Apocalypse meow

September 1, 2017
William Pass, DVM

Dr. William Pass is a small animal veterinarian in Boulder City, Nevada.

The end of the world may mean the beginning of a career pivot for veterinarians. With the right attitude, doomsday could be your lucky day!

THE END IS NEAR!!! But your career in human medicine may just be beginning ... (Shutterstock.com)In the postapocalyptic world, as society struggles to rebuild from the ashes, physicians will be few and far between. Fortunately, popular television and movies have laid precedent for this eventuality so we know what to expect. During end times, veterinarians like yourself will be promoted. You'll be considered “real doctors” and will be expected to treat the elusive hairless primate-or “people,” as we affectionately call them. As we look forward to a variety of doomsday scenarios, allow me to prepare you for your impending career pivot.

First of all, don't panic. This is a good general rule for the end of civilization as a whole and is also applicable when receiving your first human patient. As a wise vet once said, “When dealing with a new animal species, try to focus on what's the same, not what's different.”

Wait a minute, you say. Human beings are animals? Unfortunately, yes. Turns out, scientists have kept this tidbit quiet for about a thousand years. Fortunately, the end of humanity as we know it will provide the opportunity to reshape cultural norms and most likely improve the standing healthcare system. Like they say, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or, make hay while the sun shines, because nuclear winter is coming.

Imagine yourself in rags, wandering a wasteland of radioactive fog-but with a nice new business card that says your name, followed by, “DVM, MD.” Impressive, right? Plus, you'll be rich. The best thing about the collapse of the modern financial system will be student loan forgiveness. On top of that, you'll finally earn a doctor's salary (albeit in the form of clean drinking water and ammunition).

While the atmosphere may be bleak (and perhaps even unbreathable), there'll be new and exciting medical challenges to discover. And because of severe resource scarcity, you'll be able to tap into your creative side at last!

Let's run through a quick example scenario:

A 23-year-old Caucasian male presents to your cave dwelling early in the morning. About 72 hours ago, his scavenging party was attacked by a pack of roving mutant superwolves. (Everyone else was eaten.) The patient has multiple puncture wounds in his right forearm. The area is swollen and bruised. He is not actively bleeding, but you observe purulent, malodorous exudate. His temperature is 102.3 degrees F. (This is too high for people.)

Remember, don't panic. Sure, it's a human arm. And sure, it was a mutant superwolf that got him. But this is ultimately just an abscessed bite wound. Think of your human patient as a big kitty cat instead of a man. But instead of sedating him with dexmedetomidine, flushing the wound, placing a drain and prescribing antibiotics, simply give him a 500-ml bolus of whiskey per os, tie him down and saw off his arm just above the elbow. Remember to cauterize the stump with that shovel you heated up in the fire. No need to prescribe anything-you ran out of antibiotics three moon phases ago.

See how easy the transition can be? It just takes some pluck and a little clinical can-do.

If anything, seeing human patients will make our jobs easier. They can talk and enjoy doing so. When an elderly woman says her stomach feels upset, she can also inform you that she's been eating cans of Fancy Feast for the past 10 days in order to survive. Since you know why she's nauseated, you won't even have to run any diagnostics. You can just switch her to a low-fat cat food that'll be more digestible.

Large animal vets will find the dystopian transition even more seamless. Rural populations stand a better chance of survival due to slower pandemic velocity, and many country folks are already comfortable taking medical advice from their local vet. Since aseptic conditions were never really a thing, the transition from hospital to field cesarean sections will only be a novelty to the women involved. Also, herd health is dead easy when infected individuals are zombies, and shotgun euthanasias are a no-brainer.

While all of this sounds like a lot of fun, be sure to remember the bottom line and keep marketing those practice-builders and routine procedures, like dentistry or neutering husbands who have been out “repopulating the planet” a little too much. Where others see problems, a good business owner sees opportunities.

Of course, it's impossible to consider all postapocalyptic permutations. Maybe it'll be a nuclear war. Maybe it'll be an alien invasion. Maybe it'll be a weaponized virus that makes people's eyeballs pop right out of their heads. People eyes, pug eyes-they're pretty much the same thing. In the end, you're not just some doctor. You're a veterinarian, so you'll figure it out.


William Pass, DVM, is a small animal veterinarian in Boulder City, Nevada, who swears he isn't also practicing on people. He can offer advice on growing your own penicillin, backyard bomb shelters, and even veterinary medicine.