A vet's cardinal sin: forgetting her patients in the face of the pet food recall
Yesterday, I received a phone call from a dear client. He left a message that referred to one of his two cats, a sweet kitty I’d been treating for early geriatric issues over the past year. So when I returned his call, I asked brightly, “How is Mr. Kitty?”
“Don’t you remember? You euthanized him in February!”
Omigod. He was right, of course. It all came rushing back—a few seconds too late. Pardon me while I take a few moments to take my foot out of my mouth and get that heart-sinking feeling out of my chest.
“I know you see a lot of patients, Doctor, don’t worry about it.”
Too late. I had committed the cardinal sin of forgetting something so incredibly important to this one human being that he was calling back, months later, to discuss the issue some more.
It’s one thing when a client approaches us in a restaurant and says, “Fluffy’s doing so well! Thank you so much!” Although I may not remember Fluffy one bit there are plenty of reasons why that might happen. Not only do I see a lot of Fluffies, I have a hard time connecting people in odd places (like a restaurant) to their pets in the office. That makes some sense to me. And I can usually play it off—“I’m so glad she’s doing great! We’ll see you soon, right?’
It was a lot tougher on the phone after I’d fully digested my foot.
What’s worse, this client was calling to clue me in on a potential diagnosis I’d totally missed. Mr. Kitty had died of kidney disease after a slow-burn case of confusing symptoms. And he’d been eating recalled pet foods that whole time. Because the recall happened about a month after he died, I never made the connection. But his owner did—albeit long after the fact.
I guess I had already processed Mr. Kitty’s death—emotionally and professionally. And because our computer system has no means by which we can research cases by diagnosis, any old or recent cases of renal failure never got re-investigated. They sort of fell into a black hole into which we relied on owner recall for retraction.
This owner had been so torn up about his cat’s death that Mr. Kitty should have stuck in my head somehow. But it hadn’t. I’m not only disgusted with myself for this egregious memory lapse, I’m thoroughly aggrieved that I hadn’t followed up on one of the more questionable cases of kidney failure I’d seen this year. Bad bad bad.
I thought I’d experienced enough stress and heartache from the recall to last me a good, long while. Now I know it’s not over yet—not by a long shot. Not while there’s any lingering doubt over whether there are any more unsolved cases in my “dead files.” And not now that I have to think on how it is that my euthanasia-addled brain can manage to forget a patient I cared for so much that I cried at his passing.
It feels somewhat hypocritical to me (at some base level) that I could feel so much then forget so quickly. OK so maybe it’s not hypocrisy. Maybe it’s really about this thing they call compassion fatigue. Either way, it feels bad—really bad. And not the least because Mr. Kitty’s father will certainly never understand that—not if I have such a hard time with it.
So I’m left to think practically:
Now that Mr. Kitty’s story has been dug out of our paper filing system, he’s one less unaddressed case to answer for. Sure, I feel better about that. But human memory being what it is, I’ve resolved to go paperless—as soon as I can manage to convince the powers that be that a more robust computer system has merits beyond the storage space it saves.
We’re only human after all. And the use of tools to help solve problems is a big part of what defines our species. So I’m going to work on fixing the problem and stop kicking myself—as soon as I can manage to disgorge that stray foot of mine.