January 14, 2016
Emergency work is not as much fun as it’s cracked up to be. I imagine it’s easier when that’s ALL you do, and staying up all night takes on a kind of rhythm, you adjust to sleeping during part of the day. I am one of those unfortunates who do not do well after 24 hours of being on my feet and some adjustments have had to be made in my career because of it.
They should have recognized this back in vet school. One particularly hellish week I was assigned to the Small Animal Intensive Care rotation. I am certain they used this to weed out the weak : I was assigned evenings, over-nights, and mixed them back and forth. I had one day. In addition, we were all to present for Rounds at 11 AM, or else. By the end of the week I was so groggy from lack of proper sleep that I had to stand, then sit, then jump up again during rounds just to keep awake. My remaining memories from this time were of a dog that presented for near-fatal bleeding ulcers of the stomach, caused not by the 5 pound box of Valentine’s candy he ingested (chocolate can be very toxic to dogs) but by the helpful owner who heard you can give them hydrogen peroxide to make them throw up and instead of a tablespoon (which would have been the recommended amount for a 90 pound dog by her veterinarian) she managed to throw a good pint down his throat. The dog lived, but it was nip and tuck for a while. There was a parrot caught in a typewriter. (We ended up dismantling the typewriter. The bird suffered a small laceration on one toe, which healed beautifully). And there was a female client who was so impressed with her station in life that she addressed her husband as “Dr” and we all wondered if she wasn’t allowed to use his first name. I’ve met more of that type since and now understand that they just need to get over themselves. But these days in school only served to underscore what I already knew – some of us just can’t pull all-nighters.
And of course my first job (yes, here in Merced) involved rotation through emergency work. To be more precise, an emergency medical call can occur at any time of day – seizures, poisoning, hit-by-cars – and it can be inconvenient to drop everything, annoying your other clients, to attend to that pet. On the other hand, at least here in Merced, most clients recognize that that could be them with their pet and they graciously forgive you.
So during the daytime, I can pretty much handle whatever walks through that door. My definition of emergency work is confined to those cases that come in after normal day time business hours, during sleep, on days of presumed rest.
My very first week of being on call in Merced I had two hit-by-cars on different nights and removed two bleeding spleens around 2 AM. They both lived. The third spleen (yes, things come in three’s) came in with a little dog suffering from an immune disorder. He also survived and improved after his splenectomy. So in the first month that I worked as a veterinarian fresh out of school I removed three spleens! I found that odd, but this career has always provided many unusual and odd things to get through.
There was the night I was driving to an emergency call (yes, driving the speed limit) and a cop pulled me over. He knew me (I took care of the police dogs) and he said he thought I’d wobbled. I assured him I’d had nothing stronger than orange juice (it is extremely rare for me to drink alcohol. The effects are worse than emergency work). He replied that he believed my story about an emergency because he knew I never looked that way in the daytime………..
So it is to everyone’s benefit that I procure 8 hours of sleep every night. You might say it’s just what the doctor ordered!
Christine B. McFadden, DVM