Thomas

There are certain patients and clients you know you’ll never forget. Some cases that almost haunt you, arising from the subconcious on a whim. Little reminders seem to be hidden in tiny corners and crevaces of every day life. Whether its meeting a person or horse with the same name, diagnosing another patient with the same disease, or even sitting at AAEP lectures with the topic being similar in nature…a horse with a similar disposition, or sometimes just a single word on a billboard. It seems just as time has gone by, there is a reminder somewhere that brings the memories trickling (sometimes flooding) back.

This is the story of Thomas, one of the cases that for many reasons, I will not forget.

I first met Thomas in January for a routine dental and vaccines. His owner, Emma, had been referred to me by the practice that performed his pre-purchase exam only a month prior. His PPE had gone smoothly with no significant abnormalities found during the extensive work-up. The owner wasn’t able to attend this first appointment, but the trainer was present. She lead the handsome young gelding into the washrack. Just watching him walk into the washrack, I could see incoordination and exagerated gate in the hind end. His hind feet were parked oddly out from under his body, with his front feet almost ontop of one another. He stumbled and stepped on himself multiple times in the 5 minutes I spent observing. He had a slight head tilt to the left and the left side of his lower lip drooped. The nature of the appointment instantly changed, with the focus turning to neurological examination instead of a routine dental.

The findings of the neurological exam revealed cranial nerve deficits, especially noteable on the left side. Facial nerve paralysis, the head tild and decreased pupillary reflex times were the most significant CN abnormalities. On dynamic assessment, he had a grade III hindend ataxia and grade II bilateral forelimb ataxia. He had assymetrical muscling of his gluteal muscles, with the right being much more extreme than the left. He had marked weakness during the tail-pull to the right, at one point he almost fell over. Given the cranial nerve deficits and generalized ataxia, we decided to rule out a top differential of EPM. He had neck radiographs taken at the PPE, which after second review, were normal. No traumatic events were in his history.

His EPM titer results came a week later. The titer levels were high, indicating a 95% likelihood that his signs were attributed to EPM. We moved forward with a standard treatment protocol of daily Ponazuril and Vitamin E. In a month, we would return for a recheck neurological exam.

We continued the Ponazuril another month, during which his imrovement plateaued. Emma, opting to give him every fighting chance, elected to try another EPM medication called Protazil. After a month on the protazil, his recheck exam found significant improvement. His neurological signs had improved enough that now a right hind limb lameness became apparent.


5 months later

Now 5 months after diagnosing the EPM, with most of his facial nerve and ataxia signs resolved, we moved forward with his routine care. His vaccines and dental went without complications and he continued to receive his bodywork and acupuncture. I’ve held some skepticism in thepast, but the bodywork and acupuncture had a profound effect on his physical and mental state. He looked brighter, moved easier and the right hindlimb lameness was resolved.

A month later, I received a text that he had relapsed. The same day, I went out to exam him,. He was dull, quiet and his neurologic abnormalities at returned worse than before. After heavy consideration, Emma made the difficult decision to let him go. Unfortunately, for insurance to cover the costly treatments and reimberse for all the money spent, a necropsy at a certified facility had to be performed. I won’t name the insurance company, but I will say that how all the details were handled was grotesque. The insurance company required that Thomas’ necropsy be performed with 8 hours of his euthanasia. Since the only lab near by was 6 hours away, and since Thomas was not safe to transport, it took detailed coordination between all of us to meet the time constraints. In the veterinary field, you develop a way of talking about these things in a tactful, professional manner. I have never had a client involved in the details of this process, and honestly, I had never been involved in planning such intricate, time senstive logistics. The whole process was heartbreaking and gruesome for Emma, a nightmare for anyone whose beloved companion becomes an object, entity or commodity to company policies. I admire her and all of the strength she clearly showed through this painful process.

To meet the time constraints and laboratory hours, we had to euthanize Thomas in the middle of the night. After working that day, I set my alarm for 12am so that I could make it to the barn by 1 am. His transportation (provided by my assistant) would deliver him to the lab between 7 and 8 am. I set the alarm, just in case…but I definitely did not sleep. I had discussed his case with multiple internists, researched novel treatments so extensively that anytime I went onto google, it asked if I wanted to search new research in EPM. Although I was confident in my diagnosis and that the treatments we had done were the present gold standard, there was still that little voice whispering “but maybe…”

We arrived at the barn just before 1am. We placed the catheter, sedated Thomas and lead him out of the barn. Fog had crept in and it was starting to rain. Then, it started to pour. I remember the syringes being slippery, and all of us squinting through the beams of the headlamps as we laid him down under using anesthetics. He went down gently onto his side, deep in a sleep state, before Emma gave the gesture to give the final injection. Within minutes, Thomas was gone.


Answers

It was 2 weeks before the necropsy results came back. The trouble with EPM, is a definitive diagnosis is not always possible even with necropsy and microscopes. The chances of identifying the organism, especially after months of treatment, becomes slim. My fear was that the necropsy would not identify the organism anywhere, and determine the cause of his neurological disease indeterminant. When I read the results, my heart sank. No EPM organisms had been identified on necropsy and histopathology. But down, at the very bottom of the extensive report, a note said that the abnormalities found in the spinal cord were consistent with those seen in EPM.

