The rules in every state are different, so read up if you want to become your animal’s best medical advocate–or a medical advocate for yourself–or even a friend or family member. (Since I am writing with a perspective that has a Texas “twang” to it, be sure to check the laws in your own state or country.)
Let me share my experiences. Being a medical advocate isn’t always easy or convenient.
I’ve been taking animals to vets for most of my life. Never before, however, until the last couple of years, have I ever received a certified letter telling me that I had been “fired” from a vet–and yes, also from a doctor.
Just this past weekend, I was given a show up or “never come back again” ultimatum from a vet. I chose the ‘never come back’ option but for good reason.
A few years ago, a doctor ‘fired’ me, after just five minutes in the consultation room! I was sick and wanted the new, non-invasive, more inclusive MRE instead of the invasive (and painful) biopsy that the doc was “used” to doing. Thanks but no thanks. I would just find another health practitioner who was more in line with my beliefs. (To date, I haven’t needed the MRE or biopsy.) I am wiling to stand up for my animals in the same way.
My first “firing”
I had taken a little rescued Cocker Spaniel, Kasey, to see the vet. His eye and head was lilting to one side and his eye and mouth on that side was drooping so much that he was drooling consistently as he stood. The vet did a quick exam and told me that Kasey had either had a stroke or had Horner’s Syndrome and there was nothing he or I could do to help him. Basically, the dog should live with it, see if he recovered some facial movement in time–or not. Gulp.
I had even made sure that Kasey’s medical history (as much as I knew), was as complete as possible. (It is not beyond me to bring along my laptop with pics if if I feel that it would help.) I told the doctor that Kasey had been surrendered with ear infections, that were so awful, that it took me literally five days to get the black crud off/out. (They looked like they were coated in charcoal.)
I couldn’t help but think that there was a connection between Kasey’s ear issues and his left-sided face issue. I asked the vet to consider doing an ear culture and sensitivity test of his ear (a “c & s”), which would have told the vet not only what the organisms were but what medicines it was sensitive to. For about $75, we would have known if Kasey’s problem was biologic and treatable–or not. If the test came back negative, I would have more easily trusted the vet’s diagnosis–and then gone home to do my research on how to help him recover naturally! (I always believe that when there is a will, there is a way!)
The vet refused to do any testing and told me that he had done all that he would do to help little Kasey. My ‘gut’ told me that this vet was wrong and being determined to be the best medical advocate for my animals that I can be, I had to get another opinion.
As we drove home, we stopped by a new-to-town veterinary clinic and asked if the vet would see Kasey. Immediately, she took a look, examined his ears and said that he had not had a stroke but had another ear infection! In fact, the vet told me, thyroid issues, ear aches, and other illnesses can bring on the same symptoms! With just a few weeks of supplements and an ear med (that cost less than $25), Kasey’s face, eye and ear were back to normal.
Ironically, a few weeks later, via certified mail, I received a letter from the first vet, “firing” us as clients. (I would have never gone back anyway, so it didn’t upset me. You just can’t teach good judgment…) It said, in a stern nutshell, that we had dared to question the vet’s judgment and he didn’t want clients that did that. What I took away from that experience, and what also affected my decision just this past weekend (example two below), was that you are your animals’ best–and only–advocate. If I had not trusted myself enough to get another opinion, little Kasey would have suffered terribly with a raging ear infection until eventually he passed on prematurely from the infection. (Thankfully, we just celebrated seven years together, as he approaches birthday number 15 this year.)
Two tiny Chihuahua twins, Little Bellie and her sister, Sissy, were found out in the middle of a field with badly broken legs in many places. At only a pound and a pound, 3 ounces, their screaming from pain, literally saved their lives. Someone walking by heard them and carried their fragile, broken bodies to a vet. I just happened to be working on a special project there, and saw the babies sitting in a cage.
