If you’ve ever read the book 101 Dalmatians, you might remember the Splendid Veterinary Surgeon, who was summoned at all hours to care for the various dog characters in their times of need. “Splendid Vet” was a family friend as well as trusted caregiver, and his relationship with the Dearly family was a minor plot point in the story.
Bars and I have our own version of Splendid Vet in the form of his primary care veterinarian. From my previous posts, you’ll remember that Bars’ stressful adaptation to his new home included a “choke,” and the treatment from the “choke” led to an infected nasal passage and a bout with colic—the first time in over 22 years. For those readers who may not be familiar, colic in horses is an obstruction of some kind in the gut. Some colics are mild and some are fatal; all are life threatening and should be treated as emergencies. Needless to say, it’s been an interesting few weeks!
Through all of this, Bars’ Splendid Vet has been an absolute rock. For a few weeks there we were in touch almost daily via text and phone. He patiently looked at videos and pictures I sent him, reassured me when he thought things were progressing ok, and has, in my opinion, provided care above and beyond what some other practitioners might.
When I had to call him for the colic (at 5 pm on a cold Monday night) the symptoms were mild and some had improved by the time he arrived (after fighting his way through a winding country road in the dark.) I had some trepidations about possibly having called him out on a cold dark night for no reason…but he shook his head at me, indicating confidence in my ability to judge whether he needed to drop his evening at home and come. And I was correct. Luckily the colic was resolved, thanks in part to my quick assessment and to Splendid Vet’s timely arrival.
Excellent medical or veterinary care is not just about the skill of the practitioner. It is also about your own awareness of the situation and the relationship you have with the practitioner. This is especially important in geriatric care, whether the patient is a horse, dog, cat, or human. You and your veterinarian need to develop some trust in each other; you need to know that your veterinarian has the knowledge and skill necessary to meet your horse’s needs, and your veterinarian needs to know that you are an active partner in your horse’s care. In general, developing this partnership is fairly straightforward. As a client, you can make your veterinarian’s job much easier by learning to assess your horse’s health when he’s not sick, so that you know beyond doubt when he’s not “normal.” For years people have made fun of me because I will randomly take Bars’ temperature and get out the stethoscope and listen to his heart & gut. But because I’ve done this, and I’ve been able to do so over the course of 22+ years, I have a pretty good sixth sense of when things are not quite “normal.” I can also give my veterinarian reasonably accurate vital signs on the rare occasions that I do need to call, which is very helpful to him-I once had a vet say to me that I was one of her favorite clients, because she always knew what to expect when she came to see Bars. This was crucial on the night I had to call Splendid Vet away from his well earned evening at home.
Along with learning about your own horse, it can be helpful to educate yourself a little bit about horse care in general. Take the time to find out about how your horse’s digestive tract, for this example, works. Read some books or magazine articles. If your horse has a specific condition, like Bars has Cushings, do a little extra research. The more educated you are, the stronger your partnership will be.
When you find your own Splendid Vet, pay your bill promptly and without complaint. Rest assured that nobody goes to vet school to get rich. Nobody. Veterinarians operate with tremendous overhead and most often very narrow profit margins. When you write your vet a check keep in mind that you are paying for all that overhead, which includes equipment, taxes, special fees for owning/leasing medical equipment, office space, whether fixed or mobile, and at least four years of undergraduate education, three to four years of post-graduate education ,AND some kind of fellowship or residency after that. Many people feel that veterinary care is expensive, but so is your doctor—you just don’t see the total cost of your annual checkups, cancer screenings, and vaccinations because for humans they’re covered by insurance (hopefully.) By comparison, veterinary care is a bargain.
So, thanks to our Splendid Vet and the other members of our team, Bars is now eating, his gut is back in full form, and we’re ready to start riding the trails again. Now, if only the weather would cooperate a little bit…..
See you on down the trail….