We had all reached a point where we wanted answered. We wouldn’t get the answers as to why he suddenly relapsed, or why he didn’t respond to treatments like some horses. EPM, the heartbreaking disease that it is, can do anything at any time…making it a challenge and yet another disease warranting further research.

We did not get the answers we wanted, but we did get the answer we needed.

At a horse show a couple weeks ago, I ran into Emma. We small-talked a little, and she hugged me before we parted ways. She expresed sincere gratitude for my efforts. She said one day she might look at bringing another horse into her life, but that she isn’t ready. I returned the hug. Sometimes, at the end of it all, that’s all you can do.


Click here for information on Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM)


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When we cannot save them all, but we can save some

Like many rescues in the area,”Starfish Rescue” used to rotate through all the local vets. Almost as if going through phases. Before I eve stepped foot on the property, I was warned ahead of time. One, their bill is outstanding at over $5,000 owed. Two, overcrowding. Three, don’t be surprised if compliance is low. Four, don’t get sucked in.

My first time arriving at the rescue was in response to a horse that was down and seizing. We never determined the cause, and he never seized again. My second visit, months later, was to recheck a laminitis case that my colleague had seen a couple of weeks prior. The mare had recently had her feet trimmed, and Maureen (owner of the rescue)reported the mare was still having difficulties walking. It was difficult to focus on the laminitis over the glaring neurological deficits. After a full neurological work-up, EPM was at the top of our differential list. With titers returning at >3500 with two subspecies, we felt comfortable with the confirmed diagnosis and began treatment.

Over the next couple months, I attended several more emergencies at the rescue. Sick foals, colicking mares, face wounds, terrible leg wounds, even a sweet gelding hit by a car…cases I will never forget for both good and sorrowful reasons. And trying to make a difference, while balancing financial constraints with high quality diagnostics/treatments means a lot of advanced diagnostics went under the radar. With a limited budget composed of donations, it is a different challenge all of its own trying to negotiate and prioritize which horses to treat and which horses could not be saved…especially when the rescue’s conviction stands behind saving them all.

Early on, my recommendations based on poor prognosis (septic joints, fractured joints) was unheeded. It would take weeks for the rescue to come to the same conclusion, with the euthanasia being performed by the same person who picks up the horses afterwards. A bullet to the skull can be an effective form of euthanasia, but when it goes terribly wrong, it can be one of the most inhumane ways.

6 months in, and I have earned their trust. Early on, I would have to defend every diagnostic, medication, treatment protocol and justify quality of life concern. Now, not only am I greeted with open arms, but their compliance with my instructions and view of my professional opinion, does not waver. It is amazing what time (on and off the clock), patience and a whole lot of energy can do for a relationship, especially a professional veterinary one.

There have been cases that tugged my heartstrings, and cases that I spent night after night attending. We have lost some horses and saved some horses, but with every horse, we have always tried our best. It was some of these strange cases that I further expanded on my skill set, performing joint lavages and regional limb perfusions. With money a constant wall we are up against, I’ve put in many calls to specialists and board certified surgeons/internists. I am thankful for both their time and energy, and the helpful advice that has led me to treating cases in unconventional, yet successful manners.

So, although I didn’t know it when I showed up at Starfish Rescue the first time, it would come to be one of those places with some of the most sincerely compassionate people I have ever met…and something I have wholeheartedly become thankful for this year. And it reminds me of medicine in general, that we cannot save them all, but we can certainly save some.

Case of the Mondays

Like most things in life, do something long enough and often enough, and it gets easier. Drawing blood, placing catheters, passing a nasogastric tube, suturing…do it often, with a goal of doing it well. Then, there comes the added benefit of confidence. And there’s no better way to appreciate a skill, than to have acquired it and then lost it. About halfway through a “typical” day, I was made aware of those skills I take for granted.


BAL Gone [every kind of] Wrong

It started with performing a bronchoalveolar lavage on a gelding with intermittent coughing over the past year which fluctuated with weather, exercise and environment. With non-specific findings on ultrasound, we proceeded in our diagnostic plan to determine the nature of the cough. We elected to retrieve a non sterile sample from the lower airways to evaluate for RAO and IAD. I’ve passed an endoscope countless times, and performed it successfully and easily enough that I consider it at acquired, reliable skill.

By the conclusion of the BAL, I felt like I had rehearsed for a performance demonstrating everything that could not go right. The highlights of this performance included:

  1. BAL tubing hit the ethymoids, causing a profound nosebleed
  2. Projectile, unrelenting spraying of clots across self, assistant, owner, trainer and three innocent onlookers
  3. BAL tube entered the esophagus, rather than the trachea
  4. BAL tube retroflexed and came out the oral cavity
  5. BAL tube severed by teeth when traveling through the oral cavity
  6. BAL tube #1 ruined, retrieved BAL tube #2
  7. BAL tube positioned correctly in trachea, cuff would not inflate
  8. BAL tube #2 leaky cuff confirmed
  9. Continuation of #2 problem (Projectile, unrelenting spraying of clots across self, assistant, owner, trainer and onlookers)
  10. BAL tube in position, cuff inflated, saline injected in…unable to collect any saline
  11. Added more saline through tubing, retrieved <40 ml

I was relieved when the whole thing was done. After all the above complications, at least the sample was collected and submitted. What else could go wrong? Then, I got the lab report stating:

Sample has insufficient cells, inconclusive. Recommend collect second sample for analysis.

