Musings of a Veterinarian

Burnt Burgers, Urgent Care, and Guilt

May 07, 2011 By: Dr. K Category: Just For Fun, Opinion

Last weekend was filled with calamity for the Koehl family. I contained my excitement for the first grilled burgers of the season, a big deal here in the north east, until the afternoon of house projects came to an end. I got the burgers on the grill and the macaroni and cheese on the stove all the while dreaming of that first bite into the mouth watering juicy beef patty. On my way to flip the burgers, I repeated the habit I’ve had for years by walking out the back door and pushing the storm door closed so my feline frenzy didn’t push it open. Hey, they get excited about burgers, too. Only this time, as I pushed the door closed the glass shattered in my hand.

Ruh roh.

Initial synaptic reports indicated I was going to die. As the blood dripped on the floor, visions of crippled exams and banishment from surgery filled my mind. Rational thought took over…err…eventually…and I notified my husband of the 1 cm laceration on my palm. That evening taste of summer ended with burnt burgers, soggy mac and cheese, and a lot of kitchen clean-up. I’ll spare those details. I decided to craft steri-strips from waterproof tape and declared myself on the mend.

The next morning, aside from pain, I felt tip top. That is until my husband woke up declaring he had a plank in his right eye. We, like so many of my clients, decided to see how he did through the day and applied lubricant eye drops and homemade remedies. Hours later he decided the pain in his eye was too severe to endure until Monday and we found ourselves at an Urgent Care Facility.

I paid the fee before he was taken back. As my husband was examined I chatted with the receptionist. Our conversation went as follows:
” You guys busy today?” “No, we’ve only seen about 12 people.”
“What kind of stuff do you see here?” “Rashes, UTIs, colds.”
“That’s interesting. Hey, let me ask you a question. What happens when people come in here for urgent care and they can’t pay the exam fee?” She grimaced and shook her head. “We won’t see them.”

That didn’t surprise me as much as what came next.”Do these people ever get angry and tell you you don’t care about them and expect service anyway?” She raised her eyebrows in surprise and said, “Never.” Probing questions revealed another difference between my job and my medical counterparts. The dichotomy between the expectations in human and veterinary medicine always amazes me.

Most veterinarians occasionally face accusations of not caring about animals when they refuse service to someone who has no money. Why don’t we hear doctors accosted when they refuse service to patients without money or patients with unaccepted insurance plans? Perhaps I haven’t been listening but maybe, just maybe, the guilt pet owners feel when they are unable to care for their pets emotionally trumps their personal health concerns.

Dealing with the financial component of practice is harder than any medical decision I’ve made. Accusations of  selfishness, greed, and lack of compassion don’t easily roll off my back. I believe many of these accusations are rooted in guilt and frustration.

The truth is pet ownership a luxury. Shame and guilt felt when they can’t properly care for their animals can tip even the nicest client over the edge.  That helpless feeling coupled with compassion towards man and beast puts emphasis on caring for others over oneself and probably fuels the angry diatribes from troubled clients.

My husband was diagnosed with corneal abrasions. One trip to urgent care, two trips to the ophthalmologist, and four trips to the pharmacy later we’re on the mend. I’m grateful for the finances to ensure medical care for the entire Koehl family – Fox, Winston, and Miss Pigglesworth included!

2 Comments to “Burnt Burgers, Urgent Care, and Guilt”

  1. I know that finance issues are some of the toughest faced in vet clinics. I think you’re entirely right that guilt plays a role in how angry clients get about money. I don’t understand the way people react, and the bad/mean things people say to their veterinarians.

    I know that finances do play a role in the decisions I make for my pets. I wish that they didn’t, but they do. I’m happy to have a wonderful veterinarian who works with me to find the best treatments within our financial constraints!

  2. Excellent article. You absolutely well articulated so many of my frustrations. I mean you don’t show up at the pharmacist and say: ‘i forgot my wallet, can I get the medications on the tab?’ However, at the vet clinic, i get clients show up afterhours well aware of the surcharge and the excuse of forgetting their wallet never seems to get old. Even worse, my neighbor came over today well knowing it is my day off to examine her pooch that had an ear infection for the past 4 days. She obviousy had no money to pay and expected my time was for free and to top it up, she is a heavy smoker and never seems to run out of cash to pay for her cigarettes. My personal favourite is this cliet that was annoyed with the australian government for not extending the free health care offered to people to animals…seriously? lol…


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