People seek second opinions on their pet mostly for three reasons-they had a bad experience at their previous vet, they don't believe the diagnosis (even if it's correct), or they are not confident in the previous vet's diagnostic and/or treatment plan. Today I had option number three. A very nice young man had an appointment for another opinion on his very nice, seemingly well cared for 8 year old Boxer with a cough. The original vet did not take any x-rays and so that's the first thing we did today after the exam. Since Boxers are prone to heart disease I was hoping that's all we would find, after all he didn't cough at all during the exam and had only slightly irregular lung sounds. Sadly that is not what we found. The radiograph showed his lungs were literally full of cancer-metastatic lesions from a tumor elsewhere in the body we couldn't easily find. Sadly, I've had recent practice giving this news to an owner-the radiograph could have been a carbon copy of the one I took of our friend Monty from the Portuguese Water Blog. I felt terrible for the dog and the nice young man who cried and asked how long his dog had to live. With the answer being only a few weeks to maybe a few months I thought about how lucky I was to have a 14 year old dog in relatively good health and how I've never been faced with the sudden and unexpected news that a beloved pet was suddenly afflicted with a rapidly terminal disease. On the other hand when I see a 17 year old pet who has received almost no health care in its life I feel like I deserve to have my dog live until he's 20.
I guess the bottom line is that good care won't prevent all bad diseases-sometimes you need a little luck as well. And sometimes my job entails making people cry, whether it be owners, staff, or even myself. I'm used to giving bad news and performing euthanasias ( I performed two today, in addition to giving the Boxer owner bad news...). It's just part of the job. Sometimes though, it's good to still cry during some of them-makes me realize I haven't gotten too used to them. I don't think anyone who is never saddened or affected by the loss of a patient can continue to be a good veterinarian.
Hopefully tomorrow will bring puppies and kittens and healthy young pets!
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