This was just the first appointment of the day.


Miscommunications, mistakes, mishaps and misfortune

When not a soul could be found at our second appointment, I called the owner. Turns out, the appointment had been rescheduled to the following week…news of which, didn’t happen to make it to today’s day schedule.
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Our third appointment canceled.

Our fourth and fifth appointments had the wrong addresses (showed up at a neighbor developement and then mistakenly went to the owner’s house instead of the boarding facility).

Collected the wrong blood tubes, forgot to dispense a medication refill, double-charged on an invoice, made at least 12 U-turns…

And the cherry on top? At 6pm, as we’re wrapping up at the last appointment and about to begin our 90 minute drive home through late rush hour traffic…my assistant hesitantly asks,

“Hey, have you been having problems with the gas gauge?”

I hadn’t. No one had. About 4 minutes later, the thing we were dreading came to fruition. We ran out of gas.


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Mindhunters and Midnight Calls

For my first on-call weekend, I was co-pilot to one of the associates and assistants. Around 11:30pm, as we were wrapping up our 4th emergency of the day, we got an ER call for a horse in respiratory distress. The first address we arrived at was in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, obviously the wrong address. We idled in the couldesac while the associate, Dr. Kepper, struggled to get the correct address. It seemed no one on the phone knew the address for the residence, althought they confirmed the horse was in fact at their residence.

After 25 minutes of wrong turns, u-turns, and sleuthing via google maps, we made it to the right road. We drove quickly down the paved road, passing occasional looming, dimly lit mansions. When the driveway ended, we parked in front of a run-down expansive ranch home. None of us got out at first. We just watched the events unfold infront of us. Our arrival sparked some confusion amongst the obviously enebriated residents. Enebriation, not uncommon for late night calls, usually owners who opened a bottle or two of wine before discovering their horse had a laceration or bit of colic. But it didn’t take long observing this group of random strangers, that enbriation was a little too soft a word. Their movements were, for lack of a better word, tweaky. Their speech was incoherient, thoughts scrambled. I wondered how they had managed to call us, let alone find our practice online.

I am going to preface the remainder of the story with this small tidbit: Earlier today, I had binge-watched the second half of Netflix’s season one of Mindhunters.

One man, in his mid 40s, approached us. To access the back pasture, they had to move a truck which blocked the driveway around the back of the house. We did not think much, until a scrawny young man and man in his mid 70s came wandering through the overgrown hedges of the front lawn. From somewhere in these hedges, they produced jumper cables.

Dr. Kepper wasn’t about to wait for these shenanigans. “We’ll just walk. How far is the horse?”

The central area of the house was mostly windows with a large atrium garden. With every light on inside you could see the entire layout of the home. Dark is dark, I’ll admit. But it wasn’t until I got outside that I realized just how dark the night was. No moon, no stars, just darkness above and around. I grabbed the headlamp and Dr. Kepper carried her laptop as a makeshift light source. The guy lead us around the side of the house, wading into darkness and unknown terrain. In the light of my headlamp, I saw he had his shoes on the wrong feet, the last half of the shoelace strands worn off. He wore one dirty sock. I glanced inside the house in time to see a figure of a woman sitting on the floor rocking back and forth anxiously.

Uneven steps led down the side of the house past windows of the daylight basement. One of the windows in the basement had black, metal bars on the inside of the glass. The room was empty, but I could see a jail-style door on the opposite wall. On the other side of the rod-iron door was a normal door. No one else seemed to notice the homemade “cage.”

This was the point at which Mindhunters triggered my rampant imagination. We continued in silence down behind the house, through the middle of a pasture of unknown proportion. The only noise was the sound of us slushing through damp, tall grass. After several minutes, an old barn loomed ahead in the glow of my headlamp. Dr. Kepper marched on, following a couple yards behind the man. The barn had two big doors, but the first thing I noticed were the many, many locks and bolts and chains on the outside. It as not necessary to count the number of bolts, padlocks and chains to know that it was excessive and albeit, alarming.

The man was heading straight for the barn, Dr. Kepper striding behind. The assistant shot me a “this is #$%@ing sketch look.” I mouthed back “I will not go in there.”

Just as we thought he was going to start unlatching, unlocking the doors, he turned and lead us beyond beyond broken fencing into another expansive field. If possible, this field felt even darker than the first. I couldn’t see the house behind us anymore and I kept looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was following us.

This was when I began to wonder if there even was a sick horse here.

