Pick your poison: Modern pet healthcare or pink juice Kool-Aid
For the second time in as many weeks, I’ve been berated for the prices OTHER vets charge. 1-The emergency room visit for accidental snail bait ingestion that ended up costing $2,800 for less than 72 hours of care. 2-The specialist’s masterful treatment of a severe congenital heart defect that tapped his owner’s savings to the tune of $6,000.
Both cases demonstrate the extreme expenses many pet owners face if they’re to grant their pets access to modern veterinary medicine.
Can it be found for less? Was this care exorbitantly priced? While I could go on about that aspect of these cases at length, that’s not the point of this post.
Though both these clients were angry at the individual hospitals for charging extreme amounts of money for their pets’ unexpected health problems, I could only offer these words of comfort: “You paid fair market rates. Your pets are alive and well. And your only other option was euthanasia.”
Though they chose not to realize it, even after my explanations, their complaints were not against the individual hospitals but against the veterinary medical establishment in general.
We all cheer when we read about the amazing new techniques in veterinary medicine: The heartwarming stories of successful brain tumor treatments, spinal surgeries and cancer survival thanks to new medications—not to mention more widespread innovations as simple as superior anesthetics, more effective flea preventatives, gentler heartworm treatment and revolutionary pain control regimens.
But we suffer when we’re asked to pay for it.
No doubt all of us here can attest to the benefits of modern veterinary medicine. No doubt all of us here understand the complexities involved in providing and paying for care better than most. And yet we all still harbor mixed feelings about veterinary medicine and its relentless drive to conquer animal disease—at any cost.
None of us wants to be in the unenviable position my two clients above found themselves in. Facing “pay up or put to sleep” is a horrible scenario. And yet it’s easy to forget that twenty years ago the chances of survival for either of these cases would have been next to nil.
Would we want to go back to that era? One where the IV Kool-Aid was more readily passed around whenever serious accidents occurred? One where pain medications weren’t used to ease our pets’ post-surgical pain? One where we didn’t need to wring our hands over whether we could spend $5,000 or not?
Remember when $5K vet bills were almost unheard of in pet medicine? When we gasped to hear of such expenses and assumed them the exclusive realm of the rich and eccentric? We’re long past that time. In fact, here's my Sophie Sue during her $5K spinal surgery.
And despite its new challenges (financial stress, guilt, grief), knowing the up-side is there for some lucky pets among us is worth it for me. But then, I’m a vet and that’s my business, right? Right. But think hard: Can’t none of us have things both ways. And it’s too late anyway—we’ve already picked our poison.