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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Emotional Toll Of Being A Vet

A lot of people seem to think that being a veterinarian or any other sort of doctor is fun and interesting.  Don't get me wrong, because it can be.  But I think some people don't think beyond the cool cases or the cute puppies to what can happen when things go bad. 
This was a bad week for me emotionally.  Two days ago we had an emergency come in, a young dog who had dug under the fence, got into the neighbor's yard, and was attacked by the neighbor's dogs.  When I saw him he didn't have obvious punctures, but was breathing hard and had some air leaking under the skin.  An x-ray of the chest showed some lung bruising but no air leaking into the chest yet.  We stabilized him with IV fluids, gave pain medicine, and planned to repeat xrays in a few hours to see if there were changes.  Over the next three hours he went downhill quickly and passed away despite our attempts to intervene.  That same day I found out that one of our good clients had to euthanize her dog at the emergency clinic, and another dog that we had been treating died at home (which in that case wasn't unexpected).
So that day I came home pretty bummed out by all of the death I had heard and seen.  The next day was only marginally better.  One of my earliest appointments was an obese cat who was in a diabetic crisis with liver damage, and the owner had to chose euthanasia because she couldn't afford the potentially thousands of dollars to stabilize the pet, let alone the long-term care.  I also had to tell a client that their Sheltie had complete kidney failure and wouldn't make it to Christmas.  This morning another long-term client brought in their very elderly dog for lethargy.  We had been monitoring him over the year as he became more severely anemic, and the owner didn't want to pursue specific diagnostics.  His anemia was worse and his white blood cells significantly increased.  Since he was nearly 15 years old the owner decided to euthanize.
So over the last three days I've euthanized two pets, lost one under treatment, lost two from other causes, and had to give terminal news to another one.  Not exactly the fun parts of the job.
This rapid-fire set of cases wears on a person mentally and emotionally.  We do the best we can to help pets, and we are very aware that we can't save all of them.  Everyone in a medical profession has to have a certain degree of emotional resilliency in order to keep performing on a daily basis.  But some days and some cases are worse than others.
This emotional toll isn't always talked about.  But it's a regular part of being in a medical field.  Over the years I've learned how to cope and handle things, but that doesn't make weeks like this one any more fun.  Anyone who wants to become a vet needs to keep this particular kind of challenge in mind, as it's not typically taught in school.  These are the times when the rose-colored glasses come off and the brutal reality of death hits you in the face rather forcefully. 
Thankfully most weeks aren't quite so dire and depressing, otherwise I don't think I could keep doing this job.  Now I just need a few days off and some healthy puppies and kittens to see!