I kept checking behind us as I followed Dr. Kepper’s laptop glow. Just as I was going to ask how much further to the horse, a shadowy figure came into view. I feel kind of ashamed to admit it, but it was a wave of relief that washed over me the moment I saw the down horse. Then that relief vanished, and we all launched into emergency care mode.

The mare, down and unresponsive, had labored breathing, no CRT, a heart rate of 80 and weak peripheral pulse. She was matted, sticky with sweat that had cooled, and her muscles were rigid. It was very apparent she had been suffering for some time. Her body was covered in wounds, the ground around her torn up from her thrashing around. After discussing prognosis and options, the owner elected for euthanasia. Although a sad ending, the ability to bring an end to her drawn out suffering was the most compassionate thing we could do. While the owner disappeared into the darkness, we sat with the mare for a few moments before confirming she had passed.

Silently, under the glow of the dying headlamp and Dr. Keppler’s laptop, we navigated our way back to the truck. After loading up, no one said a word until we had some distance.

“I know no one attacked us or threatened us, but I just have the feeling that we narrowly escaped with our lives.” I said, and a some laughter lightened the heavy mood in the truck…right before Dr. Kepper’ phone rang with the next late night emergency.


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Out of the Woods – Creepy Farm Call #1

In the spirit of Halloween, I was thinking back to some of the more creepy farm calls I’ve been on in the two years. I definitely place this one in the top 5, but certainly isn’t the scariest or eeriest story by far. Saving that story for a future post.


Last June, I was sent out on a very remote farm call…almost an hour into the middle of the woods. Our appointments in google calendar were also linked with Google maps, so that navigating to the next call was automatic. I rarely entered in or checked a destination address. I passed through a couple neighboring towns, and then through small “ghost towns” …old wooden buildings with the planking peeling away and paint long gone, old decrepid cars with all the tires flat. If listed, town population signs never sported a number over 300.

Cell service became intermittent, and then non-existent once I turned off the highway onto a paved road. After 15 minutes, the paved road turned to gravel, and after passing a ntional forest sign, I started passing foresty service roads. After 30 minutes, I still hadn’t passed a single house as I wound down through a valley along a wide, fast-paced river.

The appointment was for a feral, lame horse. The horse had already received 2 tubes of dorm gel prior to my arrival. I had tried to find this place before, but after an hour of searching, called it quits. We arranged for one of the owners to meet me today, the spot I quickly approached (a Y in the gravel road with a tree inbetween the forked paths). He waiting there in a weathered mid 80’s ford truck. He had already turned around to servce as the pilot car, and a plume of exhaust fumes serged up from where the exhaust pipe would’ve been.

We didn’t pass a single house, driveway or other sign of residence. Gated and overgrown logging roads intersected the gravel road, which wound deeper and deeper into what I presume, was still national foret land. The gravel road faded to dirt road, and as we came around a sharp corner, his truck suddenly disappeared from sight. I hit my breaks to see his exhaust plum leading my like an obnoxious bread crumb trail. He veered down a dirt path, certainly no road. An assortment of dust-laden vegetation crept far enough over the path to make it invisible. I remember thinking they didn’t have a mailbox, and that I was probably coming up on a squatter compound…but squatters or not, they had a horse that was severely lame.


The truck stopped at a widening of the dirt path, and then pulled away to park amongst an assortment of rusty, scrapped and stripped cars, trucks and vans. Dispersed beyond the cars, amongst heavy tree trunks with low lying branches, were 5 large tents. Picture safari-style hunting tents…aged, mossy, holed and sagging canvas between the frames. Beyond the tents, a small paddock was built with an assortment of scrap metal, poles, logs and other makeshift materials. The guy said nothing and disappeared into a tent. All the tents had ventilation through welded pipes, the canvas material cut to give the steaming pipes a wide bearth.

An older woman was standing with the horse, and motioned for me to come over. I got out the basic tote, head lamp and wandered through the brush to the coral. The horse’s hooves were overgrown to the point of making 6 inch long skis, with the toes almost curling back like elf shoes. With the horse sedated, I could complete my exam and figured the lameness was a result of the unmanaged toe length and laminitis. It was while I was discussing this with the owner that I motion caught my eye. From all directions in the woods, coming around and between massive tree trunks, people slowly emerged. Men and women, ranging from (my guess) early 30s to mid 60s, silently made their way out of the woods. Some of them didn’t seem to notice I was there, others shot furtive glances. One by one they disappeared into various tents. If any of them spoke a word, I certainly didn’t hear it.

My heart was racing at this point, and I felt vulnerable and exposed. The only thing I could think to say was that I was going to grab my phone from the truck (not that it had cell service or would do any good). I got to the cab and grabbed the only real defense weapon I had. It was a can of mace my friend had gotten me after I was attacked by a farm dog a couple months earlir. As I was returning, one of the flaps to the tent was flapped back. Inside, there were large burn-barrel with lids…5 or six with pipping going towards what I assume isthe main pipe coming out the top of the tent. I glanced to make sure the vet bed was closed, ie locked. It was.

As I finished discussing my recommendations, the various tatter-clothed people emerged from the tents one by one. They randomly accumulated around the bed of the vet truck, looking it over curiously. They were 5-10 feet away from the truck, inspecting it and ocassionally me. I confirmed no cell service, and never wanted a distress beacon so badly in my life.

