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Thursday, August 27, 2009

What, Me Worry?

It's a classic phrase, originating with Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman. It implies that someone has not a care in the world. Unfortunately, it's hard to put into practice, and it's something that I can never seem to master.

Earlier this year I had an epiphany, realizing that problems I have with anxiety stem almost entirely from worrying about things that have yet to come to pass and may never actually happen. Even though I come across as confident in my profession, I struggle with feeling that confidence inwardly. I think this is something many vets and other doctors also have an issue with.

Today I removed the anal sacs on a poodle. I've done this surgery before but not in over 5 years. I'm a good surgeon, and have done more complicated and life-threatening surgeries. Much of the time I worry about them, but today more so for some reason. This kind of surgery has risks of complications, some of them serious. If you don't remove all of the glandular material, it can lead to draining tracts that require further surgery. Perhaps the most serious potential risk is of damage to the rectal nerves and muscles, resulting in fecal incontinence; basically the dog has a hard time keeping feces in, and they may just fall out. These risks are possible, though don't happen in most cases.

So what do I do? I spend all afternoon worrying about this little dog. I keep rechecking the anal tone to see if there is muscle or nerve damage. I imagine what will happen if there is incontinence, even though I warned the client of this risk before ever doing the surgery. I fret over whether or not I removed all of the sac tissue. And basically I work myself up over things that may or may not ever happen.

This is part of the difficulty in being a doctor. Your decisions and abilities affect the lives and health of pets and their people. This is actually a very stressful part of the job, more so for some that for others. Unfortunately, I happen to be one of those people who worries a lot. No doctor is perfect, and every doctor WILL make mistakes, which sometimes makes it even harder when you have tough situations.

In all likelihood this dog will be fine, as are the huge majority of pets I fret over. I have infinite respect for human medical professionals, as I could not imagine this kind of worry over a person's child or close family member.


  1. I am sure vets can relate to this. After all, it is just anal sacs! However, when you think about it, most human surgeons would not tackle surgery they had not done for five years ... vets have always had an attitude of dive in and do your best.. but it's not so easy anymore. You may have good "surgical" skills, but we expect human doctors to specialise, not only into surgery vs medical, but into which part of the body. Vets have to cover which species as well...
    Probably time we encouraged more vets too follow specialisations, and used them more for referral work. Would remove some of the worry associated with jobs we can;t do enough of to feel happy about?

  2. I hear ya. Sometimes it makes you just want to be a pathologist!

  3. Nicki, I hear ya right back! If I could stand to sit at a microscope all day I might think about it.

  4. I would seriously consider a clin path career, but can't stomach the thought of giving up my life and going back to school!

  5. Ugh. I know what you mean. Going for a specialty now is not in the works, and I certainly don't want to go back through that process.


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