Visiting Vet: Slippers and gratitude

Thank you, for your patience and the love you show your animals.

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Hopefully pets like BellaBlue will stay healthy through the holiday season. — Kelly Joyce

Last week Slippers, the dog, woke up with a swollen face. This time of year dogs with swollen faces are common, often caused by yellowjacket stings. In autumn, nests of these little wasps reach maximum size, yet their natural food supplies are dwindling. The result is lots of “hangry” critters, each of which can sting multiple times when presented with the snout of a curious dog. Yellowjackets also stay active in colder weather more than most wasps and bees, so this is first on my differential diagnosis list for pooches with sudden onset of facial swelling. Other possible causes include infection and, if the swelling is severe enough, that fat face warrants a veterinary visit.

I first discussed trying home treatment with antihistamines versus a “no-contact drop-off” appointment. As long as a dog is not having trouble breathing or is not breaking out in hives all over her body, it is usually fine to start by giving oral diphenhydramine at home. That’s the generic name for the drug most people refer to as Benadryl®. Call your veterinarian about proper dosages and never use the pediatric liquid form, as it may contain xylitol, an artificial sweetener toxic to dogs. Slippers’ folks, however, were concerned and wanted me to take a peek.

Slippers’ family are part-time Vineyard residents whom I think would usually have returned to Manhattan by this time, but like many of our seasonal friends and family, decided to stay longer due to COVID-19. If I was based in New York City and had a second home here, I would probably have done the same. Nonetheless, like many year-rounders, I have had mixed feelings about our burgeoning Island pandemic population and the strain it puts on our resources. But I have come around to the belief that we are all in this together. That my job is to stay as safe as I can while helping as much as I can. When I feel overwhelmed, I have a Post-it on my desk that simply says “chop wood, carry water.” From the Zen proverb. Look it up.

So chopping wood that day meant finding time to look at Slippers’ swollen face. “Can you come at 11:30?” I asked, staring at my appointment book. “We can’t come then …” the client began. Internally I flashed with annoyance back to all the times over the last 38 years when some person had an “emergency” but couldn’t come when I had an opening in my schedule because they had a tennis game or massage appointment or were planning an outing to the beach. As I was about to point out that I had limited flexibility, the caller continued. “My wife is volunteering at the food bank then. We just have one car so I could drop her off and come any other time.” Then he thanked me, saying how much he appreciated my making time for Slippers.

I was silent for a minute. “No,” I said, choking up, “thank you.” That these seasonal residents, sheltering here during a pandemic, would care enough to volunteer at an Island food bank brought me to tears. Honestly, I’m crying again as I write this. Maybe it’s the fatigue or the anxiety. Maybe it’s this latest surge. But maybe it’s just gratitude. So many people here have done so much. Every kind word someone has said. Every helpful gesture, no matter how small. Thank you.

Which brings me to Thanksgiving. For the first time in more than 20 years, my mother who is now 95 years old, will not be coming to the Vineyard to join us. But I am grateful she is alive and staying safe. We will, however, still bake three kinds of pie (apple, pecan, and pumpkin), watch the modified Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, then the National Dog Show, as we do every year. I am the veterinarian on call for “small animal” veterinary emergencies on Thanksgiving Day. Dr. Sauter of My Pet’s Vet will be on for large animals. Thank you, Kirsten. If we’re lucky, all the animals will stay out of trouble. Owners will keep the chocolate, grapes, turkey carcasses, and other goodies out of reach of the dogs. Cats will stay home sleeping by the fire. Horses won’t colic or cut themselves.

I am grateful how caring the Island community is about animals. Folks, you have stepped up and done what was needed as pet parents, despite the challenges of the pandemic. I have not had a single client complain about our decision to work strictly “curbside.” Thank you. We have worked together to figure it out, even if your pet is anxious or aggressive. Even when facing the hard facts of euthanasia. How, when, and where to say good-bye while keeping everyone safe. Thank you. You have figured out how to pay for essential veterinary services, and how to prioritize elective care, despite the fact that many have no work right now. Thank you. Some of you have gone the extra mile, taking pets off-Island to specialists, despite the extra anxiety with traveling these days. Many who have never met me in person, trusted me to care for their pets while waiting patiently outside in their cars. Others figured out how to navigate Facetime or Zoom so we could examine animals remotely, or have sent photos or videos, then happily paid for telemedicine consults so veterinarians, too, could stay afloat and continue to provide care. Thank you.

When Slippers came in, it looked like a typical allergic reaction to an insect sting. I dispensed antihistamines and went about my day. The owners called again that evening. Slippers’ face was even more swollen, though she was still feeling fine otherwise. “Give her another antihistamine dose,” I said. “Call in the morning if the swelling isn’t coming down.” The owners were content with this advice. Thank you. The next morning, I didn’t hear from them. Thank you. Watch out for those hangry yellowjackets. Stay home. Stay safe. Wear your mask. Chop wood. Carry water.