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Saturday, July 21, 2012

When It's Your Own

Being a vet can be interesting and rewarding, though it's hard work and not for everyone.  Often cases aren't easy and you struggle to come to a diagnosis and choose the right treatment.  But the worst cases are when it's your own pet.

Long-time readers (and newer readers who have powerful search-fu) can remember cases where I've had to diagnose and euthanize my own dog, as well as do surgical procedures on my pets.  Being a vet in these situations is a mixed bag.  On one hand I don't want to give the responsibility of care to another vet, even though I fully trust my associates.  On the other hand you don't have the objectivity with your own pets that you will with client-owned animals and in a crisis situation can be too emotionally involved.

Earlier this week I neutered my kitten, Pippin, and did a dental cleaning on my dog, Inara.  Both were routine procedures and I've become used to seeing my own pets under anesthesia.  Neither procedure was difficult for me to handle since I've seen so many of these cases over the years and have done thousands of anesthestic procedures.  I've spayed and neutered most of my own pets.  Though I know staff and veterinarians who can't even be working on a day when their own pet is having this happen, it isn't something that has ever bothered me. 

However, Pippin started vomiting yesterday and I've been worried about him.  Intense periodic vomiting, dry-heaving, and a decreased appetite.  This is something that I can't handle well.  Of course my mind runs through the various scenarios and possibilities, quickly jumping to a risk of a gastrointestinal foreign body (he gets into everything).  Money is tight and even with my discounts a major surgery would be a big burden, plus there is the risk involved (see my recent post on GI surgeries).  I spent last night and all day today fretting over him.  I examined him at home and he seemed okay, and he's been acting normal otherwise.  But I've still been tied up with worry.  Thankfully I talked to my wife earlier and he seems to be doing much better.  He does have a habit of getting into dishes in the sink more than any of our other cats, and I'm suspecting that he merely had an upset stomach.

One of the greatest skills that doctors develop is the ability to remain somewhat clinically detached.  We need to be able to approach our cases from the perspective of the best diagnostic, medical, and surgical decisions, and maintain a calm emotional state.  Though we obviously still want to feel compassion and empathy, the job is much easier and we do better if we're not as emotionally involved.  That becomes almost impossible when the patient is one of your own pets.  And I completely understand my colleagues who can't work on their own animals.