A veterinarian can’t be all things to all people (I’ve said this before many times and many ways on Dolittler). And this little ditty rings especially true on holidays.

We’ve all been there…a sudden bout of vomiting…a lacerated leg…a cat bite abscess that rears its ugly head…or, in today’s example, the recognition that her back is horrifically painful again…on a major holiday.

The prospect of a crowded waiting room and an unfamiliar hospital…an unknown veterinarian who might well have the bedside manner of a succubus (to match the financial lifeblood-draining ways one would expect of their ilk)…and the possibility that your credit cards may all be declined anyway…it’s all in your head. But what’s the alternative?

“I know,” you say to yourself, “I have the cell phone number the vet gave me after Maggie’s last surgery. I think I’ll try that first.”

Next thing you know you’re leaving a message you hope sounds both urgent and respectful…and hoping—against all hopes—for a call from your trusty vet.

Meanwhile, your vet is in another city…perhaps another state…busily preparing a lavish meal for ten…in no way thinking about her professional duties. When the phone rings she misses your call, up to her elbows in turkey brine as she is. When she finally finishes her cadaverous task she washes her hands and checks the number: unknown.

Luckily, your message is sufficiently frantic to merit an immediate return call. But, truth be known, she thought twice about stepping away from a room full of happy family noises and the diversions of the kitchen to answer your call. After all, she knows there’s only so much she can do for you from afar. And she knows you know the way to the local ER. But she did forget to record her “I’m out of town” greeting on her voicemail. So you win. She calls you back.

After you explain the state of affairs, she agrees that this is almost certainly another flare-up of Maggie’s disc disease. She’s already been given the standard pain relievers and muscle relaxants, you explain. And it’s not enough this time. She needs an opiate like Tramadol, your vet agrees. But that’s not an easy drug to access.

Your vet knows there won’t be anyone physically at her hospital until morning. She also knows that no pharmacy will dispense a controlled drug on a call-in basis. She’s got to provide a physical prescription—and she’s at a loss as to how to do this remotely (she certainly doesn’t travel with a prescription pad so she can fax in drugs while on vacation).

In the end, your vet communicates with the ER vet and manages to have him agree to see Maggie briefly to confirm her diagnosis so he can legally prescribe a drug for her. So you know, unless he performs an exam there’s really no defensible way for him to dispense a drug based on another vet’s “I said so.” And because Maggie needs a drug deemed “controlled” by the DEA there’s no way her regular vet can call it in. Off to the ER you go—but at last you know what to expect.

Yesterday I received three such calls. All were semi-frantic. All merited attention. But in every case the pet’s owner could have gone straight to the ER and received perfectly appropriate care—more appropriate than anything I could manage over the phone.

Still, there must be something about having your regular vet’s cell phone number on speed dial that makes these things easier: “Can I wait?” “Do I need to go to the ER?” “Can you talk to the ER vet for me?”

It’s true, having your regular vet speak to the ER vet personally makes things go so much smoother. But I still can’t help but think: He’s getting paid (at least) $100 an hour to be there. Meanwhile, I’m making diddly as I run back and forth between my family and my cell phone.

Give me a choice, though, and I’ll choose my day over the ER vet’s—even it means I’m missing out on a double-income day…even if it means I still have to take your calls—gratis. As long as I get my break and my four days out-of-town I think I can just shut up and stop whining…for once.