Monthly Archives: February 2014

Torn and Frayed

There is an unwritten and sacred rule in veterinary medicine. With very few exceptions, veterinarians refrain from talking badly about a fellow veterinarian. We don’t throw colleagues under the bus and we try to give other veterinarians the benefit of the doubt.

This is not due to veterinarians all being in cahoots with one another, or trying to protect bad vets from the public. This rule is in place because as veterinarians we know for a fact that there are ALWAYS two sides to a story. There is the client’s side, and the veterinarian’s side. Often the truth gets lost somewhere in a haze of emotion, denial, lack of understanding, guilt, miscommunication and anger.

Here is an example…Mrs. Smith brings her cat, Mycroft in to see Dr. White. Mycroft has been vomiting for 7 days and not eating. After examining Mycroft Dr. White tells Mrs. Smith that she needs to run blood work and take some x-rays to figure out what is going on. Dr. White also tells Mrs. Smith that Mycroft is seriously ill. Mrs. Smith does not have money for the testing. She feels guilty about this, and is angry at Dr. White for not doing the testing for free, or accepting payments. Mrs. Smith walks out of the clinic with Mycroft. A few days later she takes Mycroft to see Dr. Holmes. Mrs. Smith tells Dr. Holmes that Dr. White said there “was nothing they could do” for Mycroft and that she should “just take Mycroft home to die.”

This scenario plays itself out all the time in veterinary clinics. A client says that an Emergency Clinic didn’t run any tests on a pet and just gave it antibiotics. The truth is that the emergency vet recommended testing and the client declined. A client tells all of his friends that his veterinarian killed his pet but fails to mention that he did not follow a single treatment recommendation given to him by his veterinarian.

I have had this happen numerous times to me. I have even had clients complain to me about the evil doctor they saw a few days ago, not realizing that that evil doctor was actually me. What I told them and what they turn around and tell others are sometimes in no way related or truthful.

Now some of this is because we are dealing with medical terms that can be confusing. The client may be overwhelmed with information, but does not want to look “stupid” in front of the vet. The client may be upset at the illness of their pet, and understandably not processing information being blasted at them. However, sometimes the disconnect is because the client feels guilty, and instead of blaming themselves heaps the blame on the “money grubbing”, “incompetent” veterinarian.

In this day and age, social media sites like Facebook allows disgruntled clients to vent and lie to the extreme. They can go to sites specifically designed to rat out and expose bad veterinarians and shout to the rooftops about how awful their experience was. It doesn’t matter if it is the truth. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense. Through social media an unhappy client can whip up a feeding frenzy and ruin a good, caring veterinarian who cannot defend themselves. The veterinarian will be quickly tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion, all on the basis of lies, omissions and the crazy mob mentality that so readily pounces on social media stories.

I am not exaggerating. Recently a fellow veterinarian, Dr. Shirley Koshi, took in a cat that a rescue group brought to her clinic. The cat had been “rescued” by a woman who adopts friendly animals in shelters and dumps them in parks. She feeds them once a day but otherwise they are left to fend for themselves. This particular cat was suffering from cystitis, a painful bladder condition that is often brought on by stress. The cat was treated, and adopted to a warm, loving home.

The original “rescuer” threw a fit. She claimed that the veterinarian stole “her cat” and was refusing to give him back! She blasted her story on various social media sites, contacted the local news and even staged a protest outside of the veterinarian’s office. Lost in all of this was the fact that if the cat was returned to her she would ultimately dump him back onto the street, and that she had absolutely no proof of ownership.

It did not matter. The vultures pounced. They cyber bullied, harassed and threatened Dr. Koshi. Facebook pages such as Veterinary Abuse Network and Regret a Vet called her a “massively insecure, ignorant, impotent weak individual.” People stalked her clinic and made threatening phone calls. Again, lost in all of it was the truth. This veterinarian was doing nothing more but providing compassionate care to a cat in need…a cat who had been previously living in a freezing, snowy park.

Ultimately the hate, vitriol, and poison were too much for the veterinarian to bear. She committed suicide. The earth was robbed of a kind woman with a huge heart, and you know what? The very social media sites that contributed to her death celebrated. They excitedly tweeted out her obituary. The cat in question was taken back to the original “rescuer” and people expressed gratitude in the final outcome.

I cannot imagine the isolation and despair that Dr. Koshi must have been feeling. Veterinarians have huge hearts. We deeply and passionately care about the animals that we have dedicated our lives to. Our hearts are torn and frayed with every euthanasia. We grieve with our clients. We want to make everyone happy, and we question ourselves when the outcome is not perfect.

Although I did not know her personally, I have been mourning the loss of Dr. Koshi since I learned of the news. All I can picture is her taking in and internalizing the venom that was spewed her way. I can see her sitting with her cats, stressing about the looming court case. I can only imagine how lonely and isolated she must have felt.

I also know that she will not be the last veterinarian to take their life. My profession has four times the suicide rate compared to the general public, and two times the suicide rate compared to other health professions. We are battling against massive student loan debt, increased competition, market saturation and a general public that sometimes trust “Dr. Google” or their breeder over our knowledge. We are also dealing in a time where one angry client on a site like “Yelp” can destroy our hard earned reputations.

Please remember that there are always two sides to a story. Please remember that it is way too easy for people to bully and abuse others when they are hidden behind a username and a keyboard. Please remember Dr. Koshi, who only wanted to save a cat and ended up being driven to the point where she felt death was the only option. Please remember that love and forgiveness work far more miracles than anger and hate.

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