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Here is a look at a day in the life of a Veterinary Assistant…
8:00 AM – Clock in to the sound of ringing phones. Answer phones, make appointments, start a load of leftover laundry from yesterday. Begin the process of calling to check the status of patients who were very ill over the past few days because you worry about each of them.
8:30 AM – The day’s first appointment arrives. It is a newly adopted shelter pet, and you can feel its fear and excitement at the possibility of being loved in a forever home. After testing is completed, it is detected that the pet has heartworms. You triple check the result to verify. This can’t be right! The doctor goes into the room to explain the options to the new owner. Will they return the pet? Will they treat? But he’s so excited to be adopted…
9:00 AM – The phone rings. It’s an owner who has called to have their pet euthanized because it chews furniture or scratched the new car or chases the new cat or because they are moving to a new apartment. You explain that these are not justifiable reasons for euthanasia and let the owner know that we will only euthanize a pet for medical reasons. We offer suggestions for these issues such as re-homing or behavior training and offer resources for them to contact. This is when the yelling usually starts and then you’re told that they will just call someone else if we don’t do it. We refuse, and the owner hangs up in a huff. The rest of your day will now be spent with this conversation running through your mind and hoping that everyone will tell this owner to please re-home this pet and not to euthanize.
9:10 AM – The 9 o’clock appointment arrives, late and in a hurry. It is a pet who you have seen many times and that you have grown to love. You do your very best to get everything done as fast as possible but the doctor is still in the first room helping the client understand heartworm disease. You want to hurry things along, but the first pet deserves every chance to stay in his new home. You try to explain to the current room that the doctor will be with them soon, but you can feel their frustration.
9:25 AM – The doctor is available now to see the appointment that arrived late. She goes in and all of the sudden, the owner has all of the time in the world to relax and make polite conversation with the doctor. You can hardly wait to hear about the outcome of the heartworm positive rescue dog. Once the appointment is finished, the doctor tells you that the dog will get to stay in his new home. His new owners are willing to treat. This is fantastic and YOU LOVE THEM!
9:30 AM – You help another technician with x-rays, blood panel and nail trim on their appointment. You read two fecal tests for other rooms and then you’re ready to move on to the next appointment.
10:10 AM – You walk into your 10 o’clock appointment 10 minutes late. It is a new client. The patient has been diagnosed with lymphoma and is a 12 year old golden. The owner is here because they cannot afford chemotherapy and the pet is so weak, they probably couldn’t survive it. They are hoping for a miracle, and you feel their pain as they explain what a wonderful dog she has been to their family. You take all of the information and let them know the doctor will be in with them shortly. You know the inevitable outcome of this disease when it is this progressed, but you still want to have hope. The doctor comes in and explains the options to the owner and makes sure the owner understands that this battle is simply one to help their beloved pet be more comfortable as she gets closer to crossing the rainbow bridge. The owner is not ready to say good-bye and just wants their loved one to be comfortable during this time as they adjust to the realization that they will lose her. You try to convince yourself that it is silly for you to be this upset for a pet and owner you only just met, but you simply cannot help yourself. You have to put on a brave face, though, because the owner should not have to console you through the loss of their pet. This job is hard. Once the appointment is completed, the doctor gives you instructions for prescription medications to be filled. You look up the drug dosages, fill prescriptions and dismiss the room.
11:00 AM – A client calls in a panic. Their pet has gotten out of the fence and had been hit by a car and is bleeding and can’t walk. They are rushing to you. You begin to prepare everything for the worst. Oxygen is ready. Drugs for resuscitation and shock are ready. Upon arrival, you rush out to the car with another technician to carry the pet in on a stretcher because they cannot walk. You rush them to the treatment area and begin assessing their vitals and the extent of the injury with the doctor. The pet is breathing and is conscious. GOOD! He has multiple lacerations, but the bleeding is slowing. You take the pet to x-ray to check for internal damage. Is the diaphragm intact? Are there broken bones? The breathing is a bit labored so a muzzle is not an option and the pet is scared. Pain medications are administered. He is terrified and his body is tense. He tries to bite you, but muzzling could threaten his life at this point so you handle with caution but proceed. Chest x-ray shows that the diaphragm is okay and the pain medication is starting to give him some relief. He is calming down now, so you proceed with more x-rays. You find that he has a broken pelvis, which the doctor verifies, but no other injuries other than superficial lacerations. You get him cleaned up and the doctor closes the wounds. Medications are prescribed and he will go home with his owner to recover. Yay!!! It is at this point that you realize that you missed your lunch break. You make the phone call to an orthopedic surgeon for referral and fill out all of the referral forms, gather the client’s records and fill prescriptions. You go over dismissal instructions and carry the pet back to the owner’s car.
1:25 PM – You wonder if that one person who called this morning found someone willing to euthanize that poor dog. Hope not.
1:27 PM – You rush to the kitchen to heat up the microwave meal that you brought for lunch.
1:30 PM – You walk in to your 1:30 appointment to find a litter of new puppies. This is amazing. You really needed this at this point in the day. There are six of them, and the mother is doing a great job. The owner is a responsible person who will take great care in finding homes for them where they will be loved and will have proper veterinary care. You could not be happier to do this appointment. Squirmy little warm furry blessings they are. You go over the vaccination and deworming schedule with the client. She will bring them all to the vet for vaccines and will not find homes for them until they are fully vaccinated. You wish all pet parents were so responsible.
