Friday, February 24, 2012

The difficulty of parrots

Parrots, in my humble opinion, are not good pets. Unlike dogs and cats and horses, whose domestication goes back thousands of years, pet parrots are only a few generations removed from the wild. Prior to the late 70s, if you purchased a parrot, it was likely caught in the wild and sold into captivity. That is changing with stricter laws about this kind of thing, but those earlier times lead to parrots coming into homes as pets that were still completely wild animals. For the most part, they remain so, even if they are bred in captivity.

As a result of this, they are very difficult pets. Stripped of their natural flock, they must adopt a new one - namely the family within which they live. But just because they adopt a new family doesn't mean they adopt new ways of living. They still behave as if they live in the wild. They try to find mates (often you), they nest, they lay eggs, they greet the morning sunrise and sunset with piercing calls, and generally act like - well, wild animals.

I try to convey this to people whenever they talk to me about how much they want a bird. It's hard to tell someone that has their mind set on a certain pet what a bad idea it is, but I still try. Parrots are not good pets for most people. Any parrot rescue can attest to this fact. They are overrun with poor, feather-plucked, neurotic, screaming birds dumped by families that were overwhelmed by what is simply normal parrot behavior.

See, I knew all this prior to getting my parrots. I did careful research before adopting each bird. I knew about species' individual characteristics, personalities, and quirks. I made careful decisions. I fed the right diets, bought the enrichment toys, made sure the birds were uncaged at least 75% if not more of the time. I'm the ideal birdie parrot.

And yet, even I was unprepared for the changes wrought by the addition of our child to the house. My African grey, Titus, has not adjusted well. First, the birds had to be moved from their privte room into a more common area of the house. This leads to less bird "quiet time" - which is essential for normalcy. Unfortunately, I didn't plan that when buying this house. So, first, he is sleep-deprived. Despite covering his cage and keeping it dark where they sleep, they are still aware of us and make noise when they hear us up and about.

Secondly, I just don't have the time to pay attention to him that I once did. Between full time ER work and full time mommy hood, the hours in my day are limited. Thus, he is in his cage more than he is used to.

Thirdly, the presence of competition for my affections has caused him great unrest. He sees me as his mate, and he doesn't appreciate the competitor.

All of this has lead to incessant screaming in my house since the baby was born. He screams all day - if he can't see me, but can hear me, if I go into the kitchen without him, if I shower without him, if I walk out the door to get the mail, or if I'm sleeping between shifts. It's a high-pitched, ear splitting, repetitive scream that goes on and on. My blood pressure probably gets into the 200 range easily when it happens.

It has steadily worsened over the last 5 months, leaving me worried about the next 40 years of this. My nerves were getting frayed, and I was starting to think I would have to find him a new home. This thought made me feel absolutely terrible. I knew what I was getting into when I adopted a parrot. I'm a veterinarian for frick's sake, I'm not Joe Schmo random bird buying consumer.

I digress. A beautiful situation has worked out. My office manager loves parrots. She offered to let Titus come and live at the clinic. I thought it would be a bad idea, giving his vocalizing. Amazingly, the opposite is true. Due to the heavy socializing I gave him as a younger bird, he is making friends with everyone at the clinic. He is out of his cage all day, has loving attention from many of my technicians, gets lots of (healthy) treats and attention. Many of my techs who have never even expressed interest in birds are surprisingly fond of him. His screaming has dropped to virtually nil. I get to see him when I work and interact with him, and he is a totally different, happier bird.

In the long run, I foresee him coming back to live with us when we move next. We'll have to have a bird specific room so that he can get his beauty rest. In the meantime, I could not ask for a happier resolution to a problem that has been eating at me for months now. It was hard to even write about it, but I want to serve as a cautionary tale. Parrots are difficult pets, and they are not for most families!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Doing the right thing sometimes feels bad...

I was faced with a very uncomfortable situation this past weekend. A woman called late one night telling us that her dog was in agonizing pain. She wanted to bring her in. The owner confessed to my technician that originally took the call that she was "heavily medicated herself" and shouldn't be driving. My technician urged her to find someone else to drive her but to no avail.

Over the course of the next 1.5 hours, the owner called multiple times because she was lost. She'd been to our clinic numerous times over the years, so she should have been able to find us. She drove up and down a strip of road not one mile from us for 40 minutes searching for our sign.

In the course of this, she spoke to two of my other technicians, and she told them both the same thing, she was too messed up to drive. She even told one that she'd almost rear-ended someone!

When she got to our clinic, it was obvious that she was altered.

I handled her pet's problem, and then asked her point blank why she was driving. She explained that she'd had a stroke recently and was on several medications. She was a genuinely nice lady, and I felt terrible for her. But she also posed a threat. I told her that I wanted her to call a family member or a taxi service. She would not.

