Friday, October 23, 2015

Celebrating a Decade. My first ten years in practice.

Joey and me,, selfie time.

I have grown to realize that it is important to celebrate the milestones in ones own life. It is an opportunity to take a peek down Memory Lane and appreciate all of those little steps it took to accumulate a path that lead to where your are. How often do we forget to enjoy the journey on the way to the destination? None of us do it enough. We get so caught up in the plowing forward, making it through the day, that we forget to reflect on how we got here and take joy in the being.

Some call it "taking a moment to stop and smell the roses." I need to remind myself to take more time and smell more flowers. The one true gift of living a veterinarians life is that we see lives pass in short tragic snippets. A one year old pup dies before your eyes of the most devastating quickly enveloping cancer known. One minute they are in your hospital being spayed, 6 months later they die within 3 weeks of a small bump that everyone hoped, and banked on likely being nothing more than a bug bite. After all, one year olds don't die of cancer? Do they? Yes, sadly they do.

Life isn't fair. It is fleeting, precious and short. It shimmers in the tiny moments you learn to stop and be grateful for.

This is Joey. He visited yesterday for his annual examination. It is the ninth he has had with me. Joey and I first met 10 years ago when his mom waddled into the clinic with his worried human grandparents in tow. Joey's mom, Sally, was very, very pregnant, but still true to the Labrador that she was, as happy as ever to to see us. Her human parents had done the best they could to prepare themselves, but when moment of delivery arrived they decided to leave it to the vet experts. Little did anyone know I was a far cry from anything considered a "veterinary expert". I was a brand new vet. I remember looking at Sally. Sally remained calm, grinning, and thankfully not asking for my references. I was just as you would expect;, nervous, excited, and desperately trying to recall every nugget of information I had stuffed into my brain those 4 years of vet school. Maybe Sally knew what I didn't? Maybe she sensed that I was going to do everything I could to take good care of her and her tiny baby specks safely snuggling inside her belly? Maybe she believed me when I told myself quietly that what I lacked in experience I sincerely made up for in ambition. In true professional manner I kept my fear and  insecurity to myself. Sally's first stop when she bobbed into the clinic was a preg check radiograph. Vet school teaches us to take a belly x-ray so we can count the babies. We are told to count the number of spines and the number of skulls as a way to double check the babies (they should both be the same number). But Sally's radiograph was a spaghetti storm of spines and backbones.. Sally's bloated belly had so many babies in it that we all took turns with our counts. Our best guess was "more than 10? We think?" (So much for imbibing professional confidence. Seems I can't even count? Sigh...)

That afternoon Sally and I delivered her 12 round wiggly furballed puppies. The pups ranged from chocolate, to golden yellow, and black. She had every lab color allowed. Thankfully, they were each perfect bundles of smooshed faces, paddled paws and cooing adorableness. 

C-sections are one of those places where a vet gets lost in the process of being immersed in a belly of new life. It is also undeniably one of the happiest occasions in a vet clinic. Christmas Village comes alive with helpers swaddling, rocking, rubbing, aspirating, and assessing newborns. The experienced technicians train the new technicians on how to stimulate breathing, tie off umbilical cords, warm lifeless bodies to elicit that miraculous first cry of "hello new world, I'm here!". It is not something we do daily at my practice, but is something that reminds us all that we have a strong maternal tug that science has yet to pinpoint and market in a bottle.

Joey was one of those 12 babies. I was the first face he saw. 

It has been a decade since I joined Jarrettsville Vet. A decade I have spent with thousands of other families. It is a gift that the general practitioner covets. What I lack in credentialed specialty fees of one time patients seeking surgery, echocardiograms, oncology, etc., I make up for in scrapbooks of the passing years. The beauty of adding a patina to the richness that only passing time and tender moments together brings.

Joey and I have been together through every puppy vaccine. The ace bandage that plugged up his intestines requiring his first abdominal exploratory surgery at the ripe age 4 months. His neuter at 6 months old. His next obstructive scare; the pot holder that smelled so good it needed to be eaten at 8 months old. The allergic reactions to some unknown instigator(s) and offender(s). The cruciate repair I did at age 3, which  was also the same year he had his second foreign body removal in his intestines (we never did figure out what that pile of stuff was?). After age 4 Joey was a less frequent visitor, (thanks to the gods his parents prayed to repeatedly). Like many Labs he sort of outgrew his dangerous habits. A few visits for diarrhea, anal sacs, and lumps and bumps sporadically over ages 5-9. Then today, at his 10 year visit it is time to remove a broken tooth. All of those years of lacrosse ball fetching has caused a fractured a molar. So next week our relationship moves into the oral cavity. Our first dental together. The crowing achievement to a lifetime of care and time together. 

Seems I am not doing too bad? A decade with Joey is a fairly accurate list of my veterinary resume that now includes lots of surgeries, vaccines, behavior consults, and a few harrowing moments about just how many times we can easily peek in a belly and incise into the intestines. It is a story of becoming the vet I studied so hard to become. He and I are greying muzzles and appreciation for all that got us here. Like most relationships we are at the place where we know each other and our love runs deep in spite of the many obstacles we faced along the way.

I will see Joey on Tuesday for his first dental and extraction. I know he will wag his tail and run to see me, just  as old friends do.. and I will tell him how lucky I am to know him, take his broken tooth out (worrying about him the entire time, just as I do all of my patients), and when he wakes up I will add another chapter to our book and remind him that I am expecting another decade together.

Here's to hoping that you take a moment to cherish the friends who you share your journey with. Please take time to tell them how much richer they make your life, and make time to celebrate the milestones along the way.

See you Tuesday Joey!

I would love to hear about your experiences! If you have a vet who is a part of your family please share what makes them so special, and how they helped to care for your pets.

If you have a pet related question please visit me on Pawbly is a free platform open to anyone who cares about animals. We welcome your questions, advice to others, and helping to build a place where animal care is shared open and freely.

If you would like to learn more about my life as a veterinarian you can follow me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice, on Facebook, or on YouTube.


  1. So amazed it could be that long ago that you were walking the hallways of the VMRCVM. You made an immediate impression on this humble technician. Seeing your devotion to your patients while in ICU or just calming clients as they arrived with their furbabies on the internal medicine service, I'll never forget your compassion and grace. You always had what it takes to be not just a veterinarian but one of the many ones with that something extra that allowed you to connect with those that put their pets in your care. What a wonderful example you have become to others that aspire to become a vet.Cheers for all your success and all those you are continuing to connect and reach across the world with your writing skills. Sharing ones passion and expertise is one of the biggest gifts you can give. Here's to you Dr. Magnifico!

  2. Thank you for the post! That is definitely quite a milestone and truly an endearing story to read about your patient. I can relate to this completely! Ive been bringing my dog Midnight to the same vet for six years. They have a great bond together! I wouldn't trust anyone else with Midnight besides Dr. Lee.

  3. This is a very endearing post to read. It is very important to have a close relationship with your vet for your animal will feel more comfortable and at ease when going in for a check up.