No expense spared: a dachshund gets ear acupuncture at a Japanese vet's: Photo: Getty
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Should you shell out for a dog’s MRI scan when there are queues at the local food bank?

Money determines which procedures and treatments are carried out. I tend to discourage clients from spending ridiculous sums on their animals.

“I don’t care how much it costs!” The refrain is heard every day in veterinary practice. I have no idea who has some money, who has none, who has less than none, who has won the Lottery. The fluent and well spoken often have nothing to spend on their animals; the incoherent and almost incomprehensible sometimes have thousands in their back pocket.

Money determines which procedures and treatments are carried out. I tend to discourage clients from spending ridiculous sums on their animals. The increasing availability of MRI scans, for example, has certainly enlightened many conditions in the dark backward and abysm of the brain; but it seems that many in the profession are falling back on such diagnostics in cases where it is obvious that something is untreatable. The cost of an MRI scan for a dog? Over £1,000. The cost of the apparatus? Over £1m.

I do care what it costs. The food banks here in the north-east are thriving. When clients tell me that they “don’t care how much it costs”, it is a cause for anxiety.

There was recently a letter in the Veterinary Times by a clinician still traumatised by the abuse from a client who insisted that his puppy should have a CT scan – but would not pay for it. Vets do receive abuse and threats: I reckon on about one tirade every six months. It’s a professional millstone that we cannot respond in kind. Worse, we then receive a letter of complaint through the Royal College. More paperwork. More diplomacy. Surely it’s easier in the Foreign Office.

Some people have their animals insured. Great. Early in my career, I was called out to see a lame horse. On examining it, I found it needed a more extensive work-up than I had the equipment and the experience for. The owner, tab smouldering in the corner of her mouth, agreed that referral was appropriate, especially given the excellence of the insurance policy she had. I suggested an equine practice that might help her. She recoiled, drew hard on her cigarette, shook her head and told me she’d had to sue it for the death of her last horse. So I referred her to a different practice. Her horse went along and was treated appropriately. She left an insurance claim at the practice – for a cat belonging to someone else. There’s bravado for you.

Sometimes, “I don’t care how much it costs!” means, “How dare you mention money! That’s all you vets think about! None of you care!” I think we do care but in a way they’re right – each consultation, I go through all the treatment options and their expenses in detail. Some people are embarrassed that they do not have enough money for the treatment. I praise them wholeheartedly – out of relief that they can spend their money more appropriately. I was once appalled to hear that a client had needed to move house, having spent £5,000 on futile colic surgery for her horse. It is a weakness that must not be exploited by vets.

Besides, there are usually cheaper ways of doing things. Try another practice, for example, as the prices are arbitrary and differ vastly. I have removed a cat’s thyroid (thyroidectomy) in three different practices for £200, £500 and £800. Same surgeon, same procedure, same equipment. I find it extraordinary that clients rarely compare prices on surgery.

Is it a rich man’s world? Most vets who have been qualified for more than ten years earn between £35,000 and £50,000 a year. The farm vets get paid the least, then the equine; the small animal vets are the richest of us all. Where I live, that is often considerably richer than most of our clients.

Then again, compared to the other middle-class professions (accountants, lawyers, medics), we are a poor relation. However, I’d rather squeeze the purulent anal glands of a basset hound than inspect the haemorrhoids of an obese Yorkshireman or advise a crook under which floorboards to hide his or her money. “I don’t care how much it costs . . .”

This article first appeared in the 28 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The elites vs the people

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For 19 minutes, I thought I had won the lottery

The agonising minutes spent figuring out my mistake paired beautifully with hard, low wisdom tooth throbs.

Nineteen minutes ago, I was a millionaire. In my head, I’d bought a house and grillz that say “I’m fine now thanks”, in diamonds. I’d had my wisdom tooth (which I’ve been waiting months for the NHS to pull the hell out of my skull) removed privately. Drunk on sudden wealth, I’d considered emailing everyone who’s ever wronged me a picture of my arse. There I was, a rich woman wondering how to take a butt selfie. Life was magnificent.

Now I’m lying face-down on my bed. I’m wearing a grease-stained t-shirt and my room smells of cheese. I hear a “grrrrk” as my cat jumps onto the bed. He walks around on my back for a bit, then settles down, reinstating my place in the food chain: sub-cat. My phone rings. I fumble around for it with all the zeal of a slug with ME. Limply, I hold it to my ear.

“Hi,” I say.

“You haven’t won anything, have you” says my dad. It isn’t a question.

“I have not.”

“Ah. Never mind then eh?”

I make a sound that’s just pained vowels. It isn’t a groan. A groan is too human. This is pure animal.

“What? Stop mumbling, I can’t hear you.”

“I’m lying on my face,” I mumble.

“Well sit up then.”

“Can’t. The cat’s on my back.”

In my defence, the National Lottery website is confusing. Plus, I play the lottery once a year max. The chain of events which led me to believe, for nineteen otherworldly minutes, that I’d won £1 million in the EuroMillions can only be described as a Kafkaesque loop of ineptitude. It is both difficult and boring to explain. I bought a EuroMillions ticket, online, on a whim. Yeah, I suffer from whims. While checking the results, I took a couple of wrong turns that led me to a page that said, “you have winning matches in one draw”. Apparently something called a “millionaire maker code” had just won me a million quid.

A

Million

Quid.

I stared at the words and numbers for a solid minute. The lingering odour of the cheese omelette I’d just eaten was, all of a sudden, so much less tragic. I once slammed a finger in a door, and the pain was so intense that I nearly passed out. This, right now, was a fun version of that finger-in-door light-headedness. It was like being punched by good. Sure, there was a level on which I knew I’d made a mistake; that this could not be. People don’t just win £1 million. Well they do, but I don’t. It’s the sort of thing that happens to people called Pauline, from Wrexham. I am not Pauline from Wrexham. God I wish I was Pauline from Wrexham.

Even so, I started spending money in my head. Suddenly, London property was affordable. It’s incredible how quickly you can shrug off everyone else’s housing crisis woe, when you think you have £1m. No wonder rich people vote Conservative. I was imaginary rich for nineteen minutes (I know it was nineteen minutes because the National Lottery website kindly times how much of your life you’ve wasted on it) and turned at least 40 per cent evil.

But, in need of a second opinion on whether or not I was – evil or not - rich, I phoned my dad.

“This is going to sound weird,” I said, “but I think I’ve won £1 million.”

“You haven’t won £1 million,” he said. There was a decided lack of anything resembling excitement in his voice. It was like speaking to an accountant tired of explaining pyramid schemes to financial Don Quixotes.

“No!” I said, “I entered the EuroMillions and I checked my results and this thing has come up saying I’ve won something but it’s really confusing and…”

Saying it out loud (and my how articulately) clinched it: my enemies were not going to be looking at butt selfies any time soon. The agonising minutes spent figuring out my mistake paired beautifully with hard, low wisdom tooth throbs.

“Call me back in a few minutes,” I told my dad, halfway though the world’s saddest equation.

Now here I am, below a cat, trying to explain my stupidity and failing, due to stupidity.  

 

“If it’s any consolation,” my dad says, “I thought about it, and I’m pretty sure winning the lottery would’ve ruined your life.”

“No,” I say, cheese omelette-scented breath warming my face, “it would’ve made my life insanely good.”

I feel the cat purr. I can relate. For nineteen minutes, I was happy too. 

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.