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Q: What happened in here?

A: We are now 16 months out from the start of the COVID pandemic and life feels a little like it did pre-COVID. Thanks to “vaccines in arms” we are no longer entirely “curbside,” but have morphed into a hybrid model that is mostly working.

There are clients in the building again and less mask wearing. There are smiles and even make-up on a few faces. But we are changed from what we all went through. I had the pleasure of going to work every day to keep my life schedule close to normal. This is what we, as a veterinary hospital and community did and saw.

At the beginning of the pandemic we weren’t quite sure if we, as veterinarians, were essential or not. But we came to work because there will always be sick animals and worried owners. So we called ourselves essential and drove really fast, too. Why not? There was no one else on the roads. We all made record time to work!

Sure we lost some staff and veterinarians who decided to stay home to stay safe, but with a smaller crew and no elective procedures we could do anything for a few weeks we thought. And it began.

We all learned to do all kinds of jobs in the hospital, from cleaning, to the computer programming, to estimates and invoices and payments. We protected our staff with face shields, masks and raincoats in the summer and down jackets in the winter. After all, they were coming and going outside all day and evening to facilitate the curbside model since no clients were allowed inside for everyone’s protection.

There were no well visits and lots of sick and critical pets. We pulled together and got by.

Then we got creative and pulled out our cellphones. The very thing that had been taboo all these years, a distraction even, was now our best friend and we used it to the fullest. Pictures, videos, FaceTime and texts were all used to get you, our clients, inside and be part of your pet’s health care. There was even talk of telemedicine at our clinic, but we do this anyway when we field phone calls so that idea was soon forgotten. Emailed and texts of pictures were the normal. A few selfies got shared, too.

But the best thing that happened while you were not with your pets was how the animals behaved and the way we interacted with them. Exam room doors were left open. We all came and went freely into rooms and talked and examined and shared case information. Our waiting room was turned into a huge physical therapy obstacle course with that door open too so we could see everything.

As busy as we were, and as stressed out as we became as those weeks became months and then a year, we also grew closer as a group of health care providers with every staff member working to get each case healthy and back home.

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And then there were the pets. You know when you drop off your children at your parents’ house for the weekend and all they eat are sweets and fast food? Well, it happened with us, too. We had pets up on the furniture, counter-surfing for treats, helping us type on the computer. There was always a cat on the counter drinking from the sink or simply just curled up waiting on a veterinarian or two to start.

Confession — we gave so many treats, too.

Cheese in a can was sprayed on the floor, on the walls, on the furniture. Cat treats and peanut butter flowed freely.

It soon became obvious that our most anxious pets were suddenly not so scared. Our protective pets had no one to protect and relaxed. We were able to be silly with them and clap and jump around with all manner of animals and, looking back, I think we as a team needed and enjoyed that as much as the animals did.

Slowly we started seeing well visits and doing elective procedures like spays and dentistry. Staff and veterinarians came back. With more hands we could do more work. There was such a need for catch up on wellness and continued sick visits but we worked tirelessly to get it all done each day, together.

And now, it has been almost a month since we have let go of that strict curbside model of practice and now are a hybrid of it. Still no waiting room, but the obstacle course is cleaned up. New cabinets will replace our old saliva-covered ones. One client is allowed inside with each pet. Masks are not required for vaccinated clients and staff but are always optional. Check out is in the exam room and cellphones are still being used.

There are not a lot of notes coming in with pets anymore pointing out things for us to look at and supplies to send home. We get people now.

We are starting to get back that human-human bond too. I get to finally go over X-rays with clients on a screen big enough for them to see. I can show them their pet’s teeth and point out issues they may have never seen. I can teach them to brush teeth, give insulin shots and do subcutaneous fluids in person and not rely on YouTube to answer their questions and give them examples. We see tears and smiles again and are able to give hugs.

We are glad life seems to be better but we must remember COVID is still here and there are variants evolving that we must be mindful of. But it’s OK. I think a new level of trust, community and finding joy wherever and whenever you can has crept into veterinary medicine in our hospital and I’m sure other hospitals throughout the country.

So while you were outside waiting, that’s what I believe happened in here.

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