A vet’s perspective on human and animal health care

0915bookreviewcoverBy Susan Crawford, M.Sc.

Dr. Sarah Boston takes a provocative look at cancer treatment from the human side and from the animal side in her book, Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved My Life. What makes this book unique is the fact that Boston herself is a cancer survivor and a veterinary surgical oncologist.

Back in 2011, Boston discovered a worrisome lump in her neck, only to hear from her doctor that the lump was “probably fine.”  The Calgary native suspected otherwise, from its increasing size, and from the way it pushed against her neck. Upon hearing it would take two weeks for an ultrasound, she had her husband (also a veterinarian) bring home a portable ultrasound machine so that she could view the lump herself. To Boston’s educated eye, it looked like a carcinoma, so she pushed to have it surgically removed almost three months later.

Boston takes her readers on a thought-provoking journey through the human healthcare system.  She weaves funny, yet poignant stories of dogs she has operated on, and draws parallels between her own care and the care she provides animal patients. Boston’s hope for speedy treatment is unimportant — she has to wait her turn. Canine thyroid cancer patients, on the other hand, can have their diagnostic tests completed in 24 hours and be operated on the next day. Their human thyroid cancer counterparts often wait weeks or months, with mounting anxiety.

Boston tells about her patient Sasha, the miniature poodle with a bone tumour. Like Sasha’s surgery, Boston’s is successful, but unlike Sasha (who got top care and went home the day after her operation), Boston has vastly different experiences in the two hospitals where she has each operation. Her doctors give her the anti-nausea drug and specific pain medication she requests for her first operation, but for her second operation (at another hospital), she receives cheaper medications instead, with harsher side effects. Despite being a health professional, Boston was often treated as hysterical, and was often dismissed. She mentions meeting other patients, fighting just as hard to be heard and treated. As a cancer survivor myself, I can attest to the challenges patients face. The picture she paints of Canadian healthcare is not flattering.

Perhaps her negative experiences are more related to incompetence, but readers gradually see that the major difference underlying the animals’ care and the speed/quality of the treatment Boston receives is the private versus public nature of veterinary care versus human medical care. Sasha’s treatment involves a $2,500 MRI and $4,200 worth of surgery/aftercare. Fortunately, her owners could afford it. Not everyone, human or canine, is so fortunate.

Lucky Dog provides its readers with a much-needed look at the way our socialized system works. You should eventually get the medical care you need, if you’re intelligent, know people, and have the advocacy skills to fight for yourself. The importance of taking personal responsibility for your own health and your pet’s health is central to Boston’s book.

 If you want a thought-provoking, stimulating book, Lucky Dog fits the bill. Four paws up!!