Adjusting to new normal is difficult

Published 6:09 am Monday, September 20, 2021

When I was in the Coast Guard, we had a mimeographed cartoon that would periodically circulate through the wardroom.
It basically said we have been doing so much with so little for so long that we are now capable of doing the impossible.
I feel that now.
We are 18 months into COVID-19. There are many things that we do better now, but it is challenging.
We realize it is challenging for you. It is the same for us.
Here are some of the things that are happening behind the scenes to make it challenging.
There are more pets to be seen.
That’s right. People got pets during the pandemic because they had time for them. Or maybe they wanted the companionship.
People weren’t spending as much on eating out, soccer team gear, concert tickets or whatever and they could by a pet or even a few pets. Shelter adoptions have been at an all-time high during the first 12 months of the pandemic. This meant more vet visits.
Then people were spending more time with their pets.
They started to see things they didn’t notice before. They started to care about things they had let slide before. This was mostly good, because treatment early in the course of a disease has a better outcome.
However, in addition to the ills that should have been noticed, vets started being asked to diagnose nipples (all dogs and cats have them, but some people had never looked at them), the tragus (who knew that bump in the ear had a name?), lateral frenulum (I had to get help on the name of this resting pad for the upper canine teeth on the lower jaw) and other features of normal anatomy. This meant more vet visits.
Increased anxiety of owners was picked up by pets making them more anxious. Dogs’ routines were upset when owners stayed home instead of going out. Cats were annoyed by more attention. Separation anxiety set in for dogs as cabin fever hit owners. Excess anxiety causes or worsens disease processes. This meant more vet visits.
There were also pets that needed catch up care when the clinics were closed or services limited. Clinics are still working through the appointment jam of the missed weeks. This means more visits now.
To sum it up, there are a lot more pets needing to be seen now.
At the same time, there are fewer people to see them.
COVID-19 protocols have changed.
Someone may have come to work sick before, but now they must stay home and quarantine. We are used to cleaning and sanitizing after pets, but the increased demands of cleaning up after humans took time. This meant fewer people working the vet visits.
Daycare and child care was challenging, both for employees and their bosses.
Some daycare places closed. Caregivers had the same quarantine restrictions if they were sick or exposed. Home school and school closures meant some people can’t work at all. This meant fewer staff working. Some veterinarians couldn’t work the same hours.
The fact that there are fewer people working behind the scenes means that things take longer than they used to.
It used to be that I was the bottleneck and staff would have to wait on me. Now, I work as a tech and wait for an assistant to hold when they are free. In short, everything takes longer than it did.
Not only are the fewer people the issue, but the protocols take more time.
Four to six phone calls to and from the parking lot. We have to go and get pets and bring them back. It took a lot less time when clients came in with the pets and watched them for us while they were in the exam room.
We did try hiring some college students to help us through the extra work, but sometimes they didn’t word things correctly and it upset clients.
To be totally fair, there are some things that are better.
Technology has helped. We have an electronic phone tree because we cannot always answer the phone.
We have telemedicine to take some of the existing client appointments. We record exams and results explanations. We have artificial intelligence that helps with radiographs and lab work.
We’ve done a better job with some social media updates. I have even learned to use more features on my phone.
There are several things that have NOT changed.
I, and my staff, care and love your pets! We do our best with the medical care of your pets.
We care about our pet’s families, too. (Although there has been the occasion that a few of you have made that difficult in the heat of the moment.)
We remain committed to professional service and high quality medical care to your pets.
We are still real people behind the iPads and technology. We know you are real people also and that life is just plain tough now.
You can help us.
Realize we may not be able to fit your pet in on the same day once we are at capacity.
While we would rather see them, we know they sometimes need care sooner than we can get them in.
If you do get in somewhere sooner, please let the other hospital know so they can fill that appointment with another pet that needs care.
Plan to schedule routine exams and procedures well in advance.
Finally, please treat our staff with kindness, patience and understanding. All of us have things going on besides work.
We are trying our best.
I am proud of my leadership through COVID-19. Veterinary medicine has adapted well throughout this pandemic, but it is tough.
We truly have learned to do much more with less.
Thank you for your support and patience.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566