Eleven days ago we lost a dear, dear friend to DD, gorgeous golden retriever Maci Mokros. Many of you have asked me why I have yet to do a eulogy for Maci, seeing as she was such a regular visitor over so many years.
The truth is, I can’t. I have yet to find closure on her death.
She was only nine years old, a beautiful soul with a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon, and a paw that said ‘I’m here. I love you.’
It was a silent creeper, her splenic mass, one that didn’t show six weeks ago when she went for her yearly check up, but just four weeks later, it was the size of a dodgeball.
You’d never have known she was sick, despite a tiny bout of diarrhoea which was not unusual for Maci when it was stormy. She was eating and drinking, playing and laughing.....the only reason we took her to the vet that day was because Jeannie and I had a nagging feeling something wasn’t right.
When you know clients in the way that we do, and spend so much time with them, you learn to trust your gut.
Mum and Dad were on a cruise in the middle of the ocean and out of contact so I took the executive decision to take her down to her vets, Gwinnett Animal Hospital, who laid hands on her and found the mass instantly. Bloodwork confirmed that her red blood cell count had dropped significantly from 48 down to 36 since she was last seen by them.
It was a dangerous situation and needed to be handled immediately.
They gave us the option of having the surgery there at Gwinnett Animal Hospital the next day as it was later afternoon by then, or taking her immediately to North Georgia Veterinary Specialists in Buford, where she could have round the clock monitoring, transfusions if necessary and be on IV fluids all night, maybe even have the surgery that night if deemed necessary.
Thankfully, while I was panicking about which decision to make ( I was panicking because Gwinnett Animal Hospital doing it cost $1200 and the other was going to be four times that, at least) mum Alecia called from St Thomas and made the decision for her to go to Buford, simply because of the level of care that would be afforded there.
We arrived at 7.45pm. I spoke to the admitting Doctor, gave her all of Maci’s medical information and symptoms, told them about her bout of diarrhoea and the meds we had given for it, which she assured me they would also give her meds for. Then they established that Maci’s mum had told them I had full authority to make any decisions.
If they got in there and found her body riddled with cancer, I was going to have to be the one to call it.
I’ve never been so frightened professionally or felt such a huge responsibility.
Someone else’s dog? Holy shit, this was huge...no matter how much she felt like one of my dogs this was still massive.
For some reason, they delayed surgery until the Thursday afternoon so that they could ‘wait until Alecia docked on land’ despite her categorically telling them that it was okay for me to make decisions on their behalf. We were surprised.....frankly we had rushed her there because it was a life threatening situation.
After the surgery, which was successful, we were assured by the surgeon, Dr Keith Curcio, that she seemed to be doing well, no cancer was evident, and I should be okay to get her on Saturday and bring her home to be with me.
That evening, I called and they told me ‘she was doing great, was still on IV but that wasn’t unusual, it was taking her a while to come round.’
The next morning they told me she was wagging her tail and happy ‘as a clam’.
I asked what her red blood cell count was and was told it was at 34. I wanted to check on this because it was her lowered red blood cell count that had her primary care veterinarian so concerned and thinking she needed surgery immediately.
Each time I called the following day ( three times) they told me she was doing great, eating, walking......smiling and a joy to be around, they said.
‘That sounds like our Maci’ I said. If there were people to perform for, Maci would turn on the charm.
I asked what her red blood cell count was each time I called them, and each time I was assured it was at 34 but that this was ‘safe.’ I thought it odd that it dropped another 4 points after surgery, but apparently a small drop post surgically isn’t unusual.
I made staffing arrangements so I could go get her on the Saturday morning to bring her home with me and called the hospital at close to midnight on Friday to get an update.
‘Maci’s doing great, she’s very comfortable. She’s walking around and doing very well,’ said the vet tech I spoke to.
I asked what her red blood cell count was and was told it was 34.
I went to bed happy, thinking that all was well. We had had a major scare with Boris at Frankie and Andy’s Place that day, and I was thankful to have one less thing on my worry list.
Not even four hours later they called me to tell me she was dead.
‘Excuse me, what did you say? No, you’ve made a mistake. This can’t be true!’
Then, his words started to sink in and I couldn’t grasp it...I immediately needed to know how and why because when my head hit the pillow three hours before she was fine.
The veterinarian who called me was not Dr Curcio, but a foreign doctor who told me they just didn’t know why Maci died. He said she had diarrhoea which was ‘orange in color’ and they couldn’t understand why that was, ‘not much blood’, he said, ‘just orangey stool’.... that they took her out for a walk and she collapsed and died. I asked what her red blood cell count was when they last checked and he told me 24.
24 seriously? A whole ten points lower than at midnight?
‘Oh maybe it was 34’ he said.
At this point I actually said ‘WTF? Do you not know this information? And you’re the Doctor? Do you have the chart?’ I asked him did they give her diarrhoea meds like they assured me they would at check in, and he told me he didn’t know, that Dr. Curcio would have to talk to me in the morning.
Her chart was in front of him and he didn’t know?
