Occupational hazards in pet medicine
Yesterday one of my dear readers sent me a link to an occupational hazard I’d never considered possible in veterinary medicine: toxic gas exposure.
Apparently, a dog ingested some unknown chemical, became ill and emitted sickening fumes as he was being treated at an animal hospital. Vet and staff had to call in a human medical team to care for their own reactions to the offensive agent.
As I’m sure you well know, we vets deal in offensive agents on a routine (hourly) basis. In fact, it’s not rare to have to change one’s clothing several times a day due to liquid or solid emissions. It’s likewise common to encounter noxious stings from insects, fumes from backsides, foul odors from ears, mouths and abscesses, and sickening visuals like maggots, rotting flesh and proptosed eyeballs, to name but a few fun options.
But toxic gas? Now that’s a bad day.
Scratches and bites? Most are harmless (if itchy) claw marks or half-hearted attempts to keep the vet at bay. Some, though, can be full-fledged, 911-worthy maulings. That’s a bad day, too. I’ve only had one so far and, if the stats hold true, I should be in the clear for the rest of my career. Serious bites? One every three to five years or so. One day in the ER and a few days of antibiotics and—if you’re lucky—hardly a scar.
Ringworm? Now that’s serious. I once lost six prime months of my single-woman’s life nursing a ringworm lesion on my face. Why bother meeting anyone new when you have a lesion that makes you look as if you have Herpes complex twelve adjacent to your mouth?
Vets and staff can get serious infections beyond just the mundane mange, fungus and fleas. In places where the white-tailed deer roam, Lyme disease is a real risk. And where you’ve got rats you run the risk of contracting Leptospirosis. Both are transmitted by dogs or their ticks. Though treatable, they’re theoretically life-threatening diseases.
I also know of three vets and one dog-worker who have come down with Guillaum-Barre syndrome, a viral infection of the brain that leaves humans in a life-threatening state of paralysis—sometimes for months. No link, though, has been confirmed between pets and humans but I know of no other cases in my personal experience so it’s proven concerning to me and other vets I know.
But the absolute worst case I know of is that of a vet schoolmate who came down with a shocking case of Lupus after we all received our rabies vaccines. We’ll never know for sure…but we’ll always wonder.
With all the possibilities that exist for maiming and infection in my profession, you might wonder why anyone would put themselves in such a precarious position. I might wonder myself except when I pause to consider the sum total of my life’s traumatic experiences. I’ve put myself in harm’s way far more by simply engaging in normal “hobbies.”
Like the time I flew out of a boat at top speed. Like the time I was thrown by a horse straight into a jump. Like the time (just last Sunday) I received scalding, second-degree burns to my abdomen while draining spaghetti. Life is unpredictable. And nothing is ever 100% safe.
Still, toxic gas is quite a special experience and one I had frankly never considered. So thanks, Gina, for a sleepless night of gas-mask nightmares.