Roll with the punches

Roll with the punches

Jun 01, 2006

Editors' note: Over the course of a year, Dr. Philip VanVranken, a 33-year veteran of veterinary medicine and owner of Dickman Road Veterinary Clinic in Battle Creek, Mich., acted as a mentor to recent graduate Dr. W. Andrew Rollo, an associate at Gibraltar Veterinary Hospital, a five-doctor, small animal practice in Gibraltar, Mich. The two doctors exchanged regular e-mails discussing pressing industry issues from new grads' biggest worries to living a balanced life. This is the third of four articles that share portions of their conversations.

Learning to anticipate and react to painful blows can take the edge off that uppercut and help you keep your balance in practice. And you know you need to hold it together on that day when you euthanize three pets—and stay collected when clients can't afford or won't pay for the care their pets need. That's part of your job. But it's not easy. Our mentor, Dr. Philip VanVranken, and recent graduate, Dr. W. Andrew Rollo, talk about the challenges and share their insights and strategies.

Dealing with death

5 points of enlightenment
Dr. VanVranken: Have you had the "Angel of Death Day" yet? Here's how it starts: You drive to work on a nice sunny day, and walk in the door, and hospital team members tell you that your acute pancreatitis and parvo cases (both of which were doing much better) died during the night.

You hurriedly call the owners and give them the bad news. Both clients take it badly, and you spend at least 20 minutes on the phone with each person. That puts you behind right away.

You see two new kittens during your first appointment. And 15 minutes later you're informing the owner that both tested positive for feline leukemia. Your day goes on and on like this.

Dr. Rollo: Some days I have to euthanize multiple animals. Most are on their last legs, which makes the situation easier. However, I can't say that I've had the "Angel of Death Day" yet.

During one two-week stretch, I didn't euthanize any animals. When I finally had to, I opened the controlled substances book to record the euthanasia solution I'd use, and I noticed the whole page was filled with a young colleague's initials. For the past two weeks she'd performed all the euthanasias—three to four a day, everyday.

I felt bad that she got stuck with so many bum cases, but I guess it was her turn to draw the short straw. I'm sure my turn will come.

Dr. VanVranken: I once had a full-of-bad-news day that ended with a toenail trim on a 10-year-old, fractious dog. Forty-five minutes later, the client returned with a pale dog. Further examination revealed it had suffered a ruptured splenic tumor. The tumor imploded with the activity surrounding the toenail trim. Now that's a bad day when toenail trims end lives.

Here's the deal: These days happen to all of us. Once in a while, one of the other doctors here will walk around muttering, "Just call me Dr. Death." Look to your colleagues for support; they've been through this. Your next day will likely be better.