All of a sudden he didn’t have that information?
Her red blood cell count was 24? But I’d been told 3 hours earlier it was 34? Did that not raise any alarm bells with these people? I know that alarm bells were ringing in my own head........
When Dr Curcio spoke to Maci’s mum the next morning, he told her Maci had haemorrhagic diarrhoea. In all my years dealing with dogs I never heard of orange haemorrhagic diarrhoea.
Haemorrhagic diarrhoea is red. It is a profusion of blood, red and gushing.
It is NOT orange.
The doctor the night before clearly said it was orange.
Who was lying? The guy at 4am or Dr Curcio?
We asked to see Maci’s chart, instead they sent us a nicely worded ‘summary’ which gave no clear answers or timeline of events and told us that she ‘may have thrown a blood clot’ but which basically says they have no clue why she died.
We asked again to see her actual chart, the one where all of her medical notes were jotted down by each health professional who saw her since she was admitted. They ignored that request. They did not send it.
When Alecia asked again to see the chart, she was told it was sent to her, and they couldn’t understand why it wasn’t received ‘but oh, by the way, can we settle up now please?’
Alecia also asked them to send me the chart as I was an interested party.
Didn’t happen. Still hasn’t.
I have emailed Dr Curcio three times and raised questions about what happened that night because things just don’t add up...too many conflicting stories and numbers. Especially when their ‘customer service’ representative told Alecia during the last call that Maci’s last recorded red blood cell count was 28.
Hang on...where did that number come from?
Was it 34, 24 or 28?
Someone make their mind up, please? Because if the red blood cell count drops by 10 after surgery, I want to be damn sure that someone had a plan of action and that they can tell us what it was!
Alecia is very unhappy, and so am I.
No she wasn’t my dog, but she was in my heart, had been part of our family for years and I feel sick that I took her there thinking that she was in good hands. I wish to God I’d kept her with me that night and not left her with these people who frankly don’t seem to know their ass from their elbow when it comes to reading [or providing a copy of] a chart, deciding what color some diarrhoea is, or even seem to give a flying toss about answering to PAYING CLIENTS.
All we’ve asked of Dr. Curcio is that he answer some questions because of the conflicting news and numbers.
Clearly, he’s above doing that. Doesn’t deal with little people maybe? Has people ‘who handle that stuff?’
This, despite him saying on his email not to hesitate to get in touch if we have any questions. I didn’t hesitate, I responded in half an hour, yet have been studiously ignored, as has Maci’s mum.
I don’t want to hear someone tell me he’s busy.
We all are. And we are all saving lives in one way or another.
Alecia and Jeff are busy consoling their kids over Maci’s death and trying to earn the money to pay their $5000 credit card bill. So yeah, they’re busy too.
And....if you take money, BIG MONEY, to provide a ‘specialist’ service then you are accountable to those who hire you.
Almost two weeks on and Alecia still has not seen any sign of the medical chart from NGVS.
They’ve moved on, (just another patient who’s dead, maybe? I hate to think that but what else can you think?)...but to Alecia and her family, the loss is incalculable.
My reason for telling you about this is that all too often we get bamboozled by the lofty status of doctors and surgeons and we are maybe reluctant to question them?
We feel that the diploma they hold means that they are above question.
That is SO not the case.
Anyone whose wages you pay answers to you.
No one who takes money from you is above being questioned as to their performance.
Just think how any times you have been to a restaurant where there is a professional chef in residence, and been sorely disappointed because the meat was raw, the vegetables were over cooked or there was a hair on the plate.
Did you just accept it?
No, you asked your server to deal with it, you asked for a replacement dish, maybe?
You didn’t just accept it. You demanded better.
And yet...preface someone’s name with the letters D and R and all of a sudden we go quiet?
We just blindly accept?
I am certainly not inciting terror on veterinarians...I am very lucky to be a client at Gwinnett Animal Hospital where the care team is exceptional and, on the very few occasions that I have had questions, I have been made to feel like I’m the most important person in the world.
When I mentioned this fact years ago to partner and practice manager Andrea Haupt, she said to me ‘That’s because you are! You pay our wages!’
I admit to having become spoilt at Gwinnett Animal Hospital over the years, as had Maci’s mum, so not having emails or phone calls requesting information responded to is almost alien territory for us.
I am suggesting that you have a right to ask for good service, for complete information and for full disclosure as to the actions that were taken.
I will keep you all posted as to where this goes, of course, but in the meantime, please remember that your pets rely on you to be their advocates.
You are their parents. The only advocates they have. Also remember that people, even ones with white coats on, make mistakes.
They get tired, misread things, they make wrong calls, they mess up. They aren’t above reproach...I hope that wasn’t the case with Maci. I hope they did everything correctly and studiously, but of course without the medical chart in front of me, I have no idea.
When you charge almost $5000 for incredible service and attention to detail, you’d better give it, be willing to prove that you did, or be prepared to explain why you didn’t.
You must demand better service for your dog’s health than you would of your food provider in a restaurant.
I'll let you know how this pans out...