Monday, September 2, 2013

Big Dog Little Dog, or why I want to stay in school forever

[Editorial note: The VBB collective is pleased to welcome our newest member, VSBB! That's VS for Veterinary Student. Try to keep up!]

You may not know that it's a common saying in Veterinary World that the "unluckiest" pets in the world belong to veterinary students. No pet gets ill as often as a future vet's pet. My cat seems to have read the book on behaving like a vet student's pet while I was at orientation, because she woke me up the Saturday after the first week of class with one of those this-is-not-going-to-get-better-on-its-own-but-it's-not-really-an-emergency problems. Sigh. I called the vet's office and they very kindly fit us in that morning's schedule.

We arrived for our appointment. I talked to the tech. The doctor did her thing. I headed to the front desk with medications and a slightly miffed cat.

As one receptionist presented me with the bill and took my payment, a couple walked into the lobby. They wanted to make an appointment for their maltese, who had been involved in what we like to call a Big Dog Little Dog altercation. No, they hadn't brought the dog with them. She was at home, because it was easier for them to come to the veterinary hospital to make an appointment than to call. Okaaaay. The other receptionist offered the couple some appointment times, they agreed to one, and the receptionist did what all good receptionists do: she let the clients know they needed to provide a vaccination history for the dog. If the dog wasn't current on her rabies vaccine, she would need to get one before being discharged, because it's a legal requirement. It's also a good idea in case the dog who bit her might be rabid, but the receptionist didn't get into that. I don't blame her, because:

Ready? Here's what these people said over the course of less than three minutes:

  • You can't give her a rabies vaccine! It'll kill her!
  • But she's old!
  • You know, I think vaccines make them sick. My friend's dog got a vaccine and she got sick.
  • Listen, she can't breathe well. You're going to have to kill her.
  • Do you want me to go to a different veterinarian?
  • How would I know her history? She's from Arkansas.
  • How would I know if the other dog has been vaccinated?
  • I don't want to talk to the veterinarian about it, I just want her to be seen! She needs stitches or something!
  • I can find someone else who will care about this.
  • She's 10 years old. She's going to have to die.
Let's ignore that this dog probably should have gone to the emergency room, or at least come along for the ride to make the appointment so the vet could see her promptly. Let's pretend that veterinary records can actually cross state lines via the magic of these things called mail, fax and email. Let's assume that it's totally acceptable to treat polite, professional receptionists with yelling, a bad attitude, and refusing to respond logically to what they say. Let's agree that 10 really isn't old for a small dog. We may also be able to agree that the average land shark maltese is far too mean to die young, but I don't want to make assumptions about what kind of dogs you've got at home.

How on earth is the staff of a veterinary hospital supposed to respond to people who seem to want a) proper, if delayed, treatment for their pet, b) to refuse proper, routine care for their pet, c) to threaten to take their business elsewhere, d) to talk nonsense, e) to deny that rabies is a public health issue that might become personally relevant via their own dog, and/or f) to insist that a receptionist kill a patient?

I was relieved to be able to walk out the door of the clinic before the resolution of this conversation. That I was relieved makes me so sad. Sure, I don't have to have these conversations while I'm in school, but I've got a career's worth waiting for me when I graduate. 

And you know what else? My cat may keep getting sick the whole time I'm in school, but she's not even close to the unluckiest pet out there. I may not have a ton of time, or a lot of money, but if she's in a Big Cat Little Cat incident, you can bet she's going straight to emergency. It just hurts my heart to think about that poor land shark maltese suffering at home while her owners wasted time and added more misery to the world. I'm going to school to argue with people who won't let me take care of their dog?


  1. Welcome to our world. We'll buy the first round.

  2. "I'm going to school to argue with people who won't let me take care of their dog?" - Yes. Which is why I'm no longer in clinical practice. But still 6 figures in student loan debt. Get out now, while you still can.

  3. Same reason I refuse to see Homo sapien younglings. The patients are fine. The masters are a pain in the ass.

  4. What Heather said. I'm not in clinical practice anymore, either. It took me ten years to extricate myself but I have no regrets, other than my initial decision to go to veterinary school then practice.

    Veterinary school itself was a lot of fun. The faculty will fill you full of dreams while you're there, because if you knew the truth you wouldn't continue to pay their salaries or fund their pet projects. After you graduate the faculty moves on to a fresh group of dreamers. Whenever you're on clinics, notice the thinly-disguised disdain faculty veterinarians, including the interns and residents, have for referring veterinarians. In a few years you will be a referring veterinarian. Never forget this.

  5. You know, we started VBB as a group that wanted and needed to vent about the shit we see on a daily basis, and a small part of me thought that our group "came together" because the daily shit common ground. Alas, with this blog, we have discovered this truly is a profession-wide thing, not made up by a select few who are burned out or negative, but rather by a profession suffering from the ever increasing stupidity of the American public. I'm not sure if it makes me feel part of a cohesive group or sad for the future of my country.

    1. " I'm not sure if it makes me feel part of a cohesive group or sad for the future of my country."
      They're not mutually exclusive, indeed I think they go hand in hand.
      I never really had ay intentions on getting into this line of work, it honestly just sort of happened (I'm an unlicensed tech of 10 years). I feel supremely lucky to be working in feline-only practice, as it seems to weed out a lot teh dumz that I saw when I worked in a mixed practice. The only cure for what ails our country is education that focuses on critical thinking, the very thing education has been getting away from the past 30 or so years. I weep with you.

    2. I'm relatively young so I can't judge except by my parents' and grandparents' stories of working in public service but, as frustrating as our experiences are, I think they are less the decline of society and more the usual drag of dealing with the public. Some people have always been stupid and careless and in previous generations vets WERE expected to be available 24/7 because many areas had no emergency hospital. When I talk to my mom, the accountant, and my dad, a graphic artist, their experiences have been very similar throughout their careers (people wanting things for free, complaining about a poor outcome when they don't follow the professional's advice, wanting unreasonable amounts of time and effort or expecting the impossible). It's sadly not an uncommon or new thing in my opinion. It's just more frustrating for us because we deal with innocent animals who are suffering or dying and their families who are usually distraught despite the fact that they caused it. It takes an emotional toll unlike most other jobs. I was venting back and forth with my parents last night as we had all had a tough week, but when I got to the part where I spent my lunch break decapitating a rabies suspect after consoling its sobbing owner they said "oh, yeah sometimes we forget how hard your job really is"

    3. Rest assured: it's not just the US. Seen it in the UK and now seeing it in the Netherlands. This kind of stupidity is international.

  6. There is a part of me that is very cynical & then another part that tries to approach things with alacrity. Some days I'm not sure which part is winning.

  7. They sound like card-carrying members of the AAC.

    I'm hopeful that with the increase in required observation hours for veterinary school application that more prospective students will see the segment of animal-owning America that is both crazy and stupid, but on the other hand I'm not hopeful that this exposure will impart the dose of reality it ought.