Life in the Slow Lane

Life in the Slow Lane

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Further Thought

Just last week I wrote a post about veterinary care and a recent experience I had with it. I got a few very interesting comments both agreeing with me and disagreeing as well. All were muchly appreciated. My post even spawned other posts on the same topic offering opinions and observations. Too cool.

I probably should have explained my opinions a bit more and how I have arrived at them. I have a point of view that may not be shared by others as well as some unique circumstances that would affect my thoughts on this subject.

Obviously finances come into play whenever a pet owner has to get veterinary care for their pet. Some people are fortunate that they can adopt a very aggressive treatment plan for their animal and be able to afford it. Some people use credit to handle their vet bills while some have to evaluate very carefully what they can and cannot afford to do. Whatever your finances are when your pet is hurt or sick that time is very emotional and scary. In that kind of heightened situation sometimes you do not make good decisions or ask good questions or even understand what is going on. You may have feelings of guilt and anger about how your pet ended up in the vet. It is just not a good time.

I have to admit I am in a very enviable situation as I have health insurance for Yoshi. This is not unlimited insurance and in this day and age my maximum paid amounts can be reached very quickly but this policy allows me certain freedoms a lot of other pet owners don’t have. I know that I work contract jobs and am chronically under employed so I never wanted to be in a position where I couldn’t afford to get Yoshi treated. This insurance has saved my and Yoshi’s ass a couple of times.

When I evaluate Yoshi’s vet care I have to balance what will be of the most benefit to her balanced by how stressed and upset I know she will be getting these treatments. Yoshi is a very emotional cat. She hates everybody except for me and my parents. And she only kinda tolerates my parents. Time and familiarity does not change her mind. She is a Siamese and therefore a bit of a freaktard. When she is in familiar territory this hatred manifests itself in hissing and yowling and bad behavior. When she is away from home and in unfamiliar territory she is absolutely frantic with terror. It breaks my heart. So while money doesn’t play largely into her receiving veterinary care her emotional wellbeing definitely does.

The first time I used Yoshi’s health insurance it was because she ate one of my antidepressant pills. I was taking one out of its container and dropped it. I swear before it even hit the floor Yoshi had run to snap it up out of the air. I was shocked as she never really was one to be nosey about stuff like that. It was Saturday night about 11pm so I bundled her up and drove the 3 minutes to the emergency 24 hour vet. This place is staffed 24/7 and their prices reflect their extraordinary availability. You know when you take your pet there you will be paying. A LOT! It is an emergency situation so you suck it up. This clinic is staffed with really good vets and I totally trust them. They do one thing that pisses me off though. They charge a $50 walk in fee. You have to pay this for walking in before they even take your information and have your pet seen. This is an extra fee on top of the exorbitant regular fees you can expect to pay. I think this is just adding insult to injury and a bit of a cash grab but what can you do? You are in an emergency situation and at a disadvantage to be picky. But I still think it sucks.

So they took Yoshi and gave her charcoal and an emetic to make her barf. I waited there for a couple hours but she just wouldn’t hurl. They thought she might be too stressed and intimidated to do it in the vet so they let me take her home to see if she would relax and urp up the pill there. I happily shelled out about $600 for that visit and took her home.

And then she puked. AND puked. And wouldn’t stop. No eating and no drinking just hurling. All night and all day. I called the emergency vet and told them what was happening and they said that they did give her a lot of emetic and that her poor stomach was probably messed up and that I should bring her in for IV fluids. So another walk in fee later, as it was Sunday and I still couldn’t take her to a regular vet, they hooked her up to IV fluids and kept her overnight. Do you know what they charged me for her overnight stay? I am not talking her treatments like IVs and such but just the act of keeping her overnight. 900 bucks. That is the charge. Holy SHIT!!!! But I was happy with her care. They were honest with me that they thought she would pull through but that nobody could know how much of the medication she absorbed. They offered me hope in a very scary situation. I paid about $1600 for that trip and was reimbursed by insurance. That entire episode resulted in 2 trips to the ER vet along with 4 days of all day vet care at her regular vet.

