Category Archives: Rants

Why are Vets so %$#ing Expensive? (…or, an update on the Brindle Dog)

Last week, I took the Brindle Dog to the vet. (YES!!! The Brindle Dog is still alive! It’s amazing and wonderful!)

I took her to the vet because she continues to decline and sometimes the only thing that reassures me is having the wonderful Dr. Beggs actually lay hands on her and talk me through my worries.

This is the appointment where I finally made the decision to stop trying to keep my dear old dog alive. No more diagnostics, no more trying to figure out how the cancer is spreading. Now she just gets her painkillers and steroids and antacids and all the other pills and supplements she needs to be comfortably pain-free. She’s a sweet grey-faced old girl, wobbly in the back end, slowing down both physically and cognitively, with the start of kidney disease, pale gums due to anaemia, and a newfound tolerance for the cat. Her most favourite thing in the world is treats, and her second most favourite thing is cuddles.

All kinds of things are falling apart for her now, but I have had over two years since her initial cancer diagnosis to say goodbye. It is okay now if she has to go. She’s tired. Partly that’s the anaemia, partly that’s the cancer, partly that’s old age (fourteen is pretty good for a shepherd!), and partly it’s her anxiety to keep performing well and stay on top of things. I try to mitigate that for her by anticipating her needs, and encouraging her to follow the Fluffy Dog’s lead, but she has always been a dog who feels responsible for warning and protecting her pack.

The old Brindle Dog has to pee an awful lot now. I’m up once or twice a night with her. She clicks down the hardwood hallway to the back door and whines softly, not wishing to bother me, but in need. My “mommy ears” hear even her tiniest squeak, and I go out into the yard with her, squinting at the night sky while she sniffs out the right spot. Then time for a quick cuddle before we both lie down and fall back asleep.

But back to this vet appointment. We had done bloodwork, one last draw to see what was going on before I made my decision to stop trying so hard. I’ve spent so much money on this dear dog over the last couple of years, all the checkups and medications and supplements and tests…. It adds up to a lot.

So I went to pay my bill after this visit and bloodwork and when the number popped up, I was surprised. “Are you sure this is right?” I asked, and the staff nodded warily, no doubt ready for a rant about the cost. “It seems wrong,” I said. “Are you sure you got everything? We did bloodwork, too. This seems too low!”

Now it was the staff’s turn to be surprised. I guess it’s not very often that people think they’re not being charged enough at the vet.

But the thing is, a veterinary business has a lot of overhead. For this particular visit, the bloodwork was less than $70 and the follow-up visit was less than $50.  Basically that means they lost money on my visit.

Here’s the service I got for this single visit:

  • two different people dealt with me to book the appointment in two separate calls: in the first call, they kindly squeezed me in for a Saturday, then I called back and changed the appointment to another day.
  • on the day of the appointment, I showed up early and called from the parking lot (phone call number 3) to let them know I was there and ask if I could come in (the Brindle Dog is horrible with other dogs). I couldn’t go in yet, so…
  • when it was safe to go in, a staff ran out through the cold to knock on my car window and let me know I could go in.
  • the Brindle Dog was cooed over, petted, and weighed. Staff recorded her weight and took me to my favourite room, while skillfully and discreetly keeping the Brindle Dog away from any other dogs.
  • A vet tech came in and took a thorough history and listened to me describe my dog’s faeces, urine, energy, coat, lumps, appetite, water intake, oestrus, cognition, medications and supplements and treats, stamina, itchiness, and general demeanour. She took copious notes and was empathetic while at the same time asking pointed clarifying questions.
  • Before she left, the tech asked if my dog would like a blanket to lie on, and when I accepted, she returned with a large, thick, soft, clean blanket.
  • Before the vet came in, she and the tech reviewed the history.
  • The vet came in, took the time to greet both me and the Brindle Dog in a sincerely welcoming way, and admired my old girl profusely. We went over the history together, and the vet did a physical exam. She discussed her findings with me and we talked about various options (including a possible blood transfusion  and an ultrasound). I agreed that we should do a blood test, and the vet went to get two techs to do the test right away so we could have the results before I left.
  • Two vet techs came in to draw blood. Because many years ago I trained to be a vet tech and worked as one for a while, the people at this clinic always kindly allow me to be present for these kinds of procedures. I helped hold my old Brindle Dog while they drew her blood. The blood draw involves the education and expertise of the techs; their ability to soothe and manage an anxious, high-strung, confused old dog; the actual physical materials (syringe, alcohol, tubes, etc.); the lab equipment needed to actually analyse the blood, including not just the machines themselves, but the slides and the chemicals, and the knowledge needed to use them; and finally, the education and experience needed for the vet to interpret the results, explain them to an anxious owner, and make appropriate recommendations.
  • The vet came back and I told her I want to start just letting the Brindle Dog go. We discussed what that means to me (I’d give antibiotics for an infection or stitches for a wound, but not blood transfusions for her anaemia, for example). The vet had compassion for my decision and was able to outline all my options without pushing any of them on me, so that it was very clear what I was declining and what consequences that might have. When I asked the question that all vets must dread (“Am I doing the right thing?”), she was supportive of my decision and respectful of how difficult it is.
  • When we were done, the vet and staff worked together to make sure the Brindle Dog and I had a clear dog-free path out the front door to the car, and then I returned to pay my bill and discuss how cheap it was.
  • After I left, they had to clean the floor of the exam room of fur and drool, clean / sterilise / replace any materials and equipment used, replenish the generous amounts of treats they’d given her, launder the heavy blanket they’d brought in, add any notes to the chart, compile my bill, process my payment, and send me a follow-up email with some additional information I wanted. (Also, one of the techs drawing the Brindle Dog’s blood got a full-frontal canine sneeze in the face, so there was some clean-up and washing of glasses involved there!)

