With over ten years in the veterinary industry, I can say that the most common misconception I hear is that the job of a veterinary team is all puppies and kittens. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s TRUE! We get to see puppies and kittens on a regular basis for health checks, vaccinations, and illnesses. But it’s also so much more. Here’s a sneak peek into a typical day at the vet clinic from the perspective of an Animal Health Technician, and why we love our job to the point of exhaustion.
The veterinary team gathers early in the morning at 7:30am for a 10+ hour shift. Our team discusses the cases that are currently in hospital, and the vet’s treatment plan for each patient. This is an opportune time to collaborate ideas and work together on difficult cases to provide the best possible care for each pet.
In hospital this morning, there are multiple animals that have spent the night for various reasons, most of them being a spay procedure from the day before. Tech Kristin gets to work on these sweet girls while I tend to a Golden Retriever named “Riley,” who got into the garbage two days ago. Unfortunately for Riley, he now has a case of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (severe bloody diarrhea) and is on intravenous (IV) fluid therapy and medications to help heal his intestinal lining. As my tech assistant Lorraine and I perform his morning health check, administer medications, and check his IV fluid line, Riley gazes up at us with his tail wagging. We cannot help but fall in love with his sweet brown eyes; adorable.
As we’re finishing up, I glance over at my fellow technician Erin, who is quickly running to grab a pair of cat gloves. A hissing and spitting orange ball of fluff has entered the room in a full rage, daring anyone to come near him. Veterinarian Kate suspects he is blocked and cannot urinate. He is in extreme pain and taking out his anger on the vet and tech. Once they get a firm hold of him, he bites down hard into Erin’s leather glove. A second technician steps in and quickly administers a sedative and pain control upon Dr. Kate’s orders. They allow him to cool down in a kennel with a blanket draped over the cage door. Erin turns to me with a smirk on her face, pulling off the glove and showing me her finger “it worked!” Ah yes, the cat gloves do come in handy some days!
I head over to discuss Riley’s morning parameters with his veterinarian, and quickly side step out of the way as tech Katrina gets ready to move her spay patient into surgery. The 6-month old Border Collie pup is prepped and ready to head in, belly bared and surgically clean. Cap, mask and gown on, I hear the surgeon snap on her sterile gloves and waltz into the surgery suite. This will be one of the best parts of her day, I’m sure! I catch Riley’s vet finishing up an appointment and show him Riley’s morning chart. He is happy with the improvement, and comes over for a follow up examination of the pooch. He then makes a quick phone call to the owner and confirms that Riley will be heading home this afternoon!
I hear one of our receptionists, Carly, asking who is responsible for large animal calls this morning. Tech Jorieke and Dr. Becky are both summoned to a horse who is colicking and thrashing. Carly advises the owner to get the horse up and walking while the girls quickly load up the truck with supplies. It’s -25 degrees celcius today, but this is of no matter; they zip out of the clinic faster than you can say “angry orange cat.” Speaking of which, I turn around to see how our cute ball of orange fluff is doing. He is in recovery, with a urinary catheter tied into one end, an IV coming from the other end, and a cone of shame (e-collar) to prevent him from pulling out his catheters. He is actually looking quite happy, eyes half closed, and even purring if I dare say so. Dr. Kate was successful in unblocking him, and a stream of urine is trickling into his collection bag.
I move into an appointment to administer an injection to a pet, while tech Kristin takes on three canines whose nails are in need of a trim. Upon my return, tech Katrina is in need of a recovery technician, and I step in to recover her spay pup so that she can move on to her next anaesthetic patient. As I’m waiting for this cute Border Collie pup to wake up, I see that Dr. Rand has come back with a Rottweiler who has a distended abdomen. Tech Jenn is quick to help out, taking the big guy and her tech assistant Christine into x-ray for a full set of abdominal radiographs (X-rays). I remove my patient’s endotracheal tube as she swallows and sits up. I pat her on the head, talking quietly to her as we place her back in her kennel with a warm blanket. She is happy to be there and falls back asleep shortly after, likely dreaming of neutering the vet.
The morning continues on, and I assist with surgery recoveries and restraints on animals for various procedures. The vets flock in and out of their appointments, and the receptionists continue taking phone calls, booking the vets up solidly for the day. We somehow always work our way well into lunch hour and Manager Megan is on the prowl, ensuring we all take a break before moving into the afternoon. I run out for a quick lunch and head back in, getting ready for Dr. Rand’s orthopaedic surgery for the afternoon. “Jake”, an overweight Labrador Retriever who has ruptured his ligament in his left knee, needs a TPLO procedure performed. A plan for medications and anaesthetic agents is discussed and I am given the go ahead to start. Once he is sedated for the procedure, an IV catheter is placed and Jake is induced, intubated, and placed on a gas anaesthetic for the procedure. I monitor his vital parameters, and shortly after he is taken to radiology for x-ray on his hind leg. Dr. Rand takes measurements from these radiographs so that he knows how much to rotate the bone while in surgery. Once back at the prep table, the vet administers an epidural for added pain control, and then Jake’s limb is fully clipped and prepped for surgery. He is given an IV antibiotic, and pain control prior to being whisked into the surgery suite. The procedure is extensive, taking over two hours to perform. Jake is closely monitored throughout, receiving a second dose of IV antibiotics 90 minutes after the first. As Dr. Rand moves onto his final sutures, we prepare for x-rays again, sending Jake in for his second round. All looks good, Dr. Rand is happy with the final results, and says “Wake him up.” I turn off Jake’s anaesthetic and he breathes in pure oxygen while we clean up his hind leg and apply a cold pack. We move him into recovery and wait for him to fully recover from the anaesthetic.
As I sit quietly with Jake, I gaze around the treatment area again, Dr. Rand makes a phone call to the client, confirming Jake’s successful procedure. Tech Erin is tending to orange fluff, who now is rubbing against her arm as she pets his little head – he seems thankful, almost knowing that Erin is responsible for his current pain free state. Tech Jenn is helping the tech assistants with Dr. Rand’s tornado of a mess he left behind in surgery. They work hard, cleaning and autoclaving all of the instruments so that they’re sterile for the next day. Tech Kristin is helping Dr. Coby with a heart breaking euthanasia, and I can see she’s working hard to not let her feelings show. Tech Jorieke has spent all day in the barn in her glory with multiple equine patients. Tech Katrina is setting up Jake’s hydromorphone CRI, so he can receive pain control consistently throughout the night while in hospital. I am in awe that our team is so supportive, throwing in a joke or two throughout the day, pitching in to help each other out, and taking a moment to comfort the animals, even in stressful situations. I know in moments like these exactly why I love my job. Jake begins to wake up, and I transport him to his kennel with a warm heater. Moving along, I get started on his medical note, but something catches my eye and I glance up to see Dr. Peter smiling from ear-to-ear holding a large box. A little white head peers out, revealing the whole reason we entered this profession in the first place… PUPPIES!
Chelsey Chevrier, Registered Animal Health Technologist