By Paige Roth
I love going to the vet. As a dog owner, I tend to be a bit of a hypochondriac because I love guessing what the diagnosis will be, the tests they’ll run, the treatment and preventative plans, and dreaming up the questions I’ll ask. But on Tuesday, I had a real reason to go to the vet and the trip was an important lesson.
My miniature schnauzer Katie – light of my life and keeper of my soul – was just recovering from bladder-stone-removal surgery when I rescued her 9 months ago. She came from a high-needs shelter where wonderful vets, the vets I one day hope to be, perform life-saving operations on animals that would otherwise be abandoned and euthanized. Since then, she has been on a special urinary diet designed to keep more stones from forming.
But over the past few weeks my boyfriend and I noticed she would urinate, and then keep trying to pee, but nothing would come out. She asked to go out more frequently and could barely walk around our apartment complex without sitting down for a break. We knew the signs and took her to see a new vet, hoping we had caught the stones early. Maybe they would give us some medication to break up the stones and adjust her diet.
After an ultrasound, an x-ray, and urinalysis, it was clear that she had a giant bladder stone and needed surgery as soon as possible. During the first visit our vet was great about walking us through the diagnosis and explaining the urgency of the surgery – we didn’t take much convincing. She scheduled the surgery, suggested it wasn’t a big deal and sent us on our way before we could ask many more questions.
That night my boyfriend – also a scientist, son of a doctor and a pharmacist, and brother of a medical student – and I sat down to research the surgery. We researched the mineral composition of her stone and which urine pHs were most conducive to their precipitation. Most clinics performed the procedure laparoscopically, if the stone could not be removed with a catheter. This meant minimal recovery time and often a same-day pick up.
But when we got to the clinic at 7 the next morning, we were met by an assistant, not the vet. She told us the surgery would involved at least a 3-inch incision and likely overnight monitoring. No one was there to answer our questions about how the surgery would be performed – little things like how much anesthesia was required, what type of sutures they would use, where the incision would be made, or possible complications we might anticipate. From my nervous research I learned that bladders can rupture during the surgery and leave stones scattered throughout the body cavity – how comforting.
While I realize we may have wanted more information than the average bear (and might not be satisfied unless we were peering over the surgeon’s shoulder during the operation), I felt something I hate feeling – uninformed. I felt nervous, unsure of what to expect, and a little angry. I thought the $1500 bill would be the most consuming, but I didn’t care at all. I hated feeling like I didn’t understand what was happening or worse – that the vet didn’t think it was worth telling me the more complicated or scary details. As I sat in the car crying after dropping my dog off for surgery, I realized the root of my sadness was knowing I hadn’t been an effective advocate for my animals because I wasn’t in possession of all the facts.
In hindsight, the surgery was a great success.
Though the vet removed an oreo-sized stone from my dog’s bladder and she recovered beautifully, the experience taught me what kind of vet I want to be. Though I hope to be a killer surgeon and patient advocate, I also hope I never forget how important it is to thoroughly explain the treatment details to owners who will worry unnecessarily.
Even if the information is complicated, I hope I take the time to communicate it as simply as possible and as many times as it takes for the owners to understand.
And even though not-knowing gnawed away at me for two days, I can still say I love my trips to the vet and my passion for animal medicine has only been reaffirmed.