by John Andersen, DVM
We often hear from younger and older children who come along to their pet’s vet visit that they want to be a vet when they grow up. I have to admit that hearing this always gives me mixed emotions. On one hand, I really love my job and relish its positive aspects: caring for sick animals, helping people, and contributing to a community. On the other hand, it is an incredibly challenging job both emotionally and physically and not at all what most people would imagine it to be.
When I was a child, I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian and imagined a job of caring for sweet little puppies and kittens all day with grateful owners who would appreciate my help. And while I do have those sweet, easy moments, that would certainly not describe the majority of my job.
Let’s take you through a typical day. I am going to literally summarize one recent day:
8:30 a.m.: Arrive at the office with a hit-by-car dog waiting for me. The dog’s rear leg is broken and dangling. Meanwhile, our nurses are stressed out because all the dogs in the back are barking and one of the big ones just had diarrhea all over his run. The smell is horrible! Also, my scheduled 8:30 appointment is here, Mrs. Jones, who is always impatient. I do my best to triage the leg fracture, getting it some pain meds and bandaging it until we can take care of it later in the day. I finally get into Mrs. Jones’ room. She is clearly not happy about waiting, but I don’t bother trying to explain myself. Her dog is a little terrier that absolutely has to be muzzled in order to be examined. I look like a fool for a few minutes as I try to slip the muzzle on while he lunges at me. Ideally I’d have someone helping me, but they are doping up the HBC dog and/or cleaning up diarrhea, so I count my blessings and try to have a good time.
9 a.m.: Bladder infection. Since my staff is still tied up in the back, I’m following a dog outside with a plastic bowl waiting to collect a urine sample. After minutes of indecisiveness, she squats and I lunge. It’s a partial success. I got the urine sample, but I also got urine all over my bare hand. That’s what soap and water are for.
10 a.m.: two kittens adopted from the SPCA. Both kittens are sick and riddled with viral infections, ear mites, fleas, and diarrhea. The owner has no money for any treatment. Really??!! Why in the world did you just get two cats then!!?? I dip into the eternally depleted good Sam fund and try to get the kittens back on their feet and I bite my tongue.
11 a.m.: 14-year-old dog with everything wrong with it. Ear infections, arthritis, fleas, horrible teeth. Owners are really not interested in talking to me, the only reason they’re here is because animal control made them come get a rabies vaccine. I try to discuss some of the dog’s problems, but my words are falling on deaf and rude ears. The poor dog is going to go back home and live outside and there’s nothing I can do about it. I sneak it about five biscuits in the room.
11:30: Here it is, my sweet, easy moment! Eight-week-old Lab puppy! Awesome owners! Dog is healthy and we have a great time together talking about puppy stuff and the great future this pup will have. The clients are great people. We have a lot in common and I look forward to seeing them for a booster visit in a few weeks.
12 p.m.: Euthanasia. One of my cases from yesterday has not responded at all to treatment and is worse. It’s a 12-year-old dog with a plethora of problems and the time surely has come. The husband is crying and has to leave the room. The wife stays and we end the dog’s suffering in a calm and peaceful way. She is crying as she recounts some of the sweet moments in the dog’s life. It’s obvious what a big part of their lives this dog was and I am truly sad with them that that time is now over. But its clear to me this was a spoiled and lucky dog.
12-1 p.m.: Once upon a time I dreamed of having a lunch break where I could relax and run errands or even exercise. Now I see how fast I can shove my lunch down my mouth as I catch up on a million charts and phone calls. Not relaxing.
1 p.m.: Great client for a wellness visit. But the dog has anal gland problems. In what I can say is definitely the least favorite part of my job, I have to do a rectal exam and empty out the dog’s anal glands – essentially some secretory glands full of horrible smelling fluid. This is more unpleasant for me than it is for the dog.
1:30 p.m.: Cat fight abscess. Sick cat with a wound on its back and a fever. When we press around the wound, a volcano of pus erupts. This is gross, but still not as gross as the anal gland cases.
2 p.m.: I’m somehow crammed into our smallest exam room with two large, panting dogs, the owners and their two kids. It feels like it’s 100 degrees in here and the dogs both have a lot of issues that take a lot of discussion. The kids are sweet but very impatient, and mom and I are trying to talk over their yelling and complaining. By the time I leave the room, I’m sweating, covered in drool and dog hair, and trying to remember the million and one problems these dogs are having.
3 p.m.: Another sweet moment. A new kitten, great owner. The kitten is perfect and the client is glowing with pride.
4 p.m.: Great owner, terrible dog. Here for some skin wounds and vaccines. The dog (weighing 70 pounds) literally lunges at me in the room; fortunately the owner has it on a leash. I politely ask them to put the muzzle on and we have to take it to the back. By the time we’re done with clipping the wounds, taking some blood, giving vaccines, and trimming his nails, he has peed and pooped all over the place, ripped one of our tech’s scrub shirts, and scratched up my arm. On the one hand I feel bad for the dog because he’s really just terrified. On the other, I’d rather be waiting tables at this point.
5 p.m.: Recheck of an ACL repair (knee surgery) I did a few months ago. The dog is doing great and this may be my prideful moment of the day. Orthopedic surgery has a very steep learning curve and when things go well, you know it is from years of investment in time and effort. Orthopedic surgery is also typically brutal. There are times after drilling through bones or dissecting through joints that you just have to pray things heal like they’re supposed to.
6:30 p.m.: Finally going home, and enjoying my 20-minute, wind-down drive back to sweet Crozet! It’s been a dirty day with some challenging moments, but I feel fortunate to have a job and at least I’m not bored!