Tag Archives: veterinary medicine

The Right Path

27 Jan

I’ve had so many ideas for posts this last month or so. But something weird happens to me if I don’t seize on an idea in a specific amount of time. I sit down and try to write, and it comes out stilted. So I delete it and walk away. I’ve also just been busy. I was excited for this Sunday-Tuesday stretch. Minimal plans. A couple of writing ideas. A blizzard to keep me from going out. Then this happened:

IMG_2350Flag football is not my favorite activity. I think from now on I’ll just stick to soccer and softball. It was extremely painful the first couple of days, now it’s manageable. I can’t handle how messy my handwriting looks, and I’m typing without the use of that finger and pinky. Way to go, Wilson. Way. To. Go.

On a happier note, I spent a couple of days earlier this month in Florida with my family for our annual Christmas in January. We walked barefoot on the beach. We ate an obscene amount of delicious seafood. We even did some water aerobics. But my favorite moment of the vacation came at the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital.

After touring the hospital, looking at X-Rays and case histories, we headed over to a water tank where they had a handful of Cownose Rays. The docent gave us a little lecture about them and about their care and then invited us to feed them. Of course, little kids got to go first. I eyed each little kid jealously until the docent opened it up to big kids. Me!


The kid behind me just had his mind blown by the experience.

The lady placed a piece of shrimp between my fingers and had me lower my hand to await the Ray. It came around to me, stopped and hovered. Then it felt like a little vacuum cleaner popped the shrimp out of my hand. It was surreal and strange. The little creature swam away but rubbed its slimy belly on my outstretched palm before it left. I squealed with delight, made a goofy face. It was amazing, and I loved it. I ended up buying a Ray patterned wallet and some earrings. That little guy stole my heart.

This was the highlight of my vacation. Hanging around and feeding animals. Next month I’m using up the rest of my vacation days to also spend time with animals, albeit much larger ones, but still. My job is to be around animals, yet I can’t seem to get enough.

The other night I was listening to a Buddhist podcast while falling asleep. I only remember two things from it. Other than the awesome joke about slutty parrots, the main thing I took away from it was this quote:

“True happiness is finding beauty in the detours.”

I have so much more that I want out of my life. And I’ve had to face the reality that I don’t know what is actually going to stick. I don’t know if I’ll stay a vet tech. I don’t know if I’ll ever make my bones as a writer. I don’t know how much longer I’ll stay in New York. I don’t know if I’ll ever find my Rhett Butler.

What I do know is what I realized that day at the Sea Turtle Hospital. I love what I do. I’m endlessly interested and fascinated by animals. So I must be doing something right.

I got up at 6:30 this last Saturday so I could go feed some cats before work. Walking from that apartment to work in chilly drizzle, I felt a lightness in my chest. I was practically skipping. My boots gracing the tops of puddles. My two braids dew-covered in the rain. I was inexplicably, supremely happy. I don’t know where I’m going, but this has to be the right path. It has to be. It’s just so beautiful.


Cat Sitting

16 Dec
A couple of rescues from the NYPD.

A couple of rescues from the NYPD.

Last week, Dr. L introduced me to a new cat sitting client. His cat, Midnight, had that day been diagnosed as a diabetic. Him and his wife often go to Long Island for the weekend, and he needed someone to stop by and give Midnight her insulin. I quoted him my rates, and we had made a deal.

“You know,” I told him. “I also do cat feeding and litter box changes if you wanted me to take care of all of it while I stop by.”
“Oh no. There’s a lady in our building who does that and..um… she does that.”
“No problem. I’ll just take care of the insulin then.”

He sent me a nicely detailed email about the times he wanted me to stop by. The cat sitter that lives in the building would feed the cat in the afternoon, and I was to come over in the “early evening” to give her the insulin.

So after work I walked to the apartment, and as I entered, I heard someone rustling in the kitchen. I called out a hello and a slight-of-frame woman came out from the kitchen with a phone cradled between her shoulder and face.

“The technician just got here,” she said into the phone. “Yes, she just walked in. So I’ll help her.” She hung up the phone and turned to me. “I’m the other cat sitter. That was Bruce. He told me you were coming in the early evening, and it’s almost six.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you’d be here.”
“I’ve been waiting for you since 3 when I fed Midnight. I called Bruce to tell him that I could just give the insulin. I know how to do it myself, you know.”
“Oh, okay,” I said making my way to the kitchen to draw up the insulin. I wanted out of that apartment.