The owner went to retrieve her checkbook while I settled into the truck. Like every time your heart is pounding, pulse bounding, adrenaline serging…minutes in panicked reality feel like hours. This situation, no different. I sat there, on the verge of fleeing but forcing myself to wait. No one said a word amongst the six or seven scraggly, barefoot men that lingered around the truck. Women arrived, check in hand, and and said the guy who brought me here was just turning his truck around to show me the way back.

$%@$ that, I thought. No people or cars were behind me, and all I could manage to say cooly through the cracked window was “I’m good.”

I didn’t know that little ford vet truck could go so fast in reverse, and I’ve certainly never driven in reverse that fast for that long in my life.


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Logistics Behind Ambulatory Work, Part II: Drive Time

I receive quite a few questions from ride alongs, job shadows, students and clients about the ambulatory component of work as a mobile equine vet. I decided to share some of my experiences and insight by answering some of the most common questions I get. In Part I, I discussed some of the logistics behind scheduling, navigating and billing for our practice.

The next series of questions I am frequently asked include:

  • How much time do you spend in the car on average per day?
  • What is the longest you’ve ever driven to one place?
  • What do you do in the car all day?

 

Drive Time

Google Map’s timeline is an invaluable resource for tracking how much time we spending getting from point A to point B, tracking mileage, tracking the time spent at each farm call and overall time spent driving per day. All this data is arranged in a calendar mode, meaning I can pick any day of the month and retrace my route.
The season and whether or not I am on call are large factors in the amount of time I spend in the car. I went back and reviewed my timelines from different months to get an idea of variation between seasons.

Our slow season is November-March, so I chose to review the month of January. For the month of January, drive time was 2-3 hours per day with 2-3 farm calls (1-2 hours were spent at each farm call). My on-call days with emergencies increased the average number of hours to 4, with 1-2 farm calls per day. The average appointment time for these emergencies was 2-3 hours.

From March-June, business starts to amp up. For May, drive time per day averaged 4-5 hours with an average of 4 farm calls a day. On days with emergencies, drive time was 5 hours with 2-3 farm calls per day.

Our peak busy season is from the end of June to the beginning of September. When I reviewed my timeline data for July and August, my jaw dropped. I knew I spent a lot of time on the road…but was still shocked to find that the average amount of time I spent in the truck was 8 hours per day with 4-6 farm calls per day.

And the longest we ever spent driving in one day? 10 hours!! This was for a day with 4 farm calls appointments and 3 emergencies. And the longest drive I’ve made in one direction was 2.5 hours, from the northern part of the Realm to the western part of our Realm with closure of a major highway due to an accident.


Making the Most of It

When not in conversation or on the phone with clients, the first thing I do during the drive between barns is complete my medical records and invoices. This is, by far, the biggest advantage to having my assistant drive. At my previous job, when I did not have an assistant, I would have to do invoicing and notes at the end of the day…often times adding another 2-4 hours to my work day. Not only was this exhausting, but increased my errors on invoices and reduced the quality of my medical records.

Once medical records and invoices are done, other work-related tasks I do are review lab results, go over my follow-up list, and review the appointments for the next day. When that is all said and done, I move on to entertainment. I have a wide variety of music tastes, but spend enough time in the car and all types of music wear on you after awhile.

So, I discovered podcasts…a wide variety of podcasts that range from veterinary education, to psychology, crime, current events, controversial topics, history and so on. Some of my favorites include:

Favorite Podcasts from Pocketcast

Logistics behind Ambulatory Work

Occasionally, we have ride-alongs or people doing job shadows, usually students ranging from high school to vet school. For those considering a career in veterinary medicine or future ambulatory vets, it is an interactive, uncensored day-in-the-life experience. The types of questions I did not really expect to get were regarding commuting and driving. The questions I get asked most often include:

  • How big of an area do you serve? What are the logistics behind scheduling appointments? Who determines the route? How do you know how much to charge for a farm call?
  • How much time do you spend in the car on average per day? What is the longest you’ve ever driven to one place? What do you do in the car all day?
  • Does getting car sick mean you can’t be an ambulatory vet?
  • Does the truck ever break down? Have you ever gotten in an accident with the work truck?

I’ve received these questions often enough that I decided to write a couple posts about this side of the profession from my personal experience.


The Realm

Our service area (which I refer to as the realm) is vast, one of the largest I’ve seen. From where our office is located, we service up to an hour and a half in every direction…meaning our call radius is 1.5 hours, not factoring in traffic. The realm ends up being a large part of the western side of our state. While the majority of our work is North, an emergency an hour South of our office could mean a 2.5 hour drive from one end of our range to the other. Most practices I’ve spent time with service a 40 minute radius around their hub.

As for navigating the realm? I have to give a shout out to navigation apps. All of this would be a lot more difficult without today’s smart phones, GPS etc. I consider myself very fortunate to practice in a time when this technology is easily available. Not afraid to admit that I cannot imagine the farm call experience before Google maps existed. For the vast majority of our navigation, we use Google maps and Waze, which do a great job 95% of the time.