While at the regular vet I was “encouraged’ to keep her overnight there for about $125 per night. I would have been happy to do that if I had felt it offered Yoshi good benefits but I didn’t believe that at all. First of all the vet was completely unstaffed from closing at 9 pm to opening the next morning at 8am. Yoshi would be all alone in a small cage overnight in a strange place for 11 hours. She would not be receiving any treatments during this time. Just sleeping. I decided I wanted to have her at home with me where she would be more comfortable and where I could watch her. I knew I lived 3 minutes away from the emergency vet if anything happened and I was willing and able to return her to the regular vet office first thing in the morning to hook her back up to IV fluids. I cannot tell you how I had to fight to do this. It seemed totally logical to me and yet they were very disapproving. I am SOOOOO glad I did keep her home as she was so weak and full of fluids that she almost immediately peed her bed. Poor booby couldn’t walk to the litter box. If at the vet she would have laid in her own cold wet piss ALL NIGHT LONG. That is not ok with me. Clearly she got better care with me overnight than alone at the vet. Yet I really got a guilt trip for taking her home where I stayed up all night and cuddled her making sure she was safe and comfortable. This REALLY pissed me off.

A friend of mine just recently went through a similar thing. He is a professional breeder and is very emotionally attached to his dogs. Clearly it is not just a "business" to him. One dog had just had a litter of puppies while another dog had mysteriously lost her puppies just prior to birth. It was a very emotional time for my friend. He was so happy but so devastated at the same time. One of the puppies, coincidentally the one he was planning on keeping, got very sick one day with a fever. He rushed the puppy to the vet and they were very discouraging about the puppy’s chances. They thought the puppy would die. They gave her antibiotics and IV fluids and were just hoping for the best. That night I talked with my friend who said he was thinking of bringing the puppy home for the night. He thought that if he had to choose between having the puppy die alone overnight in the unstaffed vet or at home with him and the momma dog and her puppy siblings where he could watch her he would rather have her at home. He even was willing to stay up all night so she could keep the IV in that they were just going to take out at the vet’s office. However they totally insisted the puppy stay overnight at the vet and employed some very heavy handed guilt tactics to keep her there. He finally relented and was very upset and didn’t feel like his wishes had been heard. Fortunately the puppy survived and he got to take her home the next day. If that dog had died alone overnight I know he never would have forgiven himself. I just think this is wrong. He had no complaints about the cost of the care but that his opinions were not considered.

I am going to break this up into two parts and tell you tomorrow about another experience I had with a vet that might further illustrate how I have arrived at some of my opinions. This post was to show you how when I made a decision for my cat that I felt was best for her and me I was discouraged and contradicted even though the vet could not show me that Yoshi would be any better off in their care. In fact I could clearly see that she would be better supervised and monitored in my care overnight than alone and afraid in an empty vet office. I do truly believe that these vets had Yoshi’s best interest in mind and I think she got excellent treatment while in their care but the only reason why I could see the regular vet would want me to keep her overnight at their facility is for monetary gain. A vet clinic is a business and I am not so naive to think that they would not try to suggest expensive options if they could. Keeping an animal overnight could be a better option for some who might not have access to transportation or be home to look after their cat or dog but I was both mobile and available to be there for Yoshi and even though it basically caused an argument I was glad I stood firm and did that for her. I don’t think I should have been argued with or guilt tripped. It should have been my decision. And it was a decision that had no basis in money but it could have been and that would have been valid too.


Adrienne said...

I know what you mean. Often, while the vet staff takes the animal's health in to account, they do not take the animal's personality or emotions into consideration.

My kitty's been to the vet 3 times in 2 months, and other than the money I've "flushed" on treatments that haven't worked, he's unaffected because he is a happy-go-lucky type who loves everyone.

Our other cat though... she sounds more like Yoshi. She is very uncomfortable if she is away from home, or around strangers. She gets upset and is noticably affected by it when she does get home, sometimes acting abnormally for days. I have had to leave her in the hospital before, but they did have a nighttime attendant, and with her situation and personality, it was probably better for her to just stay there for one stretch than to do 6 times as much traveling back and forth to the vet.

