A day in the life of a veterinarian
BAXTER — Getting ready for work the morning of Aug. 9 was not an average day for Deb Piepgras of Brainerd.
In fact, that entire week in August, Piepgras had to play a single mom to her two children — Josh, 7, and Brandon, 4, and two dogs — since her husband, Matt Eberts, was on vacation in Canada for a fly-fishing trip. Work also was affected, because Piepgras and Eberts own Lakeland Veterinary Hospital in Baxter where they both work as veterinarians, along with fellow veterinarian Molly Anderson-Krahn.
“Normally I work from 7:30 to 6, four days a week, but with Matt gone I have to leave by 5 to get the kids on time from day care,” said Piepgras.
Being a vet is the only job Piepgras has ever had. Her father, Richard Piepgras, bought the practice in the early 70s when Lakeland was located on Excelsior Road in Baxter. Deb Piepgras said when she was young she walked the dogs, cleaned the kennels and the clinic, was a receptionist and a technician to being a vet. She received her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the University of Minnesota in 2000. Lakeland opened at its location on Woida Road in Baxter 11 years ago.
“This is all I ever wanted to do,” said Piepgras. “I’ve always loved small animals.
“The most rewarding part of the job is seeing the animals come in as puppies or kitties and seeing them through their entire life and seeing the bond they developed with their owner.
“The nice part of the job is when something bad happens and there is an emergency and I’m able to help them get well and be healthy again to where they can go home and they are happy. Knowing I helped save their life is nice.”
Piepgras said the hardest part of the job is when a dog or cat is sick and she can help them, but the family can’t afford to help their pet because the treatment is too expensive. Piepgras said she tries to work with the families on payment options.
When asked what it is like working with her husband, Piepgras said, “Most days are good. This place is big enough and we each have our own cases so it works out. We only work three days a week together.”
Piepgras said managing the hospital works well as they have Kim Erickson, who manages most of the hospital’s day-to-day operations. Piepgras said she is the business manager and Eberts is the medical director and he works more on the policies of the hospital, such as how to handle certain medical cases.
One thing that was for sure is that every day is different and Piepgras has to stay on her toes as her day stays busy working on several cases at a time.
Piepgras said all the vets work four days a week and her husband and her rotate Tuesdays and Thursdays off and Anderson-Krahn has Wednesdays off.
Piepgras’ morning started at 4:45 a.m., when her youngest son woke up and couldn’t sleep because he went to bed early the night before because he wasn’t feeling well. She knew then that it would be a long day.
Piepgras got herself ready for work and her sons ready for day care. She also loaded up her two dogs — Obie is a German shepherd mix and Arya is a Dachshund — who would go to work with her.
“We bring our dogs to work when we’re both working,” said Piepgras. “If one of us is home then they’ll stay home.”
Once Piepgras dropped off her sons, she made a stop to get coffee at Caribou Coffee. She normally has coffee with cream at home, but on this day with her husband gone she went for coffee. She then drove to the vet hospital around 7:30 a.m. She put her dogs in her office that is enclosed with a doggie door so they can see out of the office and not feel caged up. It also helps Piepgras check on them every so often.
Piepgras first checked on all the animals that stayed overnight. The hospital has several areas for cats and dogs that include rooms for recovery of the animals after surgery, boarding rooms, a room for the ones being groomed and rooms for the animals before surgery and an isolation room for animals who have a contagious illness.
On Aug. 9, there were two dogs in the kennels, Riley, a German shorthair that was sick and stayed overnight for testing, and Ellie, a cattle dog that was dropped off early in the day because she wasn’t feeling well. Piepgras said she has to make sure that the animals that need medication are medicated and take care any other needs that come up.
Piepgras then turned all the equipment on so it could warm up before patients would soon be coming in.
Most of the action behind the scenes takes place in the treatment area, located behind the doors of the exam rooms. There are two long metal tables with drains for animals to be on for treatment to give the three vets plenty of space to work on their animal.
Piepgras then checks with her staff about appointments. Piepgras said each vet has a vet technician and then there is one technician who floats between the vets to help out wherever needed. Piepgras’ technician is Roxie Olson.
As the doors opened for clients, Piepgras said her day was not an average day as most of the patients were new.
• 8:05 a.m.: Piepgras’ first chore, one of the hardest part of her job, is to euthanasia a cat that had cancer.
• 8:15 a.m.: Piepgras was told by a technician that her 9 a.m. appointment was early. The appointment was for a routine surgery for a domestic short hair kitten named Patches, a new patient, to have her front claws declawed and for it to be spayed to remove its ovaries and uterus.
Piepgras was told that the owner of the 22-week-old kitten was emotional about the surgery as she just lost a cat she had for a long time.
• 8:18 a.m.: Piepgras enters the exam room to see Patches. She explains to the owner the surgery, making sure the kitten did not eat or drink that day and asked her if she has any concerns. The owner asked if the kitten would have to stay overnight and Piepgras said she did and would sleep most of the night and be comfortable. The owner was concerned that no one would be in the hospital after midnight, but Piepgras said the kitten and all the animals would be fine for the few hours before the clinic would open again.