“Bruce is such a nervous daddy,” she continued. “I mean, I can give the shots. I know how. I don’t know why he hired you. I’ve done this before. I’ll hold Midnight for you. She doesn’t like strangers.”
“I actually met Midnight at the clinic.”
“She likes me better.”

So I let the woman hold the cat while I gave the quick injection. We both left the apartment together, and she told me to call her tomorrow if I needed help giving the injection in the morning.

The next morning I walk into the building and tell the doorman at the front desk the apartment number that I’m going up to. He picks up the phone and starts calling someone.

“Oh, they’re not there,” I tell him. “They left a key for me to let myself in.”
“That’s not who I’m calling.” I swallow my annoyance as I hear him announce to my cat sitter friend that I have arrived.
“She will meet you at the apartment,” he tells me.

I head upstairs and let myself in. I get out the insulin and start drawing it up as the cat comes out of the bathroom and circles at my feet. A couple of moments later, the cat sitter enters.

“When you said late morning, I didn’t think you meant 11!”
“Here. Let me hold Midnight. I can do this myself you know.”

I smile and nod and give the injection that I was paid to give.

“I’ve given injections to other animals before. I don’t think Bruce will be using you again. I’ll just do it from now on.”
“So I’ll leave my key here for them, so they don’t have to come by the clinic,” I say, placing the key on the living room table.
“Sounds like a good idea,” she says to me. “I mean, I have my own set.”

So, needless to say, I don’t think that client will use me again. I felt a mix of frustration and guilt. I never meant to step on this woman’s territory. I wasn’t trying to steal her client. I had no idea Upper East Side cat sitters could be so territorial.


11 Nov

When people ask me how I deal with the sadness I encounter at work, I remind them that puppies and kittens exist. Death, illness, animal abuse also exist in the world. But then there are also these teeny, tiny blank slates that I get to coddle. However, usually when we see puppies or kittens, they have been adopted by their new families and are around 12-weeks-old. Still adorable, but we rarely see anything younger.

We work closely with an Upper East Side dachshund breeder. Like most other breeders, she delivers the puppies herself. It’s not a difficult thing to do (or so I’m told). But a week ago, we were all put on high alert. One of her dachshunds was pregnant with six puppies, and everyone was nervous that she was going to have a difficult labor or need a caesarian. She ended up coming in on one of my days off, and my co-workers helped her deliver six healthy puppies. A couple of days later, mama wasn’t eating, so the breeder brought her back in to be monitored by us. It’s the most excited I’ve been to come into work in weeks.

Mama and puppies

Mama and puppies

We set up an exam room just for them. Dim lighting, heaters, and cans of high calorie food for the mama. Walking into the room for the first time, the smell was oppressive and horrible. But no one should ever get into veterinary medicine if they are offended by foul odors. As I walked toward the bed where mama and puppies were, mama dachshund lifted her head and gave me a sassy side eye before growling when she caught be looking at her puppies. I’ve never been happier to have a dog growl viciously at me. She was being a good mama.

Pile o' puppies.

Pile o’ puppies.

I spent the next couple of days at work obsessed with our tiny maternity ward. I fed mama. I let her growl at me, often raising my hands in the air to show her that I had no intention of touching her babies. It was hypnotizing. I never thought watching near-inanimate creatures could be as captivating as it was. I would think it had been 5 minutes, when in actuality, I had spent close to an hour watching them. Their tiny paws, itty faces, the squeal they emitted as they got trapped under a pile of one another. The beauty and simplicity of life! It’s mind-boggling to think of all the instinct involved in such a beautiful and necessary process. Mama dachshund was so great with them. I felt so proud of her.

Look at the tiny paws!!

Look at the tiny paws!!

On Saturday, as the appointments of the day ended, and I was getting ready to leave, I went to visit mama and puppies one last time. I walked into the room to find that mama dachschund had moved the puppies into a new pile and was walking around. She ran up to me, her tail wagging. I sat with her on the floor and cleaned her up a little (she had some nastiness on her tail/ladyparts still). I fed her by hand. And for the first time, she let me touch her puppies. Somehow she finally understood we were in this together. I felt so accomplished in that moment.

