I am officially hereby declaring today as “Thank Your Veterinarian Day”. Here’s why:
It’s not because a bevy of dedicated veterinarians saved Willie and will continue to partner with me to keep him healthy, although that’s a great reason.
It’s not because my animal’s primary veterinarians (more on them soon) are not just committed professionals but have all become good friends. Another good reason.
And it’s not because all of them never hesitate to move heaven and earth to be there for us if there is a crisis. Good reason number three.
What actually motivated this post was a talk I had with one of our dog’s primary vets, Dr. John Dally, about what it is like to be a veterinarian in 2018.
It’s not easy. For one thing the expectations of many animal owners are over the moon. I suspect that is true of any aspect of medicine now. Just recently I was dumbstruck that a dear friend, in horrific agony over a shattered and dislocated ankle, not only couldn’t be given any pain killers by the EMTs on the way to the hospital (not all EMTs are qualified to administer pain medication), but that the doctors had to reset her ankle without pain medication in order to avoid her losing the use of it later on. (Long story, but I’m assured it was medically the right decision.)
Whaaa…? In medically progressive Madison, WI in 2018, someone had to suffer like that? Western medicine has its faults and its critics (I am sometimes one) but it can accomplish so much now, especially in terms of acute injuries, that our expectations can be crazy high. This is just as true in veterinary medicine. I remember sitting with Willie in the Veterinary Emergency Service, desperate for the vets there to figure out what was wrong with Willie. I don’t think (I hope I hope) that I was ever over bearing or obnoxious, but I am well aware I felt like time had stopped. And yet they kept Willie alive and it only took a little over a day to figure out what was wrong. It really wasn’t that long at all, but it felt like eternity to me.
Veterinarians also suffer from a two-sided punch that human doctors rarely have to deal with. Along with pet owners who would do anything for their animals, they see people who simply aren’t willing to spend $50, $100 or more to save an animal from suffering. Yes, as in all medicine, some clients simply don’t have the money, and that’s hard enough to deal with, but vets tell me how common it is for them to work with clients who bring in an animal who could be saved, and tell them “to put it down.” That’s a lovely euphemism for “kill”.
Speaking of killing, vets have to do that a lot, often when a much-loved animal can no longer be saved and deserves to be relieved of its suffering. In this case, everyone knows it is a kind and benevolent act, but it still involves tremendous emotional pain for the clients, and often for the vet him or herself.
I’ve known a lot of veterinarians, dozens of them, and with one exception, every one went into animal medicine because they loved animals and wanted to help them. And yet, one of their jobs is to euthanize beloved animals and be there for grieving clients. How many times have I joked with Dr. John Dally that he simply is not allowed to tell me that Willie or Maggie or Tootsie has a fatal disease? We laugh. Ha ha. And yet I know he carries the knowledge that someday he will have to, and I will dissolve right in front of him, and his own heart will break a little bit too.
All of that is a lot to carry on one’s shoulders. Is this why the suicide rate for veterinarians is four to six times that of the general population? It’s a problem, a serious one. Even the Center for Disease Control has taken steps to do more research on this phenomenon. You can find a plethora of articles that speculate about why so many veterinarians are struggling–the journal VMD adds in the problem that so many clients want procedures done for free when their vets simply can’t afford to do so. I’m well familiar with that, having seen clients for 25 years as a way to make my living, and hearing far too often “But I thought you loved animals? If you did you wouldn’t charge us anything.” It’s soul killing, honestly.
And thus… my version of the official Thank Your Veterinarian Day. It turns out that there is a “Veterinarian Appreciation Day” already, June 18th, but the organization that started it won’t let me copy its link into this post so that you can see for yourself. (Alrighty then.)
Here’s what I’m going to do as soon as I click “Publish”. Send flowers to my three primary veterinarians and their clinic staff (who never get the attention they deserve in my opinion). Send $ to a clinic for a clinic to use for a client who can’t afford to pay.
Here’s what I’m hoping you’ll do: Write in with stories and thank you’s and gratitudes about what your vet has done for you. If you are a veterinarian, tell us what else we can do to help you. If you are in a position to, send flowers. Or send a thank you card. Who cares what it is written on–it doesn’t have to cost anything more than a stamp. (Personally, I don’t think email counts, although some of the eCards are more than delightful.) Pick up the phone and call. Send a bit of money for a client who wants to help an animal but can’t afford to. Do a loving kindness meditation for all the vets you know. And if you are slammed right now and overwhelmed, as many of us often are, just take a breath and thank the universe for the veterinary profession.
The vets and clinics I want to honor are )(1) Dr. John Dally, and Vet Techs Ruth and Vicki and all at the Spring Green Animal Hospital. (You’ve gotta love that the photo on his website includes me and Tulip. Hey, John, what goes around comes around!). John has been by my side for over twenty years, and I honestly don’t know what I would do without him.
(2) Dr. Carrie Donahue is at Full Circle Vet and specializes in holistic veterinary medicine in Madison, WI. Carrie is the one who came to Veterinary Emergency Service to give Willie acupuncture before and after his surgery. She is helping me with diet and supplements for Willie as a cancer survivor and is a vital addition to the team.
(3) Well, heck, no photo can be found of our sheep vet, Dr. Jeffrey Kunert at the Mt. Horeb Animal Hospital, so I’ve substituted some sheep. But Jim and I couldn’t manage without him helping to take care of our flock. Right now Lady Godiva, my pet ewe and best lamb producer (of course), has a nasty bacterial infection, and right before she lambs too. Dr. Jeff knows sheep as well as anyone and is as good as any vet in the state. Dr. Jeff: Do not retire. Please please please.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm. After the warm glow I hope I’ve left you with in the post above, please forgive my abrupt turn into an all out whinge (Scottish for whine, best word ever) about the weather. Yeah, it often snows in April but it’s not usually 12 freaking degrees outside in the morning with high’s in the twenties. Everyone I know is sick to death of the cold. This weather this winter has been ridiculous–warm in January, then brutally cold, then unseasonably warm, then dangerously icy and cold. It’s as if the weather gods have been flailing their arms around as if drunk. Please someone sober them up.
Okay.. (she said grudgingly), snow can be pretty.
Here’s a tiny iris last week:
Here it is this morning:
Now, I’m off to send some flowers. What a great way to start my week!