“Doctora, You Have an Emergency.” A Year of Waiting for the Phone to Ring.

The voice on the other end of the phone was always calm.  Sometimes too calm.  I often couldn’t tell based on the tone whether she meant that someone had called about a broken toenail, or whether a dog had been run over and now it’s skull was hanging out of it’s scalp.  Honestly it could go either way.

How many times could it happen?  During almost ten years as a veterinarian in Florida I had not spent even 1 minute on call.  I moved to Belize and started a year of being on call 100% of the time.  Only when I left the island was I potentially safe, otherwise all bets were off.  Sometimes I was already at Saga in my time off (bonus, no travel time) but often I was in the shower, on the couch in my pyjamas, scuba diving, running, on my bike, or in the gym.  Sometimes I was asleep in bed. Many times I was eating breakfast at Estels Dine by the Sea on a Sunday morning and once ended up pulling bones out of the business end of a dog then saving a chihuahua from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) back to back while my visiting friends packed my pancakes into a takeout container.

When I look back, I was pretty lucky.  When I got called out on a weekday night it was rare and usually serious.  Most people (and their pets) let me go about my evenings in peace.  It was much more likely to get called in on my days off, between Saturday at noon and Monday evening.  It was also likely to be a dog, as I saw only six cats and one parrot for an after hours emergency.  I looked back at my log to see how the year panned out.  Some of the cases I will never ever forget, others I could barely recall even seeing it on paper.

Types of After Hours Emergency Visits

C-section (the very first emergency, of course!): 1

Dog Bite (never ending): 11

Intussusception (telescoping intestines requiring major surgery): 1 – Hi Mango!

Sick Young Puppy (many reasons): 6

Abdominal Exploratory (oh Ingrid): 1

Injured Parrot (sore leg): 1

Lame/pain (musculoskeletal including spine, legs, etc.): 12

Fractured Limb (some amputated): 3

Post Surgical Complication (don’t act wild after your neuter): 1

Health Certificate for Travel (the best non-emergency emergency): 3

Distemper (not good): 1

Hypoglycemia: 2

Vomiting +/- diarrhea (includes parvovirus): 11

Acutse Allergic Reaction (can you save hives?!): 1

Dead on Arrival (respiratory, very sad): 1

Euthanasia Requested: 4

Urinary Tract Infection: 1

Decreased Appetite (without much other excitement): 2

Hit by Car: 2

Toxin (don’t let your dog eat marijuana, topical medications like creams, plus some unknowns): 4

Bones stuck in the colon/rectum: 1

Gun Shot (drama): 2

Eye Concern (always emergent): 3

Collapse with Fever: 2

Cough: 1

Needed Injections (after hours): 5

Ruined Bandage (I said keep dry): 1

Cat Bite (to the butt of course): 1

Broken Nail: 1

Pyometra (uterus infection – please spay your females): 1

Liver disease (and yellow): 1

As you can see, some were short and easy, some were terribly complicated and took hours.  Most of these types of cases also came up during our regular clinic hours as well.  In the early days the technician attended all the emergencies with me.  As I got more comfortable in the clinic I would try my best to let her stay home, but not only did Ingrid field almost every call, I often needed her help for surgical cases.  There were cases where her teenage daughter ran for towels and opened my suture, and others where I instructed my boyfriend Mick on how to hold off for me to place an IV catheter.  I could never have gotten through all those cases without periodic help.  I remember recently being alone with an owner and her small dog who had been recently attacked by a large dog.  As I started my exam and pain meds she started looking a little faint and I told her, “Ma’am, deep breath, you’re going to have to hold it together because right now it’s just you and me!”

Some concerns were very popular, like dog bites, others thankfully were more rare.  Only four of my emergency cases ended in euthanasia when it was not the original intention of the owner bringing it in (ie. I had to recommend it).  Three died while I tried to save them (1 uterus infection, 1 gunshot, and 1 toxin).  Of course those are the types I never forget.  Some are very satisfying, like sending a momma dog home alive to her nine puppies after a C-section was done to remove her one deceased puppy.  Others are heartbreaking, like staying up all night and having the dog die despite me.

I will say, that when coming in after hours most people are in a more vulnerable position.  They are often panicked at the condition of their dog.  Sometimes the fix was easy and so it felt good to alleviate their fears and send the dog home for what would likely be an easy recovery.  Other times their severe concern was warranted and I knew it would be touch and go.  Some wounds started as a three hour procedure, but then required a month of aftercare to finally resolve.  Either way, clients were always thankful, grateful, and respectful.  Every single person who hauled me out of bed late at night apologized, even though they didn’t have to.  It was appreciated.

Various After Hours Wounds

Foot pad laceration from yard, machete wound sutured, gunshot to abdomen (did not survive), gunshot to head and neck (partially healed), left front leg amputation due to dog bite.

It always feels good to see these pets feeling good with happy owners later on down the road and know that for some of them, we literally saved their lives.

So, to answer the question of how many times could it happen…ninety-one.  I attended ninety-one after hours emergencies.  It was great experience and honestly was much smoother and less scary than I had envisioned before my arrival.  I learned a lot.  I stretched my abilities.

Who needs sleep and free time anyways?


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