By Kim Everson, DVM
I’ve been telling it on the mountain to anyone who would listen for weeks now. Many veterinary emergencies are best handled at a tertiary care veterinary hospital. In our neck of the woods, that means an after hours emergency and referral center.
Love ’em or hate ’em — I’ve heard both sides of the story. Yes, it’s expensive. Emergencies are expensive. When is the last time you walked out of a human ER with less than $1,000 invoice for treatment of a trauma or unrelenting pain? What amazes me is that for every client who swears she won’t go to the after hours emergency veterinary hospital because of the cost, there is another client who hustles in at midnight to have her dog’s itchy ears treated.
Now most ear infections can wait until morning for treatment by the regular veterinarian (there are exceptions to every rule). And many so-called emergencies are chronic problems that have been ignored or avoided for so long they just magically turn into urgent issues at five minutes past 5 o’clock on Friday evening. Procrastination may be human nature, but it unfortunately makes medical problems more difficult and expensive to address.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines emergency as “an unforeseen combination of circumstances … that calls for immediate action.” True veterinary emergencies are unexpected and do require immediate attention: hit-by-car accidents, heat stroke, unrelenting seizures and sudden collapse are just a few examples (more scenarios are listed on my clinic website).
Most of the emergencies that befall pet animals are readily handled by your regular veterinarian, especially during regular business hours when the clinic is appropriately staffed and the “machinery of medicine” is up and running. At the very least, the pet’s injuries or condition can be assessed, he or she can be stabilized, and specialized care at a referral hospital can be arranged if necessary.
The terrible events of March 20, 2011, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, reinforced in me the belief that there are times when nothing other than a veterinary facility dedicated to emergency veterinary care will suffice. I believe Fond du Lac Police K9 Officer Grendel would not have survived gun shot wounds received in the line of duty on that day if it were not for the local after hours emergency facility.
I have heard complaints that our local after hours emergency center is too far away, especially in an emergency. To this I have two responses. First, having driven through North Dakota where for some rural residents the nearest tiny human hospital is over an hour or two away I’m thrilled to have so many choices for pets within an hour’s driving distance! Second, due to the circumstances, Grendel’s medically-disastrous gun shot wounds were several hours old by the time he reached the veterinary hospital (and believe me, his trip north on Highway 41 was considerably shorter than most with squad car lights and sirens blazing!)
Had his emergency happened on a Tuesday morning instead of a Sunday, Grendel could have received an excellent diagnostic workup, immediate stabilization and compassionate care from any number of general practitioners in the area. Fortunately for Grendel, he was transported to a hospital that also could provide advanced imaging, expert abdominal and thoracic exploratory surgery, around-the-clock critical care, and numerous treatments to support blood pressure, clotting and more. The medicines used for Grendel are so specialized and costly no general practitioner I know could justify keeping them on the shelf in case of a rare emergency of this magnitude.
After just eight days of intensive surgical and medical care at the veterinary emergency hospital, Grendel joined his human police partner at home in a joint recovery. Both returned to the line of duty on May 9th. From a veterinary medical standpoint, Grendel’s full recovery is stunning.
In cases of life threatening injury, a patient’s best chance for survival rests in the hands of exceptional doctors and staff, available life support technologies, inner strength and good fortune. Grendel had all of these on March 20th and the days that followed. For that, as a veterinarian and as a citizen of Fond du Lac County, I am grateful.