Looking forward to reading part II!

Leigh-Ann said...

I think if you're lucky, you find a vet who will really work with you, and who really tries to know both you and your pet. The vet who owns the nearby clinic is like that with us -- she gives us a huge amount of latitude regarding care, and just says, "I trust you guys". I've brought home injectable antibiotics for one of my fish, after spending time with the vet going over some Internet information about injecting fish. If I bring her reputable research about a non-conventional-yet-safe treatment for one of our pets, she'll usually agree to try it if she feels the information has validity. She's just incredibly open-minded and really respects us, and as a pet owner it makes you feel good to know that your opinions and insights have value. One of our other vets, a specialist, was so excited that I bought an otoscope to help monitor my dog's eye condition that he gave me a bunch of tips I could use to look in my dogs' ears, too. He spent time showing me how to use the otoscope and seemed absolutely thrilled that I cared enough to want to monitor my pet so closely.

In contrast, I really don't care for one of the other vets who works at our regular clinic. The vet was wonderfully compassionate with us when my cat died suddenly, but during a couple of regular appointments she's discounted my questions and observations. I think I'm supposed to feel reassured that she's in charge, but instead I just end up feeling stupid and full of self-doubt. I also sometimes feel that my pet isn't getting the best treatment, or the most conservative treatment, because I'm not really allowed to be part of the treatment plan. I'm just supposed to follow instructions.

I've had pets for the last 20+ years, from one end of the continent to the other, and I've had some great veterinarians and some not-so-great ones. The ones I trust, and return to, are the ones who trust me. The only suggestion I can give you is to keep looking for that vet you feel a real connection to, because there are many of them. Not every vet school graduate will have bedside manner, and not every owner will care, but if you do care, keep searching. Obviously it's not practical to do that in an emergency, but when Yoshi needs an annual exam consider trying a new vet if you have one nearby. Ask friends for referrals and suggestions, too.

I will say that the costs you quoted are just tremendous. I know Vancouver is very expensive, but I thought Las Vegas was expensive, too, and the prices we pay are nothing close to what you mentioned. An overnight stay at our vet's office, which is staffed, is $13. Things like IV fluids and such would be extra, but the actual stay is $13 per night.

Thanks for much for the link to my blog entry and for the inspiration to write my entry in the first place. I don't think most people think about vet expenses until a crisis.

kassi said...

I love my cat more than I could ever describe...but I have no money and no insurance. I cringe at the thought if anything should happen to her, because my family probably would go without groceries.

Amanda B. said...

We did a lot of shopping around before we found a vet who didn't try to sell us a lot of unnecessary crap. They all tried to make us feel guilty, like we weren't taking proper care of our pets- it was really offensive.

My father's best friend for the past 25 years is a vet, and that has been helpful. If you ever have any questions- hit me.

whfropera said...

I go to a cat-only vet, which makes a HUGE difference. :) Linus doesn't mind at all - he just doesn't like the car ride there.

east village idiot said...

I come from a family that treats pets like they are people. My sister has spent thousands on her two cats. My mom has done the same for her dogs. We have a Westie - Saki and I don't know who we would be without him. He was the only thing that really pulled us out of the 9/11 depression hell we were in. Pet insurance is wise and I'm going to look into it. Keeping your cat home overnight sounds wise to me. That's where Yoshi wants to be - with her mommy.

eclectic said...

They're members of your family, just with four feet instead of two. At least, that's how both my husband and I feel. But even so, your emotions should not be manipulated when your pet is sick. You should be given the information, and then the choice. Whatever reasons you have for your choice, it is still your choice to make.

We've been incredibly fortunate in this area -- our vet is the ideal person to provide care for our animals. He genuinely loves them, and they respond. He even came to our home last fall when we had to let Sydney go so she wouldn't have to make a trip or be jostled, or be away from her home and cozy spot. He took time to let the kids say goodbye, and I can't tell you how wonderful he is! I hope Yoshi gets one like him.

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Squirl said...

I agree with Eclectic that a pet is a member of your family. And some vets realize that what they're doing is more than just "business".

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