Expats in Mexico – Beware of Advertised 24 Hour Emergency Veterinary Service

On Thursday morning April 5, 2012, our 18 pound dog ran through an open gate in front of our house and was hit by a car.

A good Samaritan found us from the information imprinted on the metal tag around our dog’s neck, listing our home address. This man literally carried our dog to our front door to inform us, in Spanish, of the incident.

We rushed to call the listed 24-hour emergency service at the veterinary hospital most popular among expats here in our Mexico community because the doctors speak English. The person answering the telephone acted as if they could not hear us. We re-dialed the emergency number three times, with the same result. We then enlisted the assistance of a friend who speaks fluent Spanish. When our friend telephoned the emergency number, the same exact occurrence, seemingly not hearing the caller, was an issue. Our friend then said “I know you can hear me, so you’d better answer me”. Miraculously, she responded.

Action began immediately with a request from the Veterinarian to meet her at the pet hospital in 15 minutes. We arrived, in panic, and carried the dog inside. Before knowing the injuries, the doctor grabbed the dog under the front paws allowing the broken hip area to hang. Appalled, we immediately relieved the dog from the doctor explaining the injuries. As we asked what, we thought, were pertinent questions about internal bleeding, etc. we got the following answers.

1. We can only check internal bleeding by doing blood tests. Our x-ray machine is broken so we can only check the blood cell count every 4 hours. (Blood checks were done as promised, but this falls short of more effective testing)

2. We “think” the femur is broken, but we’re not sure because our x-ray machine is broken. (Dog actually had 7 fractures around the legs and hip area and they did not have an x-ray machine in-house, causing the dog to lay 3 days without surgery)

3. We cannot x-ray anyway, because we must stabilize the dog for 24 hours before we can put him under anesthesia for the x-ray. Anesthesia is necessary, as having the dog lay straight for x-ray may be very painful. (Dog had x-rays with no anesthesia, therefore, the “stabilizing” was merely a delay tactic for no in-house x-ray equipment.)

4. The doctor will be here watching your dog. If the doctor is not here, one of our assistants (a student) will be here. (The doctor took off immediately after we left the hospital, leaving the dog in hands of student for the day. We know this as fact because we called to ask a question and were told the doctor is no longer available.)

At that time we all were, reasonably, in shock. We walked away feeling confident in what we were told, medically speaking, until we came to our senses. As time passed on, some of these factors brought about the frightening reality; this veterinary hospital is not equipped for 24-hour emergency service. From the first emergency telephone call debacle, the broken x-ray machine, the doctor not being available after we left; all of these issues began to add up to very raw and negative feelings of panic and despair.

Later, calling the emergency telephone number to check on the animal, we found out that the doctor only stopped in every 4 – 5 hours because it was a holiday. The following day we returned to the hospital to learn the results of the x-rays. Instead, we encountered a traveling van with x-ray machine and accompanying tech just arriving to take x-rays. No real x-ray equipment or technical personnel existed as an in-house service. This outside x-ray service was closed the day prior for the holiday.

We then confronted the doctor to ask how they could advertise 24-hour emergency service when there was no such service available. No doctor on staff was present for a full-time shift, no examination machines existed in-house, no tech assistants were on staff and no experienced orthopedic surgeon was on staff. The doctor portrayed all problems of staff were due to the Easter holiday weekend vacations and broken machinery.

We were also strongly instructed not to call the doctors on Sunday. As it is Easter Sunday, we were advised that the doctors will not take any telephone calls. In short, if the doctor needed to talk with us, they would send a text to our cell phone.

The bottom line, we later discovered, is that this veterinary hospital only performs spay and neuter surgery and they close down for religious holidays, yet they advertise as 24 hour, full emergency veterinary service.

Many of us learn from experience, but this is an experience we do not want you to endure. If you are an expat in Mexico, please let our experience teach you some very important practices when searching for a good veterinary hospital offering 24 hour medical emergency service.

If you Veterinarian claims 24 hour emergency service, we suggest you ask the following questions:

1. Can you give me a complete list of the services included in your 24 hour emergency medical service?

2. Is there a special emergency telephone number I must call and is it manned 24/7 regardless of holidays and weekends?

2. Do you perform tests and surgeries regardless of holidays or vacations?

3. What type of surgeons do you have on staff during medical emergencies?

4. In case of medical emergency, what level of personnel is present on staff for full-time shifts?

5. What type of equipment do you have in-house for advanced medical emergency testing?

6. Does your testing equipment include MRI?

7. Are you part of a national chain of only spay & neuter clinics or a full-time veterinary medial and emergency medical service?

8. Do your physicians have any specialties, i.e., eyes, hearing, skin disorders, food allergies, etc. (whatever your specialty needs)

9. May I see the room where you house / kennel the pets for emergency medical or surgical services?

10. Is your kennel / housing pet area air conditioned?

11. Do you have a list of client references I may call whose pets you have treated for emergency medical care?

12. If my pet has surgery from a referred specialist outside of your practice, I will meet this surgeon before any surgical procedure, correct?

Our conclusion from our personal bad experience is that we did not do our homework. We trusted the advertisement “24 hour emergency service”, when, in fact, the service available was anything but tailored for 24 hour emergency medical treatment.

Your Mexico Veterinarian may be a good doctor or a nice person, but that does not necessarily mean they have the professional ability to treat your pet in case of emergency.

If you want the best service for your pets, we urge you to conduct a thorough research as part of your quest for a full service veterinary medical and emergency medical hospital for the pets you love.

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