Heartache And Frustration In Veterinary Practice

Sometimes clients ask me, “What is the hardest part of your job?”

The answer is easy, “Dealing with frustration.”

Like today. A nice lady came to see us, escorted by her kind neighbor, who transported her and her daughter’s dog, Cuz. Cuz was having difficulty breathing.

Right away in the examination I noticed that Cuz had icterus, or jaundice, which can be caused by liver problems or red blood cell destruction.

Taking his pulse, I noted that his systolic blood pressure was barely over 60 mm/Hg, the least that can be detected by palpation.

His temperature was too low to be detected on our electronic thermometer, which goes down to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

A blood test showed that he had heartworms.

His prognosis was extremely poor.

The nice lady was crying, and lamenting that she would have to give her daughter the bad news.

The kindly neighbor-man was struggling to hold back tears, his lip quivering almost imperceptibly.

“What do you think is wrong with him, Dr. Randolph?” the sweet mother asked.

“Without performing a lot of tests and X-rays I can’t say for sure,” I shared, “but what I can tell you is that he has heartworms and it is very likely that a long-term infestation of heartworms has damaged his heart, liver and kidneys.”

I continued, “I can also tell you that he is beyond turning around at this point. It will be kinder to let him go, to put him to sleep.”

Then she said, “I know that heartworms are bad here on the Coast, and that all dogs need to be on a heartworm preventive.”

Frustrated, I wanted to ask, why, then, had she not taken Cuz to see a veterinarian in the year she had been caring for him so that he could have had heartworm preventive. Why did she wait two days after he became so ill before she sought medical treatment for him?

Of course, those would be hard questions. Hard questions to ask, hard questions to answer.

And, of course, in the middle of their tears and grief, I was in a consoling mode, not a question-asking mode.

Still, the frustration was, and is, very real.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.

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