Adventures in Veterinary House Calls — Fire Escape!

After fire

After fire

I’ve been working as a house-call veterinarian in the greater Los Angeles area since 2008. Having done general and emergency practice in a variety of hospital settings, and in multiple states (D.C, VA, MD, WA, and now CA), I've happily discovered that providing veterinary medicine on a house-call basis best suits my holistic perspective to focus on pain management through acupuncture and other complementary and alternative (CAM) modalities.

Traveling to my clients’ homes and getting to know them and their pets on a very personal basis has provided me with a variety of unique experiences I otherwise would not have had if I were exclusively seeing patients inside a hospital facility. Especially in Los Angeles, I've found myself sharing couch space with very well-known individuals (and their pets) whom I’ve seen on the silver screen and in various celebrity gossip columns over the years.

In viewing the lives of my well-known clients from an insider’s perspective, it's easy to see that they are actually quite normal people who were thrust into the circumstance of having attained extreme fame and fortune. They simply love their pets, who are always there for them when human children, hired help, or romantic partners may have moved on or otherwise caused major emotional or financial stress.

My professional life certainly doesn’t just have me going to celebrity homes, as I primarily offer services to "normal" people, ranging from struggling artists to extremely successful executives. Yet, I do frequently travel to some of the most awe-inspiring neighborhoods in the Hollywood Hills and Pacific Palisades, which provide me the opportunity to see some amazing architectural masterpieces and astounding nature-laden views.

It seems like this winter has left many parts of the country in a deep freeze, requiring residents to dig themselves out of mounds of snow.  For us southern Californians, it’s been extremely dry and the risk for destructive wildfires is high in and around all parts of Los Angeles County.

While recently providing a house call in Pacific Palisades, a severe fire broke out just down the bluff across the street from my client’s home. NBC 4 Southern California features the dramatic photos in their story, Brush Fire Burns Above Pacific Coast Highway.

I was about two-thirds into the needle and laser acupuncture treatment on my geriatric, Golden Retriever patient when the housekeeper came running into our otherwise quiet and secluded area of the house exclaiming that we had to immediately evacuate due to a fire.

I didn't smell smoke nor feel any heat, so this was the first I was aware of the fire and was unsure as to if it was happening inside or outside of the house. My adrenaline kicked in immediately and I had to figure out the best means of getting myself and patient out of harm’s way.

In a moment of realization that seemed to span for a much longer time period than it actually did, I quickly registered the items of most importance that I would need to evacuate along with my patient. As I had two other house calls in the area later in the day, I recognized that my medical laser was one of the items having top priority. Additionally, my iPhone and iPad are integral tools used in both my professional and personal lives, so they absolutely had to escape the fire with my patient and me.

My client’s son then appeared and emphasized our need for immediate evacuation, so I grabbed my patient (with needles still intact), laser, iPhone, and iPad and made a mad dash out of the house, only to witness the flames crackling into the air at the edge of the bluff. The strong smell of burning vegetation and smoke created a strong visual and olfactory sense that we needed to quickly get to safety.

I carried my patient’s 75 pound body to the waiting car and gently situated her into the back seat. I then methodically started removing her acupuncture needles, which were placed in her head, back, and all four limbs. It's is a good thing that I recalled the needles’ placements, as my typical pattern of matching the number of needles to a complementary number of guide tubes was definitely not happening in this situation.

Fortunately, my client has friends in their shared neighborhood, so we had a safe place to go to regroup. I settled my patient onto a comfortable blanket on a neighbor’s front lawn and continued the laser treatment while my assistant went back to the house to retrieve my supplies.

With helicopters buzzing overhead and the scent of smoke in the air, I completed my treatment while enduring the curious looks of other neighbors and dog walkers passing by on the sidewalk. A short time later, the fire was under control and no people, pets, nor my client's property were damaged.

Later that evening, I found out from another client that I treated my patient on the front lawn of a well-known actress who rose to fame in the 90s while playing Elaine on Seinfeld. I had just seen her the night before on the Golden Globes hilariously participating in skits with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. She apparent wasn’t home at the time of the fire, so I didn’t get to meet her (but her housekeeper was quite pleasant).

The sudden need to evaluate my client’s home was an experience that definitely was a first for me as a house call practitioner! Have any other vets ever endured similar circumstances? Share your story in the comments.

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Positively Expert: Patrick Mahaney

Dr. Patrick Mahaney is a Los Angeles-based holistic house call veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist. As a certified veterinary journalist, Dr. Mahaney shares his perspective on current events, public health, and animal welfare. He is a regular contributor to PetMD.


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