Midnight Caller

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It’s 1.55 am and you’re about to enter your 96th working hour this week as the night vet in a busy emergency clinic. In another seven hours you get to go home and see your own pets and your own bed. You’re hoping your partner will remember your name since they see so little of you. But first you have to remove a bleeding spleen from a German Shepherd Dog, x-ray a cat’s broken pelvis and do a full blood count on an unstable diabetic. Plus, the other nine in-patients need medications, observations, dressing changes, drips flushing and adjusting, feeding, walking and cleaning out. Clinical notes have to be written, owners updated, and paperwork finished.

The telephone rings. It’s not economically viable to have an all-night receptionist, and the nurse is busy preparing the shepherd for surgery, so you pick up the phone yourself…

Vet: Emergency vet here, can I help you?

Caller: What it is… I’m really worried about my puppy Gucci, he’s been throwing up for 3 days and now he’s collapsed and there’s blood pouring from his back end.. I don’t think he’ll make it til morning!

Vet: [suppressing the urge to ask why they’ve left it this long] That doesn’t sound too good, we should have a look at him straight away. How old is Gucci and what breed is he?

Caller: He’s 10 weeks old I think, he’s a Lhasajuggapoodoggle.

Vet: [bewildered by the latest designer dog name] And has he had his vaccinations?

Caller: They said he had, yeah.

Vet: [sighing internally because you know what’s coming] Were you given a vaccination certificate when you bought him?

Caller: No but they said he’d had everything he’d need..

Vet: I’m concerned he may not be vaccinated if the breeder didn’t provide documents. Do you know if Gucci’s mum was vaccinated? Did she seem healthy?

Caller: I dunno, I met them at the motorway services..

Vet: [repeating for the benefit of the nurse within earshot] The motorway services…?!

You glance up at the nurse in quiet despair. She smiles grimly and points to the digital display on the multi-parameter monitor, drawing your attention to the fact that the shepherd’s blood pressure is falling despite blood replacement products. You need to end the call soon and go to theatre.

Vet: Ok, well make your way down to the clinic in Blogsville: the postcode for your sat nav is BLO6 1ME. Before you travel I’m obliged to let you know that the emergency consult fee is £133.80. We can give you an estimate for Gucci’s treatment when we’ve examined him.

Caller: [incredulous] How much? I don’t have that kind of money!

Vet: [wondering how much a Lhasajuggapoodoggle costs] Do you have any pet insurance for Gucci?

Caller: No. I might get some money next month though.

Vet: Unfortunately we are not allowed to offer credit, you are of course free to obtain it from the usual sources, just as you would for any other unexpected bill.

Caller: I can’t do that, are you telling me I have to just let him die..?

Vet: Not at all. We would never refuse to see a suffering animal. But unfortunately, unlike human health care, animal health care is not free at the point of treatment. If you can’t afford treatment, we can offer emergency first aid to safeguard welfare [1].

Caller: What does that mean?

Your ongoing tension headache tightens its vicious grip as you contemplate the options. You know this puppy probably has parvo virus, almost 100% preventable [2]. If so, the cost of treatment will be very high, as these puppies are high dependency for a long period. They are miserably sick, and some of them will still die, upsetting everyone involved. You also know that no amount of ’emergency first-aid’ will do.

Vet: [still aware of the need to get on with the spleen surgery] We wouldn’t know what that would mean until we had looked at him. I’m concerned that he may have a dangerous virus, and if so he may need a long stay in hospital. You may be eligible for charity help, but if not the treatment may be expensive. If you cannot afford it, you may be able to sign Gucci over into the care of a charity, but when he recovers he would be re-homed. Also, as a last resort, we sometimes have to consider euthanasia in these cases.

Caller:[angry] What? That’s disgusting! You’re telling me you won’t treat my animal because I can’t pay, and [shouting] you’re supposed to love animals! I’m going to write to the papers…

Pressing the ‘speaker’ button, you lay your forehead down to rest on the cool white work surface, and, as the caller shouts into the void, you allow yourself to drift off, just for a moment, to another place..

