Summer is here and its hotter than ****!
I call this killing heat and for me personally I need shade and fans to be able to function. Air conditioning is even better. It’s so hot I even felt sorry for my horse and went to the expense, time and trouble to rig him a shady place with a fan. If it is possible, I recommend you do that for your horse and other animals. Make sure they have a clean source of water and are drinking.
A client told me about making a ‘tea bag’ of the food and putting it in the water bucket. It worked so well I have clients calling it ‘Crack Water’. Before and after the ride, load yourself and horse with water and electrolytes. I mix a quantity of food, and beet pulp shreds and soak it well and feed it before I put Levi on the trailer, after the ride, he gets the same. If grass is available, I let him graze. On the trail, if you are rewarding your horse, use apple slices or carrot slices. Anything to keep your horse hydrated. All of your animals need a cool place to be. A fan in the chicken coop, goat or sheep pen goes a long way to help them stay cool. And don’t forget your farm dogs and cats as they also need a cool place to get.
Times they are a changing. The days are going to, will your vet make a farm call? In these times, with fuel prices so high, it is becoming no longer economically feasible. To put it in prospective, at one time I figured by the time I drive to a farm my small animal colleagues have grossed 10 times what I charge for a farm call. At the end of the day, that makes a huge difference in being able to continue to provide veterinary services as prices increase across the board. I believe it is going to be imperative that you have a way to safely transport your horse and other animals to the vet. A trailer and vehicle to tow it will be needed whether it be a horse, cow, goat, sheep, llama, alpacas, pigs….doesn’t matter. If you don’t have the trailer and vehicle, then arrange with a neighbor or friend or commercial transport service to be available when needed. I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth, I know you all don’t want to hear this but this is the New Reality.
I will continue to make farm calls but the fees will be raised. I strongly recommend that you get with your neighbor to coordinate your animals’ annual exams and vaccinations with theirs, that way the cost can be split between you as long as you are reasonably close to one another. You can call the office and Tamma may be able to help you coordinate. It may work out that some will be early or some a little late. Please understand that we will be cautious about releasing contact information and only with the owner’s permission for purposes of coordination. But if you are friendly neighbors, that should not be a problem. If not, perhaps an opportunity to get to know your neighbor better.
And that is the way it looks from the Vet Truck as I roll up the window and drive away thanking God for air conditioning.
Pick A Good Day…..
A person realizes that their old horse (dog, cat,…) is just not doing well. Not as active; seems harder for the old one to get up and down; not eating well; keeping to itself; just seems sad. Or it is the opposite: eating like crazy and seems quite fine. Until it is dark, rainy, cold, just nasty; the old one goes down and can’t get up. Then, in a panic, you call the vet out. There is much agonizing about “Is it that time?” As the vet standing there, in the cold, wet, dark night or the Sunday morning missing family time, I would like to offer this advice: Pick a good DAY and schedule what I call the Leave Taking.
We are the stewards of our animals and this is the last kindness we can do for them: Let them go. Bodies just wear out. Disease and misfortunate happen. The time comes when nothing can be done on this earth. Sometimes the finances are not there to continue treatment. All heartbreaking moments. I encourage you to make a decision and not let your beloved companion continue to suffer.
I have to come to believe that the psychological effect of being old and ill and not being able to do their job is just as bad as the physical suffering of our animal companion. Especially with dogs. Your dog can no longer protect its pack members (you) and be a vital part of the family. But the will to keep going is still there so they keep trying.
Horses go down and are not able to get up. As a prey animal, this must be terrifying. So, they keep struggling and eating if you bring it to them. Cats? Just want you to leave them alone.
I see this scenario as well. Oh, yes, the old one is eating and seems just fine. Ornery as ever until the old one crashes or is so crippled it can barely get around. But it is still eating!
All we can go is on is how we FEEL. Decide what you feel is a good day for your old one. Put a G on the calendar. Decide what you feel is a bad day; put a B on the calendar. When the Bs out number the Gs; pick a Good Day and schedule the Leave Taking and allow your beloved companion to pass through Life’s Door with dignity and peace.
Your veterinarian will thank you for it. And I believe your old companion will too.
