Veterinarians Rock!!

From nutrition to surgery, vets get to do it all!

This is a blatant advertisement for my profession. Pay heed, all you kids who shrug when your ditzy aunt asks for the kabillionth time, “what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up-dear?”.

Be a veterinarian.

The sky’s the limit for students with an interest in medicine. Can’t decide between becoming a family doctor, internal medicine specialist or surgeon? Be a veterinarian, we get to do it all.

Last week, I wrote about a favourite patient who almost died when a bone he ate lodged in his intestines. His case is a great illustration of what a veterinarian’s job involves.

First Beaver the dog came in for a physical exam because he was vomiting. That went pretty much the same as a physical exam at your own doctor’s office, except Beaver didn’t have to take off his clothes. He got his vital signs checked. I noted indications of dehydration and abdominal pain, then recommended x-rays and bloodwork. At this point, your doctor sends you off to two different labs. We checked his blood and did x-rays right in our own hospital.

In modern practices, technicians may be available to do this work, but vets are expected to be proficient at every step themselves. Beaver’s x-ray showed a bone shard in his small intestine. Reading x-rays can be a challenging skill to master, but seeing bones in the bowels is a pretty easy diagnosis. What I didn’t see was how badly those bowels were damaged.

In preparation for surgery, we put Beaver on intravenous fluids, antibiotics and pain medications. Vets have to be able to assess bloodwork, know how to rehydrate and deal with shocky patients, calculate doses for drugs, administer anesthetics and understand how they all interact in sick animals. And we have to be able to sleep at night when there’s a sick patient in hospital. I’m not so good at that last part (none of us are! ed.).

Beaver’s surgery was tricky. A big section of bowel was so badly damaged I had to remove it. We were in there for more than two hours cleaning things up and suturing. And then began the worrying and waiting, adjusting medications and diet as seemed wise. Although Beaver went home the next day, he was in almost daily – even over the weekend – because he just wasn’t doing well.

As you’ll know from last week’s column, this story ended happily. The Beav is back to his boisterous self and we got to celebrate. Sometimes these cases don’t end so well and another part of a vet’s job is to know when to end a patient’s suffering through euthanasia.

From helping bring new puppies into the world with C-sections, to holding hands with their families when the time comes to say goodbye, a vet’s job is full of ups and downs, with many fascinating challenges along the way.

I’m trying hard not to keep asking my niece “what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up-dear?” But I hope you’ll be nice to your own ditzy aunt when she asks again. Maybe you’ll even have an answer.

For more information about a veterinarian’s job and how to prepare for a career in the profession, see the Ontario Veterinary College’s website Becoming a Veterinarian and the Veterinary Partner discussion Who Wants to Be a Veterinarian.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton/Quinte West, Ontario
April 2013