Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Holes In The Safety Net

There are days when it is all I can do to just drag myself home. The days like today when I am arriving home after 9 pm after arriving at the clinic at 9 am. Today I skipped lunch, took no breaks, (I am not even sure I had a bathroom break), and now here it is after 9 pm and I am rushing to feed my kids, eat, and sleep. I repeat this day Monday through  Friday. Today was a mirror image of yesterday, and tomorrow will be the same. It is exhausting and it is sometimes brutal. But I have home. I always have home. It is where I seek refuge, solace and peace. Where I harbor the possessions that I hold dearest and closest to my heart, my pets, and my home becomes my salvation.

The days like today when I have been on my feet for over 12 hours, faced death, sad cases, miracles, possibilities, smiles and comfort from my clients who long ago transitioned into friends and people who challenge me over $10 for a nail trim they don't want to pay for, (for whatever ridiculous inane reason that I am unable to understand), preferring instead to spend a half hour of my demanding busy afternoon arguing. There are hard, long, often demanding days. There are days when being a vet isn't a source of pride it is a source of resentment, frustration, and pain.

To add insult to my injured sleep deprived self, I talked with a friend who balked at the idea that my education and work ethic get me to less than half of a six figured salary. He actually laughed at my paycheck. He makes seven figures, he works hard, he has 4 years of college, I have 12..there is sarcastic bitter comedic justice in this, except I have yet to find it.

When I got home last night I learned from Steve Dale's column that Dr. Yin had died a "sudden and unexpected death." She is a pillar of the foundation of the humane behavioral advances we veterinarians have made in the last 20 years. As soon as I read her reps addition to her Facebook page I knew her death had to be due to suicide. Without knowing her personally, I have been a long time fan of her work, and a follower of her blog. She is a veterinarian who I identify closely with. She was woman who through words, actions, blogs, stories, educating and endless tireless determination has helped pets she never met the world over live longer safer lives. She leaves behind a legacy with ripple effects far surpassing any of our lifetimes. Dr. Yin was a mentor an inspiration and a person I referred to often as I sought to educate and advise others.

On the day that Robbin Williams suicide news broke I was at a mentors Hall Of Fame induction party. She is a woman I have known for 25+ years. She has shaped the course of my life, has helped pick me up at my lowest most desperate moments and is now fighting for her own life against one of the most grave diagnoses possible. Her smile, her conviction and her determination were the antivenin to the despair of a superstar comic who always made us laugh. I was struck by the sudden tragic loss due to depression and desperate fleeing from a demon we could not see and the juxtaposition of the fight for yet one more day to live battling for every last moment of the fleeting days my friend has left to live with her 12 year old daughter. It is symbolic of the professional life I live. Always apposing forces and always unknown mysterious, fleeting, possible outcomes.

If you underestimate the plight of our profession take a spin down Google lane and search "highest suicide rate by profession." You will be provided with the frightening statistics of suicide being the highest in healthcare, among those veterinarians.

Why? Well, from the depths of my soul I will say that I believe it is due to the overwhelming stress we internalize, the pressures we feel powerless to resolve alone, and the pervasive garble we tout everyday in order to keep clients happy, not lay guilt or blame on their feet and the massive tragic decisions we are asked to execute daily. We are asked and expected to treat life as a gift if the checkbook and client are able and willing, and end a treatable healthy life if the whim of society deems it necessary. We also have all of the tools and an experts bag of experience in ending life quickly, quietly and permanently whether that be ours, or others.

I received a request from the AVMA a few weeks ago asking me to fill out a questionnaire to help assess and understand the stress and depression that has become a palpable undercurrent of hushed whimpers and obituaries. I didn't compete it. I don't feel that the intent is genuine and I don't believe that the answers come from above. I think the help and support comes from each other, from our families, our colleagues, and our community. It is a product of our profession fracturing from the pressures of being unrealistic with where our passions, our purpose, and our place in society. We are struggling to maintain a way of life we cannot afford, we are drowning in debt, we are losing ourselves, and seeking peace in the most tragic places.

I have written about compassion fatigue. I have lived it, and I continue to live it everyday. I understand the fragility of life. The circuitous maze that this profession and life present and I am grateful for the safe supportive net that I am able to fall into daily. I am a soldier among the army of a profession who needs help, who finds little, and who believes that salvation and peace lie at the end.

Me and Lorie Blog Paws 2013

Tonight I also learned of the death of Dr. Lorie Huston. She is the author and creator of the Pet Health Care Gazette. When I began blogging she was the benchmark. The person who proved to me that there was an audience and a need for help in the online community. She was another kind, bright light whose words are prolific and timeless. She helped when others closed doors, and she was a smiling beacon of what I always believed a vet was cast to be, she was a compassionate generous caring soul.

I miss you ladies, you were both a pillar of support an inspiration and the guide for many a pet parent the world over. You touched lives you never knew and you brought pride to a profession who struggles to find caring and compassion in the minutes of the routine drudgery of a hard demanding profession.

My blog on compassion fatigue can be found here.

My shoulder, my ear and my support for my fellow animal friends lie here, in these words, in my heart, and in the foundation of what we are about, we are about healing and helping. Email me, call me, find me, you are never alone and you are the oxygen of our patients, our clients and our calling.

For those of you who feel sad, alone, and afraid of the demons that haunt your soul please hear me. You are never alone, your life matters, and you make a difference. There are miracles we never understand but yet they exist and they happen, you just have to breath and believe, that's all. Keep breathing and keep believing.

(Authors note..this is fraught with gramatical mistakes, I am sure. I remain unable to change the tense from is,, to was,, in many cases. I am unable to proof read clearly, and I am, as many of us are, stuck in that place of accepting that a life has ended and there is now a "was" instead of a "she is..") 


  1. Thank you for this insight. I am at a loss about Dr. Yin's death, probably because there's more to the story than what we see in those pictures of her smiling brightly beside a dog.

    1. Hello Kari,
      I am also at a loss. It is so difficult to try to understand all of the factors that influence such a tragic decision, and I agree, the photos of her with her patients and her publicity photos are especially hard to try to comprehend. This bright smiling woman with so much to give, so much already given, looking so happy and fulfilled,,and yet we try to come to terms with an image that seems so...at peace.. There is no way to know, and no way to process this.. there is only trying to help others who surely share a need for a friend, a shoulder to lean on, and an illuminated path to a better road and better days ahead.
      Thanks for reading, and for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Wow, those last couple of sentences broke my heart. Bless you for doing what you do. It is often the hardest - both mentally and physically - jobs that pay the least, and it's so unfair and senseless. Being passionate about your job is not always easy, and it's incredibly clear to me that you love what you do - through good days and bad. I commend you for that. Love your always-inspiring blog <3

    1. Hello,
      Thanks for reading and leaving a note. I do love what I do and I am incredibly passionate about helping others take better care of their pets and themselves. After all, you can't have one without the other.
      Thanks again for visiting.