I have a love hate relationship with being on call. It’s more love than hate most of the time but there are definitely times it’s a hate sort of thing and I bet it’s not for the reasons you might think. Yes, having family dinners, a good night sleep or Christmas morning interrupted by a pet emergency is less than ideal but then I know that most pet owners would also rather not be interrupted themselves. So I don’t cry, “Poor me” whenever I have to start the car at 3 am in the dead of Winter. And since the nearest properly equipped emergency clinic with 24 hour staffing is well over an hour away, our clients need us to be there for them at all hours. Still, there are parts of it I really don’t like and there are parts of it I am in love with. I figured it would be best to make a list of things I love and things I hate about being on call.
- I love – absolutely love – being there for people at all times and in all situations. There is no better feeling than to talk to someone who is clearly having a really bad night and let them know that you are able to make it better. Then to come in and make it better, it’s quite a rush.
- It is equally great being able to let someone know that the issue they are stressing themselves out over is likely going to be fine by morning or can wait until office hours to be addressed.
- There is a certain rush we get dealing with a life and death situation as well. Those mornings where you come into work and see the dog or cat that by all accounts should and would be dead if it weren’t for the efforts of your veterinary team, that’s a cool feeling.
- Continuity is important to me. If I am treating someone’s pet for an illness or an ongoing disease or if I just performed surgery on them and there is an issue, I like to be the one to see them for that issue.
- Hate is a strong word but I don’t like the idea of having a general practice veterinarian seeing emergency patients. Yes we can deal with emergencies but if you compared a general practice veterinarian handling an emergency compared to a veterinarian who works as an emergency vet, the difference is night and day. Experience is key there and while we do our best and cover the gaps, I don’t feel like there is a comparison between the two. In short, I don’t feel like general practice emergency coverage offers the same level of service emergency clinics do. That’s fine for most things but I still don’t like it.
- The same idea goes for the facility. An emergency clinic is set up to be just that. There are marked differences between an emergency clinic and a general practice. In most general practices, the oxygen doesn’t reach the kennels. Meaning if you have a dog in respiratory distress, they need to be dragged into surgery and restrained while they receive oxygen. Same goes for monitoring equipment, anesthesia and sometimes even the areas the staff perform most of their work aren’t visible to the areas where the pets are being kept. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just that a facility that is purposefully designed to service emergencies is better for servicing emergencies.
- The above two points are what I think clients miss out when using a general practice for emergency coverage but I also feel like my general practice clients get less than excellent service when i’m up until 3 in the morning even doing something as simple as pulling out quills. There’s no way a person could expect to get less than a normal amount of sleep and show up the next day to be as good as they would be at their job as if they were well rested. So I also feel like trying to offer emergency on call service makes my clients have to settle for less than my best during the day as well. I know, there are folks out there saying that they’ve done it for years and it works for them. I’ve seen it, I’ve done it and I can tell you honestly, you are not as good tired as you are fully rested. Hands down.
In a few bullet points that’s how I feel about being available to my clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are parts of it I feel are a compromise but I knew when I moved to Vermont, the most rural state in the U.S. according to the 2000 Census and second only to Maine in 2010, I expected there to be some compromises that had to be made. When I think about trying to juggle kids sports in the near future, the emergency coverage seems like a pretty small one.
Thanks for reading.