Veterinarian roulette: It's usually played at 3 a.m.


Some clients seem to go through the Yellow Pages looking for a veterinarian who will answer the phone at 3 a.m. to handle or discuss a problem that easily could have waited for daylight. That's how you play the game of veterinarian roulette.

I am not a traveler. Most of my life is spent either goofing off at home or loitering at the office. That is because I am lacking the two qualities that make one a globetrotter — motive and opportunity.

You see, there is no place I am eager to visit, and I have no spare time to go there.

Recently, however, I had the opportunity to travel several light years through the vastness of space. Stifled as I was by an oppressive layer of darkness, fog and semi-consciousness, the going was rough.

Caught in a swirling current within the time/space continuum, I found myself hurling toward a strange, yet hauntingly familiar, shroud that was beckoning me. Some force over which I had no control compelled me to go where no one, except of course veterinarians, had gone before.

Somewhere behind me was the peaceful blue planet, Beddy-bye. Ahead of me awaited a confrontation with the hostile starship known as the S.S. Nightcall.

I spotted someone I recognized. It was Mr. Clock. I asked him to stop making that sound, but he pleaded not guilty and smirked at me with an expression that seemed to say, "It's 3 a.m., sucker." The sight of his insulting face must have jolted my neurons, because I was soon able to determine that the noise would stop if I answered the telephone.

My answering service is used to communicating with semi-comatose doctors in the middle of the night, so the operator patiently made sure I got the message correctly.

It seems that Mrs. Lotsavets was concerned about her old cat, Rugwizzer. I called the number, but the line was busy. Apparently, I was about to participate in a game of veterinarian roulette.

A typical game starts with a message about an animal that has been sick for two weeks but is now "really sick." You dial the number and get a busy signal. A minute later, you try again. Still busy. Apparently the client (I use the term loosely) is going through the Yellow Pages calling other veterinarians in the area. Should you try again? Be careful — you may be the lucky roulette winner and get a chance to talk to the client.

Why not just go back to bed?

"Wait a minute," your conscience says. "What about the poor animal? It isn't his fault that he drew an idiot for an owner. Maybe you should dial just one more time."

Your conscience wins again, and you make one last attempt. After the last conscience-appeasing ring, she picks up. Congratulations, you've won veterinarian roulette. But you lost your chance to go back to sleep.

She expresses her gratitude that you're the one who got through. That's because she thinks it's the same problem that you treated in the middle of the night the last time she saw you, four years ago. (You vow to wait just a little longer the next time you play the game.)

"Oh, doctor, I'm so glad you called," she says. "I think old Rugwizzer may be dying. Can you please take a look at him right away?"

A half-hour later, Sheila Waken Lotsavets was in my office. She praised my promptness. Apparently, I was the first among eight vets to call back. As for Rugwizzer, he didn't look all that sick to me. However, he was having a urinary problem.

Why couldn't he have been brought in during normal hours? "I can't leave my house tomorrow, Doctor," she said. "I have to wait for the men who are installing our new carpeting."

It was my lucky night.

She also brought along her other cat who needed a rabies shot, "if you wouldn't mind."

Oh, and while she was there, she wondered if I might have worm medicine for her neighbor's dog.

As I said earlier, the lack of motive and opportunity stop me from traveling. I'm not sure what stops the screams for help.

Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.

For a complete list of articles by Dr. Obenski, visit

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