Updated: Apr 13
I am writing this in April of 2020 and so much is different, in life and in medicine. I will leave thoughts on the rationing of medicine to another day, or a more qualified doctor. But the rationing of emotional care is something that has not been discussed enough, and here veterinarians are experts.
It is a common theme for yelp reviews to claim that a veterinarian does not really care about a pet, that we are “just in it for the money”. This claim is laughable with any superficial knowledge of the people in this field. We care. We care about every patient. Even the ones who try to bite or scratch us. Even the ones attached to humans who yell at us or belittle us. We care about each and every patient we see.
During quarantine, veterinarians are only allowed to see sick patients or those due for vaccines that directly affect human health. So that means the bulk of our appointments are puppies or sick pets. We are not allowing human clients in the building. We go over medical plans, give test results, discuss training, chat, and have difficult quality of life conversations, all over the phone, or shouting across the parking lot. We are doing our best to stay safe by social distancing while we do our best to do right by our human clients so they can best care for their friends. It feels like a fundamental change. I did not realize how much physical closeness fostered the emotional bond between me and my clients. I miss it. I miss my huggers. I miss the look of love in people’s eyes when they told stories about when their old pets were young trouble makers. I miss being able to sit next to someone while I help them decide what the best next step will be. But we are lucky to still be open and be able to provide care and to wave across a parking lot or computer screen to our wonderful clients.
The one aspect of our daily life that is too sacrosanct to change is humane euthanasia. We still allow families into the room when we put a pet down. Some clinics have limited it to one or two family members, but I don’t know of any who have left humans out of this most important moment entirely.
My brothers and sisters in human medicine are not so lucky. Their patients are alone. No visitors outside of a computer screen. No loved one there at the end to tell them “it’s ok, we are here for you, you are loved”.
I performed two euthanasias today. Both of them were Good dogs. Dogs who loved their humans through thick and thin, who helped raise children, and were integral parts of the family story. Both of these dogs left this mortal coil in the arms of their beloved humans with tender words and many many last kisses. These were heartbreakingly beautiful moments that I feel deeply grateful to have been a part of.
Each of us has only so much emotional energy. The times when I have been accused of not caring for a pet, it was the human who felt left out. The pet always gets the bulk of my emotional energy. When there is a shortfall, it is the human client who goes without. I am not saying that this is ok, but it is the truth, and more often during this strange time it is the norm. Everyone’s emotional supply is depleted by just surviving right now, when a trip to the grocery store can be risking your health. Adding social distancing on top of that and I feel disconnected from my clients. The animals freely running around our reception area and in and out of exam rooms are certainly enjoying the extra attention and affection. I hope that my human clients are able to feel our connection over the now mandatory distance.
Right now our doctors and nurses in human medicine are fighting a new enemy with everything they have. They are also comforting our dying friends and family because we cannot.
I know that there are people who think that their loved one is not getting the best care, and you do have to be your own advocate, but please remember during this very difficult time that our medical professionals are saving their energy for their patients. You, the beloved family, have to take a back seat. There is only so much emotional energy, and I imagine they are spending it all on their patients, they have to.
I would like to lift a glass to our medical establishment – L’chiam, To Life, thank you for working so hard to preserve ours, may we as a community come together to lift yours.
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