Unencumbered by medical or scientific jargon, Fincham-Gray’s literary debut gives readers a bird’s eye view into the challenges veterinarians face while attending to the animals we love. Chapters, named after patients who “wouldn’t leave her alone,” highlight medical decisions made for those who can’t speak. The “veterinary medical detective” affords readers an understanding into internal veterinary medicine a process she describes as the unraveling of a puzzle.
Topics include the role of a veterinary specialist; caring for geriatric pets; understanding the financial burdens of pet healthcare; the risks of international pet adoptions; the health crises surrounding pure-bred dogs; and what our pets can teach us about euthanasia.
Born and raised on the English-Welsh border, Fincham-Gray always knew she would be a veterinarian. She attended the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, and completed an externship in America’s Cornell University because “England wasn’t right for specialty practices.”
Philadelphia, where she tended to her “first but not last gunshot wound,” and Baltimore followed suit; arenas she described as perfect for learning how to hit the ground running. The expat then landed in San Diego. Today, she practices at the VCA Emergency Animal Hospital and Referral Center, which sidles San Diego’s coastal communities.
VCA is open 24/7 for all pet emergencies with the bulk of its patients coming from La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach and Point Loma. Fincham-Gray and her team serve as the first line of defense for patients referred by family veterinarians for “complicated medical problems.”
Forever “fascinated by words,” the author also knew that she would one day write a book, however, “never a memoir.” But after 20-years of practice, she realized “veterinary medicine is my story.” Upon completing her master fine arts from the UC Riverside, she placed her passion on paper.
“My patients are my passion, she said. “Writing about veterinary medicine was inescapable.”
“My Patients and Other Animals: A Veterinarian’s Stories of Love, Loss, & Hope” highlights heart-wrenching, patient-care decisions through humorous and poignant stories. Among its many statistics, the book notes that Americans spent more than $69 billion – with a B – on their pets in 2017, with 23 percent earmarked for veterinary costs.
“Americans spend a mind-blowing amount of money on their pets for incidentals,” she said. “And medical care expenditure can be the difference between a life saved and a life lost. Diseases thought fatal 10 years ago, may now be treatable.”
But advances in technology and treatment can also blur ethical lines.
“Cutting edge, invasive and often expensive procedures may extend lives,” she continued, “but ethics must question, ‘I know we can, but should we?’ Is it in the patient’s best interest? Are we doing this for the animal or for ourselves?’”
Fincham-Gray’s writing and live counsel stress the importance of providing owners with education, information and a comprehensive, critical-care plan centered within a family’s financial capabilities. Long-term care for chronically ill pets can exceed 30k. With pets so embroidered in the fabric of American families, owners are willing to extend themselves – emotionally and financially – to prolong their lives.
“Caring for a patient with 24 hours to live – if not for thousands of dollars of care – is very different than keeping an eye on a stable patient,” she said. “Care plans impact an owner’s decision. Overwhelmed owners may deny testing or treatment if they don’t understand the prognosis. And communication differs between owners. What I say to one family may be the exact opposite for someone else.”
Following suit, dealing with clients who refuse to follow medical guidelines becomes problematic for the animal doctor, “especially when it becomes detrimental to the pet.” Treatable animals are occasionally relinquished to her care when owners are financially incapable of assuming responsibility. And “rarely” does she refuse to euthanize an animal.
“I do what’s in the best interest in the quality of that animal’s life,” she said. “And I understand that owners may take matters into their own hands. We’ve all heard the nightmare stories of pets euthanized in the backyard with a shotgun.”
Fincham Gray juxtaposed the glamor associated with animal rescues with the reality of shelters killing animals daily due to a lack of space.
“We sometimes spend resources on the glamour of saving animals overseas instead of the savable in our own backyard,” she said. “In my ideal world we save every animal we can.”
The expat also spoke of the importance of veterinary technicians as the first- line to patient care.
“It’s hard to be a good veterinarian without a good technician,” she said. “Actually, it’s impossible. Techs are my right and left hands. They’re my trusted eyes and ears while I run around seeing other patients. They communicate with owners when I can’t.”
Admitting that “getting attached is to my detriment,” Fincham-Gray has “yet to master the art of non-attachment.”
“A degree of separation is better for my patients and their families but it’s hard to leave patients at the clinic door,” she said. “Animals are sick. Owners are scared, at times with minutes to make life and death decisions. It’s a high-stress, high-stakes equation. I do my best, but there’s just so much I can do. Once patients and owners leave the clinic, I can’t control what happens. I need to find peace with that.”
“My Patients and Other Animals: A Veterinarian’s Stories of Love, Loss, & Hope” introduces readers to Monty, her first pet feline, who literally filled an ocean void.
“America was so different than England,” she said. “Monty along with rest of my animal adoptees became family. I don’t know how I would’ve survived without them.”
Fincham-Grey’s daily, San Diego adrenaline rush is described as intense and exciting.
“The adrenaline rush only gets to be too much if I have a headache at the end of the day,” she mused. “But headaches are rare. Every day is different. One never knows what’s going to walk through the exam room door and how I’m going to be asked to fix it.
“I’m happy with My Patients and Other Animals,” she concluded. “Hopefully I can connect with people as a good read, regardless if they own a pet.”