Monday morning miracle


This practice manager received a big dose of inspiration when his hospital went the extra mile for the littlest, neediest patient.

Most practice managers—myself included—spend a lot of our time lately venting about the economy. We’re seeing clients demand more creative payment options or, worse yet, forgoing treatment entirely. While those experiences may now be the norm for us, sometimes something comes along to remind us why we took the job in the first place.

Morning madness

One of those situations happened to me on a recent Monday. We’d just instituted a rule to avoid scheduled surgeries on the first day of the work week to free up a doctor to handle the post-weekend rush. But the change shifted the burden to our staff, leaving them to juggle two full columns of appointments. Our practice was 90 percent full with scheduled appointments before we opened the doors. We were also short a valuable staff member for the 10th-straight day, and we had no surgery technician in the building. And, oh yeah, it was my birthday.

Less than an hour into the day, we’d added a cystotomy and a fractured tooth extraction, taken three sets of radiographs on critical patients, and were quickly realizing that we’d need to repair a diaphragmatic hernia on a kitten. I always have paperwork to catch up on, but on days like this Monday, I never even get to my office.

One tough kitty

At about 11:30 that morning, a team member told me the hernia surgery was going to happen during lunch. They were waiting for me to finish helping with the tooth extraction because I was the only person qualified to breathe for the patient during the procedure. Goodbye, Rotary Club meeting.

Just when I was getting that anxious feeling that time was completely out of my control, something happened: I met the kitten with the hernia. She was 5 weeks old, underweight, covered with fleas, and fighting to live. Someone found her in our local state park, the apparent victim of a “kitten vs. car” incident, and handed her off to a park ranger. The ranger, sure she’d witnessed the kitten take her last breath and pass, left the ranger station for an hour or so.

When the ranger returned, the kitten was out of the box where she’d been left and staring up from under a desk, desperately trying to breathe. The ranger rushed the kitten to us, and we were faced with an all-too-familiar question: When a dying patient has no owner, who is responsible for payment? We agreed to halve the charges with the ranger, and we got to work.

Four of us were in the room that afternoon: the surgeon, the practice owner, one of our dental technicians handling anesthesia, and me. The surgery went extremely well, and the kitten now lives with that park ranger. The cystotomy on another patient later went great as well—and the rest of the day during which we completed two days’ worth of appointments in 10 hours.

Just like that, I found the recipe for what had been ailing me that Monday morning. Mix in one patient fighting the odds to live, one compassionate individual minding her own business one minute and responsible for a kitten the next, one practice putting need above revenue, and one team performing beyond its normal daily duties to help save a life. Sound like any practice you know of—maybe your own?

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