I think one of the biggest reasons that owners shy away from procedures on their pets is the need for anesthesia. There is always a risk that anesthesia can have consequences, some as severe as death. This is, thankfully, the minority of procedures. Veterinarians put tons of animals under anesthesia every single day, and a very, very small number of them suffer complications.
That being said, I had the unfortunate but beneficial, learning experience of what to do when your patient has an anesthetic complication. I was anesthetizing my one “normal” patient for the week (a dog scheduled for a spay), as my other patients had been a hedgehog and a couple of horses. I thought, phew, this one should be a piece of cake.
Everything started out fine, with the exception of my patient being just a bit cranky about her sedative injection. We had her anesthetized and the procedure was underway, all going smoothly until suddenly the monitor showed her heart rate dropping to a dangerously low rate. I very quickly listened to her with my stethoscope, and the monitor wasn’t lying, this was serious. Luckily, I was surrounded by three anesthesia technicians, the anesthesiologist and the community practice clinician for help. I guess if I was going to learn what to do in this situation, I would rather it be here with all the help than on my own in practice. With the administration of an emergency medication, her heart rate normalized and thankfully everything else went OK.
It was definitely terrifying to experience those numbers falling rapidly. I was happy with how I dealt with it, however, and I learned that my anesthesia training really kicked in. I made sure to check my patient first to make sure the monitor wasn’t lying to me (never 100% trust your monitor). When I learned that my patient was indeed having an anesthetic complication, I dealt with it immediately (under supervision). I also had doses of emergency drugs calculated in the event something happened, so I was able to get it quickly administered. It was a valuable learning experience to have, and everything turned out well in the end so that dog got to go home sans uterus and I got to go home thankful that I mentally survived my first anesthetic complication.