. As I turned her over, her injury was visible. She had a fracture of her right tibia.

“Is it bad?” Pat asked. She had probably not been able to bring herself to look at the injury.

“Blossom has a fracture of her tibia on her right hind leg,” I said. “I am not sure that it is fixable. There is a lot of displacement.”

“We knew it was bad,” Pat said. “The class is very upset. It was that way when we came to school this morning. If there is anything that can be done for her, you would be their hero.”

“I think I am hearing that replacing her might not be an option,” I said. “Or at least, not if there is any chance of fixing her.”

“I told the class that I was sure you would do everything in your power to fix her, but we might have to talk about what to do if she can’t be fixed,” Pat said.

I looked at Blossom closely and mulled over repair options in my mind. I could possibly fashion a Thomas Splint that would work. That would be difficult to manage in a classroom pet. It would be easy to amputate the lower leg. She might do surprisingly well on three legs, but the classroom would have some difficulty with the decision. Just maybe, I could get an intramedullary pin into this bone. I could attempt to pin it, and if unsuccessful, I could go ahead and amputate the lower leg at the fracture site.

“Okay, Pat, here is my plan,” I said. “I don’t think that trying to splint this leg is a good option. There is a chance that I could repair this fracture with a pin on the inside of the bone. I am not sure about that, my experience base for repairing hamster fractures is zero. But I think I should try to pin this fracture. If I cannot get that done, I will amputate the leg at the fracture site. Blossom needs to stay overnight. That means you will need to bring her cage down, so we are not tearing the clinic apart tomorrow, looking for a fugitive hamster. You also need to prepare your class for the possibility of Blossom losing her leg, She will do well with 3 legs. It is just that some kids might be upset with that option.”

“Okay, I can bring the cage down after school,” Pat said. “We have a cage that the kids take her home in on the weekends.”

“That will be good,” I said. “I have some time this afternoon. We will do this then. I may well be done by the time you get back here with the cage.”  

I put Blossom entirely into a large dog facemask to induce anesthesia. When she was asleep, we secured her head in the smallest cat facemask. This allowed for reasonable control of anesthesia and access to the fracture site.

After prepping the leg, I covered the foot with a sterile gauze. Securing it with a couple of purse-string like sutures around the top and bottom of the foot.

I made a short incision over the fracture site on the inside of the leg. Bending the leg, I could expose both ends of the fractured tibia. Looking at the size of the medullary cavity, I selected a 20 gauge needle to use as an intramedullary pin.

I snipped off the sharp point on the aluminum needle. Then I inserted the blunt needle into the bone of the distal fracture fragment. This needle fits perfectly. And without any pressure applied, I measured the depth of insertion to be 3 mm. My plan was to bury this IM pin. This was something I had done in repairing fractures of the radius in tiny dogs.

I snipped the needle hub off and inserted the needle shaft into the proximal fracture segment. When it was fully seated in the upper bone fragment, I measured and snipped the needle to leave just over 2 mm of the exposed needle shaft.

Now it was a simple task to toggle this exposed needle shaft into the distal fragment. It required a little stretch, but it popped into the distal fragment quickly. The bone ends slid together better than expected. This proved to be an excellent repair. I closed the incision with a couple of sutures of 5-0 Dexon in the subcutaneous tissues and then closed the skin a couple of subcuticular stitches with the same material.

Blossom was placed in her shoebox with a warm towel for her to recover. By the time Pat had returned with the cage, Blossom was up and running around like nothing was wrong with her leg.

“Oh my, she acts like nothing is wrong,” Pat said as we moved Blossom into her larger cage.

“So, I think Blossom is doing well enough that you can take her home tonight,” I said. “You need to drop her by tomorrow just so I can check her over really quick. I want to make sure she is still using the leg and that the incision is okay.”

“Do I need to do anything for her?” Pat asked.

“I would bed her down with a fluffy towel for the night,” I said. “Other than that, I don’t think we need to do anything. I think we are home free.”

“I want to thank you, Dr. Larsen, from the bottom of my heart,” Pat said. “And I am sure the class will be thankful also.

The following week Blossom was in for her checkup with the entire class. We went into the surgery room, where there was room for the group. Blossom was the star of the show, and her broken wheel was healing well.

“She is back to running on her hamster wheel, and she doesn’t even limp when she runs,” one of the little girls said.

Photo by Frances Goldberg on Unsplash

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.

5 thoughts on “On the Wheel with a Broken Wheel, From the Archives

  1. Congratulations. I had a library hamster and two library gerbils but no serious injuries although the hamster managed to get its foot caught when he tried to escape and fell into the gerbil cage instead. His foot got caught in the cage lid. It was red and swollen but after a couple of hours it returned to normal and he never showed any after effects.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, we would get a packet of thank you notes hand written from the entire class whenever we worked on a classroom pet. Pretty good payment in its self. I wish now that I had saved some of those. That, and a bunch of future clients. My practice included a bunch of families with 3 generations of clients and a few with 4 generations.

      Liked by 2 people

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