Welcome to Vetfessions, a new column on Dr. Andy Roark where we give you, the reader, a chance to get something off your chest in an anonymous fashion. Be it embarrassing, frustrating, or just something you didn’t want to admit out loud, it still might make someone else having a bad day feel just a bit better. If you have a vetfession of your own, unburden yourself at email@example.com.
I, like most veterinarians, pride myself on maintaining a professional demeanor at work. I can express empathy for a sad case, regret at one that did not turn out the way we wanted it to, and even allow myself a sniffle for a client to whom I am especially close. But, up until that cold December day, I’ve never totally lost it in front of someone.
The client in question, let’s call her Mrs. Smith, was a sweet older lady who was our unofficial adopted grandmother. She’d come in with her knitting bag and her admittedly aggressive shih tzu and talk for hours. Her dog, Brandy, was her closest companion after her husband passed away several years prior. She lived with her husband’s children in an attic apartment, and they spent most of their time in the lobby complaining about how much money she spent on the dog instead of saving it, I guess, for them.
Brandy had Cushings and some other health issues, but all things considered she was doing fairly well. Mrs. Smith felt like Brandy’s time on earth was perhaps winding down, but she wasn’t considering euthanasia in the near future.
On Christmas Eve, my receptionist came into the back to tell me that Mrs. Smith was there to euthanize Brandy. The daughter in law who drove her was in a rush, she said, and requested we “hurry it up.” My lead tech went to high school with the daughter in law and confirmed she was an unpleasant person.
I went into the room with Mrs. Smith and asked her what was going on. She explained that the family was concerned Brandy would be disruptive to their holiday celebrations and took a vote on whether or not to wait until after the holidays. As a group, they said it was time. (Mrs. Smith was the dissenting vote.)
“I sure do wish I could at least have her around for Christmas,” she sighed. And as much as I tried to convince her there was no reason not to wait a couple more days, her mind was made up- because she didn’t want to upset her late husband’s family.
I’m not sure why I was so sensitive that day- maybe it was because she reminded me so much of my own grandparents, who were all gone; or maybe I was thinking of my own dog, who had died a month prior. I just thought of this sweet older lady spending Christmas looking at an empty dog bed, rage filling me at the daughter who couldn’t even be bothered to sit in the room with Mrs. Smith and elected to wait in the car, and the tears started.
I excused myself and tried to get it together, but I couldn’t. It was an ugly cry. Snot running down my face, puffy eyes, Antech ice packs on my face couldn’t solve it cry. I cried out of frustration, of grief, of anger. So, puffy face and all, I had to go in and continue the procedure. As I was pushing the solution, Mrs. Smith leaned over and said, “Is it always this hard for you, dear?” which made it even worse because now I was forcing this client to be the one comforting me, and I wasn’t the one losing a family member. My technician had to be the one to sit with Mrs. Smith after because I couldn’t get myself together, and it was horrifying.
It hasn’t happened since, thank goodness, and to this day I don’t know what exactly opened the floodgates, but I guess even us “professionals” have our wrecked moments too.