There seem to be days and weeks to celebrate everyone and everything. With so many I often begin to ignore them. However there is a week in October of every year that the American Veterinary Medical Association has designated that is special to me, National Veterinary Technician Week. This year it is the week of Oct. 14-20.
Technicians are the unsung heroes of pet care. Without their help veterinarians could not provide the veterinary care we do. I think every veterinarian you ask would agree.
Before I even see a patient, they are going through the records sent over from the pet’s family veterinarian. They make sure we have all the blood tests and X-rays that have been performed. They decipher which medications the pet has been on and what they are currently taking.
Upon arrival, they quickly assess the patient to determine if this is an emergency needing to be rushed into the ICU or OK to start in an examination room. They take the pet’s temperature, pulse, respiration and weight. Then they get an initial history of past and present problems.
They assist me when I perform my physical exam, making sure the pet is comfortable and protecting me from harm. I have a tendency to get off track talking to parents so they help keep me focused and on time. They laugh at my silly jokes, which breaks the tension of our stressful days.
When I come up with my diagnostic plan, they are the ones who perform all of these steps. They go to radiology, set up the machine as indicated and take X-rays. They draw blood samples needed for the tests requested. Tests often require different parts of the blood or a different anti-coagulant so they have to be familiar with how to handle the blood once obtained to ensure accuracy.
Some samples are packaged and sent to an outside laboratory for analysis. Most, however, are run with our in-house equipment. So these same technicians also know how to operate the machines to provide me with the accurate results I need to diagnose my patient.
When an ultrasound is needed, they set up the machine and prep the patient. Most of our technicians know how to run the CT and MRI machines. They perform ECGs and measure blood pressures, too.
For oncology patients, the doctors will determine the best chemotherapy and calculate the dose. The technicians are the ones who safely draw up the medications and deliver the drug. These drugs can cause life-threatening side effects if administered improperly. They are also dangerous to humans if we are exposed to them. The technicians know how to handle and administer these medications safely.
For all hospitalized patients, doctors create a treatment flow sheet and the technicians are the ones who physically carry out this plan. They take temperatures when indicated, walk pets outside, administer medications on time and, most importantly, provide TLC to the animals while under our care and away from home.
Since animals do not understand why we are performing tests, even those procedures that are not painful, such as CT and MRI, require anesthesia. Technicians help to anesthetize these pets and monitor them.
Technicians prepare the surgical operating room prior to procedures making sure it is cleaned between patients and that the surgical instruments are properly sterilized. They assist the doctors during surgery by holding tissues out of the way, handing instruments, providing suction and lavage, to name a few.
They know how to safely provide hyperbaric oxygen therapy and for how long. Setting oxygen and humidity levels in the oxygen cage is part of their job. They place uretheral catheters in obstructed male cats and nasal oxygen tubes in dogs having trouble breathing. They administer red blood cells to anemic pets and enemas to constipated cats.
I could go on and on describing the vital role they play. So many of the skills they have I do not know how to perform. I could not do my job without them.
Technicians are also there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They work Thanksgiving, Christmas and every holiday so that pets can be provided with the best care, no matter when they are ill.
Next week, I will do my best to thank them for the jobs they do. If you happen to be at a veterinary clinic, take an extra minute to thank them too.