Scheduling

Luckily, our front office staff are all locals with an excellent knowledge of the cities/towns and road system. Equally important is knowledge about traffic. The commute to a particular barn in the morning could be well over an hour, while the same route could take 30 minutes if its around lunch time.

Efficiency requires concise, well-planned routes, the front desk carries the heavy burden of scheduling. And they are phenomenal at avoiding the big scheduling mistakes, which off the time of my head are:

  • Return trips (same barn more than once in a day)
  • Same stops (different doctors to the same barn in a day)
  • To-and-fro (alternating near and far locations like North  South  North  South …vs. starting north and working south throughout the day)
  • Localizing (keeping all farms in a particular direction, vs having calls at complete opposite ends of the service radius)

I have full respect and appreciation for the skills of the front desk staff, because I dabbled in scheduling at my previous job and found it to be a pain-staking, hair-pulling mess.


The Financial Side

Minimizing drive time is essential, as our farm call fees (ranging from $80-140) over times barely cover the overhead and wages one way…not to mention if the next call is equally far at the other end of our range. Often times, the company actually loses money as the basic, rough example below shows:

Farm call 40 miles from office, 1 hour drive time

  • Farm call fee charged to client: $100
  • Gas: $10
  • Vehicle wear and tear, mileage, licensing, insurance: $25
  • Assistant’s time (company cost): $25
  • Doctor’s time (company cost): $60
  • Total cost to company for farm call (one direction): $120

Not a precise or perfect example, but easy to see why scheduling and routes are so important. And after all the effort is made into tactfully planning an efficient day, there comes an emergency call that changes it all…and even if the call is at the other side of the realm, traveling in peak traffic hours, those facts don’t register because the focus shifts to getting there safely and as soon as possible, so that we can do what we joined this profession to do- care for our equine patients and the clients attached to them.

the Unexpected Problem #2 (ER case, part 1)

After seeing a couple of routine appointments, we started receiving back-to-back emergencies. Our emergency calls included a colic, a foot abscess, a case of cellulitis and a minor laceration. Around 9pm, right as we parked the work truck in the garage, my work phone rang. On the other end of the line, was a panick stricken owner who thought her horse had fractured its leg after getting kicked by another horse in turn-out. We regrouped, and made the short 25 minute drive to the ER.


The Presenting Complaint and (Most) Obvious Problem

When we arrived, we spotted the mare in the beam of our headlamps. She stood in the pasture, trembling, painful and unable to bear weight on her hind leg. Aside from a <1 inch long laceration through the skin located in front of her hip, there were no real significant findings on my physical exam. I could not palpate a fragment, fracture or instability in the limb. After ruling out a foot abscess, fracture of the distal phalanx, we confirmed no fracture from the stifle down. Our radiograph equipment in the field is not capable of shooting images of the hips or pelvis, and with no ultrasound, ruling out a pelvic fracture wasn’t going to be an option. Leaving her in the pasture, without water or shelter, was not an acceptable option. After giving pain meds and sedation, we inched our way slowly and steadily to the barn.

Discovering the (Less) Obvious, but Equally Serious Problem

In the barn, I turned my attention to the wound over the hip while I next steps for the painful leg. After clipping around the wound, I was both shocked and disturbed to find out the extent of the wound. What looked like a superficial, small tear in the skin, was actually a dime-sized penetrating wound. With a flashlight, I looked into the wound and probed the extent. Beyond layers of muscle, fascia, fat and connective tissue…I found myself looking through a tiny viewing window right into the mare’s abdomen. I saw the glisten of light off what I presumed to be the right dorsal colon.

Bad Gets Worse

A penetrating wound into the abdomen doesn’t carry a favorable prognosis, especially when managed in the field. The client’s financial constraints meant referral for hospitalization was not an option. Abdominocentesis (belly tap), bloodwork, ultrasound, SAA…also not within the financial realm. Dedicated to trying, and wanting to give the mare a chance, the client asked for the most aggressive approach we could take to treating in the field within set limitations.

Antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, suturing the wound and monitoring comprised the mainstay of our treatment protocol. To be honest, I was expecting these efforts to serve mainly as a comfort and reassurance that we had tried something. I’ve seen horses succumb to far less serious ailments with intensive treatments and hospitalization. We placed an IV catheter so we could start a robust course of antibiotics (kpen and gentamicin) and banamine.

Where it gets interesting

By 1am, we had discussed catheter care, administer meds, given extensive instructions on what to watch for…and when we left, the entire ride back was filled discussions on everyone’s thoughts, ideas, speculations …wondering about the source of the lameness as well as the surprising penetrating hole. The hole was clean through the side of the horse, with defined edges and minimal surrounding trauma…almost like it had been made intentionally, by someone blessed with the art of careful dissection. Without knowing the systemic status of the horse, I could hardly sleep with thoughts of the undiagnosed fracture, the possibility of punctured bowel, the chance that whatever punctured her side could be floating around in the abdomen, the imminent danger of sepsis and endotoxemia…this, combined with group speculation as to what caused the wound.

