The One True Veterinary Emergency…And I’m Thankful…

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Back in the day when I graduated from veterinary school, I was lucky enough to obtain a job with a pair veterinarians that were patient, nurturing and had a pretty good sense of humor. They had to be because they hired me. My then husband and I had just bought a brand new car and it was that car that I drove to the job interview. However on my first day of work as a freshly minted green veterinarian, I pulled up in my vintage green 1978 VW bus. I only wonder what they were thinking when I arrived that first day. They were great mentors, and like I said they had a great sense of humor.

It’s difficult being a newly graduated veterinary doctor. We went to school to learn about not one species of animal but seven (dogs, cats, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and cattle if you’re wondering). We graduate and arrive in the real world with a lot of information in our brains and often times very little experience. This is why finding patient and nurturing mentors is so important. Although I arrived in Dorchester County with my sights set on practicing on only two of the seven species I learned about, life was still a bit overwhelming. There were no referral or specialty practices then. We had to do everything ourselves and we were always on call for emergencies. My bosses and I collectively decided it would be best for me to get my sea legs about me, hone my hard learned skills and put into practice all of the minutia floating around in my brain before taking on after hours emergency calls. I started work on Monday July 19, 1993 and by late September I was ready.

Emergency work isn’t for the faint of heart, and I guess truth be told veterinary medicine isn’t either. It’s not all puppies and kittens. The pressures and expectations are great in this field. We deal with life and death situations on a daily basis that hinge on making the right decisions and giving the right advice. In an emergency situation, these pressures are magnified.

Soon after taking the plunge and going on call, it happened….the one true veterinary emergency that we learn about in school. I remember it like it was yesterday and not the twenty years ago it really was. I was lying in bed at around 11:30 on a Friday night. My pager went off and I quickly dialed the number on the screen, mind you this was before hand held cell phones. I actually think I had a cell phone but it was the size of a small overnight bag and took forever to charge. I could hear the level of concern in the kind woman’s voice as she began to describe in great detail what symptoms her Chesapeake Bay Retriever was exhibiting. Duke had just come in from a walk and was panting. He was pacing and couldn’t get comfortable, he was acting as if he wanted to vomit but couldn’t. I sat straight up in bed and said “what did you just say?” As she began to repeat her litany of details, I politely interrupted her to say she needed to get into the hospital as quickly as possible as her dog was truly having a life threatening emergency.

I met the big Chesapeake Duke at the animal hospital with his human Dad, a courteous older gentleman. I quickly examined the large dog and took vitals. I was sweating bullets and my heart was pounding as my physical exam findings were jiving with my initial thought process….this was a life threatening emergency…the dreaded “true veterinary emergency” that we learned about in school. “Mr. Simmons”, I began, “I’m sorry to tell you but I think your dog is bloating and if so, he will die without emergency surgery”.
Mr. Simmons was and is an upstanding member of our community, but back in the day I was a green new graduate and I knew few people in the community. In hindsight, this was a good thing. Mr. Simmons asked all the right questions, “Can you do the surgery Dr.?” I had to be honest and tell him that I had never taken a gastric-dilation-volvulus dog to surgery because I was fresh out of school. I think I probably mumbled that. Mr. Simmons said, and I will never forget this, “Well Dr. there’s a first time for everything and tonight you will do the surgery.” I will never forget the confident look on the man’s face. He implicitly trusted me and my inexperience. It was just the chance I needed.

My technician arrived soon after and we began the life saving measures of treating for shock and surgically decompressing and stabilizing the devitalized stomach. I performed each and every task in text book fashion. Duke and I both survived that very stressful night. He went on to live a life of leisure as every good retriever should. Mr. Simmons and I have since become good friends, helping one another along through the years.

Last month as I sat in his office for advice, I began to relive the night of saving his beloved Duke. I thought about the other bloat cases I’ve had through the years…there were three more. There was Nikki, the Akita; Roman, the Weimaraner and Samantha, the Lab Retriever. When I got back to my office in East New Market, I was greeted by my technician who began to describe the symptoms of the dog that had just been dropped off. It was Hershey the chocolate lab, who had come back from a walk panting and pacing, restless and uncomfortable, trying to vomit and couldn’t. Here we go again I thought. I will always think back to the look of assuredness displayed by Mr. Simmons on the night of my first true veterinary emergency. Patient and nurturing mentors, a brain full of scientific facts, clients with quiet confidence and willing technicians. I’m grateful and thankful beyond words for these experiences.

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