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A Day in the Life

November 14, 2013
by Jami Stromberg, DVM
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Many people don’t really know what it’s like to be a veterinarian, so I thought I’d share how things went one day a few weeks ago. I picked Thursday, because it was a “surgery day”.

After getting my kids off to school, I readied myself for work and arrived at about 8:30. I had one appointment at 8:30, a dog for a wellness exam. After that, I looked at the three surgery patients (one puppy and two kittens) and a cat that was dropped off for a dental procedure. This cat cannot be examined without heavy sedation, so I also wrote up the drugs to be used to sedate him. Then I double checked the drug doses for the other patients’ anesthesia. The veterinary assistants and technicians are responsible for admitting the patients, drawing and running pre-anesthetic labwork, and placing IV catheters, and most of this was done before I even got to work! Except for the cat, of course.

While the surgery patients were prepared for surgery (premedication is given, a tube is placed into the trachea, and the surgical field is shaved and scrubbed), I went to my office and logged onto my computer to check my “worklist”, which is a list of phone calls that I need to make or re-direct. At any given time there are between 5 and 15 items on my worklist. Some are calls that I need to make to the owner, some are calls I can have a staff member make (normal labwork, etc.), and some are prescriptions that I need to authorize. Rare is the moment when my worklist is empty! An empty list lasts for only a few minutes.
When the first patient was ready, I scrubbed in and performed an ovariohysterectomy (“spay”). Although it is considered a routine surgery, a spay is actually quite complicated. An incision is made into the abdomen and the ovaries and uterus are removed. These organs can be hard to find and to work on, because they are often deep in the abdomen. A total of 6 ligatures are placed to prevent bleeding where the parts are removed. Then the abdominal wall and two layers of skin are sutured closed. A spay can take from 15 minutes to over an hour, depending on the size of the patient, whether the patient has ever been in heat or had a litter, and the veterinarian’s favorite – luck. Complications can arise, often without any warning. Tissue can tear, the ovaries may be hard to find, ligatures can slip off of vessels, or tissue can bleed. In this particular patient, everything went really smoothly and the surgery was over about 20 minutes after it started. At that point, my dental patient was sedated and ready to be examined. Once I gave him an all clear to be intubated, my next surgery patient was on the table. This was a kitten that I both spayed and declawed. Before scrubbing in for the surgery, I placed a local anesthetic nerve block around the front feet, in order to provide more pain relief after surgery.

After my second surgery was completed, I was asked to look at the x-rays that had been taken on the dental patient. This cat needed to have a tooth extracted, so I worked on that while one of the technicians prepared the final surgery patient. In most cases removing a tooth involves making an incision into the gingiva around the tooth and using a drill to remove part of the bone in order to expose the roots. In some cases, the crown of the tooth is simply removed, leaving the roots in place. Due to the disease process in this cat, that’s what I did in this situation. Then I delicately sutured the gingiva closed over the extraction site.

My last surgical patient was another kitten in for a declaw procedure. While I don’t promote that people have their cats declawed, I do not have a problem performing the procedure. We use lots of pain medication and also have a laser that cauterizes while it cuts, meaning less pain and bleeding. Most patients are batting at their kennel door within hours of the surgery. It is really a nice change from the “olden days” when I first started in practice – the cats would wake up trembling or screaming, and the feet had to be heavily bandaged because they bled so much. I was not a fan of the procedure at that time.

After the surgeries were all completed, I called each owner to let them know their pet was doing fine, and to answer any questions. Then I spent about 30 minutes writing up their charts, detailing the pre-op exam findings and how the procedures were performed. By this time, another 5 patients were on my worklist! I ordered lunch in because I was starving and didn’t have time to go to get lunch (and because I was too lazy that morning to actually pack a lunch). After writing up the charts, I started working on other paperwork – paying the clinic bills, proofreading the clinic’s quarterly newsletter, and talking to my practice manager about a new piece of lab equipment we are thinking of purchasing. At about 2 pm, I ran out for an hour to get my hair cut.

Afternoon appointments started at 3 pm, and since it was Halloween, it was a rather slow day. I saw 6 appointments between 3 and 5:30 – mainly wellness exams, but two sick patients as well (one was not eating well, and the other had a bladder infection). I tried to write up my charts right after seeing each appointment. At 5:30, I ran through my worklist one final time, checked on the surgery patients, and left for the day! The clinic was open until 7 pm, and the evening technician was responsible for examining and medicating the surgery patients one last time before leaving. I left feeling pretty satisfied because the day ran smoothly, I was caught up on paperwork (ok, I think I had left one chart to be written up the next morning), and I got out on time. That trifecta does not happen often in this profession! I often don’t leave until at least 30 minutes after my last patient is seen, and about once every 2 weeks I have to stay late to see a sick pet at the end of the day. This is not a 9-5 office job, but the variety does keep me excited to go to work every day.

Jami Stromberg, DVM