Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I'm Tired

Decades in this profession teach many lessons. For instance, I’ve learned that there are two kinds of tired in this business. One version comes from being so busy during your hours in the hospital that you blindly stumble out to the car at the end of a day, pick up a bake at home pizza as you try to remember where you live, cook it up while gulping down one neat bourbon, and then fall asleep in the chair in front of the usual reruns before you finish the third piece. More on this later.

The other kind of tired happens when nothing of consequence happens for days at a time in the hospital, and you wear out the solitaire game on the computer, and thus at the end of the day when you peek at tomorrow’s bank deposit, it laughs at you. And when you sneak up on the bill file and peer inside, it laughs even louder. On these nights you hit every red light, stalled truck, radar trap, and road repair on the way home. When you finally make it to the house, the good bourbon bottle is nearly empty, but the cheap shit will do, and you have one or six, and the usual reruns are on the tube, but nothing in the house will matter. You ain’t gonna sleep that night at all. 

When the economy sucks like this one, those in our profession get to know both versions. There is no rhyme or reason to what comes through the front door, and you simply go with the flow, busy or slow, for the boat has no oars, just like those oarsmen in government who would tell you they can fix this mess. We are utterly at the mercy of what comes through the front door, as are those folks who come in through the front door.

Today was one of those crazy busy, exhausting days.

I fired up the computer when I walked into the hospital at 7:15. The day’s appointments popped up. Two procedures booked for the 10-12 morning slot. A teeth cleaning on a dog belonging to a friend, and a double enucleation, surgical removal of both eyes, on a cranky old Shih Tzu with glaucoma in both eyes, and likely chronic pain. He has been blind for a while, and now I will make him comfortable for the rest of his days.

The rest of the morning was completely booked, seven appointments from 8:15 to 10. I ran through the usual things I must do to prepare for the day. My receptionist arrived in her usual flurry of noise and chaos, setting my stress level alarm off before I even start the day, just before 8. I could hear her talking with someone in the parking lot. That couldn’t be good.

I knew the guy. He has two Dobermans, one an absolute doll, and the other so afraid of her own shadow that she thinks anyone petting her will kill her, so she kills him first. She is a joy to work with in the hospital. Of course he brings in the psycho one. She had been vomiting since one AM, and the puke looked and smelled like poop. Bad sign. Oh, and she had been eating those parts of the kong toy that the other dog chewed off. 

The xrays were classic obstruction of the small bowel. Time for forget everything else and go to surgery. My receptionist went about calling clients and moving their morning appointments to free up the time I would need. We were in surgery shortly after nine. 

The last of the morning’s surgery was done by 12:30. I hit the bank, and the Chinese takeout, and I was back writing up the surgery records by 1:00. The afternoon began at 1:30. Sixteen appointments awaited. I was approaching tired already, and when the “I paid for part of this clinic and I deserve special attention so forget my tomorrow appointment cause I’m here today” walk-in showed up at 2 we tried to find a way to see her, too. I hope she enjoyed the wait, for the courteous folks somehow got seen before this one. 

I did finally see the mouth, and her cat wasn’t all that bad off, and as she was leaving somebody noticed the weird people standing in front of the clinic so I went out to see if any unreasonable crimes were being committed. Introduce the filthy pet owner holding the puppy in a towel in her arms. The guy translating for her, for her English was missing a few pieces, told me her puppy wasn’t eating, was throwing up, and the diarrhea was bloody. Oh, and no, the puppy had not been vaccinated. 

I can describe tired pretty well, but I’m not sure I can describe the sinking feeling this revelation rewarded me.  I’ve watched hundreds of puppies die from parvo during the thirty plus years this disease has existed. Every one died because somebody didn’t vaccinate a puppy. Every freaking one. And they all died horrid deaths.

Personally, I haven’t been hiding the fact that you can vaccinate against this disease. I have no reason to. I thought it was common knowledge. And I’ve tried to get the word out. But some folks are well isolated from common knowledge. 

I had clients waiting patiently to see me. Some were the very folks who moved their appointments that morning so I could save a life. These were clients who try their very best to be good pet owners. I suppose I could screw them over to see this despicable person holding a sick puppy. That’s what the puppy owner would prefer. And she will pay me later… she promises. 

Thirty years of treating parvo in puppies belonging to irresponsible people. I’ve heard this promise before. It’s not worth the paper it is printed upon. When I turn and walk back into the clinic to take care of the nice people, the memory of all those lies, all those thieves, all those lying cheating irresponsible people whose reprehensible behavior killed all those innocent puppies burns in my memory and my gut.

The woman hung around for a while. She walked into the waiting room with the puppy so we had to lock the room and disinfect it….yet again. When she finally left, she swore at us, the evil in her voice, the hatred. But I was serving the people who pay my bills so I can stay open as a veterinary hospital in these difficult times. 

I’m sorry puppy. I’m sorry I can’t fix the mess that horrible person inflicted upon you. But I cannot afford to carry the weight of every irresponsible asshole. There are far too many irresponsible assholes.  I’m barely surviving here at all, and those nice people and their animals need me. 

I left for home at 6:30. Everybody else left when we closed at 5:30. Eleven hours.  And I was tired.


  1. BTDT. You are a wonderful vet!!! I have had 3 parvo cases in 2 weeks.

  2. This post makes me tired. You are a great writer and completely captured so much of what we deal with.

  3. To keep from going crazy, I always have to remind myself of the axioms of survival in this profession......

    1. You can't fix stupid.

    2. You can't care about their pets more than they do.

    3. You can't be responsible for their mental or emotional well-being.

  4. grumpy ER Vet - words to live by..

  5. Freakin parvo crazies!!!!!!!!!!!! Unfortunately about half the parvo cases we see are "breeder vaccinated" puppies, I don't know if the breeders are lying or just don't know how to handle a MLV vaccine but it's an issue and the damn breeders tell people they are vaccinated and don't need to go to the vet for a month!!!!!!!!!!! I am a schlepp so I have spent cumulatively months of my existence teaching those losers to give the puppies reglan and cefazolin laced sub-Q fluids at home to the wretched little Pitts and shih tzus. That I can usually accomplish on the budget of one whose domicile has tires. No money is not an option though. And I won't put them in the hospital at a discount. All in all one of my least favorite cases. On the other hand your language difficulties in dealing with this highly valuable client are a clear signal that we need to eschew competence as a primary admission criteria and focus on diversity!

  6. I've always said that parvo was a socioeconomic disease.

  7. Well, it could have been worse. You could have had at least one, but more often, several of your "nice" people that were waiting inside your hospital become hostile because you didn't care enough to help that poor sick puppy out of the goodness of your heart. You love animals, right? You've taken an oath to save all animals, right? And they even offer to help pay for it...until you actually ask for their share and then they suddenly forget ever saying that. That's how things tend to go on those tiring days at the hospital I work at.