A bit later one of the veterinarians came in the room to also ogle the tiny puppies. Mama dachshund at this point was curled up on my lap, letting me pet her and tell her what a good job she was doing. She eventually rolled onto her back, and I heard strange noises come from her stomach.

“Oh,” the veterinarian said. “She’s offering to let you nurse.”

I laughed at the absurd nature of this offer and cringed a bit as well. It was a generous moment in what I like to think was some sort of expression of gratitude. Almost like someone offering you tea or coffee upon entering their home. I respectfully declined but thanked her for the offer.

All Creatures

21 Oct

The last couple of months, my roommates and I have developed a problem with mice. There are mice in our building, and in the 3.5 years I’ve lived in my apartment, I’ve seen them two or three times running into my room and upon finding nothing, leave. However, one of my less-than-tidy roommates had bags of oatmeal and trail mix in our kitchen that a small family of mice decided was their own personal buffet. It took weeks of me and my other roommate telling her to clean her shit up and move her perishables before she finally did.

But mice have excellent memories and have decided that they would like to make my kitchen their home. I’m terrified of my kitchen at this point and eat almost all of my meals out. I hate that I’ve seen mice scurrying around. Even more frustrating is both of my roommates continue to throw leftover food out into our small kitchen garbage where these mice have easy access. I’ve made a strict rule of throwing nothing edible out in any garbage in our apartment, but they have not been good about following this. They’ve bought little glue traps and whatnot, but that makes me even more terrified to go in the kitchen, because I’m afraid I’ll find a squirming little carcass.

One evening last week, I was heading out. I was already running a little late when I walk past my kitchen to hear that familiar rustling. Mouse in the garbage. Frustrated, I clap my hands inciting the creature to scurry. I take the garbage bag out with me, but being in a hurry, I don’t replace it. I figure, my roommates can at least take care of that.

About seven hours later, I return home. Tipsy, if I’m being honest. But instead of hearing that rustling, I hear a stranger sound. I peer into my kitchen to see our green garbage bucket with a small shadow bouncing around inside. I creep over and look in to find a mouse, running up the sides of the bucket, trying to escape. Once it notices me, it freezes and hides its head. My little mouse enemy was trapped.

“Ha!” I say into the bucket. I head to my room thinking to myself, “Let the little thing starve.” A couple of minutes later, I start to think deep thoughts about starvation. It’s a horrible way to die! It’s painful and mentally draining and that neon green bucket must be terrifying. Maybe I can throw it out the window or down the garbage shoot? It’s small enough that the impact of landing might not kill it. But what if it breaks something? And then it has to hobble around in pain? Then it’ll probably starve.

“Dammit Wilson!” I tell myself. “You can’t cohabitate with this mouse!” But there’s something in me that can’t contribute to its death, something about even killing a pesky, disease-carrying rodent that would bother me. I work with animals for a living. I contribute to their health and well-being. Something has grown within my soft heart that won’t let me do it. It’s something that has evolved in me in the work I do. It’s easy to love the cute puppies and the sweet kittens. But, they’re not the only ones I’ve pledged myself to. Give me your ugly, your aggressive, your drooling masses. I have to take care of them all, and I feel a responsibility to do just that, as hard as it often is. As weird as it is to worry this much about the well-being of a rodent.

So still in my high heels, I took the neon green garbage pail in my arms, while the mouse jumped around in panic. I descended the five flights of stairs and walked outside my building. I lowered the bucket and watched the mouse scurry into some bushes. I know it’s foolish. I know it’s weak and crazy. But it’s all I could do at that moment. Before I went back inside, I whispered, “Just please don’t come back.”

The Common Sense Factor

13 May

Penelope. The greatest Golden-doodle I have ever encountered. Photo has nothing to do with this post.

I’m proud to have risen in the ranks at the clinic I work at. It took a long time to be trusted and respected as a good technician. I’m at the point where I function as the head technician on the weekends. About a month ago, we had a position open up. My manager (the true head technician) asked me my opinion on the different interviewees he had. I pushed hard for him to hire a young guy with little experience. On his working interview he showed up early, asked all the right questions, and was fearless in dealing with a cranky cat. My manager chose to hire another applicant instead, a veterinarian from another country who had more experience.

