Karim Mahmoud Jawad, DVM, BA Biology
Small Animal Veterinarian, Northwest Animal Hospital, Detroit, MI
It was February 10, 2017. I remember that day clearly, for multiple reasons. It was one of the worst days I’ve ever had at work, and eventually turned into one of the best. It was the day that I elevated myself, not just in my career, but as a person.
The morning started like any other for me. I set my clock to 6:45 am because I tell myself if I wake up at that time, I’ll actually get things done. In reality I wake up an hour later 99% of the time. That allows me 15 minutes to get dressed, brush my teeth, and take care of my cat before I walk out the door. I don’t really eat breakfast that early because my appetite is nonexistent, so I end up eating closer to noon, but I also don’t prepare myself lunch to take because I’m too lazy. Unless my employees bring their leftovers from yesterday’s dinner to share with me (which they usually do) I don’t eat til I get home from work.
On a typical day I will arrive anywhere 15-30 minutes late depending on morning traffic. After I park my car inside the gate, I walk to the back door only to be met by a row of hungry and restless boarding dogs, constantly barking in my ear. After that I hope to God one of my employees made coffee and I pour a cup, sit down and drink it hoping the phone doesn’t constantly ring and exacerbate my crappy mood. I love my job don’t get me wrong, but we are usually very understaffed so things don’t always run as efficiently as they should. That lack of order and consistency takes it’s toll on me from time to time. It’s so bad that on most days I find myself answering the phones, which I absolutely hate doing. Our boss, the senior doctor and owner, manages three veterinary clinics including this one. He will often have people move around between clinics, even myself. Thankfully, one of our technicians from another clinic agreed to come work today with me because the schedule book was full and I had virtually no help.
Work was going by exactly as expected. My appointments kept coming in constantly, with people showing up either way too early or wait too late, creating congestion in the waiting room. This is normal for a veterinary practice. But given how small our building is and how little manpower we have I really try to avoid too many dogs being in such close proximity to one another. I was running around so much, and my technician made the transition between clients a lot smoother. But as the day wore on I noticed my technician and all my other employees ordered food from Wendy’s. I was a little annoyed by this because as far as I could recall nobody had bothered to ask me if I wanted to order anything. I probably would’ve said no anyway, but being that I was the one doing the most work. that didn’t settle with me. Eventually my secretary told me I forgot to do vaccines for a few dogs that were grooming. I don’t check the grooming schedule usually. If there is a dog or cat in the grooming room that needs my attention it’s someone’s responsibility to communicate that to me because my duties are not with the grooming dogs but with whoever is in the appointment books to see me. We really do try to structure things properly but no one is perfect and these particular dogs were ready to go home when they should have been vaccinated earlier in the morning. At that moment I got noticeably upset.
I told my assistant that I wasn’t made aware about these grooming dogs needing vaccines. I have a bunch of clients waiting to see me and I’m struggling to get these vaccines done with one of the dogs being very anxious towards needles. In so many words, I told my technician and assistant they weren’t doing their jobs properly. Truthfully they were in slacking but I knew I could have handled this situation much better. I eventually cooled down and took time to speak to them individually and apologized. My technician told me “if you need something to be done, just say it, and we will do it. Don’t keep it to yourself and expect us to read your mind. You need us just as much as we need you”. Historically I’ve always had a temper for as long as I could remember. In fact when I first started here, a particular outburst almost got me fired. My boss is a very kind and generous man, but he was extremely angry at me. After dodging that bullet, I decided to start seeing someone, to help me manage my anxiety and stress. I still see this person to this day and I’ve made so much improvement, but my violent outbursts have more or less evolved into passive aggressiveness, which is what this particular incident could be described as. I felt horrible about the whole thing. I couldn’t wait for the day to end and the kind of cases I saw didn’t help. At 5:00 pm I got my jacket and keys and went to the front desk. I looked down at my appointment book to find no remaining patients. But then I immediately looked up, only to be met by a distressed young lady holding a yorkie with a puppy stuck in its vagina. I thought to myself “Shit, I’m not going home”.
