Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Veterinary mental health and coping.

Veterinarians and technicians deal with death and dying five times more often than human physicians.

The US department of labor sums it up by saying this about the veterinary profession "animal lovers get satisfaction with this occupation, but aspects of the work can be unpleasant, physically and emotionally demanding and sometimes dangerous"

Yep, that's my line of work.  There are also rewarding aspects of the job such as watching patients grow from puppies and kittens to active members of the family and even adults and even sometimes well-behaved dogs from rambuctious pups you want to give Ritalin to.  Often times people think our work only involves holding and cuddling sweet, wonderful animals.

There are also the awkward moments, like how do you help parents deal with difficult situations involving their pet's illness and even death.  I have had parents ask me to lie to their kids.  I don't do this.  I just try to say as little as possible or be truthful without all the details, such as, "Fluffy is very sick and I'm going to help him with his pain but you are not going to be able to see him again."  The times I've had to explain to snotty nose crying kids that, no, even my doctor skills can't help their pet break my  heart and their parents as well.  We are grief counselors in a lot of ways and in some ways I think somewhat similar to social workers.  We are involved in very intimate times with families.  I once spent over 7 hours counseling a family while I helped ease it's transition out of this life.  I don't have clear answers at these times.  All I have is a kleenex box and a listening ear.

I do counsel parents to please, please don't lie to your kids about difficult choices.  It's up to the parents to parent their kids and it depends on the individual child's ability to handle things as to how exactly you explain and let them experience things but let me assure you, your kid will find out that your dog didn't go to that magical farm you talked about and they will wonder what else you have lied about.

I heard once from a technician how they witnessed a five year old come out of a room where their beloved dog had been euthanized and blurted out, "Dr So and So just killed our dog."  Yep, that is unfortunately the truth.  But they are able to handle truths sometimes better than we can.

I can't come out of a room and tell myself, "Yep, I just killed that dog/cat/kitten, etc."  For coping purposes I have to think about the pain I saved them from and that it was a more peaceful departure than what it could have been, but it is nevertheless a departure.

We also have those cases where things don't go smoothly or for whatever reason, our peaceful process just isn't peaceful.  I remember ending a day with euthanizing a kitten.  Yes, the kitten had a very bad disease and I was doing it a service, but as that five year old bluntly put it, the truth is the truth.

Through a variety of means of coping with the difficulties of the job, we as a profession get through these times.  Where it really gets difficult is once one of our own pets is when we are in role reversal. The last time I had to take the difficult walk with my family dog, it was like I was grieving all the pets I had put down in that year.  I have no idea how hard it will be on me when I am in that position again with either my dog or cat.  I spoke to my husband about my dread and kind of broached the subject of our choices and options because I wanted some things established ahead of time so we could have "prearrangements" so it would be one less thing to fret about in the future.  My husband was somewhat sheltered from all of these things with his family dog, so when the end is near for our pets will be his first time in these difficult shoes and I informed him I did not want everything to fall on my shoulders.  I may be a vet, but I separate that from being a pet owner sometimes because I'm just not objective with those I love.

I often counsel people to think about three things that make their pet their pet.  Such as jumping into their favorite spot, being at the door to greet you, eating their favorite treat.  I just wanted to share the above so those of you not involved in the profession understand a little more about the many hats we wear and we, like you, hope that our pets will just quietly and peacefully expire without anyone needing to make a decision.


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