After several operations (generously sponsored by my readers), the girls were able to leave the clinic after about a month. Doggie wheelchairs were donated and special lifestyle accommodations at our Rescue Ranch were made for them. Sissy can walk–but with a limp–but her sister cannot. Bellie’s one leg is frozen at the “elbow” and on her other leg, the paw came off of the plate it had been secured to with a screw beneath the skin–and now, it can swing around at almost 240 degrees. I need a vet to help her, to see what can be done to save her paw.
I scheduled a vet consultation last weekend with the vet who did the original surgeries. Before we got there, I called to ask if there had been any animals seen that morning in the clinic with any transmissible diseases. Yes, I was told, two cases of neurologic distemper–the most deadly type–were being treated there as we spoke but the office would do their best to try to keep little Bellie separated. I was silent for a moment as my stomach began to knot up. In almost the next breath, I was told by the receptionist that we could “never” come back to that vet if we didn’t come in that day. Bellie needed care but she would not survive a bout of distemper, never mind the neurological type, which affects the brain. I knew oh-too-well, that this was not a disease that you even risk any xposure to…
Knowing as much as I do about how dog diseases are spread, especially Distemper, I could not and would not, trying to be the best medical advocate for my animals that I can be, bring any dog into that vet’s office on that day (or for at least for 48 hours, the time it takes for the disease to die off). The floor, the air, the vet’s clothes, his hands, his hair, even inside the vet’s nose, could all have fomites (foe-mites) lurking–little particles of the Distemper disease–just waiting to become airborne and latch onto a new dog or a new carrier/person, like me, further spreading the disease either through infection or transmission. I not only did not want Bellie and Sissy to catch anything but I could not afford, financially or emotionally, to bring a disease that is so deadly back to my Rescue Ranch “Herd.”
This got me thinking. We really all should all call ahead before going to a vet. Becoming an advocate for our animals encompasses all aspects of their care and at times, requires some tough or inconvenient decisions. We should stand up for them, no matter the consequence to ourselves, like being intimidated, being charged for a cancelled appointment or risking being ‘fired.’ Make decisions for your animals as if they were your children–and for some of you (like me), they are! They have no one else to protect their little lives–but YOU.
My solution? I now make appointments with the condition that the vet come out to the car to examine the animals. Bringing sterile gloves along and asking the vet to use them (nicely), cuts down on a lot of the animal/s exposure to diseases, worms and other undesirables that lurk in a vet’s office. IF they need to go inside for tests that cannot be done in the car, I carry my own disposable blankets and disinfectant to use on the exam tables, on my shoes when I leave, etc. and carry the dog in–or carry the dog in a crate (even if it takes two men–I don’t let the dog’s feet touch the clinic’s floor. Disposable doggie booties may work in this situation, too.)
And, as difficult as it was, I have trained myself to resist the urge to pet the other animals that are there. I may bend closer, talk “baby talk” to them and admire them from afar–but I don’t risk transferring any of those pesky disease fomites that may be lingering in their fur. (I use the same restraint at pet stores and public places, no matter how tempting! I love all animals so this is really difficult for me to do.)
Advocate for yourself, too
Just like you would for your animals, advocate for yourself–or for a family or friend–who may not feel so well. Ask a lot of questions. Basically, use the first visit to become educated, to find out the suspected diagnosis, possible alternatives, tests needed and treatment options.
(FYI, I avoid sitting down on waiting room chairs, especially during universal sick times and try to avoid the doc’s neck tie at all costs! According to a study, the doc;s tie–and vet’s?–is a carrier of many pathogens. Yep.)
I always do research ahead of time so I know what to ask/discuss, get the diagnosis and as much info about the tests and treatment options. Then, I go home and research some more–comparing both the options that the doctor or health practitioner offered and the natural alternatives. After weighing the good, the bad and the ugly (sometimes), I proceed with the best educated option that I can live with at the time. After all, I can always change my mind at any time–and you can, too!
Thanks for stopping by, for listening and for caring. Especially for caring.