With that, I was forced to call the police. They came and gave her a quick sobriety test. She did not pass. The officer was very kind and told her to call a family member. She was resistant to this. I went into the room and offered to call her a cab. She declined, smiling sadly at me and telling me that "function just wasn't coming back after the stroke like it should've been." I truly felt sorry for this women. She reacted so kindly and understandingly to me, even though I called the police on her.

In the end, she called her sister to pick her up. The officer left, and she went to the front desk to check out. Then her true stripes showed.

"I can't believe you did that," she hissed at my technician. "I will never be coming back here again. It was none of your business."

My tech responded that anyone on a public road endangering lives was certainly her business. The woman made no reply and refused to say another word until she left.

Maybe I'm being soft. Maybe she didn't really have a stroke and was just messed up on drugs. She told me that the only thing she took was her stroke medication, but she told the officer that she'd taken some lorazepam. Still, I felt bad about the whole situation. The only consolation is that I would have felt worse had she driven away and killed herself, her dog, or someone else.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mastitis much?

I haven't seen a good case of mastitis in the last year that I can recall (also a preventable disease if you spay your damn pets! But I digress). This weekend I saw two. I won't lie, my heart and breasts ached for these poor dogs. On the bright side, I had actual firsthand knowledge of their pain, as well as what would help relieve it. I probably shared more information with the owners than they wanted, but I was able to offer firsthand advice on what would help their poor, painful, miserable dogs feel better. It was very satisfying.

The first owner was a lovely woman. I confess that intitially, I was quite annoyed with her. After talking about her dog's mastitis, she confessed that she didn't know the first thing about puppies or handling maternal problems. In my head, I was thinking, "then why did you go and breed them, foolish woman?"

Turns out, she adopted the dog from the humane society 2 months previously. She had lost her dog of 14 years to likely cancer and had carefully chosen a new companion from the shelter. Turns out, her new companion was pregnant! Poor lady. Thankfully, the shelter was helping her out and taking the puppies when they were weaned and ready to go. I personally think they should have been footing the mastitis bill too.

The weekend was fairly quiet otherwise. The day time shift was apparently busy, but I mostly sat around, read my book, played Words with Friends, and made sure the clinic didn't burn down.

Friday, February 17, 2012

I hate the reproductive tract

Of all emergencies, I loathe reproductive emergencies the most. They are all preventable. Dystocias, pyometras, prolapsed penises, uterine torsions - they could all be prevented with spaying and neutering. Further, almost without fail, the owners of these disasters have no financial resources. Last night brought no exceptions.

I was tired and a bit down. My husband's grandmother died somewhat unexpectedly on Monday morning. She was 98, so it wasn't totally out of the blue. She was healthy though - no cancer, diabetes, stroke, or heart disease. Other than moderate memory problems, she was really the picture of health.

We had to leave Wednesday morning to make visitation on Wednesday evening in Tennessee, so I was hoping for some sleep. It was not to be.

A pregnant large breed dog showed up at midnight. She'd had some signs of labor - panting, anxiousness, and restlessness. Then she had pushed out a sac. It ruptured and spilled green fluid everywhere. No puppy followed. No contractions followed. She continued to be anxious, but she had no signs of labor.

Now it was midnight, and the owners were worried. Oh, and by the way, we are on disability and have $300.

WHY? Why are you breeding your dog if you don't have the finances to deal with complications? When my husband and I decided to have a baby, we made a careful savings plan to cover my maternity leave. We didn't just willy-nilly get knocked up. And I had to pay $2500 for the birth as part of my insurance plan. We had that money and expected to have to pay it. That's the way it works.

At any rate, I was limited to taking 1 X-ray. On it, I saw no evidnence of fetal or maternal obstruction. Next would have been an ultrasound to determine if the pups were alive and if they were distressed. The owners didn't have the money for that. I did it anyway, because I couldn't, in good conscience, give the bitch oxytocin without knowing if the puppies were distressed.

I gave them their options. Wait until morning to see their vet and have a csection then or try oxytocin to stimulate contractions. They chose the latter. Luckily for me, it worked. It took 4 hours though. After that time, we had 5 live, healthy puppies. It was then 5:30am, so any hope of sleep weas essentially gone.

I'm grateful that I could help the bitch. Having recently given birth myself, I can attest to the fact that she was probably very anxious and in pain. It was a relief that I could get the puppies out with medical intervention, because had it come down to a csection, I highly suspect Her owners would have euthanized her. They didn't have the money.

Moral of the story: plan before you breed! Unexpected complications arise, just like in human births! Most of the time, things go smoothly. When they don't - it will cost money!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thoughts on the future

My long term plans have been on my mind a great deal lately. As my husband approaches the end of his PhD after many years of work, it looks like we will both be gainfully employed at the same time. What a novel idea! After 12 years of marriage and nearly 20 years of advanced education combined. It's hard to believe it's really going to happen.

