My decision to return to work on the 2nd January was not a wise one as owners had clung onto their very ill or elderly pets over christmas and now realised it was time to let go. As a vet, I experienced an emotional rollercoaster of a day and for the first time in my 25 years as a vet; I crumbled into a crying mess.
I work as a GP vet at the UK’s largest vet pet charity – the PDSA. I love my work there where more time is spent dealing with the anxiety and concerns of the owners – guiding and supporting them with their pet ownership.
Most of the clients are on benefits for disabilities and they all share in the common love of their pets. To some, their pets are all they have.
When Tyson came into the consult room, it proved the start of my emotional day. I had seen Tyson before – a gorgeous elderly Boxer who had begun fitting and this really concerned the owner as she had young children and it distressed all of them. Together we realised that treating with anti-epilepsy medication was not an option as it would have mildly sedated him and he was determined to follow his owners up the stairs every night to sleep under the sheets next to her – “slipping to the floor eventually” the owner confessed.
He had made their christmas and she described how he opened his present and made them laugh and cry on the day as they knew the time they would lose him was imminent. He bound them together as a family and like all of us, her love for her elderly pet who had been with her for 13 years was so obvious.
We spent some time discussing when the time would be right as for now, Tyson appeared bright and happy. I took him round the back to weigh him as we decided we would go with pain relief for his backlegs, and on the way back, I remarked to one of the nurses how fond I had become of old Tyson. Returning to the owner, Tyson took a turn for the worse and had a seizure on the consulting room floor.
I rushed to the back to fetch some intravenous valium to calm him (and a stretcher to lift him). He did however recover quickly and was suddenly back on his feet but very agitated. His owner turned to me for advice and this time I had to give a very bleak prognosis. Together, we realised that this was our sign and the decision was made to put him to sleep.
We kept him with his devastated owner crouched on the floor beside him, and together with the nurse, I began shaving his front leg for the procedure. This produced a deep throaty growl from dear old Tyson as he turned to bite both me and the nurse. He had to return to the back to have a catheter placed in his vein. I held him tightly and just cuddled him and told him what a good boy he was while our head nurse expertly slid the catheter into his vein – he sensed how much I liked him and even licked my hand this time. We returned to the consulting room and he went as expected – painlessly and quickly with his huge head in his devastated owner’s lap. She was inconsolable and I did my best to try to comfort her. There is nothing more intimate than putting an owner’s pet to sleep. As a vet we share in the deepest of emotions with people we do not even know.
I found myself overwhelmed by the entire procedure feeling all her pain as she clung to me in one of the many hugs I gave to her. Tyson’s owner needed time and patience and unfortunately, being a charity we are limited to 10 minutes per consultation! I had already taken up at least an hour with dear Tyson and his owner and the waiting room was full of more dogs and cats requiring either euthanasia or admitting as they were so ill.
I found myself falling further and further behind and my waiting list showed that I had people waiting for over an hour.
There is a secret that as vets we do not share with the public, but most of us suffer from an impostor syndrome where we do not believe we are good enough to be doing the job we do, and most of us are perfectionists and very hard on ourselves. We are people pleasers and I put myself into the shoes of those people waiting for over an hour – some of them very elderly or ill themselves and all desperately concerned about their pets and the panic just whelled up inside of me.
I had not eaten or drunk for hours and I felt a surge of tears flow out as I wrote up the last case I had seen, the words turning into a blur on the computer screen – I could not stop crying! I felt a failure and the other vets were wonderful, stepping in to try to relieve the backlog, but they too were overwhelmed with the number of cases they had to deal with.
I sat quietly eating my peanut butter sandwich, trying not to talk to anyone in the staffroom as I just needed some headspace, so I turned on my phone and checked my e-mails. My emotional rollercoaster of a day continued as one e-mail stood out amongst my list – it was from Chris Packham’s agent to say that Chris would love to try our family homemade plant-based diet on his Poodles Sid and Nancy!!!
I was delighted. Having someone like Chris Packham try our food and hopefully having Sid and Nancy like it as much as Ruff does meant that we had one of the UK’s biggest environmentalists and conservationists on board. This wonderful news and gave me renewed strength to pick myself up and continue for another 4 hours of consulting with yet more desperately concerned owners.
To return home to my son having cooked a delicious vegan meal of ‘sausage’ casserole and feel my own warm soft Ruff was all the comfort I needed after my busy and very emotional day.
If you are a vet reading this Blog post, watch this beautiful poem expressed so emotively by a true empathic pet lover – I dare you to listen and not cry!
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