By Katie Rosebrock
Fluorescent lights fill every corner of the room, a stark contrast to the darkness outside. Inside everything is bright, and calming, from the paint on the walls to the bright blue uniforms of the front desk staff, to the glow of the televisions. But the people in the room are anything but cheery.
Distress, worry and sadness show on the faces of the half dozen or so people waiting in the room. It’s well after midnight and the waiting room at Chicago Veterinary Emergency Services on the Northwest Side is filled with several families and patients.
Chicago Veterinary Emergency Services is a full-service veterinary office dedicated to feline and canine medical emergencies. An average night sees dozens of patients coming through the doors of the clinic, located at 3123 N. Clybourn Ave.
They see a variety of cases, everything from cats with blocked urinary tracts and dogs whose stitches have torn, to animals hit by cars or whose illness has taken a serious turn.
“The animals that come in to us, they’re sick,” said Shane Mason, a veterinary technician supervisor. “Since they are coming here to emergency, it has manifested itself in some kind of way that now, I guess you could even consider it an injury, maybe they’re not walking anymore, or they’ve injured themselves some other way because of whatever’s been happening chronically.”
As a veterinary technician supervisor, Mason is on the front lines, interacting with patients and their owners. Mason, and the other vet techs, assesses the patients before they see the doctor, draw up medicines, and help administer medicines.
“Whenever the doctors are ordering something then it’s up to us to make it happen,” Mason said.
When not caring for a newly admitted patient the vet techs also make rounds checking on patients in the Intensive Care Unit. Rounds include administering medicines, checking for patient responsiveness, and monitoring the patient to make sure she has not taken a turn for the worst.
“We have them [ICU check-ups] on even or odd hours, so I would split them up and stay busy all night long.”
In October, the clinic switched from being open solely on weekends and overnight to being open 24 hours a day. Mason said, in just the few months since this switch he has seen a lot more critical nursing care and ICU care.
Previously the clinic primarily saw animals transferring in from other clinics for overnight monitoring. A typical night would see a rush of animals coming in at 7 p.m. when the clinic opened, transferring in for monitoring or medical treatment after their regular veterinarian closed for the day.
Those same patients would then transfer back out in the morning, either going home or back to their regular veterinarian for more care.
Now though, they have “patients who are staying here longer with more attentive care, than the patients that are just coming in, like, oh, the paw laceration came in and needs to be bandaged and then needs to go home.
There’s a lot more of the long-term, critical patients. Some of them stay in the hospital for a week or so.”
Unfortunately, staying in the emergency room a week or so can get pretty expensive. Just like human emergency rooms, the cost of ER animal care is more expensive than a visit to a day practice. And, just like with humans, there is always someone who can’t afford the medical care.
Mason said every night there are owners who thinks they can get free medical care. The veterinary technicians, including Mason, must address the issues of cost with patients’ owners, since care cannot be provided if it is clear the services will not be paid for which is a difference from human emergency rooms. He said owners sometimes become very hostile when learning about the cost of care, which can easily cost a few hundred, if not a few thousand dollars.
When the cost of treatment comes up, and owners can’t afford to pay, it is up to technicians to explain the different treatment options such as providing the minimal amount of medical care for the animal to stabilize her until she can get to her regular veterinarian, where treatment is slightly cheaper.
Sometimes it means offering payment suggestions such as Care Credit, an interest-free credit card good only for medical expenses. Sometimes, counseling means explaining that the best option may be to euthanize the pet if it is suffering and treatment cannot be provided.
Mason said clinic get a lot of hostile reactions from owners, many accusing the staff of not caring, or asking if they are just going to let the cat or dog die.
“You play part counselor sometimes too,” Mason said, “part social worker, part financial advisor, whatever you can do to help them kind of get through that, you contribute that and hopefully make some kind of effect.”