A vet’s weekend emergency shift

Armfuls of puppies are fairly typical.

It is Friday afternoon and Dr. Joyce Follows has just finished her work week at Island Veterinary Service. Since Monday, it has been 9-to-5 work, yet most of those days go on to extended hours. A typical day for Dr. Follows is not typical – extraordinary might be a better description. The day may be entirely or partially blocked off for surgical procedures, such as spays and neuters, or she may be dealing with the “in and out” patients. Some are by appointment, some are emergencies and, of course, some the consequences of new pet owners being unfamiliar with proper care of their animals.

For most of the staff at the hospital it is “TGIF” day, however, for Dr. Follows it is the start of what could be an additional chaotic 48 hours. It is her turn to handle the weekend emergency calls.

Besides her personal cellphone, the clinic’s phone stays by her side whether she’s on the beach, out to dinner or attempting to sleep.

A weekend without calls is rare, yet weekends with unnecessary calls are very common.

Dr. Follows is having dinner with friends at a local restaurant and the phone rings:

“Hello, Island Vet Emergency Services.”

“Dr. Joyce, I don’t know what to do; my little Rudy has a horrible limp and he keeps biting at his paw. Should I bring him in?”

“How long have you noticed the limp?”

“Well, we just went for beach walk and by the time we got home, the poor thing started hobbling. My poor Rudy.”

“Did you check to see if he stepped on a sandbur?”

“A sandbur? Never thought of that.”

“Please check for me.”

Dr. Follows hears a shriek and the client comes back to the phone.

“You were right, Dr. Joyce, thank you. Sorry for the bother.”

By the time Dr. Follows gets her dessert, the phone rings again.

“Emergency Services, how can I help you?”

“My dog, a toy poodle, is acting very strange. Usually this late in the evening she’s sleeping; however, she seems very restless and is breathing rapidly.”

“Do you have children?” Dr. Follows asks.

“Yes, two.”

“Have they been eating any sort of candy or chocolates?”

“No, but I have.”

“Did you give your pet any of those chocolates?”

“Yes.”

“Bring her in, I’ll be at the clinic in 10 minutes.”

Chocolate is severely toxic to dogs because it contains theobromine. This is a stimulant that affects the nervous system and heart muscle, as well as increasing the frequency of urination. Dogs cannot metabolize theobromine as effectively as humans, allowing it to build up in their system until it reaches toxic levels of concentration. Chocolate can kill a dog or a cat.

After eight years of university and three and a half years in practice, Dr. Follows has come to a conclusion that there is a need to increase pet owners’ education in animal behavior and off-limit foods. The taboo list extends much further than chocolate.

With our close attachment to our pets, they can almost be pegged as our children, so a pet’s health status often reflects on their caretakers. Halloween, Christmas, and Easter are the worst times for chocolate-related cases.

It is now Saturday and is on her way to the beach … the phone rings.

“Emergency services.”

“Joyce, do you have time to stop by the stables and check one of the mares? I think we may have a colic situation here.”

Dr. Follows knows the caller and the horse, so she makes a U-turn.

Colic refers to pain in a horse’s abdomen. While colic can include a simple blockage, a spasm in the colon/gas buildup, or torsions in the digestive tract, the majority of colic episodes are idiopathic, or “of unknown origin.” Though Dr. Follows is not an equine specialist, she does general equine practice in Cayman and has her contacts for specialists in the U.S. if advice is needed. Via phone she explains the symptoms of the horse to Dr. Dan Carter, a specialist in equine medicine and lameness. Dr. Carter lives in Georgia and is well known to the horse owning community in Cayman. Fortunately for the horse owner (and the mare), the situation is not serious and after some treatment, this emergency call gets filed under the “A-OK” category.

Dr. Follows grew up in Grand Cayman. She has been a part of Island Veterinary Services since 2002 and remembers starting as a 13-year-old high school girl cleaning dog kennels. She has since earned her Associates of Science at UCCI, Bachelors of Science at Mississippi State University, and Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She enjoys all aspects of companion animal veterinary medicine. She also became a certified veterinary acupuncturist through the Chi Institute in Gainesville, Florida.

It is near midnight on Sunday and she is almost done with the emergency weekend when another call comes in. A dog fight left this patient with a small hole in his flank. Some sedation, a small stitch, antibiotics and pain medication is the cure.

The day crew arrives; time to go home, but that does not mean rest. Now Dr. Follows needs to give some attention to her big, boisterous labrador retriever mix, Colby. He’s full of energy and loves to swim – Seven Mile Beach, here they come! She sits on the beach and while watching Colby swim, she reflects on her life.

“I have the best job, living a dream,” she says. “It is true, a veterinarian’s life is not glamorous, but I love all my patients, be they furry, feathery or covered with hide.”