How we saved a gunshot victim

September 23, 2019
Kathy Bell

My emergency came with anxious peace officers, media coverage and a lot of eyes on a surgery. But this finalist for 2019 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year helped organized her veterinary hospital team with good results.

 

Mad about managers

Kathy Bell, CVPM, is one of 10 finalists for 2019 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year. Learn more about the contest and read more stories from other entrants, finalists and winners here.

This is a true story from my work in a 24/7 emergency practice, and all the decisions made that day have had a significant impact on how I manage today.

One evening, a call came into the emergency clinic about a police dog shot in the neck in the line of duty that needed immediate care. After the veterinarian on duty assured me that we were equipped to handle this situation, I accepted the case from the 911 operator. I hurriedly gathered my team with the doctor to give them as much support and confidence as I could and made sure everyone knew what they needed to do-from getting warming blankets ready to the receptionist's fielding emergency calls coming in and referring to another nearby clinic to ensure we'd be able to focus on the injured police dog.

 

When the injured dog arrived, I led the paramedics into the clinic, with the dog's officer by his side. The dog had a police shirt wrapped around its neck, and the paramedics had already placed a catheter. The treatment area was quickly filling up with police and paramedics, so I asked the officers who weren't involved to stand out of our way. We placed another IV catheter and pulled some blood.

The veterinarian indicated he wanted to give the injured canine sedatives to help relax him so we could get a radiograph to see where the bullet was since there was no exit wound. After a light dose of sedation and a careful relocation to the radiograph area, we verified that the bullet was still in his neck. Because the dog was too unstable, surgery wasn't performed that night and the veterinarian monitored the K9 officer throughout the night, hoping to do surgery in the morning. I slept in his cage that night and carefully monitored his vitals.

 

A dozen police officers rotated in and out of the hospital that night into the next morning, when I updated the veterinary technicians coming on duty about the situation and called in additional staff for one to two technicians dedicated to the K9 officer's care.

As the police dog was a well-known member of the local police department and the K9 handler's wife had alerted the media to the situation, local reporters were constantly calling for updates. I put another technician in charge of answering calls from the media so reporters had one point of contact. We had hourly updates and mini-meetings with the staff on what we were doing and what needed to be done. Communication was key.

The veterinarian … was told by the criminal investigative department that we'd need to keep the bullet for forensic evidence for the criminal case.

The next day, the veterinarian finally decided on surgery and was told by the criminal investigative department that we'd need to keep the bullet for forensic evidence for the criminal case.

There were many eyes on the veterinarian, as he carefully managed the intricate surgery-the K9 handler/owner, the paramedics and firefighters. The media reported we were in surgery, and hundreds flooded Facebook with get-well messages and anxious requests for info. Of course, while all this was happening, myself and other team members had other patients and clients to care for.

 

We were all elated when the patient survived the four-hour surgery. After another two hours, the canine hero was recovering with the officer.

 

The K9 officer stayed in the hospital another week, and the road to recovery was long and hard, but he survived and was able to return to his duties. We were proud as a team to have worked tirelessly around the clock. My team didn't do it for the media attention or notoriety that we saved a police dog: We did it because it's what we do.

I don't do emergency work anymore, but I started to learn to love being a leader with this case and helping to turn employees into a team working together for something good. This incident gave me more confidence to make on-the-spot decisions, triage and manage staff in a crisis situation. I learned the importance of clear communication and diplomacy.

And, of course, the media attention wasn't nothing: The clinic was now the hospital that saved the K9 officer.

Kathy Bell, CVPM, is practice manager at Annville-Cleona Vet Associates in Annville, Pennsylvania, and a top 10 finalist for the 2019 dvm360/VHMA Practice Manager of the Year.