A few weeks ago Janet called and left a very detailed message on our office answering machine. Although I have changed the names and details, it went something like this: “This is Janet Brown calling. Chet and I are going on vacation for a week. Our neighbor Amy will be watching over the barn. If Charlie gets colicky, please limit his treatment to medicine. We have decided that he is too old to go through colic surgery. If Blossom gets in trouble, don’t forget that she is very sensitive to tranquilizer, and whatever you do, don’t use Bute on her.” The message went on for two more minutes, detailing all of the medical dos and don’ts for the other horses in the barn. She added that if the two boarders’ horses got in trouble, we should call their owners directly to get their input on treatments. She reminded us that her credit card was on file with us should we have to see any of the horses. She ended the message by saying that her friend June (phone number given) should be called if a decision needed to be made about any treatments.
I appreciate two things. One is that Janet will be taking some time off. It’s important for all of us to take time away for a bit, if only to appreciate what we have at home. Secondly Janet cared enough about the horses in her barn to have made the call. However, as I listened to her message I wondered just what I was supposed to do with it. It felt a little like “tag, you’re it.”
Like most equine practices we do our best to provide 24/7 emergency coverage. We share emergencies with 2 other practices, for a total of 7 equine vets on a rotating schedule. So, here is my dilemma. Should I call the other 6 vets and give them all the many details set forth in Janet’s message? Maybe spend ½ an hour writing her message down and then send an email to each vet detailing what to do and what not to do for every horse in case that an emergency call came from the farm? What about the other similar message I received the same week? Send that one as well? I also wondered whether the other two practices were getting the same kind of phone calls, and whether they would be calling our practice with all that information.
Here is my suggestion. Hopefully you already have a plastic protected information sheet on your horse’s stall door with information about your animal and numbers to call in an emergency. When you are going away, take the time to write down all the current information that would be needed for your animal in case of any problem. Do this well in advance of your going. Don’t wait until the night before when you are distracted by packing. Go beyond the basic information that is on your stall sheet. For example, is this horse a candidate for colic surgery if medical treatment would not be enough? Is there someone that you are designating to make such decisions? Are there any peculiarities about your horse that a veterinarian who has never him should be aware of? This is important, because although you probably prefer to have your own vet treat your animal, he or she may not be available when a problem arises. Once you have written out all your thoughts, please do not call your veterinarian’s office with it. It will just cause frustration on their end.
Tack the sheet to your horse’s stall door. If you are a boarder, make sure that the stable owner has read and understands your directions. The advantage of this written plan over a phone call to your vet is huge. If your own vet is away, then any vet that comes will have some guidance on any decision to be made, and you will have a more relaxed time away.
–David A. Jefferson, DVM