The woman was given a moment to say good-bye to her kitten and then handed her to a technician for surgery.
• 8:32 a.m.: Piepgras’ next appointment was a surgery consult on a dog named Petey, another new patient. Petey’s owner wanted a second opinion on its illness. The dog has had lupus for a long time and had two lumps on its face and one vet thought it could be cancer. The owner wanted to be sure what the lumps were and what kind of treatment was needed. The visit was unusual as the owner had her father bring the dog since she lived in Eagan.
Piepgras told the father the treatment options and then called the daughter to see what she wanted to do with Petey. The options were for Piepgras to do a biopsy of both lumps to be tested for cancer cells or to have the dog take steroids to see if they would shrink the lumps. The daughter decided to have the lumps tested, so Petey was brought to the treatment room and the father left to wait for the call for him to come back for the dog.
• 8:40 a.m.: Piepgras entered another exam room on another new patient on a three-legged dog named Lacie, owned by Anne Lillehei of Colorado, who is moving to the Brainerd lakes area. Lillehei said Lacie, who swims a lot, was coughing, drooling a lot, panting hard and puking, but nothing was coming up. After talking about Lacie’s condition, Piepgras was concerned that the dog may have pneumonia and suggested an X-ray be done and to elevate the heart and lungs. The owner agreed and the dog was taken in the treatment room.
• 8:52 a.m.: At this time, two technicians conducted the X-ray on Lacie, while Piepgras conducted the biopsy on Petey’s face with help from Olson. Petey was a good dog as he held steady while Piepgras worked on the biopsy of the lumps that were located right under the dog’s eyes.
• 8:58 a.m.: Piepgras checked Lacie’s X-rays and it looked normal. The vet also did blood work to check to see if Lacie had any early signs of kidney disease or other illnesses related to age.
• 9:05 a.m.: Piepgras drew blood from Patches the kitten to prepare it for surgery. “She was one cooperative kitty,” said Piepgras.
• 9:10 a.m.: Piepgras prepares for her next appointment, which is actually her friend, Lynn Olson from Zimmerman, who brought in her new puppy, a 13-week old dachshund named Pumkin. Olson also brought her older dachshund to the appointment. Olson and Piepgras bought their dachshund out of the same breeder and the two dogs are friends.
Piepgras checked out Pumkin, while her assistant helped hold the dog. The check-up of Pumkin showed that it had an ear infection, so Piepgras collected some samples to test. The puppy also received vaccinations for lyme, distemper/parvo, rabies and kennel cough.
“Treats work well when working with puppies,” said Piepgras. “It helps to distract them.”
• 9:30 a.m.: Piepgras checked the samples from Pumkin’s ears and it showed that it had a yeast infection and roundworms. In between appointments, besides testing the animals, Piepgras also tries to keep up on writing the medical reports in the computer of each case. She also provides estimates to the patients on what the cost would be on different procedures.
On each case, Piepgras and her technician Olson come in the room for the exam. Olson also checks the patients in and gathers the information for Piepgras so she is prepared when she enters the room. Olson also helps check out the patients.
• 9:32 a.m.: Checked the tests on Lacie that showed no indicator of kidney disease or other illness. Piepgras went into the exam room to update Lillehei on the news, as well as the news from the X-ray. Piepgras talked to Lillehei about treatment that could be used to treat Lacie with an anti-inflammatory or to wait to see if she’s heal on her own. Lillehei decided to wait three days to see if the dog would heal on its own, since the dog had an appointment at the vet again that week. If she didn’t heal then the owner would use the anti-inflammatory medication. Lacie checked out at 9:35 a.m.
• 9:39 a.m.: Piepgras went into the exam room to tell Pumkin’s mom that it had a yeast infection in the ears and roundworms. Piepgras gave Olson the treatment medications to treat both her dogs and the dogs monthly heartworm and parasite preventative, and she was set to go home.
• 9:55 a.m.: Piepgra’s next appointment is a 16 1/2-year-old cat named Snoopy, another new patient. The Crosslake owners wanted to get a refill on Snoopy’s thyroid medication. Piepgras asked the owners about a bump by the cat’s nose and they said it’s been there all of its life, but has recently gotten bigger. Piepgras tells the owners that Snoopy’s teeth are getting bad and said she could take samples of the lump to see what it is. The cat owners declined any testing on the lump. They also talked about checking the cat’s thyroid level to make sure it is getting the right amount of medication.
• 10:02 a.m.: Checked the biopsy cells of the lumps under the microscope from Petey.
• 10:15 a.m.: Received the blood work on Patches and began prepping it for surgery as it was anesthetized. Piepgras and her assistant shaved its leg to put in the IV catheter.