2:08 PM – You help another tech hold a very happy, excited 100-pound dog for an anal gland expression.
2:10 PM – Gobble my now cold, microwave meal while helping another tech draw blood on her sick patient.
2:15 PM – Get 1,000 kisses from a new lab puppy that another technician is working with.
2:20 PM – Walk a patient outside for a urinalysis. She’s pretty sure you’re the strangest person she has ever met and cannot understand why you keep trying to put a ladle under her when she tries to pee. Eventually your praise and support pays off and she allows it.
2:30 PM – Cancer consult. You gather all of the information from the owner. This youngster of only 18 months old has been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone tumor. Amputation is recommended by her regular doctor. After a lengthy discussion with our doctor, the owner would like to try an alternative protocol to address the bone tumor. Everything is explained in great detail to the client and the treatment plan is started. You have seen this work many times, and since this patient is young, healthy and this cancer has only just began, you have the highest of hopes that this patient will do well. She is added to your list of people who you will check on relentlessly during treatment to ensure the process is going as planned. You love helping pets!
Working in a veterinary hospital is hard physically at times, but is always difficult emotionally. You don’t choose this profession without having compassion for animals.
3:30 PM – You help another technician with their room’s diagnostics, change the laundry, help reception with the phone, and clean up some of the debris left over from the morning.
3:45 PM – Appointment for vaccinations. Easy! You collect information from the client but then notice that the dog has a head tilt. You ask the owner how long this has been going on, and they say that she just always does silly stuff. You have the doctor check the ears, and she finds a ruptured eardrum and temp of 103.5.
Tech: This pet cannot have vaccinations today, I’m sorry.
Client: But she has to go to boarding tomorrow. She has to be vaccinated to go to boarding.
Tech: Vaccinating a sick pet is not okay. We cannot do that. It would be detrimental to her.
Client: I’m sure she will be fine. I have to have them, just do it.
Tech: No, Ma’am, we cannot. I would be happy to call the boarding facility and explain the situation to them.
Client: Okay, whatever, but I will get them somewhere if you don’t do it. You’re just being overly cautious.
Tech: No, Ma’am, I promise I am not. Vaccinating a sick animal can cause death. She is 6 months past due on her vaccines now. I’m sorry, but I cannot control the fact that you waited until the day before boarding to bring her in.
You call the boarding establishment and beg for an exception. They argue with you, but you persist until you wear them down. They finally agree to allow it. WIN!!
Now you must go back into the room and express to the owner how very important it is to bring her sweet pet back to us for a recheck and for vaccines after boarding, if she is well enough. You can only hope that she will comply.
4:30 PM – Start evening cleaning list,
You wonder if that owner found someone to euthanize that poor dog. You hope not.
You wonder if the broken pelvis is staying confined and is comfortable. You hope they will actually follow instructions and go to the ortho for follow up. Hope so.
You wonder if you ever ate lunch. Oh yeah, you did. It’s gone too soon.
You think about the poor lady who is having to come to terms with the imminent death of her lifelong companion due to cancer.
You think about those wonderful squirmy puppies and wish you could hold them all right now. Can’t wait till they’re 6 weeks old!
4:40 Appointment for 5:00 is here early. This is great. We may get out of here on time tonight.
New Client and Pet.
This pet is here for a simple exam. He hasn’t been feeling his normal self in the past few months. Activity is decreased. Still eating but not as well. Plays sometimes, but tires easily. Owner thinks it’s just normal aging but wanted to be sure. Has been to his regular vet every year for vaccines and was there just two months ago. The owner had mentioned the changes he had seen, but the regular veterinarian attributed the changes to age as he is 15 now. The owner agrees to x-rays and a full geriatric workup, which includes lab work due to the physical condition of the pet. The lab work reveals a very low red blood cell count and liver issues. X-rays reveal a large mass in the abdomen, so large, in fact, that it cannot be distinguished if it is liver or spleen. A large amount of fluid is also present in the abdomen. Ultrasound is performed, and it is found that both the liver and spleen are involved. Fluid is drawn from the abdomen to relieve pressure on the body. This is not the simple exam that either the owner or you had hoped it would be. This owner would lose this pet soon and some tough decisions need to be made. After review of the x-rays and diagnostics, the owner elects euthanasia, which is the right choice. He will take the sweet boy home tonight to say good-bye and will be the first morning appointment tomorrow. He sadly leaves at 6:45.
6:45 PM – Begin the process of cleaning the hospital, all the while dreading tomorrow’s first appointment. Even when it is the right thing for an owner to do, it isn’t easy to be a part of.
7:30 p.m. PM – The drive home leaves you thinking about the pet’s you helped, as well as those you couldn’t. Working in a veterinary hospital is hard physically at times, but is always difficult emotionally. You don’t choose this profession without having compassion for animals, but the highs and lows of the job can be exhausting. For every pet you help, there are many more that you wish you could have helped, and there are some of those who will stay with you for the rest of your life.
You remain hopeful that those people who called this morning didn’t find anyone willing to euthanize their dog and instead will find a new home for him. How wonderful it would be if everyone cared as much as you.
– CHAI Technician