Culture clash in Miami's pet medicine: a case of Bufo toad intoxication gone wrong
I know I’m not alone when I concern myself with issues of language and culture in how I practice veterinary medicine. Although I live in Miami (the away-from-home capital of Latin America), other places have their melting pots, too. OK, so Miami is really more of a paella and less like a stew—everyone keeps their individual flavors. But that’s what makes it so much fun to live here.
On any given day I’ll be speaking Spanish half the time. But basic facility with the language is only a teeny bit of the battle. The real war’s in the oft-inexplicable differences in how each culture interprets petdom. Add individual personality and temperament quirks with respect to pets—and everything else—and things can get pretty hairy.
Take my toad intoxication case from last week: Not only was this case unique for its very-Miami toxin (dogs biting Bufo toads here can die pretty quickly if they’re not attended to promptly), the cultural mish-mash among the invested parties made the entire experience as absurd as any scene from a Spanish language telenovela.
The characters: a Venezuelan grand-dame owner (accessible only by telephone), a Cuban housekeeper (also not present), and a Mexican messenger (the only visible evidence of ownership).
The grand-dame had called us in the morning to say that Fido was having seizures after biting a toad. Our receptionist had urged her to rinse out the dog’s mouth carefully with water and bring him over immediately.
Fido arrived three hours later. Apparently, a Columbian vet (a friend of the family’s) had been called for advice—so that Fido wouldn’t have to be transported in such a delicate condition, I was told. Said vet recommended an olive-oil tonic. The Cuban housekeeper followed it up with milk and ice-cubes. (They don’t have these toads in Columbia or Cuba, in case you were wondering.)
Fido was still having seizures when he presented. His temperature and blood sugar were low. His pupils were about as big as pencil-points, his lungs were gurgling oily milk, and he’d just about had it, as far as I could figure.
Somehow, we managed to extract the whole story and fix Fido up. And that was no mean feat—getting the story, I mean. The stories shifted with each teller and had to be carefully pried loose from its owner’s personal point of view—then rinsed clean of any blame for the grand-dame’s sake. It was a nightmare.
He’s doing well now, in spite of his brush with viscous-lung disease.
My point here is not to malign the Latin American immigrants involved in this case (for the record, I’m first-generation Cuban-American). Rather, my point is that it’s our role to tease out all the odd turns each individual culture takes with respect to treating and thinking about pets.
This situation could have played out very differently had we…
1-not spoken a variety of Spanishes and been able to beg info off these people
2-not managed to understand whether they wanted this dog killed or saved (that was an issue for a while)
3-not known how invested the actual owner was in having this dog survive
We didn’t even know if anyone was going to pay for Fido’s treatment. Pet care can get confusing here, especially when third party intermediaries are involved (servants, relatives, etc.).
Despite the good outcome, we could have done better. The pressing need to bring in a pet could have been more pointedly delivered by the receptionist: “Your dog could die soon if you don’t come in right now!” might have been a better alternative for an owner ignorant of toad intoxication. Furthermore, we should have called back to ask if everything was going OK and why hadn’t the dog arrived yet. Hindsight’s 20-20 (and Miami’s got a steep learning curve).
Either way, things turned out for the best and Fido is home now. A little off-kilter, perhaps, but otherwise none the worse for his tussle with the toad.