I know that’s a lot of detail, and maybe the service I get there is a particularly good because I am a long-time client who does my damnedest to be polite and appreciative to every person with whom I interact no matter how anxious or stressed I am. But my point is that when you pay for veterinary services, you are not just handing your vet that full amount to put in her pocket. You are paying for staff, rent, utilities, materials, continuing education, sick time, repairs and replacement of equipment, and on and on and on. I had face-to-face contact with one veterinary doctor, two veterinary technicians, and three reception staff on the day of my appointment, and a fourth staff on the phone beforehand.

There are people at my work who walk in every day with a grande latte from Starbucks. People with season tickets to the Jets and / or the Bombers. People who have season tickets to the symphony or the theatre or who go to Mexico for ten days every winter. So many of these people are happy to ask Google or ask me (with my outdated and limited vet  tech experience) what to do with their dog / cat / bunny / budgie because “I don’t trust vets. They’re just out to make money!”

Right? How horrible that vets and techs and their staff have to earn a living like anybody else! How awful that they are trying to give the best service possible at reasonable prices in a competitive market! How reprehensible that they are starting local businesses and creating employment!

A big part of the problem is that people feel like vets are guilting them into choosing the most costly diagnostic and treatment options. But honestly, they’re not. The guilt is all yours, and that’s your own issue to work out. Vets are explaining all of the options and the potential consequences of declining those options, primarily because that is the correct, professional, and ethical thing to do, but partly (wait for it) because they don’t want to get sued by your sorry ass when you make a stupid decision. (Oh, yeah, add insurance to the list of bills they have to pay!)

You should trust and follow the advice of your typical veterinary doctor as much as you trust and follow the advice of your typical family doctor. Yes there are better and worse ones, yes there are ones who care more or less, but it’s on YOU to be an informed consumer and take responsibility for the decisions you make based on the information they give you.

Take the Brindle Dog, for example. Maybe if we did an ultrasound we’d find out more about how her cancer is spreading and we’d be able to try some different treatments to help her. Maybe a series of blood transfusions would prolong her life enough for her to have this whole upcoming summer to nap in the sunshine. But I decided not to do this. Partly because she’s gone through enough already. Partly because the meds she’s on now seem to be keeping her comfortable and happy. And yes—partly because of the cost. I know she will probably die sooner than she otherwise might because of these decisions. But that is MY decision. I am not going to whine that the vet should give me a discount or freebie on potentially life-saving or life-prolonging treatments. I chose to have this dog and she is my responsibility. Dr. Beggs and her team provided me with the information I needed to make a decision I can live with. And I am going to own that decision.

