Saturday, February 6, 2010

Somethings wrong...

If you had followed me around yesterday, by days end you would have thought it was no different than any other. I worked my normal Friday shift, and did my normal work things. Yet, something was different about yesterday. Something...changed. For some reason the events that unfolded stuck with me; past the shift. I usually try to "leave work at work". Unless someone asks me how my day went, I usually don't mention it. And when I do, it's usually in generalities and pretty vague. It's just that I don't want work to define me; to become who I am. There are incredible things I see every day-some happy, but a lot very sad. I learned early on working here (especially in the ER) that it is best to distance yourself from the situations we see. We need to make sure that we don't get too that we can go home and function normally at the end of our day. So we can lead normal lives, and not be dragged down by the incredible sadness that we not only witness, but are involved in every day. After yesterday, I'm not sure I can do this any more.

It was an OK for the most part; again, nothing out of the ordinary. I booked appointments, answered questions, prepped files, and checked in and out patients. I got a call late morning from the grooming department, asking if I specifically could take a call. The person on the line was thinking about buying a Sheltie puppy from a breeder here in New England. I picked up the line, and answered her questions, which mostly consisted of the difference between the sexes, what questions they should ask the breeder, and what health screens the breed should have. I probably answered her queries with a little more enthusiasm and detail than I normally should have (as I was working, and did have other clients to help after all) but the conversation left me feeling good. I had helped someone become even more prepared for adding a lovely addition to their family. When I worked at the training center (and even now that I work at the vet) we always tell owners with lots of questions that they are the type of owners that we love to see, and wish there were more of; people who cared enough to find out how to go about doing things right by themselves and the new dog, rather than just buying the puppy that was staring at them out of a pet store window. After I hung up with the Sheltie owner-to-be, I found a smile on my face and a sense of peace in my heart. I felt really good.

That good, happy, warm and fuzzy feeling stayed with me for the rest of the day, right up until the end of my shift. Then, when I was about to leave, I was walking through the ER doors back into the treatment area of the hospital, and I saw a girl I worked with carrying an elderly Sheltie out back. This usually only means one of two things: 1.) the patient was coming in for an emergency and would be brought right to the technicians and Dr. to be triaged or 2.) the dog was there to be sent over the bridge. Unfortunately, it was the 2nd situation. The dog, as it turned out was in its teens and unable to walk or get up any more. I told my friend who brought him out back that I would stay with him while the technicians got set up. I held the poor guy while he lay on the table, shaking and shivering, not knowing what was to come next.

I suddenly found myself unable to think clearly. I had laid my hands on him to comfort him, and was surprised when after only a few seconds they felt very very hot. They usually only feel like this when I am practicing Reiki. I focused more sending my energy to him, and seemed to almost hear his frantic thoughts: "what am I doing here? Wheres my family? Who are you?? Whats going on? I hurt a lot. Whats that buzzing noise? Ouch! That hurt my leg! I'm scared...wheres my family??"

It just broke my heart. I'm not saying I'm any type of animal communicator or anything; I think any animal lover who was there would have surmised that that's what the dog was thinking. Usually what happens is while the owner is doing the paper work out front, we are getting the catheter placed out back. Then the dog is brought back to the owners room so everything is done; they can then spend as much time as they want and need saying goodbye before the Dr. comes in.

When the technicians were finally ready, I said my own silent goodbye to this sweet, sweet boy and took my leave. I was really out of it. I had a few things left to do before leaving the building, and I was finding myself walking in circles-unsure of what I just did or what still needed to be done. I couldn't believe what I just was a part of: a family saying goodbye to their beloved friend, and making the brave decision that today was the day. It was such a complete, 180 degree change from what had made me so happy only a few hours before. It was like two days had taken place: one with sunlight, and one without.

I went home and spent some time with my own girls. I keep a picture of them in a magnetic frame on my cash box at work. When I saw the picture, I knew I just had to get home. To make sure they were tell them I loved them.

I went to bed last night feeling as though something had broken. I was tired, so I felt like maybe some sleep would allow me to feel better, like my own detached self from before. But I do not feel better; I do not feel different. I fell the same-like something is wrong. I have never, ever felt afraid or unhappy about going to work (since Ive started at the clinic 2 years ago, anyways). I don't want to go tomorrow. I don't know if I have the strength to witness, to be a part of, another day full of sadness. I know that the whole day won't be awful. It's always nice to send patients home with a promise of "the medication will make him/her better", but this isn't always the case. People come in every day knowing their pet is sick; and they are now unable and unwilling to let them go on. And then other people come in knowing their pet is sick, but not knowing how sick they truly are; not knowing that their dog has bloat or a ruptured abdominal tumor. And then they are suddenly faced with leaving their best friend behind; never to be seen again, until the ashes are returned to them.

