Dr. Melissa Roberts- Profiles in Diversity

Dr. Melissa Roberts- Profiles in Diversity

Associate Veterinarian, Kennesaw Mountain Animal Hospital
GVMA Membership Committee

Dr. Melissa was born in Germany thanks to her father’s military career. Dr. Roberts earned her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Mississippi State, while simultaneously completing a Master’s Degree in Veterinary Science with an emphasis on Beef Cattle and Toxicology. Dr. Roberts participated in the GVMA’s “Power of Ten” leadership program and is on the GVMA’s Membership Committee. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Acworth.

When did you have a stroke?
I had my stroke just under two years ago. I was pulling into a parking spot at work when I had a STROKE. I didn’t know what was happening, but I remember leaning my head into the driver side window (there was a smudge mark of make-up from my forehead) and thinking, “why do I feel so weird”? I sat in that parking space for what felt like forever, but I wasn’t giving up. I couldn’t remove my right foot from the gas pedal, so I tried using my left foot to drive around in a circle, finally jumping the curb, and stopping after “nudging” a fence. I knew I needed to get someone’s attention for help. Why can’t I lift my arm to put my car in park? Dr. Carrie came up to my car and asked if I was okay. I answered “yep, yep, yep” and nodded my head. When I turned to face her, she turned white as a ghost. She knew immediately something was wrong – my face was melting. The ambulance was called. It was so strange to be able to hear my coworkers and not know why I couldn’t respond appropriately to them. When the ambulance got there, it seemed so routine for them. Why was the EMT not listening to me? In my head, I was answering him. In the ambulance, all of the sudden I became calm. The sirens seemed so distant. I began thinking about Chris and my girls. How would he know what happened? Would I get to see them again? My girls cannot grow up without a mother. I watch the lights above flash by me as I am rushed down hospital hallways. A weird feeling of euphoria washed over me. I remember being put in a machine for a scan and being asked not to move, which I found humorous! I didn’t know until later the euphoria was the result of blood rushing over the cells in my brain, causing a toxic event, and impaired my ability to panic. I remember the quick prep for surgery and meeting the doctor who would save my life.

“I remember the O2 mask over my face; I prayed that they would wake me up. I was into surgery in less than an hour, which I am certain contributed to my success. I am lucky. I have minimal impairment except for severe fatigue, weakness, and aphasia (difficulties with remembering words).”

What has the rehabilitation experience been like for you? Where are you now?
I had limited mobility after it first happened, I also lost vision in my left eye which improved after wearing an eye patch for a while. I was suffering from aphasia, which was incredibly frustrating to not be able to communicate what I wanted. I spent a few weeks just allowing my brain to recover from the Mack truck that hit me in the head. I started physical therapy 3 days a week with decreased range of motion in my shoulders, arms, and hands, likely due to lack of use and muscle atrophy. My right hand being my dominant and the most affected. My handwriting is still a work in progress, I practice writing with my girls doing their homework. I am now concentrating on getting my hips, back and legs stronger. I go to PT 2 days a week and I do a daily regimen at home as well.

When did you return to work and how many hours did you work?
In February 2020, I returned to work in a limited capacity, 2 days 2-3 hours a day. It was challenging to say the least. My stamina was almost nothing, I would come home from working a 2.5 to 3-hour shift and sleep for 4-6 hours. With time and persistent encouragement from my co-workers at KMAH, I am now working 3 days a week, and 5 hours shifts.

What parts of the job could you/can you do easily and what parts are more difficult?
It is always the little things we take for granted being able to do. When I started back it was difficult for me to pull down a plunger on a 3 ml syringe, I thought I would jump right back into things and so did my co-workers. My aphasia and pronunciation were the only clues that I was not myself. I have completed a neuropsychological evaluation that tested my memory, sustained attention, processing speed, multitasking, fine motor dexterity, mood and cognition to see where my strengths and weakness fall and what treatment therapies would be best suited to continue my recovery.

Did you have any fears about returning to work and how it could impact your co-workers?
Yes, I did. I love surgery. It was recently revealed that, due to my impairments in fine motor dexterity/speed and psychomotor reaction time, my doctors do not recommend I complete surgical or dental procedures. I feel guilty that the surgery load is now on my co-workers. There was nothing more exciting to me than an abdominal exploratory. If I was lucky, I would have a resection and anastomosis. I also love an enormous subcutaneous mass removal, or a Grade 4 periodontal dental procedure in which the pet would have so much relief after surgery.  

Veterinary medicine can be high stress and exhausting. Have you had to make any changes to the way you practice medicine to not overdo it?
It takes me a little longer to put together the puzzle (animal’s physical exam, clinical signs, and bloodwork) and reach a diagnosis than it previously did, but I acknowledge that fact and give myself more grace. If I am being honest, I have requested to no longer see the clients that absolutely drain me! You know the ones I am talking about, a million questions that only the doctor can answer, but no matter how much time you spend with them the likelihood of them doing any testing or treatment is very slim. When I see those clients, I give them options for treatments or diagnosis protocols and usually follow up with literature from a third party and tell them to get back to me with the decision that they made.

“Understanding that the days of giving all that you are to veterinary medicine is not healthy. Though I am not sure how one would go about this; but offering counseling sessions at their clinic would be a good start.”

How has your family been impacted?
My husband Chris has been the most impacted. He can tell by the look on my face when I have overdone it at work, and he is the one to remind me what can happen as
a result. He is also the one picking up all the slack at the house, cooking (not that I was much of a cook), cleaning, yardwork, and helping my girls with homework. Homework is another thing that has been impacted by my stroke. Who would have thought teaching 2nd and 3rd grade math could be so difficult? I frequently lose my patience with my girls’ homework when trying to explain simple concepts.

Do you tell your clients about your condition?
I do tell clients that interacted with me before the stroke. They frequently inquire as to why I was out for so long and why I have limited hours. Most of the time, I do not tell clients that are new to me, unless I have what I call a “brain hiccup” while in the room with them. What I mean by a “brain hiccup” is if I cannot remember the name of something, or I become stumped when trying to pronounce a word, or if I am calling their dog by the wrong gender.

In what ways can the profession better accommodate staff with health issues?
Understanding that the days of giving all that you are to veterinary medicine is not healthy. Though I am not sure how one would go about this; but offering counseling sessions at their clinic would be a good start.

What challenges did you encounter in the profession when you became a mother?
I was fortunate that I had a female boss, who already had a child, therefore I did not encounter many challenges in the workplace when I became a mother.

Taken from the 2021 fall edition of “The GA Vet” magazine.