Friday, October 28, 2011

The Ones I Left Behind, My Regrets

I know that I am one of the few people that can truly say out loud and with full confidence that I get to do what I love. Being a veterinarian fulfills me and my sense of purpose.

I have so many friends who go to work every day because they feel like they have to. Because they have people who depend on them to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. But they all work because they have to. The endless grueling cycle of; wake up go to work, punch a clock and wait for the end of the day whistle to blow.
I go to work every day knowing that I will be faced with challenges, meet new faces, and touch a life. Sometimes it is a life that will never speak a thank-you, sometimes it is staff member going through their own life trial, and sometime it is just the opportunity to take my own dogs to work and spend the whole day with them. I am lucky and blessed on many levels. It took me a long time to get here and I am savoring every moment.
I met with a drug rep the other day. They stop by (usually without an appointment) with the hopes of stealing your ear for a few minutes. I am one of the few vets who let them in, spend time discussing their newest products, and their personal stories. As we sat down she asked me the routine questions, like, “How’s business?, the family? etc..” All were replied with a simple “Good.” 

The conversation migrated to asking me about “How long I wanted to own JVC?” I told her that “I still love veterinary medicine and owning a practice, that I am immensely proud of the work we do here, the dedication of my staff to saving pets, and to being so devoted and compassionate to our cause, and that quite frankly I know myself well enough to know that I don’t want other partners.” 

She then surprised me when she said that she “doesn't know many other female practice owners who feel this way. That most of them can’t wait to sell and get away from the pains of ownership.” I then confessed and told her that “I wasn't done with veterinary medicine yet. That I wanted to do more, to help more lives because there is so much need out there. So I am not done yet.”
As I look forward I am also looking back on where I have been. I am left thinking about some of the pets I have left behind. I feel as if I have failed some of them. I bear the burden of that failure every day, and I move forward with more conviction, dedication, and determination because of them.
My first scarring failure occurred when I was still sailing. I was house sitting for a friend who lived in a cute renovated row home in Fells Point Maryland. One early morning headed out her front door to go to work I saw a little 10 pound, 6 week old brindled Pit Bull puppy just walking down the sidewalk. He was only a few feet from the very busy road full of cars rushing off to work. I froze in my tracks. I felt so sure that within a second someone would come rushing down the sidewalk frantically looking for this little puppy. After about 30 seconds I couldn't sit by any longer. I couldn't sit by and watch this pup get hit by a car so I picked him up and sat on the front steps of her house with him and waited. I waited 20 minutes, and no one came. I now officially late for work so I put him inside her bathroom with newspaper, food, water and said a little internal “sorry” to both her, him, and my boss.

