Play it by ear
It was a dark stormy night…jokes. No, actually it was a beautiful August day. I had just passed my boards about two weeks prior. The day had been long, as Saturdays (or any day over the weekend) at a veterinary office tend to be. I had been in and out of rooms because we were understaffed and I was doubling as a tech and an assistant. An assistants main job is restraining the animal for the Veterinarian or Nurse. Fast forward to the last appointment of the day. I REPEAT: the last appointment. After this appointment, I had plans to go to one of my best friend’s graduation party to hang out, have some laughs, and probably a few sandwiches in her yard. Unfortunately, as we all learn in life, plans change, and that did not happen. Anyway, back to the last appointment: It was a German Shepherd mix, about 75 pounds, and he was coming in for his annual examination.
Throughout this story, mistakes were made by a variety of different people, but none that I blame.. This post is not to point fingers or cast fault, but to shed light on how we can be safer in the workplace.
Our last appointment Shepherd, who we will refer to as Fido, was a known nervous nelly. He hated being around other dogs, and like many sheppies, he was defensive aggressive (the scariest kind, in my opinion). His medical file noted that he was fearful, required a muzzle, and a room before being seen, but it was the last appointment of the day, and the reception team was busy and failed to check his medical file. We, also being eager to get our day done (on time, might I add), also did not pay attention to such alerts.
Fido walks in the room, we greet his owners and ask how his year has been, followed by me picking him up and get him on the table (Note: I’m 115 pounds, the dog weighs almost as much as me). What happens next, happens REAL fast. He alligator rolls and I turn my face ( I always protect the face) he grabs and bites at my ear. CHOMP. CHEW. SWALLOW. Fido bit off my ENTIRE ear lobe. I’m not even kidding..bit it off clean. I grab at my ear, expecting blood to be gushing from it – there was blood shed but not to a slasher movie degree, so I just held my hand there. I felt the flesh hanging but didn’t know exactly what I was dealing with. Amidst the owner’s crying and shouting, I looked at the veterinarian in the room. “I think it’s bad,” I said, to which she replied “let me see.” I lifted my hand, she made a face, and then proceeded to try to grab my ear lobe out of the dogs mouth. In shock, I stated that the dog can easily digest cartilage, she need not grab it! But, she wasn’t grabbing the lobe for the dog, she was grabbing the lobe for me. Somehow, our hero veterinarian managed to grab the lobe from the dog’s throat, which was immediately put on ice (in a dog bowl, naturally.)
After the ear episode, I head to the back treatment area, laughing because the whole scene was just ridiculous. I continued covering my ear, watching everyone around me freak out. An ambulance was called, and shortly after I was headed to the ER. Sitting in the hospital bed, I was in disbelief. I was happy it wasn’t my nose, lips, or eyes… but I was mad I wasn’t going to be able to attend my friends party. Okay, okay I know what you’re thinking: “There is no way this girl was this calm.” In all seriousness… I was. I didn’t need to freak out because everyone around me was.
A shit ton of lidocaine, some pain meds, and 60 stitches later, my ear was back. It was back but not quite alive. It would be two months before my ear decided to look somewhat normal. I would endure weekly plastic surgeon visits, debriding of the tissue, infection, and a stupid war veteran ear wrap for about 4 weeks. Finally, as soon as I was cleared, I went back to work.
Thinking back to the experience, there are so many things that could’ve prevented this debacle. I consider myself EXTREMELY lucky that it was just my ear, and that I walked away with just a battle wound, a crazy story, and a lot of “can you hear me” jokes. But the point of this story is that we NEED to be more careful. In my eyes not only was our staff put in danger ( me included) but the dog too. I set out in this career to be an advocate for those who cannot speak: the four legged babies who are coming to us to help them feel better, mentally as well as physically. Fido was NOT at fault. It was on us to read his body language and report and act accordingly. The dog was just defending himself and acting in the best way possible for his survival. Yes, that may sound dramatic to us, but not to Fido. He doesn’t understand why he was there, animals act on instinct. We as an industry need to be better about this type of situation. Sadly, many dogs catch the blame and suffer the consequences when events such as the one shared here happen. Luckily, this story had a (relatively) happy ending… today, Fido is fine. There are MANY alerts on his chart now, so we can plan a better course of action when he comes into the office. He even wrote me a really nice card stating he was sorry, he was just scared, and that he hopes I feel better. I keep that card in my nightstand to remind me that we all need to be better. It’s important to take each and every situation as a distinct event and not let our guard down. Otherwise, this job has a shelf life, and it isn’t very long. Today, I use this story to educate technicians, new and old, that we are NOT invincible. We need to put the time and patience to plan and read each and every case.
In the future, there are so many other steps we should take in order to help situations like this from occurring. For instance, I would suggest that this owner keep their fearful dog in their car (a safer place than the vet office in the dogs eyes) until it was their appointment time. This would limit the anxiety of being in the office with all the negative sights and smells brewing in the dog prior to his visit. Secondly, and most importantly this pupper should have been muzzled. Muzzles do NOT harm the dog and they protect both parties from being hurt. During his visit, assess his body language and determine if other solutions might be fitting for the owner and pet. For example, this guy is definitely a candidate for anti anxiety medications. I also believe visits with pets like this should be alloted an extra 15 minutes to discuss the pros and cons to medication, as well as holistic ways to help decrease the fear stimulus in the pet. With a combination of time, patience, and research these pets can have fear free visits that allow better exams and better outcomes for all involved.
I recently became Fear Free certified, and believe it can have a giant presence in our industry. Check out my blog on the details of Fear Free and its place in the Veterinary industry.
*below are many pictures of my ear as it made its recovery down healing avenue- hopefully you’re not squeamish and can handle them all. Warning, the infected ones are pretty gnarly.