I've given some info in previous blogposts about what it's like to be a veterinarian, but those of us veterinarians and technicians in the veterinary community really feel a lot of people just don't get it... A couple of years ago, my husband would give a bunch of "Monday Night Quarterback Talks" with feedback from what I brought home and how he thought things should go. Fortunately, we had the childcare and he's a wonderful guy, so I convinced him to come in and be a "honorary tech" for just a Saturday morning. He didn't get the full scale picture (it was only a Saturday morning and because he gets queasy, I tried to keep him away from the gross stuff). He did get an idea that it was a little different from how he thought it was before and new respect for my coworkers.
This is going to be a long blogpost, only meant for people who really want to get a taste of things. If that's not for you, wait for Friday's post which will be something cute about my kid.
Well, the best way to start this is with a discovery that my four Physics classes at the University didn't go to complete waste. I always wondered how they would be relevant to being a veterinarian. Besides concepts of velocity and force with fractured bones and pets hit by cars, and electrocution wounds and how to use the paddles during CPR, I have a new one to add. The concept that I had to pass on to someone that, "Please don't use the shock collar on your dog while I'm holding your dog." Yep, that actually happened. They went to shock the dog while I was holding the collar. I won't get into a diatribe about shock collars (that'll be another post). One point for physics class and the concept that if electricity flows, it flows to any object attached to it. Luckily, I saw her big electric control before she zapped me.
A typical day for me involves vaccinations, preventive health visits, parasite exams, preparing cytologies (my husband was confused why I carry a lighter with me when I don't smoke, but this would be the reason). I look under the microscope and identify bacteria, yeast, inflammatory and cancer cells and crystals in the urine. I help clean ears and teach people how to do it, restrain animals to get their blood drawn and toe nails cut, or I perform those tasks myself. I express anal glands (won't go into that one), clean up after animal waste and chase animals around trying to get samples. I occasionally have to rodeo a rambunctious labrador or calm an angry cat (all while trying not to get injured). I also sometimes make copies, enter charges and answer phones.
Diagnosing diseases and finding appropriate treatment is the fun part for me. It's like being a detective and occasionally I get something I haven't seen before. In 10 years of work, I've probably diagnosed 20 ear infections a week x 52 weeks in a year x 10 = roughly over 10,400 cases. I've got a spiel for many diseases that ooh and awe the owners but that are like my "bread and butter" routine stuff.
In many cases, I'm the dermatologist, neurologist, cardiologist, ophthalmologist, internist, orthopedist and more because owners either choose not to or are unable to go the specialist. I don't really do many surgeries now but before I used to be the surgeon and dentist too. How many of your general physicians would be able to take out a 15 pound spleen or pull an abscessed tooth? Yep, that's the life of a general practitioner.
Just today, I dealt with cases of "Cognitive Dysfunction" or dementia, testicular asymmetry, anal gland issues, gastrointestinal parasites, a bee sting (Did you know some dogs need Epi-pens too?) and urinary issues, among other things. Interesting cases and helping animals is why many of us came into the profession and one of the reasons I haven't specialized in something specific.
Now the difficult part of the profession and the part that puts a lot of stress on our profession, the communication issues. The talking with owners about finances is probably our least favorite thing. The even worse thing is when owners accuse us of being money-grubbing and worse. I've had people say many inappropriate things on these lines. Just for the record, I don't make any money off of whether people do or do not do certain diagnostics and treatments for their pets. I make a set rate regardless of what I recommend people do, which means when I recommend something, it's because I truly think the pet should have it.
The majority of my time though is spent speaking with and educating people about many issues, some as mundane as grooming (and that it's not ok to have a matted dog to the point of discomfort) to the dramatic, such as a young dog with possibly irreparable trauma or telling a young child their pet is terminal. There can be many awkward discussions too (such as weight loss and obesity issues that many human medical doctors don't have the nerve to confront people with) to anxiety problems that are actually due to the owner (either their anxiety rubbing off on the pet or inadequate training). I won't go into the asymmetrical testicle or other reproductive conversations- that can get awkward. These conversations are difficult and often unappreciated. Often you spend ten minutes explaining something and the next question is regarding what you just explained.
There are other difficult conversations, such as discussing quality of life issues. This may seem straightforward in some cases, but if you've ever euthanized a pet you would understand the emotions and difficulty involved. When people consult you about their family member that will become depressed or even commit suicide if they lose their beloved four-legged family member and ask for your advice, that's a hard conversation. So is explaining terminal illness to kids or euthanizing animals that have saved their owners lives in various ways. Ending any four-legged animal's life is difficult for most veterinarians and it's something that I've determined if it ever got easy, I would have to quit.
These are all a day in the life of a veterinarian. Please remember this the next time you see your veterinarian. For every day I have people who are rude or unappreciative, that one person who actually listens to what I says- and does it- and says I make a difference helps to make up for a day of the other type of people.