If any of you have read my Heal biography, you know the truth of the somewhat trite expression explaining why I wanted to be a veterinarian–“because I have always loved animals.” From growing up on a farm in the country and digging into the leftovers of our pet dog and cats with sticks–exploring an original “wet” lab–to helping my parents care for and prepare the meat we raised and then consumed, I have always had such a deep love and appreciation for the animal kingdom. Although my dream was to be a zoo vet, I quickly realized that small animal medicine would offer many more opportunities. I spent the majority of my vet career as an associate. I had a mobile practice for nine years prior to having children. Now that I have practiced for over 35 years, I realize that I want to do what I love best for the remainder of my working life–having a much closer, more personal relationship with my pet parents and their beloved pets by providing care in their own environment where stress is much less and the pets are more “themselves.” I can be their special friend who comes and turns a physical examination into a sometimes more intense “petting” session prior to having the more intrusive procedures quickly over and then going back to the loving hands. I am continually surprised by the reactions of several pet parents–they cannot believe how much better their dogs and cats behave with me and how much easier the whole procedure is for everyone. And that is my goal, good care and a special relationship with all concerned.
This first year of a new decade has been full of change and stress for everyone, from how we do our jobs to even how we live our lives. Since I started this current house call practice in July of 2019, I have had to build a new veterinary practice in the traditionally slower winter months and then directly into the “Covid era.” My area of practice is more rural than lots of others in Heal. Therefore, my challenges are slightly different from those in more urban areas. Different attitudes about pets, more outside pets, a greater quantity of pets per household, varying economic ranges of pet parents, and a much larger range of service have been just a few of my challenges. But I consider myself lucky that I do live in a more rural area since I can turn these perceived “challenges” into opportunities for education about the range of care for pets, provide a more convenient service for those multiple pets and their “parents,” and tailor my services to the pocket books of my pet parents.
Until my house call practice can fully support me, I still need to earn enough money to pay my bills, so I am very fortunate that I can do relief work in practices in my area. I see from both sides of the fence, so to speak (house call vs. hospital visit), in that I have to talk to pet parents via the phone or outside beside their car after having seen their pet inside the hospital. This situation is not satisfactory for anyone, neither pet nor parent nor vet. I feel disconnected from the pet parent, and they are not as involved with their beloved pet as they would want. Everything is the opposite when I am going into the pet’s home and the parent is totally involved in everything that is done to and for their baby. All my pet parents say that they have a much greater appreciation for a house call visit after having had an impersonal hospital experience.
Practicing in a congested hospital environment has its own pitfalls since it is very hard to “social distance” from someone holding your patient for an exam or a blood draw. Recently, one of the hospitals where I work has had a technician develop Covid-19, and a lot of the staff are understandably concerned for their health and that of their older family. As a result, the hospital is very short-staffed, which makes providing adequate care for our clients’ pets even more of a challenge. And going into the same space daily with the same people intensifies the risk of contracting this very contagious disease. My mother who lives in a nursing facility recently tested positive for Covid after she was already battling a cold, and I haven’t been able to see her or be as involved in her care as I was prior to all the new “rules.” Although I have several comorbidities myself, I have decided not to live my life hiding from and being frightened by a virus which is 99.6 % survivable even with my situation. I will gather my own information about the risks, not listening to and letting myself be controlled by the ever changing news media whose goals always seem to be geared toward an ideology I do not share. My small business is worth saving, and I am the only one who can do that. I can only save and grow it if I continue to practice veterinary medicine in the manner that I choose.
With this goal in mind, a house call veterinary practice is much safer and more practical in the current “Covid era” and is also much more pet parent “friendly.” I practice only when I am at my best health, and prior to the appointment, I ask questions about any potential issues either the pet parent or I may have. I keep contact with the person as brief as possible, keeping distance at all times except when they are restraining their pet. I wear a mask at such times as appropriate and can spend as much time as I need with the pet parent in discussing their and their pet’s issues and in developing a care plan for the life of their baby. My goal of developing a special and long term relationship with the pet parent and their pet can be achieved even in this unique time, and we all can benefit from those rewards. For example, I recently visited a wonderful young woman who has a very severe immune deficiency and had not been out of her house in over 10 months. Her two dogs and one cat had not seen a vet in over a year. She asked me if I had recently been in contact with anyone testing positive (which I hadn’t), and we both wore masks. We stayed at least 10-12 feet apart except during the brief time of the exam and procedures. I, unfortunately, diagnosed a few issues with her older dog that had developed in the past year, and together, we are on the way to helping that dog and her other two pets. She was so very thankful for my visit and is in a better state of mind about the health and care for her beloved pets. That is my goal–the happiness and well being of both my two and four-legged clients.
We as veterinarians can choose to practice as our conscience allows, following the professional guidelines and going it “alone” if one’s conscience leads in that direction. With Heal, however, you are never alone. I was born to be a house call veterinarian, and I will be for as long as I can–with Heal’s help. I am so fortunate to be able to live my dreams! So, march forward and live yours as well.