My job is inherently emotional. It goes without saying that when you are treating sick pets, things can (and often do) get intense in one direction or another. Sometimes the emotions run hot and we catch the blunt end of the anger stage of grieving. Sometimes emotions run in the sunny direction, often surprisingly. It will never cease to amaze me how frequently we get thank you cards and gifts from clients after their pet does not survive a serious illness or accident. Not that I expect them to be unhappy with us; we show up everyday- sometimes at night- and give one hundred percent of ourselves for one hundred percent of the time we are servicing our clients and their pets. This often includes stepping from one appointment with a seriously ill patient into a vaccine appointment with a new client and their puppy or kitten.
Actors practice their art by transforming themselves into different characters to tell a story on stage or screen. It is an art form that involves controlling and expressing human emotion in a believable and realistic manner. The daily life of a veterinarian is not unlike that of an actor. Allow me to tell you about a day I had in what now feels like a past life. It wasn’t a whole day; in fact, just a few hours of one day.
Seeing appointments is a juggling act; not only because you see multiple different kinds of appointments in the same day, but also because you will often come across things in appointments that cannot wait to be treated. Wounds can be especially like this; not that they can’t be stabilized and wait but if we are going to treat them and get them home in a timely fashion we will often work wound treatment into our day. This is a very perfectly balanced game of beat the clock. Depending on the wounds, I will sometimes tell people their pet absolutely has to spend the night. More often than not, it will be treated and return home that afternoon. On the particular day in question we saw a pet with a fairly extensive (but not terribly difficult to treat) wound on its side. It would be a straight forward task to explore the wound, remove and dead or infected tissue, flush the wound and then close it. And it went exactly like that: the pet’s wound was extensive and had a large amount of infected tissue associated with it but everything was going great. We were able to clean the entire wound out, flush it and were getting ready to close the wound. We wouldn’t even be running late for the next appointment. Then the pet died. Out of the blue. No changes noted on our monitoring equipment before hand, good strong heart beats and good deep regular breaths and then nothing. Silence. We fall back on our training in moments like this: commence resuscitation, get the client on the phone, explain the situation, continue resuscitation. In this case we were unable to bring the pet back. We lost. Anyone who has ever experienced this will tell you that if you were to offer them the choice of this situation and the feeling that comes with it or being sucker punched in the gut as hard as possible, they would ask you what the difference would be. The only real difference is you don’t replay a sucker punch a thousand times wondering how you could have dealt with it differently. A sucker punch doesn’t make you want to quit. A sucker punch just hurts for a little while.
I had to walk away from that situation and into an appointment that did end up having to wait for me because I was now running about forty-five minutes behind schedule. Of course the waiting client wasn’t happy about waiting and while they might have understood if I had explained everything to them, they didn’t need to have that heavy material laid on them at that moment. As it was, their pet wasn’t feeling well and they wanted to be reassured that it was going to be alright. It was going to be fine but it was going to have to go see a specialist for its problem. While I was working that out over the phone, the owners of the first pet arrived. I spoke with them and answered as many questions as I could, and then went into my next appointment- a recheck appointment and suture removal for a wound treatment I had performed a little over a week previously. This pet had healed wonderfully and was doing very well. As I was talking to them at the check out desk about scheduling a grooming appointment for their pet now that the sutures were out, a very large dog with a very large wound came through the front door leaving a very large trail of blood behind it. This day was going to last longer than we wanted it to…
On a typical day, we deal with and experience a complete range of emotions. We knew what we were getting into before we stood in that hall and took the veterinary oath. That doesn’t mean that some days don’t absolutely devastate us. But we look forward to each and every day we get to go through these experiences with you and your pet. Thank you for giving us the opportunity.
Thanks for reading.