Anesthesia & Surgery: An Owner’s Point of View

Most veterinarians have or have had pets at some point in their life. I am no exception. I’ve had little creatures like hamsters, rats, and rabbits and currently I have 2 cats, both adopted from the shelter I used to work and volunteer at.

Though both cats have been anesthetized 1-2 times (that I know of) in their lives, I cannot tell you the emotional distress that I have been going through for the past few weeks, knowing my first cat would need surgery, and especially today, while she is at the hospital having the surgery.

You would think that being in this profession that I would not be phased by the prospect of putting my pets under anesthesia for a necessary procedure. Well, you’re wrong. I’ve been a bit of a wreck.

This came as a surprise to me. After all, both of my cats had undergone anesthesia and I had been assisting in anesthesia at the vet clinic for thousands of animals, and not one of them had died or any complications.

So why did I feel so different back then?

Was it because I worked with and trusted the veterinarian? Perhaps that has something to do with it. Was it because I was present and assisted in the surgical prep for my second cat’s procedure? That may have had something to do with it too, but I don’t think that’s quite it.

As much as I hate to admit it, when my cats had their first surgeries, it was at or around the time of adoption, before I had the opportunity to form a bond with them. Though I would have been devastated if anything were to have happened to them during the procedures, I wasn’t at all worried about the procedures.

Clearly things have changed. I am extremely bonded to my cats (though not in a crazy cat lady sort of way) and I cannot imagine my life without them. So when I learned that my cat would need surgery, it is no wonder I became emotional.

Last night and this morning I snuggled my cat even more than usual, fed her an extra special dinner and stressed.

Now, here I am, in class all day and worried sick about my cat. What if it’s worse than we expected? What if there are complications? The what if’s go on and on…

No news is good news, right? That’s the attitude I’m trying very hard to take, but I honestly won’t feel relief until I know everything went smoothly and she is doing well, no complications.

And, sure enough, I jinxed myself. Just moments after writing the previous sentence I got a call at the beginning of my toxicology class from the vet who wanted to talk to me about how my cat’s situation is more complicated than we expected. And believe me, I never ever want to hear the words, “I’ve never seen anything quite like this before.”

Now I’m just waiting to pick up my cat from the hospital. What I would do for a call to simply let me know that everything went well and she is awake. I’d even love to sit down with the vet and discuss the situation. Nevertheless, I cannot expect a call for any good reason, which is why receiving a call during class immediately made my heart race.

All in all, it’s been a rough day, but the experience has grounded me and reminded me of what it is like to be on the other side of things. Experiences like this help me form ideas in my head about the standards I wish to set for my future practice.

For instance, I value communication. If any animal is dropped off for a procedure, I want to make sure that clients know when their animal is out of the operating room and is awake. I’d even love to notify clients, even if it is just a generic text or email, when their animal is going into surgery. I know there’s nothing like spending an 8 hour day at work wondering whether your pet has even been taken care of yet. I’d rather have that time narrowed down and have clients assured that they will be notified when things begin and when they end. That way, the time spent worrying is minimized and you can also ensure that your client will be more or less glued to the phone until you let them know things are finished. Why is that important? There’s nothing like being in the middle of a procedure and needing owner consent to do something additional or unexpected and not being able to reach the owner. Having an owner anticipating a call from you, will increase the likelihood that they will answer should such a situation arise.

I value trust. Wouldn’t it be nice be able to be present for your animals procedure? Maybe that’s just me, but I think the idea of a viewing window for clients is great! It would be nice for them to get to see the excellent care that I am taking of their beloved pet and at the same time be present should any issue arise. A viewing window makes the “back” of the hospital seem less daunting and increases client trust and confidence when they are able to see things for themselves.

Though these are just a few ideas, I am confident that my experience today will make me a much better veterinarian in the future, as I can truly empathize with them and all of the emotions they are feeling.

And now, I must go pick up my cat from the hospital and begin the recovery process with her.

Wish us luck!