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Horse Illustrated

Vet Adventures: The Chaotic Life of a Vet

Photo by Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock

One vet’s crazy day reminds us how chaotic life can get. But when it matters, a life is saved.



The last thing I wanted to do was deal with my less-than-organized vet truck. My various assistants over the years did their best, but it was sometimes difficult to schedule time for cleaning and restocking, as we were usually out the door early and home fairly late. But today I finally had a slow day.



I sighed as I pulled a set of hair-encrusted clippers out from under the back seat where I’d shoved them during an earlier laceration repair. I located the carrying case perched on the center console and searched hopelessly for the clipper cleaning kit. No luck—probably because it was in my basement, since I tended to just buy new clipper blades when the old ones got dull. Somewhere in the basement lurked a bag of close to 40 used blades waiting to be sent out for re-sharpening.

My scrub kit was tipped on its side and had leaked its remaining surgical soap onto the carpeting on the floor of the truck.

In the back of the truck sat a plastic bag containing my used emasculators from that day’s castrations. I tucked the clippers and scrub kit under my arm and grabbed the bag, carrying them all to the basement, where I set them by the sink for cleaning and disinfecting.

I was returning to the truck, but realized I was hungry, so I set everything down and threw some leftovers into the oven. I set the timer, realized I’d forgotten bandaging material for the bandage box, then got distracted by a pile of bills on the counter.

When Everyone Needs Something During a Vet’s Chaotic Life

My phone rang with a client needing an approval on a prescription at some online pharmacy, and my teenage daughter wanted permission to go to a sleepover. And could I pretty please find her blue sleeping bag and suitcase and give her some money for a movie? I was beginning to think that life couldn’t get any more chaotic as a vet.

I returned to the basement to open my laptop and recheck the dose of the medication and locate the sleeping bag, then saw several new emails, two from clients with ongoing cases that I was managing. So I stopped and checked in with them, then realized I had an outstanding bill with one of my diagnostic labs, paid it, then saw the laundry piled by the stairs.

I was happily sorting darks and lights when the cat nudged my leg, so I opened a can of food. But her dish was dirty, so I washed it out, and then realized that the counter needed scrubbing. The paper towels and bleach spray were upstairs, but I hadn’t started the laundry.

And wasn’t I supposed to be bringing something else out to the truck? And where on earth was that dratted sleeping bag? I tried to go in four directions simultaneously and was twitching spastically in place when a voice called down the stairs.

“Courtney, is everything OK?” It was my neighbor.

“Yes, fine! Why?” I called back.

“Well, every door in your truck is open, there’s equipment all over the driveway, your front door is also wide open, your timer has been going off for about 10 minutes, and your kitchen is full of smoke!”

I tore up the stairs and looked sadly into the oven at the blackened mess that was supposed to be my lunch, started to yell for my daughter who could have been more helpful, and—right on cue—my phone rang with a colicking horse and a frantic owner.

I tore up the stairs and looked sadly into the oven at the blackened mess that was supposed to be my lunch, started to yell for my daughter who could have been more helpful, and—right on cue—my phone rang with a colicking horse and a frantic owner.

When I ran in, I opened a few windows to let the smoke out, started to leave again, and realized my stomach tube was sitting in disinfectant downstairs. I thundered down the stairs and grabbed it and finally hit the road.

When I ran in, I opened a few windows to let the smoke out, started to leave again, and realized my stomach tube was sitting in disinfectant downstairs. I thundered down the stairs and grabbed it and finally hit the road.

Shifting Gears

My brain was ticking off every possible scenario that I might run into with the sick horse and running mental checklists of supplies that I might need.

Thankfully, they were all in place. I had a fluid kit with catheters and drip sets, long-sleeved gloves, supplies for a belly tap, a clean bucket, a stomach tube and pump, and all of the medications that I use for colics.

I roared up to the farm, dust flying, and quickly located my patient. I examined her carefully, checked vitals and hydration status and listened to gut sounds. I lightly sedated her for a rectal exam. Within minutes, I’d found the problem—a firm impaction of the large colon. I threaded a catheter into her jugular vein and soon had a bag of IV fluids flowing, then passed a stomach tube and delivered a dose of my favorite impaction-relieving cocktail and some drugs to ease her pain. Soon she was feeling better and looking happier.

The young woman holding the mare was mostly silent, but as I was rinsing out my stomach tube and bucket, she turned to me with an adoring look on her face.

“Dr. Diehl, you’re always so calm and organized, and you always know just what to do. Your kids are so lucky to have a vet for a mother!”

My phone beeped just as she finished, and a capitalized text peppered with multiple angry-face emojis flashed ominously across the screen.

“MOM!!! WHERE ARE YOU? YOU FORGOT TO GET MY STUFF READY, AND YOU DIDN’T GIVE ME MONEY. GRRRRR!!!”

This Vet Adventures column on a vet’s chaotic life appeared in the March 2020 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Courtney S. Diehl, DVM

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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