This dog was an intact female who I haven’t seen in a long time (nor did I know she was pregnant). The clients have another male dog in the home who is also intact, which explains this situation. The dog in question was suffering from dystocia (difficultly giving birth) and she couldn’t push this puppy out. The dog even tried pulling her pup out with her mouth, but ended up gnawing off its the rear legs. I managed to pull the puppy out manually with lubrication, but of course he was already dead. The problem was only just beginning, for it was likely this dog had more puppies. If that was the case, she’s gonna need an emergency c-section. Even more problematic is I knew looking at the client that she wasn’t gonna be able to afford the surgery, and we are not a 24 hour emergency hospital. My boss was already gone and my staff already left for the evening. The client agreed to pay for an X-ray and we found three more puppies left. We discussed the price range for this surgery, which I called my boss to see if we could work something out with her. He gave me a price that was fairly reasonable, it was just a matter of the client agreeing to it. My boss asked me if I was going to do it and I told him “I’m not sure yet”. I just couldn’t take it anymore though, if this lady didn’t agree to the surgery nobody else is going to do it for cheaper, and her dog was probably going to die along with her puppies. After giving her the price she said she was going to get money from some relatives who agreed to help pitch. I took the money as a down payment, and while it wasn’t a lot of money, I told my technician “f*%& it, we’re doing this”.
As we were getting everything prepared to do the surgery, I called my boss and I told him I’m gonna cut. I don’t think he believed me because he never came by. Now I’ve assisted with a couple C-sections on previous dogs and cats, but I never took the lead. My technician was more experienced with C-sections while assisting other doctors so she was guiding me through the whole thing. My assistant already went home for the night, but she told me she would be back if we decided to do the surgery, and as such she returned. Given the circumstances we needed as much people to help as we could get, so the client came back. After I opened the abdomen, I could visualize the uterus very easily. After a few incisions I managed to get all three puppies out. Unfortunately one of them, a male, was already pronounced dead. The other two, both females, managed to survive with the help of my assistant and the client holding and massaging them back to life. After lavaging the abdomen of uterine discharge and contents, we proceeded to remove the entire uterus and ovaries (not just because they were so friable and weak from me manipulating them, but also to avoid a future pregnancy). Doing a spay on a dog that is in heat or pregnant is not easy. There’s a lot of inflamed tissue, large blood vessels to be mindful of, and the dog is already in a dire state to begin with. But I had my technician with me and she gave me the confidence I needed to see this through.
After we completed the surgery and closed the abdomen up, I was in complete shock. I don’t want any of you to think that I was in complete control of the situation, because I wasn’t. I was terrified and I knew that we could lose this dog even with a successful surgery. If I didn’t step up to the plate and take the bat, the alternate outcome wouldn’t have been much better. I used this as an opportunity to see what I was made of, to see if I knew what I was doing, and to put four years of Veterinary school to good use. My technician looked into my eyes and said “dude, you’re my hero”. I told her I couldn’t have done it without her. Not too long ago I was arguing with her about her work ethic and now I have tears of joy running down my face because of how grateful I was to her for getting me through this ordeal. Mom woke up well and got to see her two remaining puppies in front of her face for a change. We couldn’t keep the dog in the clinic because we don’t have after hours services. But we could tell she was going to be fine and we sent her home with the proper medications and instructions. The client is still making payments for the surgery as we speak, the mom got her sutures removed two weeks later, and the puppies were nursing just fine. Everything worked out for all parties involved, thank God.
I was very humbled on this day. I learned how to appreciate the work others do for me and to not take anyone for granted. These people aren’t just my employees, they are my family. I love everyone of them even if I don’t always show it, including my boss. As a matter of fact he called me the following day before I drove into work again. He asked if I was crazy and why I did the surgery without him? I told him I was going to, I made that very clear. He said he didn’t believe me! But after the laughs subsided he said he was so proud of me. The man isn’t just my boss, but my mentor and a second father. For him to say that made it all worth it, and I knew I was meant to do this for the rest of my life…..or until I decide to open up a restaurant. Alright I’m getting carried away, but one day!