I’ve wanted to write about this topic for a long time. I’ve needed to write about it. I’ve long been encouraged by a multitude of colleagues to broach the topic. After all, we want pet parents to know about it. We need them to know about it. So, what is “it?” Well, “it” is the scarily high rate of suicide among veterinarians. A 2014 survey of 10,000 veterinarians conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found one in six American veterinarians has considered suicide! In the United Kingdom, veterinarian suicide rates are four-to-six times higher than those for the general population (and at least double the rates of dentists and human medical doctors).
I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to sit down and write this post. I’ve lost too many colleagues who have died by suicide. Maybe I was trying to purposefully avoid the topic because some of the truths may be hard for many to hear. After all, potentially upsetting pet owners isn’t exactly the smartest move for a pet-owner education blog. But, I’ve come to realize the main goal of CriticalCareDVM.com is to educate pet parents even when the topics could make one uncomfortable. So, I hope you’ll read this week’s post with open minds and hearts to learn about this exceedingly critical topic. Happy reading!
There is no single root cause of veterinarian suicide. The problem is truly a multi-factorial one. These factors can cause intense psychological and even physical pain. I’m reminded of a statement made by Dr. Carlin Jones, a Maine Veterinarian who once contemplated suicide:
“As veterinarians, we do view death as the end of pain. That’s what we’re taught – when the pain is too bad, euthanasia is the one thing left we can do. So, when we’re in that much psychological pain, we’re going to look at it that way.”
What causes veterinarians such psychological pain? Some factors that degrade a veterinarian’s spirit are:
Veterinarians are highly intelligent individuals. Some of my colleagues are truly geniuses, and I’m jealous of their immense intellects. Most of us have been called “the cream of the crop” our entire lives. We got As, not Bs, in school. We tend to be leaders, not followers. We’re passionate. We don’t leave our job at the hospital; the job comes home with us. Importantly, we’re not used to failing. So, when we feel like we’ve done just that – for example, when a disease wins – we’re crushed. We’re truly devastated, and are left quite emotionally vulnerable.
What you may not appreciate is this defeated feeling can easily be compounded by pet parents. A colleague recently shared with me a story of a client who chose to say to goodbye to her fur baby due to its terminal illness. The pet parent, herself, was living with end-stage cancer. After the humane euthanasia, she told my colleague she was going to go home to die since she no longer had anything or anyone for which to live. Can you imagine the concern this created for my colleague? For veterinarians, such emotional statements from animal owners are not uncommon. We understand the intense feelings experienced by families. We feel them too. But, as most veterinarians are introverts, we internalize these feelings, a practice that can become toxic to our souls.
Veterinarians bond with their patients, and they can feel like failures when a disease wins
In the United States, one in five adults has a mental health condition – that’s about 40 million people, more folks than in the states of Florida and New York combined. Unquestionably, veterinarians are not excluded from these astonishing statistics. Sadly, most American adults with mental illness don’t receive treatment for a variety of reasons, including self-denial due to societal negative stigmas and lack of access to care.
Image courtesy of Mental Health America on San Diego County
Veterinarians, just like other healthcare professionals, experience compassion fatigue. This condition is defined as “the emotional burden that health care providers may experience because of overexposure to traumatic events that patients are experiencing.” We have a keen awareness of our tremendous responsibility for the life and death of our patients. Indeed, I teach my students to never forget “there is a life at the end of every decision” they make. In many parts of the world – especially here in the United States – pets are increasingly thought of as members of the family. This growing belief adds a unique facet to the relationship between pet parents and veterinarians. For some veterinarians, such parental attachment creates emotionally draining relationships because they simply aren’t adept at managing people. Some don’t and can’t sleep properly. Some withdraw from work and life. Others self-medicate to cope. Combine this with the fact most veterinarians have trouble saying no to clients. We overcommit. We work late hours. We spend hours on the phone with pet parents without expectation of compensation for our time (do you expect this of your personal doctor or lawyer?). We only see family and friends on weekends. To top it all off, when we try to set reasonable limits with clients, we’re berated and branded as “uncaring”, “inaccessible”, and “only in it for the money.”