A stick?

A nail?

Fencing?

Tree branch?

What about a bullet? The client asked, explaining that the family dog had sustained a similar injury a year ago when he had been shot with a small-caliber gun (pellet gun or 22?) by a disgruntled neighbor. With so many unknowns, possible complications and serious risks associated with this emergency case… I was not optimistic about the outcome of our next visit, which I expected would in the very, very near future.

Facing the Repercussions

To really understand this post in context, you’ll need to understand the backstory. If you haven’t already read the predecessor to this entry, I highly recommend it.

In order to make an employee’s last two weeks a “living hell,” Dr. Cray gave the office staff and myself her decree to engage in work-place warfare. My last post left off at a pivotal moment. I accepted the reality of the work-place situation and the brutal truth about my boss’s nature. Then, I did the thing I should have done months ago. I spoke up. I refuse to make someone’s life a living hell. And from that point on, the work-place is becoming my living a hell.


My Redefined Role and Responsibilities

Everything but a Veterinarian

Unable to hire new employees, the office was severely understaffed. Now, instead of seeing appointments in the afternoons, I was assigned to the front desk as a receptionist. This is when I began to struggle, both personally and professionally. And the troubles didn’t stay at work. With only two other employees, Dr. Cray’s started singling me out. She became uncharacteristically kind to the other two office personell, bringing them gifts each morning and asking about their weekend. When she turned to face me, she snap at me to go clean her instrument tray from the ER last night or go count the vaccines in her truck. Everything became a test or barrage of rapid-firing questions (to which some of the questions were about patients I never saw, prescriptions I was never involved in, or billing accounts that were from 5 years ago). She seemed content if I did not know an answer, and became vicious when I did. She took to devaluing me in front of clients and other employees.

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Within a couple weeks, she allowed me to see appointments only 1 day a week. When clients requested appointments with me, she told the office to tell them I wasn’t available…little by little, I watched the only benefit to my job dissipate. Veterinary experience, the only thing worth staying for, was slowly replaced by my new duties which included:

  • Restocking supplies, tracking orders,
  • Create and maintain inventory system
  • Truck inventory, maintenance
  • Manage all social media accounts
  • IT for all office equipment (phones, computer, scanners, fax, internet)
  • Invoicing
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Barn tasks (feeding, stall cleaning, turn-out)
  • Yard upkeep

Veterinarian turned Receptionist turned Detective

All those hours I put in at the front desk paid off. In an attempt to fully analyze the situation, and come up with a plan…I started gathering intel. When the UPS guy saw me up front, he said he wouldn’t bother learning anyone’s name because no one sticks around long enough for it to be worthwhile. Thanks to the UPS guy, I started looking for more information about the previous associates. I remembered she didn’t order me business cards for the first 2 months in case I was going to quit. She said she’d spent too much money on wasted cards. After looking into the business card order history, what I found was startling.

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Over the past 10 years, 9 associates were hired, and of the nine associates not a single one worked for Dr. Cray longer than a month. No surprise there! I also had mixed emotions about what this said about me. Obviously someone with a healthy amount of self respect would not put up with or stay in this type of environment. I don’t like to quit, and I will endure, endure, endure. Although I gave myself credit for getting through the last four months, I also had to change my way of thinking. I’m not here to endure. My goal and aspirations are not to endure life, endure each day. What is the sense in being in the profession I love, if every day I dread and resent going to work? I suffer, my relationships suffer, and it doesn’t do the profession any good.


If someone doesn’t know whats wrong, how can they fix it? I’m a believer in that concept, and I had been silent for too long. If we were going to make this work, we were going to have to make some changes. It was time to sit down and have a chat with Dr. Cray. I worked the meeting into our schedules, and gave her a heads up that there were some items I wanted to discuss with her.

And in 2 days, that’s exactly what we’ll do.

#veterinarian #vet #vetmed #vetlife #equine #horse #equinevet #ambulatory #mobilevet #veterinarypractice #dayinthelife #doctor #profession #equineveterinarian

The Work-Place Honeymoon Stage …is Over

Unlike my usual posts, this one isn’t about a particular case, patient or exclusive veterinary experience. This post falls under the venting category and serves two important purposes.

  1. Venting (everyone needs an outlet)
  2. Documentation of events (just in case)

There have been concerning changes at my work-place over the last couple months, and largely have to do with my boss/practice owner, who I’ll refer to as Dr. Cray. These changes and the current conditions at work are certainly not unique to the veterinary field. Unfortunately, I know situations like these can plague any professional field and work-place. I also know there are far worse working conditions and nightmare bosses out there than what I’ve experienced.

So, if you already know that there is nothing I can say to make it worth your time to read the following gripes, complaints, emotion portrayals and speculations, then I recommend passing on this one. Otherwise, I’m an open venue to opinions, thoughts, shared experiences…please feel free to comment or message me.


