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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Death, Death, And More Death

I think that some people look at veterinarians and imagine us playing with cute puppies and kittens every day.  They think about all of the "warm, fuzzy" feelings of making animals better and saving lives.  Some of those people would likely be surprised with what actually happens sometimes.

Last week was pretty tough for me.  In the middle of the week I had several dogs scheduled who were old or sick.  To make a long story short I ended up having to euthanize three dogs in a row.  Yes, that's right, three back-to-back.  At one point I had some of my staff placing an IV catheter in one dog while I euthanized the one before it, then went straight into the next room to euthanize that one.  

Each of these situations were very justifiable as the dogs were suffering.  The decision to euthanize was the right one in each case, though it was emotionally hard for the owner.  And each one went to sleep very peacefully and quickly, making it easy for me and the owner.  I hated doing so many so close together, but there really wasn't a good reason to wait on any of them.

The next day my first appointment of the morning was another euthanasia.  Then a few hours later I had yet another one.  Once again these were all pets that were suffering and needed to be gently eased into a painless death.  But I hated being the one to do so many in such a short period of time.

Losing a pet is always hardest on the pet owner.  They are making an emotionally difficult decision, no matter how justified it may be.  No matter how close a vet may be to the client and patient, their sadness is nothing compared to the sorrow of the owner who is going to be mourning their pet.  But that doesn't mean that it's easy for the vet.

Most of the five pets I euthanized over those two days I didn't know well, and some of them I hadn't seen before.  But it's emotionally draining to end an animal's life.  It can also be draining to handle the human grief that is inevitable in these situations.  Whenever you try to comfort someone who is grieving it takes some of your own emotions and energy.  Both of these factors make every euthanasia somewhat difficult for the vet, and can affect our feelings for a while.

Now do that three times in the span of an hour without even a few minutes break between them.

Then do it again the next day.

I was exhausted after the third euthanasia on the first day.  I really did feel physically tired from the emotions and sadness that happened in such a short period of time.  By the time I came in the next morning I had regained my normal energy, but that quickly left me when I saw my first appointment.  Because of the events of the previous afternoon I was drained more quickly than I would have been otherwise.  When it happened once again the same day I was bordering on becoming truly depressed.

Thankfully this many terminal patients is rare, and it's been many years since I had to perform more than two euthanasias in one day.  And my days since these two have been pretty routine, which is good because I wouldn't have had to try to handle similar set of days.

Being a veterinarian isn't all cute animals and fuzzy snuggles.  It has many ups and downs and a vet will often see tragedy.  It takes great emotional strength to succeed in this profession.