The purpose of this page is to share what we have learned in dealing with vets. We hope our readers find this helpful. Please feel free to reach out to us if we can answer any questions or provide more information.
When we compared the credentials and experience of the two eye vets who had the greatest impact on Peanut (Sisler and Nadelstein), we learned quite a bit.
First, Nadelstein studied eye surgery with specialists who perform surgery on humans as well as pets. Sisler had not. This matters because humans can give feedback and pets cannot. We have a client who is a highly regarded eye surgeon (for humans) in Texas who told us that he has personally trained veterinary ophthalmologists.
Second, it matters where your vet or specialist did his or her residency. In general, the most gifted were able to get accepted for their residency at a top-rated college or university as opposed to a for-profit practice. For example, Nadelstein served his residency at North Carolina State University of Veterinary Medicine in Veterinary and Comparative Ophthalmology. Both Steve Sisler and Kimberly Hsu did their residency with (you guessed it) Eye Care for Animals. Both Sisler and Nadelstein were Diplomates — and that is an important credential for you to check — but being a Diplomate should be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for earning your trust.
If you can get a second opinion up front (before making a decision about a procedure), make the time to do so. Some people are more conservative than others. And it might help you to make a decision if you know a conservative opinion about a procedure. For example, Sisler quoted to us and countless others a 90% success rate. But our referring ophthalmologist said her experience with his patients was more in the range of 60%. In retrospect, that should have been a red flag for us.
Nadelstein will educate his clients carefully about the difference between “anatomical success” (i.e. a retina that has been reattached) and the chances of recovering vision. Nadelstein has also turned away clients (even those who have traveled to see him from a foreign country) because their pet was not a good candidate for a surgery. Sisler was much more of a salesman (“I love doing surgeries on Shih Tzu,” “Shih Tzu make great candidates for this surgery.”).
A teaching hospital is a great place to see a specialist and/or get a second opinion. In general, the team at a non-profit teaching hospital won’t view you and your pet with dollar signs in their eyes. You’ll appreciate that. They also deal with the unusual as a routine. However, just going to a university or college clinic isn’t enough. You’ll want to make sure ahead of time that you will be seen by a professor. At some clinics, you’ll need to see a resident first before you see the professor. Just make sure you see the professor as well as the resident. After all, that’s why you’re going to a teaching hospital in the first place. No resident can match the experience of his or her professor.
If things go wrong, it will be nearly impossible to have success with a legal action. First, attorneys who specialize in veterinary malpractice are extremely rare. If you find one, he or she will probably already have a full case load. Second, in most states pets are considered property and “damages” only take “replacement value” into account. If you are fortunate enough to have had your pet survive veterinary malpractice (as we were), that will not even apply to you. There are certain states that take the pain and suffering of the pet’s owner into account. A few states might consider how much time, money and expense that you have put toward your beloved pet. But in the end, the vast majority of judges will probably say to themselves “it’s just a dog/cat.”
Vets pay big money to malpractice insurers like Zurich Insurance who retain large law firms with deep pockets and vast resources. They will do their best to drive your legal costs sky high knowing you won’t be able to recover those costs. To have any hope of winning your case you’ll need to find a vet to testify in your favor. Finding one will be near impossible especially with specialists since “birds of a feather flock together.” If you are lucky enough to find a vet to support you, their fee will be sizable and non-recoverable. The whole process of pursuing legal action will probably make you more depressed and angry and will take away precious time you have to spend with your pet.
Many pet owners who see specialists travel great distances to do so. The trouble is most local vets who handle rechecks on complex procedures and surgeries will have no clue what to look for or what to do about it. For example, our ophthalmologist back in 2014 told us she “had never seen anything before like we had experienced” when we brought Peanut to see her after things had gone so terribly wrong. Our current ophthalmologist puts it more simply; he says “we stay away from the back of the eye.” So if you had a difficult time arranging your life to accommodate a long-distance visit to a specialist in the first place, how are you going to handle follow up visits?
Try to find a dispassionate person — a friend, co-worker, or a friend of a co-worker perhaps — who you can talk to about a procedure before and after you agree to have it performed. You will be too close to the situation to be objective. And you will really benefit from objective guidance. As an example, after Peanut’s eye pressure spiked from glaucoma in 2016 causing him extreme pain, our ophthalmologist discussed two procedures to deal with the problem. He did not offer to remove the eye. But that is what we felt would be the best for the long term. Fortunately we had a chance encounter with two strangers who told us they had once decided to remove both of their dog’s eyes after glaucoma. They told us their dog did great after the eye removal…no regrets. Hearing of their experience really helped us in our decision. We wish we had a friend who would have advised us to (at the very least) seek a second opinion, contact the owner of the practice, or put through a dispute with our credit card company. These were all things we eventually tried to do. But we were so close to the situation and so desperately sad and distraught we weren’t thinking clearly…until it was too late.