My manager and I debated back and forth about it. His decision came down to the fact that she had more experience and had high education credentials. I am not a manager, so there is not much I could do about his decision. All I could tell him was, “I just worry about the common sense factor.”

Common sense is a simple way of putting it. While most of the world thinks my job is snuggling with adorable animals, it takes a lot more than that. My job can be life and death. Making a small mistake could kill an innocent animal or lead to me or my co-workers being bitten or scratched. We don’t have room for someone who can’t think critically for themselves. A month into training my new co-worker, I find myself being cornered by doctors and other technicians complaining about her. I don’t know what else to do about it. I can teach someone to hold. I can teach someone to operate equipment, to draw blood, to run anesthesia, to perform a dental. But I can’t instill common sense.

It’s been frustrating dealing with someone who takes out their phone to text in the middle of a procedure, who still can’t work the microscope, who isn’t sure how to work the telephone. But those are minor complains compared to the possible disasters that could befall someone who doesn’t think things through.

Last week, we sent her to the reception area to get a dog who had come in on appointment. She was to bring it to the back to be looked over by the doctor. She didn’t look at the chart. She didn’t approach the dog slowly to observe its reaction. All she did was see a cute dachshund and grab it with one hand. The dog snapped at her hand which was not holding him securely, and the dog went tumbling to the ground, falling on its back. The dog wasn’t injured, but the client was furious. The new co-worker complained to me that it tried to bite her, that she didn’t know. I asked her how she didn’t notice the giant “Be Careful” written on the chart, and how she thought the dog would like being carried like a teddy bear.

The job of a veterinary technician requires a lot of thought. I don’t care if she’s book smart or went to a fancy university overseas. Give me that kid from the Bronx with only a high school education who knew how to safely and securely handle a stressed-out, hissing cat. The kid who stayed calm and held that scruff, asked the doctor if he should do something else, who watched the animal carefully to make sure the exam proceeded safely. I could have taught him the blood machine, and the EKG machine. But for the life of me, I can’t teach this woman I’m stuck with common sense.

Dr. Google

10 Mar

20140310-172047.jpgThe two simplest things I do are anal gland expression and nail trims. These are walk-in appointments that don’t even involve a veterinarian. It takes about five minutes, and technicians do many a day.

On Saturday, I went to the reception area to grab a dog who had come in for a nail trim. The owner (notorious in our practice for being over the top) hands me an article she found online about the correct way to trim nails. She showed me the diagram and told me this is the way I should be trimming nails. Included was an article about a four-part lecture series on nail trims. I don’t know who has this kind of time on their hands. But I smiled and nodded and took the pet to the back.

I showed the other technicians the article she had given me, and their jaws dropped in shock. Everyone respects a well-informed pet owner. One should feel free to read up on their pets conditions, or any medications and procedures that are involved in their pets care. But let’s all take a deep breath and try to remember that 90% of the content on the Internet is bullshit.

Things this article failed to mention are that the nail quick has nerve endings and is painful to be cut that close. It didn’t mention what to do when the dog has black nails, and it is impossible to see where the blood supply ends. It didn’t capture the experience of a dog screaming and pulling its paw away, because it is so afraid of having its nails trimmed too short and feeling that pain. Those are things that are learned from years of experience, not from some article on the Internet.

We trimmed the nails the way we always do. The dog’s nails didn’t bleed, and we got them as short as possible without doing so. In my opinion, a job well done. I accommodate a lot of silly client requests, but one that will cause their pet pain? Never.

Any techs out there experience any crazy client requests as a result of bad Internet research?

My Earl

5 Feb

20140205-233755.jpgOur clinic works closely with a house-call vet in Manhattan. Since she doesn’t have an office, we take in a lot of her patients that need inpatient care. About two months ago, we took in a rescue dog that one of her clients had told her about. A 3-year-old pug named Earl who had been found in South Carolina, emaciated and covered in fleas. We took him in.

After he was with us a week, he began having violent seizures. Two to three minutes long, full-body convulsions, foam seeping out of his mouth. It all became clear why such a beautiful dog had been thrown to the street. With a combination of medications, we got his condition regulated. But they had left him a little handicapped, mentally. He just wasn’t smart. He’d sit in his cage, kind of staring off into space. He’d chase his tail for a long time, getting to the point where he’d grab it with his mouth and stand still, unsure what to do next.

