I am used to all kinds of surprises appearing in my waiting room. While we generally take clients on an appointment-only basis, it is impossible to plan a medical emergency around an appointment book. So even after many years in practice, every time the bell rings unexpectedly as a walk-in client pushes through the door, I still get a little adrenaline rush and even butterflies in the pit of my stomach.
It's never good news, because most of my clients are quite disciplined about making appointments. So if they rush through the door unannounced, it is usually an emergency. I then summon up my professionalism.
Since ours is a small, family-type practice with a lot of personal contact, if I have time I usually poke my head out into the reception area and greet clients before the receptionist has a chance to assess the situation.
Sometimes it's not really a medical emergency. In most cases it's a particularly worried owner with a genuine but minor problem. But sometimes it is an emergency and we have to act quickly.
The emergency can be anything - from a dog mangled beyond recognition after being hit by a car to a malicious rat-bait poisoning case from Bowen Road to a dog in the midst of an hour-long seizure.
We had an emergency case this week that played havoc with our hearts.
It was a typically quiet Wednesday evening, which is quite common given our location in Happy Valley - regular clients avoid Wednesday evenings during the racing season because of the traffic diversions and congestion in the area.
I was just relaxing with a cup of coffee after seeing off our last surgery patient when a tumult was heard in the reception area accompanied by a heart-wrenching wail.
I spilt coffee over myself in the rush to see what was going on out there. What I saw was one of the unhappiest moments in my career. It was an elderly father and his thirty-something daughter; they had with them a collapsed, almost comatose little kitten that they have been nursing at home for a month after picking her up from the streets.
The kitten was emaciated and its eyes were glued shut with dried pus. It was barely breathing.
The woman had a haunted look and kept pleading with the kitten, 'Please don't die, please don't die', as she held it and rocked backwards and forwards in her chair.
Her father had a sad and pleading look in his eyes that spoke volumes. He was hoping we would not say anything to hurt his child and that we could perform a miracle and save the cat.
It quickly became clear that the woman was mentally and physically disabled as she could barely open her mouth to talk and wasn't coping well with the situation.
It was such a sad situation that my usually vibrant nurse was very sombre and teary-eyed. We were well equipped to handle the situation but I knew we needed a small miracle to save the weak kitten.
I explained to the father that the kitten was suffering from malnutrition and had a severe infection and that it was going to be a long shot but we would do our best.
We started the kitten on fluids and antibiotics and laid her on a warmed blanket in a heated cage. My nurse and I took turns checking on the kitten at 15-minute intervals, fearing at each check that we would find the kitten had died.
On many of the checks the kitten was lying flat on its side and looked lifeless, but when touched it would respond by meowing weakly.
During the night I stayed in the clinic to look after the kitten, and with much ministration and care it survived the night.
The nurse turned up especially early that morning fearing she would find the cage empty.
She was surprised to find the kitten sitting up in wobbly fashion and meowing for more food and attention.
I instructed her to call the owners to pick up the kitten in the afternoon and, when they arrived after lunch, the kitten was stronger than before and was prancing up and down the consultation table meowing.
The woman was ecstatic, yelling, 'Kitty, kitty, you're all better'. I found my face wet with tears - as were the faces of all my nurses and the father.
It has been a while since I had emotionally broken down in such a way, but it is moments like these that remind me why I became a vet.