When a Vet's Own Pet Has Surgery, You Bet He Worries


I recently took our little 8-year-old canine-cocktail Quixote to work to have his teeth cleaned and a pencil-eraser-size mass removed from his neck. As pets often do, he knew the night before something was up and signaled his worry with eyes, ears and tail.

My wife, Teresa, was every bit as anxious. “Quixote will be OK, won't he?" she asked me, more than once. Since the North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint is one of the two places I practice when I’m not on the road, I know how good they are from the inside out.

"They have a state-of-the-art hospital with excellent safety and comfort protocols," I replied confidently, and I meant every word I told her.

But the truth was that I was worried, too, for no reason — and for every reason. Does it surprise you that we veterinarians worry about our own pets' care? It shouldn’t, because we do.

Like many veterinarians I won’t practice on my own pets. I trust the vets at North Idaho Animal Hospital; I know they follow the best anesthetic protocol, with a presurgical blood screen, IV catheter, the newest and safest anesthetic agents, full monitoring by a dedicated tech and a heated pad and pain medications before, during and after a procedure. Still, anxiety gnawed at me at every stage.

The blood work was fine — whew! — but I know anesthetic induction is critical, just as takeoffs and landings are for air travel. When Quixote was fully anesthetized and I saw all his vital signs were normal, I breathed a big sigh of relief and sent Teresa a text message to let her know things were going well.

It’s unusual for a small dog, but Quixote never had to have his teeth cleaned before because he has had daily oral care from puppyhood, thanks to Teresa. But several of Quixote's front teeth were loose, a common problem in these little guys. We reviewed digital radiographs and decided to pull two teeth and carefully monitor two more over the next year.

Out they came, and Quixote had a new nickname: Redneck Rover.

Now for the small growth on his neck. We decided to take a wide margin around the mass to get any cancer cells just in case and sent it for histopathology. Then we started Quixote on the process of recovery. As we put him in a cage with a heated pad and IV fluids to recover, I looked at the staples in his neck and knew he had another nickname: FrankCanine. Smiling a little, I texted another update to my worried wife.

He was sitting up in about half an hour — a great sign! — and although his eyes looked like coin slots in a vending machine, he stuck out his paw and dug his nails into my hand, pulling it toward him. I knew things were going to be fine when my still whacked-out dog wanted to be tickled.

This time, I called Teresa and gave her the great news. She jumped for joy! The scene was repeated a few days later when all the tests came back A-OK.

Quixote came home to more loving attention than usual, if that’s even possible, with two pain medications and antibiotics. He also got special canned food as a treat for sore teeth, and we made him a special bed with heat and orthopedic foam. When he was feeling better, he got a visit from the Tooth Fairy. Yes, we adore this dog!

Before I left for home that day, I talked to the entire team at North Idaho Animal Hospital. I told them that because I’d brought my own dog in, I could talk honestly about the fear pet owners have when they trust an animal’s care to us. Those of us who've worked in a veterinary practice very long have seen the apparently healthy dog or cat whose lab work reveals a pet deathly ill. Or the routine examination that uncovers an abdominal mass, enlarged lymph node or congestive heart failure. Or the pet, for no reason, who doesn't make it through surgery. We’ve seen the unexpected, and it’s easy to imagine it when it’s your pet.

While I reassured Teresa that everything was going to be fine, the truth is I was also asking almost 40,000 people on my Facebook fan page to send best wishes for Quixote. Couldn’t hurt, right?

As a veterinarian you use your head to focus on treating your patient to the best of your training and ability. But when it’s your own pet, you follow your heart into anxiety, second-guessing and fear.

When the head is battling the heart, the heart wins every time. Even when you’re a veterinarian.


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