With this development, we've really been trying to figure out where we're going and what we're doing. I have a great job here. It's stable, pays well, has good benefits, and for the most part, the kinks are worked out with employees and whatnot. We own a house that I have decorated and that we really like. The real estate market is also terrible. Overall, I am happy. It's not close enough to family, and the area is not gorgeous like other parts of NC, but since Evaline was born, we have seen family continuously. Thus, we know it is possible, despite the 3.5 hour distance.

Unfortunately, options for my husband are very limited. He wants to teach at a small private college. He also wants to live somewhere that is closer to home and more naturally beautiful. Kayaking and spending time out of doors are very important to him, and there just isn't much in the way of that in this part of the state. This part of NC lacks the beauty of the farther west areas. Ideally, we would wind up in Asheville or that part of the state. The problem? Finding a job for me.

The veterinary field is in turmoil, jobs are few and far between. Further, I want to do emergency work. GP just isn't an area of interest for me. I fear boredom! Also, I love ER medicine and feel that this is where I should be. I'm afforded long blocks of time off which I can spend with my family. Most GPs I know work as much or more than I do.

So, my mind is constantly turning to where we'll be in 6 months. I can honestly say that I don't know the answer to that. Whatever happens, I know that my husband is ready to start his career, and I am ready to settle somewhere and not move again for many, many years. We've Been here for 3 years this July, and I have truly loved the feeling of being "settled." Wherever we wind up next, it's going to be a long-term move! It's really exciting, because despite the fact that we have a child now and a "real" life, these changes make it real. We're going to settle somewhere and stay!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Out sick

I hate missing work, and in the last 2.5 years, I haven't missed work for illness or any other reason. I cannot shake this bug! I worked last night. We weren't busy, but I saw a handful of cases and didn't lie down until 1am. By then, I felt terrible. Around 5am, I woke up, overwhelmingly nauseated again! An episode of vomiting followed. Today, I remain weak and tired, with little appetite. I stayed home tonight. Thankfully, my colleague was willing to work for me. Here's hoping that this bug goes away soon!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sometimes the customer is right

Even in veterinary medicine.

Clients that self-diagnose their pets always drive veterinarians crazy. It's just a pet peeve, and I'm sure it occurs in every industry concerned with "repair." But sometimes, we need to make sure that our personal annoyances don't get in the way of listening when someone has something important to say.

Several months ago, a worried owner brought me a perfectly healthy, happy looking puppy named Trigger. She insisted that Trigger had swallowed a very hard rawhide and that it was stuck in his throat. Now, owners think this all the time - that their pet is choking on something. Half the time, it turns out to be a cough of some sort, other times, the pet is nauseated.

So I examined Trigger. He was bouncy and alert. He did not cough when I palpated his throat area. He was not nauseated. His abdomen didn't hurt when I palpated it. I questioned his owner as to why she thought he had swallowed it. Per her report, Trigger was gnawing on a 6 inch long, very hard rawhide. Seconds later, it was gone, nowhere to be found. Shortly afterwards, Trigger began to cough lightly and act uncomfortable.

I assured her that his physical exam was normal, and he showed no signs of having anything stuck in his throat. She seemed so concerned though that I told her we would be on the safe side and conduct some xrays.

So, we took xrays. I quickly glanced at them and said, "nope, no rawhide." Then I looked closer. Was there something? My technician looked at the films and laughed. "There's nothing there!" But still ... Something so faint. Artifact of positioning? Or rawhide?

I went back and forth with myself, then decided to give the puppy a mouthful of barium (a contrast agent that shows up bright white on xray). Sure enough, the contrast perfectly outlined a rawhide chew toy stuck half in/half out of the stomach! I couldn't believe it. Most normal dogs would be vomiting with the rawhide positioned as it was. This puppy felt fine.

3 hours later and a visit with the internist for endoscopy, and the rawhide was easily removed. It was an important reminder to listen to your clients. Sometimes they provide you with valuable information!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Well hello, Mr Norovirus

If you've seen the news in North Carolina, you've likely heard about the norovirus outbreak. Commonly called the "winter vomit bug" or "the cruise ship flu" - it's a nasty little virus that leads to a bad gastroenteritis.

The husband and I are in Tennessee this week. He to meet with his thesis advisor, and me because I am hosting a baby shower for my best friend on Saturday. She is due March 1. Yesterday, I woke up feeling dizzy and weak. I tried to take a shower to see if it would help. 30 seconds into it, I knew I was going to be sick. Thus, the husband and I spent all day yesterday being miserable. Luckily, it's a short-lived bug. I am mostly recovered today. So far, the small fry doesn't seem to have contracted it. Here's hoping that she doesn't.

Also luckily, my FIL is a doctor. So he brought home a shot of Zofran and some phenergan for us. I can hold down food now, but I'm still weak and tired.

On that note, I think I'll take a nap, since Evaline is sleeping.