Over the last couple of weeks, we let him out of his cage more and more, to the point where we set up a little bed for him in the treatment area, and we kept him out with us all day. Every once in a while, he’d have a day with clusters of seizures, but for the most part, he seemed fine.

This last weekend, it was a little bit slower, and we all spent so much time playing with him in the slightly warmer weather, cuddling with him indoors. He had one of the best Pug temperaments. Docile and loving, content to just be held. I fell head over heels in love with him. Even though I don’t live in a situation where I could have a dog, I fantasized about adopting him, taking him home, making him my own. At the end of my shift on Saturday, I held him in my lap, petting him, and I whispered to him, “You’re such a good boy. I promise we’re going to find you a good home.”

Then yesterday, on my day off, I get the staccato texts from Dr. L. Earl isn’t doing well. He’s having so many seizures. His temperature is 108. He looks bad. And finally, the one I was dreading, they had euthanized him. I sat alone in my apartment and wept for a dog that was never mine, but who I loved as much as if he were.

Today was a difficult day. It was busy, but in our down time, we’d look to Earl’s empty corner and talk about how much we all missed him. We do this to ourselves over and over again. We let ourselves get attached to them. I don’t understand how we keep doing it.

It’s easy to build up a wall against this sort of pain, to distance oneself from the possibility of getting attached, to falling in love. But then there are special souls out there who know how to find their way in to a blocked off heart. Earl was one of those.



20 Oct

Our clinic has a client that I’ll call Mr. F. He’s a kind man who prefers to adopt Jack Russel Terriers (JRT). He became our client during a time when he owned two great dogs. The kind of JRT of myth. JRT’s tend to be hyper, aggressive, not the ideal breed. But under Mr. F’s loving care, his JRT’s were loyal, happy, and loving. After one of his JRTs passed away, he went to a shelter and adopted a new one. He named him Roger.

He has owned the dog for a year, but I hadn’t dealt with Roger until Wednesday when Mr. F brought him in for a dental and wart removal. The dog was strange. That’s the only way to describe it. A large “B.C.” was emblazoned on the record. It stands for “Be Careful” and is our clinic’s tactful way of saying the dog or cat is aggressive and for lack of a better term, bad. But Roger wasn’t your typical snarler or swipe biter or growling pet. He wouldn’t bite when placing a catheter or during restraint. The dog would stand there and turn to bite without rhyme or reason. He would do it in a slow, nonlogical way. The more I worked with the dog, the more it seemed less aggressive, more neurologically compromised. It reminded me of autism.

I’ve read a couple of books on autism and what fascinates me about the condition is how we don’t understand it. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the spectrum and figure out how the autistic brain works. Of course, if it is present in animals, we would understand it even less as the animal brain is even harder to interpret.

Last Spring, I spent some time volunteering with autistic children during horseback riding lessons. The variety of the conditions and their reactions to different occurrences and stimuli was fascinating. Something about the look some of them would get in their eyes made me so curious as to what they could be thinking and feeling. Roger would get a similar look. Staring at a corner of his cage or looking right at me without reaction. At home, he is difficult. He will bite people randomly, cries as soon as he goes outside and is fearful of certain toys and people. When I mentioned to Dr. L that the behavior reminded me of autism, she began to agree. But how are we to know for sure?

When Mr. F came to pick up Roger at the end of the day, I witnessed one of the most heart-wrenching acts of love. The dog meandered up to the front waiting room, looked at his owner and had no reaction. I have never seen that before. Not a tail wag, not a faster pace to the owner, nothing. Mr. F crouched on the floor, his arms directed toward the dog. “Roger, it’s daddy. C’mon, Roger, didn’t you miss me?” But the dog just stared at the walls. I felt his frustration, and I admired the love and attention this man could put into a dog that simply doesn’t respond, doesn’t return affection. It was fascinating.

Any vet techs out there seen anything similar?

The Master of the PU

23 Sep

When I was a wee receptionist, I had to be taught what constituted an emergency and what didn’t. For instance, if a client calls and says their pet is having a seizure, and it’s an emergency. It IS an emergency. If a client calls and says their pet sneezed once this morning, that is NOT an emergency.

