Photo by WernerImages 2018/Shutterstock
In this Vet Adventures column, veterinarian Courtney Diehl, DVM, has a hard time knowing how to charge for a dead-end veterinary visit, but the day turns around quickly when she saves a horse in dire shape after an accident.
It hadn’t been a good day. I’d been yanked out the door at 6:30 a.m. for a dude ranch call and was almost there, an hour drive, when they called back and said I didn’t need to come after all. And it was too late to run home and get my travel mug of tea and some snacks for the road, so I was stuck starting my regular calls without breakfast or lunch. I still had not figured out how to charge for a veterinary visit that dead-ended, so I knew I’d be eating the cost. Again.
My first scheduled call was supposed to be four dentals but turned out to be only one. And, real quick, could I just check teeth on eight other horses, all of whom were far away in adjoining fields.
This was always a process guaranteed to take far longer than “real quick” and also guaranteed to leave me covered in stinking green saliva, struggling with horses that I didn’t know. The woman at the barn assured me that the owners would call and schedule the dentals later, but I knew from experience that this was unlikely to happen, and that I would more than likely never get paid for the oral exams, although it’s a veterinary visit I would like to charge for.
Then, my interpretation of some radiographs I’d taken had been called into question by an owner. I was no radiologist, but after doing a lameness exam and finding bone chips in the horse’s fetlock, I felt pretty confident in calling them bone chips, and so did the orthopedic surgeon who had reviewed my X-rays.
Apparently, the owner’s sister was a non-practicing vet who claimed that there was no real way to know if the chips were really chips. A 45-minute discussion followed, and my plan to do more diagnostics on the chip-filled joint was derailed. I left, wondering how exactly to charge for that veterinary visit.
I rounded a sharp curve as my phone blared at me for the umpteenth time, and I decided it would be a good idea to pitch it out the window. It bounced off the ground and landed in a patch of tall grass, and I drove defiantly for about 40 yards before slamming on the brakes, reversing, and jumping out to grab it. That was an expensive phone, and I’d already lost several under similar circumstances.
As I retrieved my phone, I looked up to see one of my clients holding a horse. Charlie was a very successful dressage trainer in the area, and surely he had just seen me chuck my phone onto his pasture, then retrieve it.
By some diabolical twist of fate, it had been Charlie who’d called just now. I opened my mouth to explain but realized that the horse was covered with blood, and he was holding pressure on a massive wound on the horse’s shoulder. Another awful laceration gaped across her chest.
I leapt from the truck, carefully pulled his hand away from the injury and was rewarded with a cascade of blood. I grabbed a sterile pack of hemostats and quickly clamped every bleeder that I could find. Charlie and I led the horse across the road, hemostats clanking, and I spent the next three hours repairing the massive lacerations and tying off blood vessels.
After I’d finished the job, I learned that the horse was owned by one of the most prominent horse vets in Colorado and was very valuable. Great. Now I was probably going to get my work picked apart and honestly, I couldn’t take another beating today.
But I had to explain the situation to Dr. Famous; Charlie was already holding out his phone with a gleam in his eye.
“Better use mine. Yours probably has a bunch of dirt and grass packed into the speaker.”
I took the phone uncertainly.
“Dr. Diehl, I want to thank you for your speedy response today and for saving my best mare. Charlie told me that you were there almost before he hung up the phone. I saw the before-and-after pictures of her shoulder and chest, and I have to tell you I’m impressed with your work!”
I mumbled a response, thanking the gods that Charlie hadn’t told him anything else about phones, and did my best to summarize the extent of the injury and my treatment plan. Dr. Famous gently cut me short.
“I know she’s in the best hands and I trust you and Charlie completely. Please keep me updated and again, I thank you, Doctor. This mare means a lot to me.”
I hung up the phone in a daze and Charlie made an exaggerated show of hurrying forward to snatch it from my hands.
“Just want to get this back before you throw it across my barn!”
I didn’t react, as I was almost in tears at how kindly and respectfully this great vet had just treated me. He had every right to be overbearing and bossy, yet he’d allowed me to be the vet in the equation and call the shots on his expensive mare without question. I was humbled to the ground.
Now I’d get to go home and put Dr. Famous into my client list. And cope with the fact that I had to send him a vet bill.
Charlie smirked at me as I packed up my stuff. I knew he wasn’t done with me yet.
“You know, Doc, you’ve got a heck of a right arm. I hear the local softball team is looking for a pitcher!”
“And I hear they’re looking for a jackass for their mascot.” I shot back. “You might fit the bill.”
I could hear him laughing as I drove away, and I chuckled too, shaking my head.
It was just another day at work after all.
This Vet Adventures article about how to charge for a dead-end veterinary call before the day turns around appeared in the December 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!
Courtney S. Diehl, DVM, has been an equine veterinarian since 2000. She is the author of Horse Vet: Chronicles of a Mobile Veterinarian and Stories of Eric the Fox, first place winner of the CIPA EVVY award. She is currently working on her third book.
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