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Pandemic means updating safety protocols constantly

In the rapidly changing situation of COVID-19 Week 2, I just realized that we have had no new protocols for 48 hours. That doesn’t mean that the storm is over — it means we are about as prepared as we can be for the storm to hit.

The front doors are locked. We locked them Tuesday at lunch. We are still seeing patients, but are seeing owners from the parking lot. Yeah, vets used to joke about how the patients were great, but they brought their owners. Except I find that I miss the owners. And I am worried about them.

This is actually why we shifted to our newest protocol. We had already split the staff into teams. Each team works four half days and either Wednesday or Saturday. At 1:30 p.m., we switch the phones off, lock the outer doors and the morning team starts cleaning everything they touched. They are all out before the other team comes in.

The second team cleans everything they can think of and talks to the morning team to see where we are.

This is new to us. Guardian Animal has always been about taking care of the animals, no matter how long it takes. Of course, the afternoon staff never gets out on time, because everything must be done before they leave. Now the morning team must communicate to make sure things get done. There were some hiccups and a few tempers flared, but, after a week, we seem to be into a routine.

As soon as it began to look like it would be routine, I added extra precautions. There was a client — she was at least a decade older than I — in the exam room with her adult daughter. Her dog had a small mass that turned out to be benign, but she was concerned.

We were keeping our six-foot distance, but she was telling a story that she had reactive airway disease. (Uh-oh, not good!) Then she goes on to say that her husband is at home, because he has been on chemotherapy. (Oh, my!) I know we were cleaning extra, trying to keep people six feet away and doing all we could, but she should not have been in my office. I could not guarantee her safety!

That night, I made the decision to have only patients and no clients in the building. That should minimize the possibility of transmission. (To be totally transparent, it did not occur to me for three more days that she was only a decade older than me and I have a reactive airway disease and a husband at home that is immune compromised.)

So, there we were, “Living the dream! Pets without owners.” It seemed like it would be easy. Owners call from the parking lot. We get the pet. We treat the pet. Call the owner. Get the payment. Return the pet. Easy, right? What a logistical nightmare! I really appreciate the clients who were so gracious that first afternoon! One client was talking in the vestibule and two other clients came in and stood with her. (Not the 6-foot rule, guys!) The worst part was the lack of interaction. I love teaching and it is really hard to teach the pets to teach their owners. Something had to give.

It did. We discovered better and better ways to do things. We videoed a few exams and took the phone out to the owner to show them what we did. Owners seemed to like it and one said they never had seen their dog behave that well, but it was only one-way communication. I am a ‘droid fan. I have had Samsungs for decades, but Apple’s facetime app is awesome! If the clients have an iPhone, we call them from the exam room on our iPad. Then we can see them and they can see us. I can show them test results and have a conversation. Katie realized that if we wrote today’s caretaker’s phone number in the chart, we immediately know who to facetime. If the owners do not have an iPhone, we loan them our iPod. Our iPod has to be within reach of our Wi-Fi, but still works well if the owner stands in the foyer or outside by the windows. Debbie found some written history and exam sheets, we may see if we can try some of those to make things better.

As far as “living the dream,” it is more like a nightmare. I miss the clients. There is less of the “how was your weekend?” and “how are you doing since….” It is harder to tell if they understand what I am teaching and explaining. I really miss my clients. Of course, there are a few special clients and they are still around and still difficult, but from the parking lot.

I think it is likely that things will continue to change. We have a room, bed, shower, food and camp stove to shelter in place if the animal needs it. This week I reminded a KDMC administrator that we had some limited PPE gear. Not the kind they need, but better than nothing if things get desperate. Today I added our ventilator to the International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care list for hospitals.

Next week will probably bring something new and we will do something different or better. Nobody alive has been in this kind of pandemic before, so it is only normal that things would be rapidly changing. At least we will be rapidly changing as we try to stay ahead of the storm. Meanwhile, let’s have a kind thought or prayer for our neighbors, those out of work, those working and especially for the health care workers that will be on our front line. Let’s adapt fast enough to make sure most of them make it through this alive.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.