One of the weird things that is an emergency is a male cat straining in the litter box. Neutered male cats have narrow urethras, and if they get stones or blockages, it can lead to serious complications, even death, due to a ruptured bladder. The condition is painful and can be recurring.

There is a solution. Though it is not a pretty one. It’s a surgery called a Perineal Urethrostomy (in most clinics it’s called a PU). Or in simpler terms, amputating the penis. I happen to work with the leading PU surgeon in the world, Dr. G.

Dr. G estimates he has done over 3000 of these procedures in his life. At one time, he was flown to France to perform the surgery, while it was filmed and broadcast to veterinarians around Europe. Another way in which this man is a total badass. Last Friday I got to help him with one of these procedures on a chronically blocked cat named Cuddles. He came in on his day off to do it as Dr. S was too afraid to perform the surgery himself. I was excited to see the master at work. Although (like a good technician), I spent the majority of the procedure monitoring the patient’s vitals, adjusting anesthesia, and handing Dr. G different surgical instruments, I did get to see a lot of what happened. His hands were quick and nimble and before I knew it, the penis was removed.

Everyone left the surgery suite, except Dr. G and I. He sutured open the new urethral opening and let out a sigh.

“You know, Chris, I’ve done so many of these surgeries.”
“I know! You’re the master.”
“I’ve done it so many times that I have visions, and I have them a lot.”
“About the surgery?”
“Well, I have these visions that in my next life, a cat performs this surgery on me.”

That’s the hardest I’ve ever laughed at work.


15 Jul
My girl sleeping. I didn't want to open the cage and wake her.

My girl sleeping. I didn’t want to open the cage and wake her.

Shalimar started coming to us last winter. She’s a pom-mix, less yappy lap dog, more fox. She’s also a rescue from Arizona that around the office, became known as the foot dog. No one knows exactly what happened to her. The shelter that took her in found her wandering the desert streets, her paw pads scalded by the heat. But the radiographs we took show significant bone loss, and some have theorized that someone tried to declaw her by ripping out her nails. Either way her paws were severely infected with oozing drainage tracts on the tops and the bottoms of her feet.

Radiographs of her back paws, with distal bones missing.

Radiographs of her back paws, with distal bones missing.

The one blessing in this mess was that she seemed to have nerve damage to the point where she couldn’t feel her paws. She also happened to be the most stoic dog I’ve ever met. NEVER tried to bite, would only quietly cry in pain. Since her feet hurt, she liked to be held like a baby, feet up. Most dogs are hesitant to look you in the eyes, but she would focus her big brown eyes on yours. I adored her.

We treated the paws the best we could, but the infection was aggressive and not responding to antibiotics. They’d get better, then they’d get worse. Her owner was particularly patient and loving toward Shalimar, never complaining to us about our inability to fix the problem. That only makes the situation harder for us as good clients are hard to come by.

She deteriorated at a faster rate the last couple of weeks and Dr. L decided to admit her for heavy rounds of antibiotics and intensive nursing care. I took on a lot of her treatments and would hold her whenever I had some free time (which was not often this week.) Doing foot soaks can be a pain as animals flop around, splash water, want to escape. But with Shalimar I would hold her in my lap while her sad paws sat in the Epsom solution. She loved it and would often fall asleep as I held her paws in place. With gloves I would massage her feet in an attempt to reduce the swelling. One of the most disturbing things I’ve experienced as the paws would crackle like bubble wrap in my hands.

A part of me wanted to title this post “Delusion.” Too often I see owners who keep their pets alive too long. They selfishly refuse to accept that their pet is suffering and only getting worse. It makes me angry. But over the last week I realized how natural that feeling of hope can be and how hard it is to let go of something you love. I held Shalimar so many times and felt her labored abdominal breathing (a sign of pain). I watched her struggle to walk, refuse to eat. But because I loved this dog so much, I refused to see it. It wasn’t until Saturday night when Dr. L upped her pain meds that I realized she would have to be euthanized, and soon. She was conked out from the morphine and finally feeling a little peace. It was so hard to be pulled from that delusion and see what was really in front of me, an animal in a lot of pain. I started to cry and ran into the bathroom to try and contain myself.

I can’t say enough about how wonderful the owner was, how much she loved this dog and how reasonable she was. They euthanized my girl last night. I’m so sad about her being gone, but in that sadness I have to search for a little bit of happiness that we did the right thing.