And honestly, if you have season’s tickets to pro sports or a daily latte or an annual trip to Europe and that’s more important to you than paying a medical professional to take care of your loved one, you don’t deserve a pet. These animals trust us to make good decisions on their behalf. We owe it to them to get them the professional care they need to the very best of our ability, even if we’re grumpy that there is a cost involved. Medical care for your pets is not optional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Say Something

The news is terrible everywhere.

Sunday night it was a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City. Six people dead, nineteen injured. The shooter was a white guy, a Trump supporter.

Monday night I was supposed to go out for dinner with an old friend from high school, Joanne. She texted me to ask what time I wanted to meet up. I was torn. I love getting together with her, but I really felt the need to go to that evening’s vigil for the victims of the shooting.

After a bit of texting back and forth, Joanne and I agreed that she and her daughter would pick me up and we would all go to the vigil together.

The vigil was… like any other. Some hundreds of us huddled with our toques and mittens, clutching our jars and glasses containing lit candles, rocking on our feet and curling our toes to keep them warm during the sad and inspiring and heartfelt speeches.

At one point, two protestors interrupted the speech with their signs to condemn Canada for having removed and endangered their children, and at first it looked like they were going to be ushered off the steps of the Legislature, but ultimately they were allowed to speak. I felt sorry for them and moved by their family’s plight, and I was grateful to them for interrupting the “wishful thinking” thread running through most the vigil in which speaker after speaker almost unanimously praised Canada as being a safe haven and a place where diversity is welcome and celebrated.

Because that wishful thinking lets us off the hook. If it was that safe here, those parents wouldn’t be mourning the disappearance of their children. That mosque wouldn’t have been shot up by a racist. Our jails wouldn’t be overwhelmingly filled with non-white people, particularly Indigenous people. Companies wouldn’t be bringing up migrant labour from Mexico and housing them twelve to a trailer for the summer. Women wouldn’t be getting raped and then blamed for it. No one would be trying to degay anyone or murder trans people.

But we keep giving those speeches and we keep repeating it to each other. Because we want to believe that’s not us. We’re not homophobic or misogynist or racist or classist or ableist or transphobic or in any way discriminatory. We would never (shoot Muslims) (rape anyone) (disown a queer family member).

It’s not enough. It’s not enough to stand at a vigil with a candle on a winter’s evening, no matter how comforting it is to mourn in community, no matter how important it is to be a body in the street, to stand up and be counted, to be another face in the lake of faces when the TV cameras pan across the crowd. These are important, but they are only a small step. Showing up at a vigil does not challenge anything or change much.

It’s hard to change. Hard to change within ourselves and hard to change our behaviour to intervene when we should. There’s so much work to do to unlearn all the crap we’ve been taught and fed, the lies we breathe in, the stereotypes we drink like water.

And there’s also so much work to do to learn how to interrupt others. It’s not necessarily our job to change people’s minds, but it IS our job to clearly express what language and behaviour we will or will not tolerate. It IS our job to not remain silent. We, especially if we embody multiple sites of privilege, have no “right” to remain comfortable and safe. The idea that this is a “right” is a facet of our privilege. Say something. Say anything.

A couple of years ago, I stumbled across Captain Awkward’s blog. Since then, I have read every single post, and probably 90% of the comments. The blog and the community that has built up there is very supportive and insightful in terms of articulating boundaries, taking responsibility for one’s own feelings and actions, dealing with annoying or abusive people, and holding others accountable for their own behaviour.

Captain Awkward is not perfect, but she owns it. She corrects her mistakes, apologises when necessary, and is responsive to feedback from her commenters. Most of the regular commenters are the same way. It’s an interesting place and I am sharing this with you in the hopes that hanging out there for a while over time might be as helpful to you as it is to me.

Some of Captain Awkward’s posts are specifically geared to how to deal with racism and Trumpism and sexism and other forms of discrimination. Others are more about dealing with difficult people and situations in other contexts. But there are lots of recurring themes: Use your words. “No” is a complete sentence. Let it be awkward. Build and maintain good boundaries. These are valuable skills and concepts for changing the world, bit by bit.

I’d love to hear what online resources have been helpful to you in learning how to stand up and make change. The more information and strategies we have, the better—as long as we actually put them into practice.

 

 

So this guy tried to pick me up…. (or, A Tale of Three Men)

Last Friday, I played a gig with two other DJs. I was up first, and I tried something totally new (for me): a set of music from my childhood. Pink Floyd, Cream, The Animals, Led Zeppelin, Supertramp, David Bowie, The Talking Heads… Music I remember falling asleep to as a little kid. If I’d come up with the idea a little sooner, I would have loved to add some Golden Earring and Moody Blues and ELO, but anyway, it was fun.