Image courtesy of EquiManagement
Veterinarians – in general – have very little business acumen. We don’t effectively convey the value of our services to pet parents, and thus we have (too) many grumbling about costs. Frustratingly, there’s a prevailing belief veterinary fees are expensive and veterinarians must be very well-paid. So, let me take a minute to address these “alternative facts.” In 2016, according to data from the American Veterinary Medical Association, the average debt for veterinary school graduates was $167,534.89, and more than 20% had debt of more than $200,000. Contrast these numbers to the 2015 mean starting salary of $67,000 for graduating students accepted to a full-time position in private animal hospitals. Financial experts recommend a ratio of student loan debt to earning salary of 1 to 1.5. Currently, this ratio in veterinary medicine is at least 2.5 (and often higher for veterinarians). With such a bleak financial outlook, why do so many people still seek to enter the profession? Yup, you got it! They love animals, and simply want to help families care for them. For this reason, impugning our integrity about our intentions is deeply insulting and infuriating, and only serves to drive cynicism and create barriers to collaborative partnerships.
Veterinary medicine was once a revered profession. Yet, as society has become increasingly cynical and its members have grown exceedingly entitled, there has been a concurrent and marked dropped in the respectability of my chosen career. A colleague recently commented, “Animal owners like us, but they don’t respect us.” Statements like, “You’re not a real doctor”, “I read on the internet that…”, and “My breeder said…” are quite disrespectful of a veterinarian’s education, training, and experience. As I mentioned earlier, veterinarians are incessantly accused of only being in it for the money. Being blamed by owners for forcing them to kill their pet because they can’t afford veterinary care is perhaps one of the meanest and harshest things I’ve ever heard. This is a wicked form of emotional bribery, and is entirely unacceptable. In the age of social media where pet parents can post anything they want if they don’t get their way, veterinarians are emotionally exhausted because we can’t reasonably fight back. Just know one’s 1-star review on Google or Yelp chastising a veterinarian for not providing free care because you couldn’t afford it bruises our soul and contributes to psychological pain.
Writing this piece was – in a way – therapeutic for me. Sharing this information helped me get thoughts out of my head and onto proverbial paper. Most importantly, I was able to share with pet parents information on a topic about which they likely knew very little. Knowledge is power, and I’m hopeful highlighting the topic of veterinarian suicide will ultimately help to strengthen the partnership between pet owners and veterinarians.
To close this post, I’ll leave you with words written by Dr. Tamara Vetro Widenhouse, a veterinarian who recently posted a powerful piece of prose on social media about legitimate bullying veterinarians experience daily. I was deeply moved by her candor and wanted to share it with you.
Every time you say vets are money grubbing or ‘too expensive’ or just in it for the money,
Every time you decline all diagnostics, yet demand to know “what’s wrong with my pet”,
Every time at a social function or other completely inappropriate place you find out that someone is a vet you ask them for free advice about your animal,
Every time you feel justified posting a s&^**y practice or vet review when everything was done according to the standard of care but your pet died anyway,
Every time YOUR lack of preventative care resulted in your pet’s early death, yet you blame the veterinarian,
Every time she gets in early and stays late and works an 80-hour week because your pet that had been ill for days suddenly becomes an emergency at 5pm on a Friday, and you demand to be seen, claiming these heartless vets won’t treat your baby,
Every time someone says, “Why didn’t you become a real doctor?”,
Every time someone complains about the cost of veterinary care, comparing human medicine and insurance subsidies to pet ownership,
Every time someone doesn’t pay their bill and thinks they are entitled not to because pet ownership is their “right”,
Every time someone walks in to a clinic and threatens to “sue your ass if you make one mistake with my baby”,
Every time a graduate vet looks at the hundreds of thousands of dollars in crippling debt and listens to clients driving Mercedes and BMWs complain about the cost of a spay using good anesthetic care and adequate pain management,
Every time – You are part of the problem.
The problem is suicide in veterinarians. Most of us went to veterinary school because we care. We have a calling to care, but there is a dark and expensive cost to compassion.
Think before you act or speak.
All who read this blog consistently know I’m a staunch proponent of abiding by Dr. Widenhouse’s final imperative – THINK before you act or speak! Are your words and actions Thoughtful? Helpful? Inspiring? Necessary? Kind?
If your answer is no, then I respectfully say, “Be aware. Be compassionate. And shhhh!”
Wishing you wet-nosed kisses,