• 10:25 a.m.: Piepgras called Petey’s owner about the biopsy that was free and clear of cancer and talked about treatment and it was decided to go ahead with the medications. Piepgras also had her technician call the owner’s father to let him know he could pick up the dog at any time early afternoon.
• 10:37 a.m.: Piepgras put on her scrubs, sterilized her hands and she got ready to begin surgery on Patches. Patches was ready in a private surgery room hooked up to the machines to help it breathe and monitor her heart rate and oxygen levels. It was tied up to the table to stabilize it during surgery,
Piepgras does the spaying first and then declaws it with laser surgery. Both surgeries will take about 20 minutes.
• 11:15 a.m.: The surgeries are done on Patches and it is taken to recover with a technician.
• From 11:15 a.m. to 2:55 p.m.: Piepgras cleaned up after surgery, had time to take a 20-30 minute lunch at her desk, which consisted of cucumbers and meat and cheese; and then saw five animals that included euthanizing another cat, seeing a dog with an ear and skin infection, a younger cat with an upper respiratory infection and it needed vaccines; saw the owners of a dog named Riley, a German shorthair, that stayed overnight at Lakeland and then a new kitten named Blackjack that was ill. Petey also was picked up along with its medicines it needed.
• 3 p.m.: Piepgras talks to Riley’s owners and decided to check his blood sugar to figure out what its further treatment would be.
• 3:21 p.m.: Piepgras comes out of the exam room and her technician, Olson and another technician, ask Piepgras to follow them to her office to show them what her dogs did. Obie and Arya got into Piepgras’ purses and may have chewed up some sugar-free gum, cough drops and papers. Piepgras said that sugar-free gum can be toxic to pets as it drops their blood sugar too low and too quickly. Piepgras asks her technician to get the IV to hook up to her dogs with a medicine that will induce vomiting.
“I don’t think I had any gum left in the package, but I’m not sure,” said Piepgras. “If there wasn’t any gum, well then this will be a good lesson to my dogs to stay out of trouble.
• 3:24 p.m.: Piepgras goes into another exam room to talk to Blackjack’s owner of Garrison. Piepgras tells the kitten’s owner that the kitten was either born with some type of congenital disease or trauma. Another kitten in Blackjack’s litter died and the mother cat was not vaccinated. Piepgras asks the owner several questions about the kitten and said that it could be that its brain is swelling and she could use supportive therapy or steroids to see if the kitten would nurse back to health.
“If this would be you or me I’d suggest a MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging), but we don’t have that type of equipment here and I’d have to refer you down to the Twin Cities,” Piepgras tells the owner. “We are not here 24/7 so we wouldn’t be able to monitor it here. I’m not sure what your goals are and how much money you are willing to spend.”
More conversations take place with Piepgras offering other solutions. The owner then decides to take the kitten home after he has Piepgras inject it with fluids to see if the kitten will respond.
• 3:31 p.m.: Piepgras exits the room and the kitten is given fluids. Piepgras said it’s tough for pet owners to decide what treatment they should do, especially when the cost is high and there is no guarantee that the pet will be saved.
Piepgras said with the economy, pet owners are pushing back their pets vaccines or skipping them altogether, hoping for the best.
• 3:40-4 p.m.: Piepgras checks Ripley’s blood sugar test and it’s normal. She checks on another test on Riley for Addison’s Disease, it comes back negative. Piepgras writes reports to catch them up for the day, as the day is starting to wind down. Piepgras said the day was steady, but not overwhelming.
• 4 p.m.: Piepgras talks to the owners of another cat, BoJangles, on the telephone about the test results and treatment options. Piepgras saw the cat the day before.
• 4:30 p.m.: Piepgras sees Riley’s family, her last appointment of the day. The family is staying at a cabin in the lakes area, but they live in the cities. She said the owners will have to decide whether to take the dog home or take it to a 24-hour facility to be monitored for its blood sugar.
“Riley is holding steady right now,” said Piepgras. “I’d say watch her and give her a meal tonight and one in the morning and if she keeps up see your regular vet.”
The family asked how the 24-hour answering service works so if Riley’s blood sugar drops again they know what to do. Piepgras said if the blood sugar drops again they’ll want to get the dog in as it could die within hours if the blood sugar is not maintained.
Piepgras said the dog could either have a toxin or a pancreatic tumor. She said if it is a toxin, fluids could help it get through a day. The family take the dog home and plan to monitor it.
• 4:50 p.m.: Piepgras checks on the only animal that is staying overnight, which is Patches, before she leaves for the day. She also cleans up the treatment area and finishes any reports not yet completed.
• 5:02 p.m.: Piepgras collects her things and her two dogs and says good-bye to staff. She walks to the back exit door and gets the dogs in her SUV and takes off to pick up her two sons.
At the end of the day, Piepgras said she is leaving to go home feeling “pretty good.” Piepgras said it’s hard putting animals down and hard to see when animals are not feeling well. However, she said it’s nice to know that there were animals that she did help that day and that the surgery with Patches was a success.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.