The truth about cats and dogs: On the job with a vet

Surgeries, appointments, andpaperwork make for one busy day at Northshore Veterinary Hospital

Dr. Coleen Coyne of Northshore Veterinary Hospital says the grueling hours and emotional rollercoaster of her job do not detract from the fact that she loves what she does for a living.


8 a.m.

   Veternarian Colleen Coyne sips gingerly on her steaming coffee and looks at her schedule for the day. Nine surgeries, significantly more then her usual six or seven, are scheduled for the morning. Both of the office managers at Northshore Veterinary Hospital are quick to plead innocent for the over-scheduling, but Coyne just smiles and says she is in for a crazy day.
   Coyne, 38, graduated from Washington State University and began practicing veterinary medicine in Des Moines in 1995; she came to Northshore Veterinary Hospital five years ago to work with fellow veterinarian Kim Barron.
   Within minutes of checking her schedule, four-legged surgery patients begin filling the waiting rooms with anxious owners by their sides. The silent morning is replaced with barking, whining and meowing.
   Each animal is checked in, weighed, and medically evaluated. Coyne meets all her patients with smiles, hugs, and lots of petting. She thoroughly explaines the procedures each animal is going to undergo, from tumor removals to teeth extractions, and answers all the questions and concerns of worried owners.
   “It’s an interesting challenge, having the owner be the communicator and then having me communicate with both the owner and the pet,” Coyne says. “Vets are similar to pediatricians in that our patients can’t communicate verbally, so we have to use body language, response to touch, and symptoms that owners describe. We use a lot of intuition,” she said.
   After asking her own questions about the pet’s specific needs, history, and allergies, Coyne brings the animals to the back room, where they receive more attention from the brightly dressed veterinary technicians and assistants. The animals are then prepped for surgery and put into the waiting area.

8:30 a.m.

   The first surgery of the morning is Banks, a small gray kitten. After listening to his heart and cuddling with him, he is put into a deep sleep with the drug Isoflurane. Working very delicately, Coyne completes her first castration of the day, in less than five minutes.
   The next patient is Aspen, a Labrador who needs a growth on his leg removed, as well as a teeth cleaning. After using the Isoflurane to put him to sleep, veterinary technician Neysa Larson puts a tube down his throat to keep the oxygen flowing and monitored, and begins the teeth-cleaning process.

9:30 a.m.

   “Four surgeries in 40 minutes,” Coyne says enthusiastically. “It’s got to be a record.”
   By 9:30 a.m., two castrations, one lump-removal with teeth cleaning, and one dental check-up have been completed. A mid-morning doughnut call comes over the intercom, but Coyne and her assistants decline the offer to keep working on the rest of their patients.
   After each surgery is completed, Coyne or one of the technicians is prompt to call the owners of her patients. “We try to let owners know as soon as their pet is done with surgery and that everything went well, because they worry,” Coyne says.
   Besides calling after surgeries, she also spends a lot of time on the phone doing follow-up calls. “A big part of our jobs is answering phone calls and getting back to people. We spend a lot of time talking with patient’s owners, explaining conditions, and asking about recoveries,” Coyne said.
    After every surgery she also spends significant time on the computer, completing medical records, entering tests, recording data and analyzing test results.

12:30 p.m.

   With Bob Marley in the CD player and an abundance of coffee cups on the table, Coyne finishes her last surgery. In fewer than five hours, she has played the role of doctor, dentist, surgeon, dermatologist, optometrist, anesthesiologist, X-ray technician, and beautician.
   “We did this in record time,” Coyne said.
   She attributes the success of the day to everybody working together and working hard. “We have a really good family group. We all like what we do and we all like each other,” she says.

3 p.m.

   Back in the check-in rooms, a golden retriever and a cat wait for Coyne to finish her work on the computer. They were her first regular appointments of the day. After listening to vital signs, checking records, and giving her patients lots of treats, Coyne tests and evaluates both animals. After showing signs of good health, she happily sends both owners on their way.
   Coyne’s next patient, Mike, an 11-year-old golden retriever, is a regular at the hospital. He has previously had surgery for a cancerous growth and continues to get subsequent lumps checked out. Although he doesn’t care for the needles poking him, Mike knows exactly where the treat drawer is, and that he gets a treat for every time he is poked.
   After Mike’s growth samples are put on slides and tested, his results come back cancer free. After a sigh of relief from his owner, he gets one more treat before being sent home.
   Not all cases are as fortunate as Mike’s. When a pet’s condition can no longer be treated, Coyne and the owner of the animal must make the decision to put the pet down.
   “It’s a miserable feeling. It’s solemn and yet it is clear to me to let the owner know exactly what is going on right away,” she says. “It’s horrible to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately it’s part of my job. Fortunately, we have more successes than failures — so I can go home at the end of the day feeling good about things.”

Coyne does a teeth cleaning for a yellow lab, which is happily sedated during the process.

5:30 p.m.

   After two-and-a-half hours of checking animals for lumps, bad teeth, cloudy eyes, healing scars, loose bowl movements, and overall health, Coyne fills prescriptions and gives medical advice to the owners of the sick and recovering animals. When she is finished, she goes to her office to return telephone calls and fill out paperwork.
   “My least favorite part of this job is the financial aspect of things. I wish there were no financial limitations for people to give their pets ideal care,” Coyne says. “I like to practice medicine, not deal with estimates.”
   When pet owners can’t afford specialized doctors for unique surgeries, the veterinarians at Northshore Veterinary Hospital perform them.
   “We do orthopedic, amputations, removing stones…we’ve done some interesting surgeries,” Coyne says. The most frequent surgeries performed at the hospital are mass removals, fracture repairs, C-sections and dental work.

6 p.m.

   Although the office is officially closed, Coyne’s work is not finished. The ceaseless energy she has shown all day is wearing thin, but she still has several things to do. After completing her paperwork and telephone calls, she still has two more animals to evaluate. Her co-workers’ dogs are both recovering from sicknesses and need check-ups and prescriptions. Looking exhausted from the busy day, Coyne puts the rest of her energy into her last two patients, giving them the same love and attention as all the other animals in the hospital that day. When she finishes, her day at the hospital is finally over.
   Nine surgeries and countless appointments later, Coyne is finally able to go home to her own pets, one dog and one cat.
   Although the hours are long and the days are intense, Coyne still loves what she does.
   “I like science and I like animals,” she says. “Painting a diagnosis, coming up with answers, and finding a plan of action with the end result being a healthy pet is a really good feeling.”


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