When it comes to veterinary 'emergencies,' severity is in the eye of the beholder

A client's level of panic isn't necessarily equal with the level of trauma–big or small.
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Jun 01, 2014


ILLUSTRATION BY RYAN OSTRANDER
I never try to avoid my clients. When one of them has a special problem, something that isn't really serious, but requires a little more effort on my part than giving a distemper shot or trimming toenails, I try to be available, helpful, and understanding. However, there is an old song that implies "with a little bit of luck" when they come around, I won't be in the office. Unfortunately, luck was not with me last week when Mrs. Hysteric arrived at our front door. She was frantic as she came in shouting for assistance.

"Could someone help us please? We have an emergency." The tone of her voice matched the level of anxiety and panic that could easily be read on her face. She was followed through the door by three squealing children who blurted out, "Yuck, It's awful, I can't look." "It's horrible." and "Mommy, do they have a Coke machine here?"

Within moments, Mr. Hysteric hobbled in. His body leaned heavily to the left as he tried to compensate for the weight of the large cat carrier, which his right side could barely support. The grimace on his face and the way his head turned away from the carrier gave the impression that he was unnerved by the thought of what had happened to their cat.

Mrs. Hysteric was still screaming. "It's our cat, Misfire. There's been an accident. Can someone help us quickly?"

From my office, I could have laid low and let my staff handle the preliminaries while I merely observed. Instead, I foolishly walked into the chaotic waiting room and confronted the problem head on. The entire family was frantic to the point of being incoherent over the condition of their cat. Each was babbling non-specific phrases concerning the horror of the situation. However, when I asked them what had happened they became a unified group and were able to answer, with one horrified voice: "He doodied in his carrier!"

Yes, that was the big emergency. While on his way to my office for a rabies shot, Misfire had launched a missile in his carrier. Since there was an abundance of olfactory evidence, I saw no need to pursue visual confirmation of the unauthorized launch.

Within a few minutes, my staff had instituted "Operation clean-up." Moments later, except for a little smudge on the fur here and there, Misfire was presentable again. At least, we thought he was. Apparently, Mrs. Hysteric did not agree, because that's when the doody hit the fan.

"I hope you people don't think that I'm taking home a cat with poo-poo smell in my new car. Don't you know how to handle an emergency? You can bathe him right now or you'll never see me again!"

It's only been a week, but so far she has been true to her word.

The incident illustrates an important point about emergencies. There is often no correlation between the severity of a pet's medical condition, and the concern shown by its owner. Or, as we say in my office "Magnitude is not proportional to attitude."

For example, you and I might see nothing to panic about when a dog has a little diarrhea for a day or two. However, it could be a dire emergency to a client with new rugs. In fact, it can be life threatening for the pooch involved. On the other hand, we veterinarians might want to rush to operate on a gastric torsion when the client sees no reason not to finish dinner and watch Wheel of Fortune before coming in.

The bottom line is that our clients will do whatever they want to do. We will advise them as to what we want them to do. And cats like Misfire will do what they need to do, which is doo-doo.

Dr. Michael Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.