There was a guy (we’ll call him Stripey Shirt) who was pretty drunk and trying his luck with a lot of the women at the venue. With me, it was “Wow, you got some good dance moves. I mean, I’m from Jamaica and I know you got some good moves!” while his arm was on the back of the chair in which I was sitting. I was leaning away from his arm and planning how to extricate myself when he added “You gotta give me your number. I want to you DJ a private party I’m throwing!” I laughed at him and said “Yeah, because THAT sounds totally legit!” Continue reading

Weekly Pet Peeve: Distracted Drivers

Content warning for traffic accident, gore, and trauma.

Last night, a friend and I had dinner at the Marion Hotel. It looks kind of scruffy on the outside, with the beer vendor out back, the parking lot full of pickup trucks, and the line of gleaming Harley-Davidsons out front all summer. But the sweet potato fries are fabulous, and the servers are great.

But my friend told me a shitty story. Her sister-in-law was killed last year by a distracted driver. The SIL was out cycling with a friend. A driver was weaving all over the road because she was texting. She struck my friend’s sister-in-law and killed her pretty much instantly. The friend cycling with her wrote a Victim Impact Statement for the court about how she saw her friend’s brains crushed out of her head onto the roadway, and her pretty blue eyes go lifeless, and blood everywhere, and how she now has flashbacks and nightmares in which she relives the event.  The victim’s daughters wrote impact statements, too, about how now their mom won’t ever know her first grandchild (one of the daughters is currently pregnant).

The sentence was handed down recently. The “distracted driver” got her driver’s license suspended for ninety days. That’s it. THAT’S IT. I put “distracted driver” in quotations because my preferred term is MURDERER. It’s not involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide or whatever. It’s pure and simple murder.

If you text while driving, if you drink and drive, if you smoke pot and drive, if you are distracted or impaired in any way—especially ways that you KNOW are illegal!–then you are an asshole, a shitbag, a waste of fucking skin, and you deserve to have your license revoked forEVER, your car impounded, and your name made public.

I can hear the whining now: “But the punishment should fit the criiiiiime!!! It’s not faaaair to do that to someone just for having a couple of drinks / toking up / texting!!!”

You’re wrong. It’s entirely fair. If someone puts my life at risk for the sake of their own convenience or recreation, they deserve to be charged and convicted with Attempted Murder.

 


Edited 13 May 2016 to fix a typo.

 

Weekly Pet Peeve: Toast-Related Injuries

You know when you make the perfect toasted tomato-and-cheese sandwich? With a tasty, juicy tomato in thick slices, and some sharp old cheddar, and coarsely-ground black pepper. With the stone-ground whole wheat bread toasted to the exact perfect crispiness, and the layers of tomato and cheese perfectly constructed. When nobody interrupts your progress, so by the time you slice the sandwich in two and sit down to take the first bite, everything is still fresh and warm.

And then, with that first bite, the top layer of toast scrapes the top of your mouth raw, so that every chewing motion hurts, and the pleasure of savouring your perfect sandwich is lost.

I hate that.

 

 

Weekly Pet Peeve: I Am Not a Mental Health “Consumer”

Words matter. The labels we are given or choose to use matter. Language structures how we think, and how we think structures how we use language.

Once we were victims or sufferers.

Then we were patients (and if we were lucky, ex-patients).

Clients.

Person with X.

Survivor.

All problematic in different ways, but none as problematic for me as the trend to call us users or consumers of the mental health care system. My mental illness is not a commodity. To deal with it, I am not choosing or shopping or consuming or using the mental health care system. That implies that there is actually an array of effective, accessible, affordable, respectful options from which to choose. To commercialise mental health care (and all health care), to position the people who need health care services as users, as consumers, as if we are freely choosing to use and consume resources, as if we are the same as anyone shopping at WalMart for plastic toys made by kids in factories in overexploited countries, is to make illness and its treatment on par with any other goods and services in a capitalist system. That is absurd. Getting help isn’t as simple as picking out canned goods at the grocery store. Health care is not a commodity, and illness is not a lifestyle choice. Continue reading