In every walk of life one thing is guaranteed. Mistakes will be made. This is true in so many professions, but in veterinary medicine can be be considered almost taboo. We’re a field of overachievers. Type A personalities. Perfectionists. That doesn’t stop mistakes from happening in this field. But it does magnify the effect they have on us. When we screw up, animals can die. That is an insane amount of pressure. So often when we make a mistake, we beat our selves up more than anyone else ever could.
One of my favorite patients in the field was Tonka. He was a wiry haired terrier mix who had been diagnosed with lymphoma. He would come in for chemotherapy wagging his tail and would promptly try to rip out his IV catheter. His owners were extremely dedicated to giving Tonka a chance to beat cancer. They did whatever they could to keep him happy. They also happened to be the nicest clients ever. Always smiling. Always appreciative.
One day Tonka came in for the vincristine portion of his chemotherapy protocol. Whenever I saw him on the schedule I would announce “My boyfriend is coming to visit me today!” I would get him all set up in his house after he gave me kisses and begin to prepare the supplies needed to administer his chemo treatment. I’d done this many times before and we had it down to a science. I would calculate his dosage, place an IV, give him his injection and then in a couple hours he could return home.
I had always been taught that once you give an injection, you can’t take it back. I double checked and triple checked my math like I did every time. I pulled up the injection and gave it. Then I walked out to write up my notes for treatment in his chart. I opened his chart and the white hot feeling of dread shot through me. I had just given “my boyfriend” twice his dose for chemotherapy. So inside I freaked out and immediately told the overseeing doctor what had happened. She grabbed Plumbs and began scouring it for potential side effects. I called an internal medicine specialist friend of mine and begged for help. What did I just do? We came up with a plan for treatment and initiated it. I then walked out the back door and began dry heaving.
When Tonka’s owner came in to pick him up I was absolutely petrified. I was nauseous, sweating and on the verge of an anxiety attack. I had every intention of walking into the room, explaining what I had done and explaining how we were going about fixing it. I walked into that room, looked his owner in the eyes and broke down crying. I apologized and tried to explain what happened in between sobs. I said I understood if they no longer trusted me with his care.
His owner looked at the sniveling ball of tears I was and reached out and hugged me. I sobbed harder. She took my hand and told me that she knew in her heart I would never intentionally do anything to harm Tonka. It was a mistake. We would get through it. Together. I couldn’t believe that a human being, and Tonka would be so willing to forgive me. He endured his treatment for the chemo overdose and actually went into remission for awhile. All through out this, his owners still asked for me to care for him. We even built an unlikely friendship.
Sadly, Tonka ended up losing his battle to cancer. It was a sad day when I heard that my boyfriend who’d taught me so much about forgiveness and compassion had passed. Tonka’s owners continued to come to us with their other pets. I even attended their wedding recently. This mistake truly touched my life and let me know even though it sucks to admit that I screwed up badly, growth comes from our mistakes. In our darkest times beauty, kindness and compassion can emerge and change us. Thank you Tonka for teaching me one the most important lessons in this profession. Thank you for loving me when I couldn’t love myself. I know you’re giving em hell at the Rainbow Bridge.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jade is a licensed technician of 9 years who lives in Port Orchard, Washington. She enjoys emergency and critical cases, dentistry and creating a bond with her clients and team. During her off time she is busy keeping up with her two crazy Basenjis!