5 lessons I learned from my pet's emergency
The discharge day arrives and you take the owners into an exam room for the doctor to review surgery and care and for you to highlight discharge instructions. The owners ask the same questions again. You're so frustrated, you have to leave the exam room. You say to one of your co-workers, "They haven't listened to anything we told them. They just asked the doctor the very same questions they asked me. The same ones they asked him on the day of surgery."
The clients ask the same questions again in several follow-up calls post-operatively. You begin to ask yourself, "Am I communicating clearly enough? Maybe somebody else should speak to them."I've been through the same frustrations. But I recently had an "aha" moment born out of my own pet's emergency surgery.
Jack, my shadow
Jack is a 5-year-old—and up till recently—97-pound lean chow hound of an Airedale terrier. He's my shadow, greeting me every morning before my feet hit the floor. One a particular Thursday a while back, I got ready without my shadow. Odd. I had to call him down to the kitchen for breakfast. When he arrived, he moved gingerly into the kitchen, head and tail down. He looked at his food and moved on by. I turned to my husband and said, "He's coming to work with me."
I work at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C., as a veterinary assistant and staff training coordinator. I've worked there for five years and pride myself on the knowledge I've gleaned working under exceptional doctors.
I took Jack in for some blood work and radiographs recommended by Dr. Jennifer Bailey. There was nothing untoward about either, so I took him home. He continued to have no appetite and vomited up water. So the following day—my day off—was spent doing a barium contrast study. He just lay there, and the questions began. They were questions I knew the answers to, yet I still asked them: "How long will we wait before we proceed to the next step? Will he end up in surgery?" Dr. Bailey and Dr. Eliza Roland were patient, answering my questions repeatedly.
Saturday morning—another day off—I was back at work for one more radiograph. The consulting doctors recommended exploratory surgery. I helped prep, sedate, and set up my beautiful, weak buddy in surgery. One of my co-workers, Angie, volunteered to be the surgical assistant for the procedure, and I felt incredibly grateful. Dr. Ernie Ward began the surgery at 9:07 a.m. and quite rapidly discovered and removed the obstructing wad of cotton. He began to inspect Jack's intestines, and he called me into the surgical suite. In a somber voice, he said, "Julie, I will need to take out about 3 feet of his intestines."
"50/50," he replied.
I told him to go ahead. He inspected the intestines further and determined that it was not in fact 3 feet that needed to be removed. It was much more. He called me back in again to break the news, to show me why he needed to remove more and to get the go-ahead.
He began to remove the intestines, and my mind swam with questions and fears. I called my husband to relay the information about our furry son. He asked a question I couldn't answer: "Is he going to make it?"
Three hours later, Dr. Ward finished the final suture on his beautiful—albeit huge—incision site. Jack was in recovery, and I measured out the almost 10 feet of resected intestine.
The initial recovery went well. When when his daddy arrived, Jack opened his eyes and ate a therapeutic diet slurry—a diet mixed with water to make it drinkable. He even lifted his head. It was the first thing he'd eaten in three days. Our boy was back. He was walking around less than an hour later, went outside and had a soft bowel movement, and got busy healing. We were elated.