The Emergency Service at the UT-VMC not only helps to train fourth year veterinary students, but also involves the education of interns. Our interns are recently graduated veterinarians who choose to pursue a year of further training prior to either seeking a career in a veterinary specialty or general practice.
One of their most important jobs is helping to staff the emergency service, along with our more experienced members. This is a key aspect of their development, as emergencies can occur in any situation and in any type of practice. Last summer, shortly after the current interns began their stint with us, a special kitten came into our midst.
It was a hot Saturday afternoon in July when the little fellow was brought in by his owners for several problems. He was experiencing some diarrhea, seemed to have a very severe upper respiratory infection and was not eating. The kitten was barely four weeks old and was mostly white with dark fur on his face and tail. His eyes and nose were crusted shut and had evidence of an upset stomach all around his hind end.
The intern on duty assessed the kitten and was very concerned due to the weakness and thin body condition he displayed. She recommended hospitalization and supportive care, which the owners agreed to. They left the hospital after giving permission for us to treat him and we began working intensively to improve the pitiful kitten’s condition.
Our talented ER technician placed an IV catheter and we administered warm fluids with dextrose, as well as provided him with a heating blanket. He also needed antibiotic therapy for his upper respiratory infection and diarrhea, along with deworming medication.
Unfortunately, when we attempted to contact the owners later that night they didn’t answer the phone. This remained the case during the entirety of his illness, as we continued to care for the brave kitten that struggled to live. These are tough situations in which to be involved. Legally, the kitten had an owner and we could not make any major decisions about his fate without their permission.
He was a feisty baby and continued to fight to survive even after several scares. After two weeks time, the little guy was actually doing well and seemed to have passed the worst of his illness. He was eating and looked as if he was starting to put on weight. He would need one of his eyes removed due to the severity of his upper respiratory infection, but was going to make it.
The intern that initially started his care was his doctor from start to finish. When we remained unable to contact his owners, she decided to take him home to join her household. She named him Elvis and we all got used to seeing him slipped into her lab coat pocket while she was on duty in the hospital.
Elvis is now a grown cat, too big too fit in a pocket and soon to celebrate his first birthday. Elvis and his owner will be leaving in June to begin their next adventure, as her internship draws to a close.
I think we all learned something about the will to live from Elvis and this young doctor experienced the importance of faith and dedication in our profession.
(Dr. Amanda Rainey, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor in the small animal clinical sciences department at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center in Knoxville.)