I don't want to do it any more, but don't know how to avoid it. Its part of my job, and I cant say no. Its not fair for me to neglect this most difficult piece of the work, and leave it for someone else to do. Everyone has a hand in this most dreaded "procedure": we as the "client care" team do the paperwork (which means dealing with an understandably distraught and sad owner) and usually bring the pet out back to the technicians; their part is to get the catheter places and bring the pet back to the owner, and then finally, the Dr. helps try to soothe and comfort the owner, and to finally give the final injection of sleep. I don't know why I am having such a hard time dealing with this now. I mean, having worked here for 2 years, I have done this already...more times than I care to think about. But something has suddenly changed...I know I keep saying it, but something is different. And I don't think it is because the dog yesterday happened to be a Sheltie. Last week, I had a hard time with a Dobie who had come in, and who's owners were unable (emotionally) to be there during the final moments. No pet is ever alone, even if the owners cant (for whatever reason) be present. But I had that same awful feeling of thinking of what must be going through the dogs mind. Is there something wrong with me? Have I lost my nerve? Am I anthropomorphising to an extreme degree? I feel damaged; like the reason they don't have people running the machines that deliver lethal injections to death-row inmates any more is because those people ended up with extreme emotional distress. I don't feel like I'm necessarily there yet, but...I don't want to feel like this any more.

I was strangely happy working in the hospital for so long because I felt like seeing so many difficult and often tragic situations allowed me to constantly remember how short life is; and how our pets lives are even briefer still. But now I feel like its affected me to the point where all I can think about is my girls, and my own, mortality. I feel like a sad weight, a steely-gray cloud has come over me. And having learned the lesson (time and time again) of how short life is and how much it should be enjoyed, I know that I don't want to continue to feel like this...but now what to do? I am right now on a "two year plan", during which I will pay off the bills, bank some money and be able to move out. I'm in no position to move things up, or to start over at a new job right now...just because I suddenly feel "uncomfortable". I hope I shake this feeling, but I know it may be with me for the long haul. I know that doesn't sound very optimistic, but...I don't know what I can do to fix it. How do you fix and emotion or feeling? I don't think I'm at a place yet where I need therapy (oh my doG, I cant believe I just said that) but I am troubled; shaken. I hope tomorrow does go OK, and I can keep going on and doing my job...for all our sakes. I could go on and on, but this post is long enough. Hopefully I'll have a better update for the next post...


  1. wow, what a heartfelt post and it does not help you but I am glad there are people there for these animals that care and have the sensitivity you have, I can not imagine how much comfort I am sure you have given out and I am sure there are tons of people that you have touched that you did not even realize. I hope tomorrow feels better....and that you do what you have to do to feel good and not get too burned out. It is easy to see what a caring person you are, so it has got to be hard to deal with so many things most people never have to deal with, but what sucks is that is also what makes you able to provide so much comfort to patients like the little sheltie or the dobie who probably felt scared and alone...I am sure he knew someone who really cared was sitting and holding his paw. ANYWAY, I would just like to say I hear ya, and wish I could give you a big hug right now.

  2. It sounds like you're suffering from what many people call "compassion fatigue". It's not unlike rescue fatigue, just not as specific. You're doing a vital service by helping dogs who are suffering or who are breathing their last. But there is a cost, a high emotional cost, associated with what you do. You have to take care of yourself, and that includes your emotional well-being, as well as taking care of your 4-legged charges.

    I urge you not to be judgemental towards yourself for having the feelings you do of being overwhelmed, saturated, and just plain depressed. I don't spend dogs' last moments with them nearly as much as you do, and it takes a terrible toll on me when I do so. I can only imagine how you feel right now. And I do go to a therapist with whom I can talk about those feelings!

    It sounds from your writing that you don't really have the option of declining that particular responsibility (and perhaps on one level you don't want to do so) or of changing jobs. But try hard not to get completely overwhelmed with the pain and grief, even if it does mean finding a way to get more help than petting your own two beautiful Sheltie-girls gives you.

    Our thoughts are with you, and you know you can always write here in your blog about your feelings without worrying that somebody will thing anything negative about you. We are your friends and we're here for you when you need us.

    Hang in there!

  3. I don't think those of us who don't work at the vet's office realize what a big piece of yourself those of you who do work there give every day. Thank you for doing that. And for being there for the dogs that have no one that can help them through their last moments. I can't imagine what you do on a daily basis, but I can say that I'm truly grateful to people like you.