I rushed home at 4 pm and was greeted by a happy hungry puppy. I spent the entire evening walking around her neighborhood trying to find his owner. Three days of this went by. No posters, no missing dog report at the shelters, no owner. That afternoon he started acting really lethargic. He wouldn't eat, and he wasn't playful. Later that evening the vomiting and diarrhea started. It didn’t stop all night. At 4 am I drove him to the emergency clinic. As my luck, and fate would have it, I only had 2 more days on the ship and then I was done and could drive the 5 hours back to my house in Blacksburg, VA.
I presented my very sick puppy to a very cold, very matter of fact veterinarian. She told me that he had parvo. And she told me that he needed to be hospitalized, on i.v. fluids, and antibiotics, and that his prognosis was not good. I explained my situation to her, she offered to keep him for the next two days and then transfer him to a vet down by my home. She gave me an estimate of about a thousand dollars, and a poor prognosis. I remember sitting in that white linoleum waiting area trying to sort out my thoughts and figure out what I should do.
I told the Vet that I couldn’t afford to provide his treatment, and that he wasn’t really my puppy, (which is what I said, but not what I felt). So I had him put to sleep.
I have carried the guilt of giving up on him to this day. If the same thing happened now I wouldn’t make the same decision. And when someone walks in with a pet that they can’t afford to treat I offer them to transfer the pet to JVC and our pet rescue takes over the pets care. That day defined what kind of vet I was to become and what kind of person I wanted to be.
Three years ago I was working the evening shift. One of my receptionists came to me and said that she had just taken a call from one of our clients who told her that their dog had been run over by their lawn mower. They arrived a few minutes later with their 2 year old female boxer. Both its front and back left feet were taped and wrapped in blood soaked towels. I very quickly looked at the dog, and then gave her a much needed dose of morphine for the pain and to sedate her. I wasn’t going to take off her taped on towels until she calmed down. She was also going into shock so I need to replace her fluid loss with i.v. fluids. The whole time her parents stayed by her side, (not an ideal way to treat a patient, but I didn’t think she was going to make it so I wanted them to be there with her). Within a few minutes she was sedated and I needed to investigate what lay under those towels. The owners had told me that they thought the “front leg was minor but that the back leg was bad.” I also was told the story of how the accident had occurred.
It seemed that their 12 year old son was being tasked with taking over the lawn mowing. He did not want to use the riding mower because he was afraid. His dad then admitted that he had forced him to get on and start mowing. At some point he lost control of the mower and ran over the dog. Oh god, how could this get worse? A two year old dog that I knew very well, because I had done all of her puppy shots and spayed her, a young boy who was hysterical about injuring his dog, and a family that would now have to deal with the trauma of all of this. I started with the front leg because I wanted some good news. I took the towel off and the whole paw was gone. It was not salvageable at all. I took the other towel off and the foot was gone from the ankle down. I replaced the towels and added a tourniquet to each foot to try to control the bleeding. I then put their dog under anesthesia and I took the owners aside. I told them that a three legged dog can adjust and do well, but a two legged dog needed a prosthetic. I told them that their dog needed surgery now, and then probably more surgeries later, and multiple trips to a specialist for a prosthetic. I knew the cost of these treatments would be in the thousands.
They discussed their concerns and decided to put her down. I wish I had pushed harder, and tried to convince them, that their pet, and their child, would be impacted by this. I wish I had had them sign their Boxer over to us. I still think I could have configured some sort of “peg” leg for her, and she was so young, I wish I had given her a chance.


  1. I put mine in the house or locked on the porch during mowing and will never be leinent about that again!

  2. I wonder if you're using your brain. Things happen, they are unfortunate and horrible sometimes, but just because you put your mind to it doesn't mean you can or even should solve them.

    There is no such thing as no pain after what the dog went through with the mower. There would be a tough recovery, prosthetic fittings, phantom limb pain and oh - just pain from wearing a prosthetic. So what you're saying here is that as a veterinarian, you'd prefer to have a dog live in chronic pain with limited mobility than put them down. Thank goodness the owners didn't listen to you. Just because you can does not mean you should.

    It sounds to me like you need to learn how to process loss and to let go. In the meantime, perhaps you should get a second opinion regarding when you are considering quality of life and when you're not.

    1. Hello,

      Well, first I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you are a real person, with a real interest in pet care, and not some random bored moron with no real-life experience on the topic you are so quick to criticize.

      Also, it is important that I remind you to re-read the title of both my blog and this subject. (Hint; focus on the words "diary" and "regrets").

      Next, let's review your credentials. Are you a pet care provider in any capacity? Have you ever put a pet to sleep? Have you ever had to sit with a family grieving over the loss of a pet and the knowledge that your child accidentally was the cause of it? Do you have any idea how difficult that is?
      Have you ever seen or helped a pet with a prosthetic? Do you think that there are people who benefit from them? Are you trying to convince me that perhaps they should be spared the pain of this by denying them the use of pain medicine, prosthetics, and rehabilitation? There are many many instances of pets who thrive with the use of a prosthetic.

      My ability to use both my brain and my compassion allows me to learn from my experiences, provide advice, and guidance and help my clients make very difficult decisions. Surely, not every decision we ever make is right every time, but to make them with every option laid out and a sense of calm and peace in that time is what we all wish for. To make a decision under duress, and without any options leads to regret.

      My primary concern is always with my patients best interest in mind.

      Every case, every patient and every unfortunate accident is accessed with my experience, my educational training, my compassion, the ability to provide quality of life,and my client in mind.

      I promise that in my lifetime I have processed more grief, and let go of more patients than you could even begin to imagine. Until you walk a step in my, or my clients shoes, perhaps it is wiser for you to keep your naive opinions to yourself? And perhaps there is great value in learning to be compassionate and reflecting on how you contribute to anyone else's quality of life?

      I wish you the very best in being a person that helps others through your life learned lessons, humility, compassion, and generous spirit. These are what makes a great care giver.