Something massive just happened. I mean hugely ginormous. At this moment, it feels like my world has just stopped, changed direction, and will never be the same again. And yet, there are people around me who do not seem to realize anything is different. How can they go on as if nothing happened while I am frozen in this massive moment? It doesn’t make any sense.

Moments like this are extremely difficult. They happen to all of us. The odd part is that we all have a different interpretation for what constitutes a massive moment. For most of society, it’s the loss of a human family member, but other losses qualify as well. Veterinary professionals obviously know how much the loss of a beloved pet can affect a person. However, a whole segment of the non-pet owning public cannot relate to the devastation of losing an animal. We should use the example of that disconnect as a lesson to respect others who may be more affected by certain losses that we personally do not fully understand.

Also, massive moments don’t have to be sad. Graduating, getting married, buying a house, getting a new pet – these cause similarly strong reactions, too. And, these moments can involve similar disappointments when others around you don’t share your same emotions.

I have had multiple massive moments in my life: graduations filled with excitement as well as anxiety about the future, tornados – two of them in two years – that ripped through my hometown affecting my friends and neighbors, my absolutely perfect wedding day, and of course the loss of dear family members.

Each of these events involve different specifics, but the common thread is that feeling of being frozen in time and watching the world speed by without a care.

How can this pet owner want me to see their sick pet when my wedding rehearsal starts in a few hours?  Why is my staff happy today when I just lost my grandpa? How does my boss expect me to work when I feel compelled to help my friends literally pick up the pieces of their houses that were destroyed by a tornado? Why do I feel alone, like no one understands how huge this moment is?  How can others not care as much as I care?

As veterinary professionals, we deal with clients experiencing massive moments on a daily basis. These massive moments leave an impact on us as well. The highest of highs with a brand-new puppy exam for a wonderful client can be followed immediately by the lowest of lows when a long-term case ends in an emotional euthanasia.

And yet somehow, we survive. We persist. We plaster on that smile and move on. We erase our smile to support the grieving family. Back and forth. Not day by day, but instead sometimes minute by minute.  These are huge moments for our clients, and yet our day continues to move on even while theirs has come to a grinding halt. We must learn how to handle these moments in order to both take care of ourselves and our clients.

So, how do you play both sides? How do you respect the clients experiencing their own massive moments while also taking care of yourself? How do you get your job to slow down to respect your massive moments without negatively impacting your clients?

I’m not sure I have the answer for everyone, but I have developed an answer that works for me.

When I am experiencing my own massive moment, I allow myself to be selfish. Conversely, when I am a part of someone else’s massive moment, I strive to be selfless.

Let me explain.

In those moments that seem so overwhelming, and I feel alone like no one else realizes that my world has been shaken, I indulge my own needs. I allow myself to be selfish, just momentarily, to do what I know I need to do to survive. For me, this used to be taking a moment to be alone with my thoughts, but now it’s confiding in trusted friends and loved ones who I know will support me in whatever way I need.  Sometimes their response isn’t even the important part. Just knowing that I have shared my massive moment with my support system provides me with calming relief.

That works for me, but it may not work for you. Everyone is different. It took me a long time to reach this epiphany about myself, so I don’t expect you to magically discover what works for you after reading this.  Take the time to figure it out, and don’t beat yourself up if you are still working on it.

On the other side of things, when I find myself in someone else’s massive moment, I try to pause to selflessly think of them. What will help them, or at least not hinder them, as they deal with this experience? This philosophy has changed my approach with my clients. Whether it’s the heart-warming young puppy exam or the heart-breaking geriatric euthanasia, my focus becomes how to allow the client to endure the moment in the most fulfilling way. My goal is not to hijack their moment to steal focus or disregard it, but instead provide the support they need. They are the main character in their story. I am just a supporting role, so it’s important for me to be supportive in that role.

I have another massive moment on the horizon, as my wife’s due date for our first child rapidly approaches. I have already indulged in selfishness by scheduling an extended amount of time off from work for my paternity leave. My practice will survive while I’m taking the time I need to appropriately experience my firstborn son. I will temporarily be selfish to take care of myself and my family so that I will be ready to help others endure their massive moments when I return.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.


Dr. Michael W. Miller, DVM is a part-owner of a four hospital practice and splits time between Lakewood Animal Hospital and Pine Bluff Animal Hospital in Morris, Illinois. He has a special interest in exotic animal medicine – especially reptiles, but he also enjoys working on dogs and cats including his mischievous shelter mutt named Wombat. He also started a blog called Harry Potter Vet that uses comparisons to the wizarding world to discover the magic in veterinary medicine.