For many in Western North Carolina who’ve experienced the trauma of having an injured or sick pet and couldn’t get to a regular veterinarian, chances are they’ve used the services of the Regional Emergency Animal Care Hospital of Asheville (REACH), the area’s sole emergency animal facility.
“We’re strictly emergency. We’re open when the other vets are closed so we basically complement their services. We don’t schedule appointments where we can space them out every 15 or 20 minutes. We take them as they come,” says Dr. Randy Wetzel, Medical Director.
Dr. Wetzel is among a special breed of veterinarians, those who must be as capable as any regular practitioner, but who can handle the stress of emergency medicine as well. “It’s been said that your expectation is to work in emergency medicine for one or two years and then when you get burnt out, go into general practice. It’s just long hours and stressful situations,” says Dr. Wetzel.
Leading the list of emergency medicine’s many challenges are the long hours. “I work two different shifts. One is the overnight, 5:00pm to 8:00am, a 15-hour overnight shift — Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Then Saturday and Sunday, a day shift, 1:00pm to 11:00pm.”
There are the unknowns. “Each case you see can be very complex. We have to decipher history and physical exam findings to try figure out what’s been going on.” And, there are the frantic and upset pet owners. “It’s about not making their emergency your emergency…we need to separate ourselves emotionally in order to treat their pet. You can console somebody who is upset. The really hard part is clients who express their stress in an angry manner. Trying to defuse that can be difficult. It interferes with our ability to help their pet,” says Dr. Wetzel.
There’s also the empty feeling of not knowing what happens to a pet after it leaves REACH. “Often, the staff spends a lot of time working with a patient, sometimes two or three days and many hours. Not knowing how that patient is doing is hard,” says Dr. Wetzel.
Yet, making it all worthwhile is the appreciation many pet owners express after using REACH. “I keep most of the ‘thank you’ cards that I get. When you’re having a bad day, you look through them and they remind you that you are appreciated.” Those days include the rare occasion when a pet must be put down, in spite of the best efforts of Dr. Wetzel and his staff.
With all the challenges, Dr. Wetzel wouldn’t consider anything else. “What really drives me are the cases I know that I’ve made a difference in…that obviously were going to die, that we were able to successfully treat. There’s never a day that I would ever doubt that I made the right decision in being a veterinarian. There’s never been a time when I question whether I should have chosen this profession. This is what I love.”