When the work-place honeymoon stage is over…

During my interview back in January, Dr. Cray made a great first impression. Out-going, charismatic, enthusiastic, charming and equipped with a great sense of humor. Afterr 20 years working as an ambulatory vet, she still appeared to be very much in love with her job. After the working interview, I remember thinking ‘Wow, I hope someday my clients like me that much.’ The admiration, appreciation and respect that clients had for her was irrefuteable. Some ever professed how much they adored her during the appointments. She was friendly and kind to me, and told me she had been waiting a avery long time to have an associate. She mentioned in passing that the last two associates she hired quit within the first month. Hindsight: Red Flag #1.

Within a month of starting work, I began seeing appointments and we split emergency on call 50/50. She was an endless source of support, encouragement, advice and constantly reassured me that she would never ‘throw me to the wolves.’ The first 6 weeks were the golden weeks, when we could do no wrong, talked endlessly about cases, life, experiences, teamed-up on on a in-patient laceration and fed off of each other’s enthusiasm. Every morning, I was excited to go to work and was oblivious that unbeknownst to me, this Honeymoon Stage would be wrapping up shortly.

During the internship, I was the “ER magnet.” Meaning, if I was on call, everyone could expect at least one emergency. This carried over to my new job once I started taking on-call. My first weekend was jam-packed with ERs, and I had back-to-back overnight ERs. The ERs came in waves, spilling into the weekdays. With at least 3 ER calls a day and a schedule entired booked with apppointments, we had to divide and conquer. At the end of the week, she said “Thank goodness you are here. I would not have been able to it without you.” That is the last kind thing I remember her saying to me.

Around week 8, I started to notice passive aggressive remarks directed at me. I gave them no mind, since you never know what people are going through outside of work. I remained pleasant, out-going and supportive. Then I became acutely aware that while I received microaggression, the rest of her employees faced direct aggression. I remember thinking that her way of dealing with stress, by treating others like pin-cushions, was both unprofessional and unkind. She would usually target one person on any given day, or sometimes for weeks at a time. They received relentless redicule, demeaning comments, interrogation and agregious amounts of blame- for anything and everything. Sometimes people were targeted after making a mistake, sometimes it appeared to be random.

I was not quick to realize that her passive aggressive comments towards me were replaced by the cold shoulder technique. This cold shoulder, silent treatment and general indifference to my presence lasted a couple weeks. This was the calm-before-the-storm stage, and the air was constantly charged with tension. In the office, you could feel and see the tension enter the room with her. As just as it arrived, she took it with her when she left. I noticed employees sigh quietly with relief after she would leave for the day. It was until she left that I realized we were all holding our breaths, and figuratively navigating the egg-shell laden office.

At this point, I still chalked everything up to “she must be going through something, and like everything, this will pass.” Probably because I was trying to create the reality I wanted by altering my perspective. To employees who had been around for awhile, all of this was nothing new. Employees either silently accepted this as the way things are, or they quit. This lead to constantly revolving door of employees. Red Flag #2.


the Revolving Door

I was told employees were rarely fired because Dr. Cray didn’t want to risk them receiving unemployment. Instead, she used her own technique that she referred to as “driving them out.” She insisted the office manager do this as well. Basically, make them so miserable at work that they quit. Make working there unbearable.

During a 10 week period, 5 people were hired, 5 people quit, and 1 person was fired. Sometimes Dr. Cray decided she did not like a new hire (specifics were never given as to why or when she disliked them), and sometimes she just wanted new hires gone for no apparent reason. We knew this was coming when she would “flip the switch” and relentlessly target someone for no apparent reason. Everytime this happened, the new person quit. During my time here, no new hire lasted longer than one month.

Katie, a part time assistant manger, worked another full time job and had a third job, in addition to being a single parent. She worked for Dr. Cray for 10 years, and said this is the way things had always been. For the last 6 months, she had been trying to quit in order to take better care of herself and her daughter (health problems, fatigue and family emergencies). She was met time and time again with one of Dr. Cray’s emotional weapon of choice, guilt and shame. She gave a 2 month heads up that she would be leaving, with the hope that this would provide ample time to hire a replacement. During Katie’s last two months, Dr. Cray refused to acknowledge Katie’s presence…unless it was to scold, demean and guilt trip. She repeatedly pressured Katie to work on projects from home without compensation (yeah, for free!), since Katie was “screwing the business over by quitting.” During her last few days of work, Dr. Cray repeatedly told her “I hope you know, you’re really screwing me over.”

Like all the other new hires, Katie’s replacement gave her 2 weeks notice within a month of being hired. Upon hearing the news, Dr. Cray’s looked as if she’d just accepted a challenge from a rival.

“Oh yeah?” And as if making a call to arms, she said “Let’s make her last two weeks a living hell.”

When I heard her say this, the gravity of the situation finally hit me. After seeing her blatantly wage work-place warfare, and ordering her employees to engage in it, I did something I had not done up until this point.

I looked at her and calmly said “Yeah, I’m not going to do that.”

And ever since the moment I spoke up, things have been getting much much worse.

#veterinarian #vet #vetmed #vetlife #equine #horse #equinevet #ambulatory #mobilevet #veterinarypractice #dayinthelife #doctor #profession #equineveterinarian