How Veterinarians Get Back in the Saddle After a Bite -- or Three

Patty Khuly Holding Two French Bulldogs

Once bitten, twice ... um ... freaked out. Yes, even veterinarians have to psych themselves up to get back in the saddle after being bitten, kicked, clawed, or otherwise maimed by their patients.

It’s simple psychology, really. And just like what happens when you fall off a bicycle, get into a traffic accident, or run into a fence while on horseback --  I’ve done all three, thank you very much -- you are left somewhat diminished in your capacity to go through life with the same naively secure perspective you had before.

It's sad, really — and even more so when your job requires you climb back into that saddle immediately after being dumped unceremoniously on your backside.

We veterinarians don’t have the luxury of nursing our wounds while our delicate psyches recover from an animal-related injury. Much as jockeys and race-car drivers must learn to cope when things go seriously awry, veterinarians must inevitably confront our deepest, darkest demons before we can look that next Rottweiler, Min-Pin or potentially rabid kitten in the eye.

From my humorous tone you might assume I jest, but you would be wrong. After an injury, any veterinarian or veterinary staff member would be stupid NOT to feel incredibly stressed when initially confronting the same potentially maiming situation.

In fact, those individuals who feel little to no angst trouble me. What’s wrong with these people that they enjoy such an inflated sense of their invincibility –– in the face of a recent defeat, even. That’s just got to be pathological, doesn’t it?

Well, anyhow, here’s my worst tale of veterinary injury:

I’ve worked in veterinary settings since I was 10. Yet I’ve only been bitten twice while working in that capacity. Once by a cat –– an inadvisably mismanaged event that landed me in the hospital on IV antibiotics after my hand swelled so much that I couldn’t feel half of my fingers. And another time by a wayward Chow-Chow that managed to land a bite on –– of all delicate places –– my lower lip (which still bears the scars).

But the worst injury occurred right before graduating from vet school. I was working in a small animal ER and leaned in close while nabbing a simple blood sample on a supposedly sedated Doberman. Not so sedated, I concluded, after he ripped into my head. In only three quick bites I looked something akin to Carrie on homecoming night, my head covered in blood.

After the University of Pennsylvania’s campus police zipped me to the university’s hospital, the ER resident on duty (doubtless trying to take my mind off the painful probing) asked me where I’d be going post-graduation. “Business school,” I explained. And although I was dazed, I wasn't delirious. I really was going to enter the school's MBA program after practicing as a vet for several months.

Which is doubtless why (though I’m sure he didn’t quite mean it the way it felt), he offered this unforgettable quip: “Well, seeing as you’ve got this trauma to get over, that’s probably a good thing.”

Honesty can be a bad thing at times. And this was a prime example of truth-gone-wrong. Especially when I only had two weeks between bite day and my first day of employment as a real veterinarian. And then just a few months working as a vet before starting business school.

To be sure, it’s kind of a sad story. But fortunately, as stressed out as I was to go back into the vet clinic, the jitters fizzled after just a few minutes. Extreme financial need certainly helped push me towards the exam table again, but more so was an unwillingness to let those years at vet school go to waste over one bite.

OK, so there were three separate bites involved in that mauling but who’s counting?

Truth is, it doesn't matters so much once you get back in the saddle and start riding as fast as you can. Until you get thrown again.

For more of Dr. Patty Khuly, follow her on Facebook and Twitter and click here for articles on Vetstreet.


Join the Conversation

Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!