You see, caller, it hurts me when you say I don’t love animals. I was a straight A student in school; I could have done other things, but I wanted to do this because I love animals. I could have done medicine, dentistry or law, and had twice the salary for half the suicide rate. But I love animals. Please don’t misunderstand me, caller- I love my job and I don’t regret doing it. It’s an outstanding privilege to be trusted with the life-or-death care of much loved four-legged family members. And I can tell you love your puppy too. But caller, love isn’t just sentiment, it’s also responsibility and duty. I know you’re frightened and angry, and you’ve got yourself in a situation you can’t handle, but I am not responsible for it. You don’t just have a moral duty, you have a legal one- under the terms of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 you are obliged to make provision for all aspects of your animal’s care [3]. I have an even longer list of obligations- so many I sometimes lie awake and worry about them. But paying for your pet’s medical treatment when you can’t or won’t is not one of them. This job costs me enough already.

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1. Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (2016) Code of Professional Conduct, [online] Available online: http://www.rcvs.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/code-of-professional-conduct-for-veterinary-surgeons/pdf/ [Accessed 24/11/16]

2.Veterinary Medicines Directorate (2016) VMD position paper on authorised vaccination schedules for dogs, [online] Available online: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/485325/Vaccines_VMDPositionPapaer.pdf [Accessed 24/11/16]

3.Veterinary Record (2013) CAWC looks at ways of raising awareness of pet animals’ needs, [online] Available online: http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/172/21/544.extract. [Accessed 24/11/16].

5 thoughts on “Midnight Caller

  1. I am so sorry that Vets. should have to go through this! When we take on the duty of caring for a loved animal that is yours. You can’t put the problems of your animal on the caring Vet. And not even know if your animal has all of it’s shots or not. Come on people, if you want an animal you are the one that should know all about it. And if you don’t see about it’s needs. That means to pay for anything that may come along or happen to the animal when it becomes yours! These people would gringe if they knew how many animals were just let out somewhere because they couldn’t take care of their animal. That should be a crime to me. Here is a animal that has given all of it’s love to the person that has him. Unconditional love too I might say! So let’s help the Vet’s and their love of animals any way we can! I also have a Pug dog that I am responable for and I know that she loves me with every breath she takes and I do to for her. I know what ever happens I will see that she will be taken care of no matter what. I won’t raise hell with a Vet that she should pay for or give free care for my animal. I would thank that Vet for what ever she could do if it means giving up my animal so she can live. That’s what I will do! Thanks to my Vet.b

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  2. I’ve worked in a vets for many years assisting nurses and vets alike (I work as a receptionist). Sadly, we get too many of these calls where somebody takes on an animal without realising the full responsibility of the care they will need to provide. I don’t mean to be misunderstood as I have pets myself and completely understand what it is like to fall in love with an animal at first sight! It’s just sad that some people forget to remember that loving an animal also means taking care of expensive vet bills etc to ensure your pet has everything it needs (after all, if we as the owners are unable to provide the proper care, how is that fair on our beloved pets?). A massive thank you to all of the hard working Vets / Vet Nurses and the rest of the animal care teams for taking such great care of our animals!

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  3. This was an exemplary presentation of a situation with which all vets, sooner or later, and certainly many times in a career, have to face. Unfortunately, no matter how eruditely we complain about such owner attitudes we remain utterly powerless to do anything about it. We need firm legislation requiring thorough vetting of potential pet owners to establish that they totally understand the responsibilities involved and understand that they WILL face effective prosecution if they wilfully ignore those responsibilities. That, of course, will never happen. We don’t even have a sensibly rigorous driving test commensurate with modern technology, speeds and diminishing common sense and responsibility in the population as a whole. So what chance do poor overworked vets have – or the pets for that matter?
    Mind you – one change this particular veterinarian could make is to refuse point blank to work a 96 hour week !!!

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