Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"It happens to every vet once."

And today, it happened to me.

Flash back to the summer of 1982, nearly 27 years ago. I had just been accepted into vet school and I was on the moon, giddy with excitement. I met an old veterinarian at a festival in Iowa, and shared my good news with him. I will never forget his reaction.

"Congratulations!" he beamed, "and welcome! You will never regret it. You will have a wonderful life."

I was moved. I felt like I was joining a secret club, and the greatest profession in the world. (I still feel that way.)

Then, the old man gave me a sly smile and said, "Wait until you spay your first tomcat."

Now, I hadn't been to vet school yet, and I didn't know a lot, but I knew that you didn't spay male animals. Females are spayed, males are neutered. I thought I must have misheard.

"Umm, I'm sorry, I must not have heard you right. I didn't think you spayed male cats."

He grinned even wider and said:

"Every vet does it once."

At that moment, I swore it wouldn't happen to me. I checked the gender of every kitten presented to me. I checked every cat who was under anesthesia for a "spay" operation. I caught many mistakes in exam rooms over the years ("Sorry ma'am, but this isn't Simba, it's Nala") and a couple of cats who were being prepped for a spay. I even got a little cocky - "It will never happen to me."

A couple of years ago, with 20 years' worth of experience under my belt, I somehow got out of the habit of checking my "spays" before surgery. After all, it had never happened to me.

Flash foward to today, in the surgery room. I have just opened up the abdomen of a 5 month old kitten and I can't find her uterus. After a couple of minutes of looking, I asked the technician, "This is a female cat, right?"

She checked the chart. "Yes, that's what it says here."

"Look under the drape, will you?" I requested.

"Um, Doc - there are two testicles here."

Oh, no. It has just happened to me.

Thankfully, the owners had a wonderful sense of humor about the whole thing. Both of them thought it was hysterical. I am still embarrassed. And, I foresee at least a week of ribbing from my staff, who love any opportunity to give me a hard time.

The cat has not yet expressed an opinion.


Mary said...

Awww, Kathie. To err is human, you know. I'll bet your eyes widened and your face flushed?

It's OK - guys don't care much about scars.

Lynne said...

Wooops! I'm sure you'll take your ribbing like a champ. Are you done blushing yet?

nina said...

What a great story to share--and even better with your years' experience.
I'm always amazed by the breadth of knowledge vets must possess--such diverse patients, and none who help out by telling you what the problem really is.
It's just nice to know you're as honest as you are smart!

Susan Gets Native said...

Kathi missed the balls!

tee hee....

Okay. Seriously.
Every vet does it once? Wow.
But I have to wonder about the eyesight of the owners. Do they need a lesson in anatomy?
Word verification:catop
(Or should we say "cat bottom"?)

Sheltiedoc said...

Raising hand sheepishly....I belong to the club too!

In my defense, I was only maybe 3 or 4 mos out of school, I had never seen the cat before, it was a Himilayan named "Fluffy" (and it was- very), and the owner had brought it AND its sister both in for spaying on the same day...

I have had a few since then that we caught while prepping for surgery. For a while one of our shelters had a run on mis-identifying the sex on kittens and during that time I learned to check EVERY kitten that was presented to me and make sure the owner had reported the sex correctly. Sometimes it is harder to tell than others! I remember one particular client who brought in "Abby" and was devastated when Abby turned "her" back to me and I told him perhaps we needed to rename her "Abner"!

KatDoc said...

Mary & Lynne: I blush easily and often - it will take quite a while for this face to un-redden!

Nina: Thanks for the nice note - I am, unfortunately, honest to a fault. I only wish I were as smart.

Susan: Don't be too harsh on the owners, it can be easy to mistake the gender of cats. This one, in fact, had been examined 4 times and we all missed it.

SheltieDoc: My patient was also a very fuzzy long-haired cat, named "Fluffy," as a matter of fact. (Hmm - do two cases equal an epidemic?) He didn't have a lot of "junk in his trunk" as it were, and even when "she" was laying on her back to be prepped for the spay, nothing "jumped out at us" so to speak. But, you can bet I am going back to double checking every cat spay before I cut!


Kathiesbirds said...

Katdoc, I bet you were mortified! I know I would be. I'm glad the owners were understanding. As for the cat? It probably didn't express an opinion since it no longer had the "balls" for it!

NCmountainwoman said...

There is no such thing as honest to a fault. Some pet owners need to hear the truth even if they don't like it.

My favorite vet once misdiagnosed my dog and she developed life-threatening cellulitis requiring several days in the (expensive) animal hospital. Did we take our dog back to him? You bet we did. And he was the first vet to check out our dear Ellie when we got her.

Your mistake was relatively minor, but you are almost certain to make a major one in your career. Keep in mind that reasonable pet owners know that vets are people too in spite of their wealth of knowledge and skill.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Honesty and vulnerability are bloggin' gold. I love this post. I find sexing kittens is best left to the experts. They can be subtle about their external features, 'specially when they're all Fluffernutter. Now you can be the vet at the cocktail party with the glimmer in her eye!

Mary C said...

Kathi - I was amused by your post. I've heard that kittens are difficult at times to identify their sex/gender. As a matter of fact, the kittens my daughter and I adopted this past summer (and they are domestic short-hair) were to be neutered. And then it was discovered that one of them was female. So I think it happens more often than one would suspect. I like the fact that you blogged about it even if it was embarrassing to you. That goes to show how honest veterinarians are! ;o)

KGMom said...

I recently heard a story on NPR about a dog that had portions of both sexual apparatus--so the vet spayed and neutered that animal. The owner who thought he had a macho boxer was NOT happy that his dog also had vestigal female equipment.

Frank Baron said...

But -- did you give them a discount? ;)

KatDoc said...

Yes I was and I still am.

Carolyn, Julie, & Mary C:
I am a terrible liar, so I stick with the truth. I had a client once leave a dog for euthanasia, but she was going to tell her kids it was "hospitalized." If they called, she wanted us to tell them it "died," despite our attempts to save it. I was hacked that she would rather make me look incompetent than to be straight with her kids. My answer: "We can't keep track of who we are supposed to lie to, so our policy is to always tell the truth." And I do, even when it means admitting I messed up.

I have seen a female dog with male parts. :O The client was a breeder, who bought her sight-unseen from another breeder in order to add to her genetic line. She brought the dog in saying, "Something doesn't look right down there." And it sure didn't! I suggested she might not want to breed this particular bitch.

Well, I didn't charge them for the "spay," if that's what you mean, but they paid regular price for the neuter and declaw.


holly-the-person said...

Snort. Shades of James Herriott trying to get a milk sample from the bull!

dguzman said...

Wow, I didn't know it was so hard to sex little kittehs, but obviously it is! Guess I haven't had much experience with it.

The thing is, now you're REALLY a vet, because you've done what every vet does, according to the lore! So it wasn't a "mistake;" it was an "initiation."