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Weak from days without food or water, the emaciated, dehydrated cat could barely lift her head. The Good Samaritan who had found the little feline brought her to The Cat Care Clinic in Orange, Calif., hoping that veterinarian Elaine Wexler-Mitchell and her staff could ease the cat away from death’s door. The odds of such a miracle occurring were iffy at best, since the cat was not only starving, but also was besieged with internal and external parasites. Handling such challenges, however, is all in a day’s work for Elaine Wexler-Mitchell, DMV, who owns and directs the clinic.
Dr. Wexler-Mitchell, author of Ask the Vet for Cats (Bowtie 2004) and Guide to a Healthy Cat (Wiley 2003), downplays any talk of performing miracles in feline veterinary medicine. “After twenty-two years of being a veterinarian,” she says, “almost everything is typical.”
Here’s what a “typical” day for Dr. Wexler-Mitchell might entail:
7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m.: She arrives at the clinic, reviews the results of laboratory tests on patients and checks to see how hospitalized patients fared overnight. This is her favorite part of the day. “I like trying to figure out how I am going to stay organized and on top of everything I have to do,” she says.
8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.: During this multi-hour bloc, Dr. Wexler-Mitchell sees patients and their people. Generally, each appointment runs 30 minutes. She deals with a wide range of feline ills. “Everyday I see vomiting, diarrhea, upper respiratory infections, itchy skin and urinary tract problems,” she says.
11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Midday is for routine dental cleanings and surgical procedures. “Typical surgeries are sterilizations, dental extractions, growth removals and bladder stone removals,” Dr. Wexler-Mitchell says. “Less typical is removing foreign objects that cats have ingested, such as lips from a rubber duck, jean buttons and foam ear plugs. I perform many abdominal surgical exploratory procedures and usually, since we have ultrasound, I know what I’m going to find. But sometimes it’s not exactly what I expect with regard to the severity of a disease or the spread of a cancer.”
1 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Early afternoon is when Dr. Wexler-Mitchell grabs some lunch, meets with her office manager, writes reports on what happened with earlier appointments for inclusion in her patients’ records, and telephones clients to discuss their cats’ medical conditions while outlining courses of treatment. All too often, though, such calls require reassuring anxious clients who know little about feline physiology. “Often, a client will call on the phone frantic because her cat is crying out and writhing on the floor,” says Dr. Wexler-Mitchell. “But, in fact, the cat might just be in heat.”
3 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Dr. Wexler-Mitchell uses another big bloc of time for more appointments with feline patients and their owners.
6 p.m. and later: After 6 p.m., Dr. Wexler-Mitchell attempts to close out her day. “I finish records and try to leave,” she says. During this time, she also checks once more on how the clinic’s hospitalized patients are doing.
One such patient was the nameless cat who’d been brought in earlier. “We placed her on a heating pad, injected her with intravenous fluids and antibiotics, treated for parasites, and gave her anti-diarrhea medications,” Dr. Wexler-Mitchell recalls. “The IV treatment was for four days, but she was hospitalized and received oral medications for two weeks.”
At the end of those two weeks, the Good Samaritan, who’d agreed to pay for reasonable efforts to save the patient, brought the recovered cat to live with her and her two older male cats. There, the once-helpless feline proceeded to show her true colors. “After one day of adjustment, the cat promptly took over the house and then dominated the other two cats,” says Dr. Wexler-Mitchell. “She was a bit of a devil in disguise!”
While veterinarian work often provides intangible rewards associated with helping, and even saving, the lives of pets, it can, as evidenced here, lead to long, grueling hours. You can help your own veterinarian’s day to run smoothly by keeping the following points in mind:
is an award-winning pet writer and the author of Housetraining for Dummies, Senior Dogs for Dummies and Beagles for Dummies. She was honored by The Cat Writers Association as a finalist for the Muse Medallion, which recognizes excellence in writing about cats.