Our veterinary practice shares emergency calls with four other practices. This means that when an urgent call comes in when I am on duty, I often don’t know the person calling or how to get to her farm. All the displayed phone number tells me is the town. Our conversation at 11:00 PM might go something like this:
“OK Alice, you are right, this does sound like colic, and you seem to have done everything that you can. Perhaps I should come out and see him. What is your address?”
“We live in Durham. Do you know where the elementary school is?”
“Well, I know there’s the old one and the new one. Tell you what, why don’t you give me your actual address. I’ll put it in the GPS on my phone and I should be able to find you.”
“Well, I’m not sure that would work…they tell me that it isn’t accurate to my place. So I’ll give you some directions.”
Alice apparently does not believe in road names, but instead gives me landmarks: the Hutchins place, the intersection with the tilted stop sign, and the old Smith place with all the window boxes. “Our place is about a mile from that big painted rock. We have lots of white fencing and a red barn. Really, you can’t miss it.”
Alice, I can assure you (I say to myself ) that I can miss it. I have lots of experience trying to find horse farms at night and have not only driven miles out of the way, but have gotten totally lost in the process. Not as bad in the day time when you can stop and ask, but come night I pass all the dark houses telling me that everyone in the neighborhood has gone to bed.
A traveling salesman whose territory includes all of northern New England told me that all GPS systems are 99% accurate in the cities, but he estimates that it slips to 80% in rural areas. I agree. In fact, if you try to find my own farm using Google Maps you will end up 1 1/2miles away, on a dead end road. Calls and emails to Google have not resulted in change.
Here’s something else I’ve found. If you have considerable road frontage some systems will put you at your property line which may be hundreds of feet from your front door. Not a big problem in the day time. It is a problem after dark when the GPS says I have arrived, but all I can see is woods.
Here are some things that I have learned about getting to your farm after the sun goes down.
1. It sounds sexist, but I find that men are almost always better at things like state road numbers and road names. If you are getting frustrated trying to explain how to get there, hand the phone off to an adult male who has lots of driving miles under his belt. For one thing, men almost always have a better concept of what a mile is.
2. Once it’s dark, spare the color descriptions. Even that white fence doesn’t show unless headlights are right on it. Actually all colors look the same in the dark. It’s a black and white world when the sun goes down. The description of the yellow house or red barn doesn’t help.
3. If you are aware that GPS doesn’t pin point you, take a drive from your place to the post office. On the way home, write down the exact mileage and turns on how to get to your barn. I have found that post offices are always exactly located on GPS systems and it’s is a great place to start from. Enshrine that information in a plastic holder for everyone in the house and keep it by the phone. This will help every emergency responder, including fire trucks, ambulances, and the state police.
Over 40 years ago I was hired right out of vet school by a practice in the “north country” of the Connecticut River valley. Back then this area was the definition of rural. Our clients were about equal in number between Vermont and New Hampshire. Over the course of a day I regularly crossed the many rivers over 3 different covered bridges and two iron ones. When I first arrived I didn’t know the territory at all, and of course, GPS wasn’t around then. At least today I always know what state I’m in! When my boss’s wife would send me on calls she would always tell the client to drape a towel over the mailbox, especially at night. For the first several months, I looked for and depended on those towels to bring me in. Now when I get confusing directions from someone I don’t know late at night, I ask them to put out a towel. Many times it has saved me 10 or 15 minutes of frustrating road time when I could have been at the barn.
My hope is that you never have a night emergency call and have to have a vet out that you’ve never met before. It happens, and if you are in the horse industry long enough, it may happen to you. Be prepared with exact directions for a vet you don’t know before you are in panic mode and have to add that stress to what you are already experiencing at the barn