Friday, November 10, 2017

Is Suffering Really So Bad?

Preface: This is a blog about my experiences as a veterinarian and the professional dilemmas present, hence, it is titled as a "diary". This is not a one-off account and it is not intended to be proclamation of the state of the profession. If you are a pet parent and you pined over the passing of your pet to alleviate their suffering and you did so with love in your heart be at peace with that. For those within the profession who believe this doesn't apply to our day to day lives I hope it opens a productive conversation about who we are, what services we provide, and why there is such a divide between those with resources and hope and those without either. 

It wasn't too long ago that I was one of those many voices in the veterinary chorus.

"We treat our pets better than our own fellow man. We at least can deny them the long struggle and suffering to their death." It our professional credo that our pink syringe of stillness delivers mercy we deny our fellow man. The power, the glory and the compassion that a quick easy death brings was once my 'salvation lies in my arms' song.

It is a well known joke that the most sincere accolades given to our profession often reside with the provision of euthanasia.

Veterinarians, take pride in our merciful ability to provide an end to suffering. It is the one place where we are not bullied nor liable. The clients regale in our easy efficient willingness to provide it and it is the one safe place for a practitioner to practice.

Pride. Mercy. Suffering. They shouldn't be strung together in a cohesive sentence when compassion and healing are the thread that binds us to our professional oath.

I used to be that bold. That cocky. That drunk in my own delusional deliverance. I used to drink the proverbial, (not lost on my sarcasm), pink Kool-Aid with beaming pride.

Murray lived 1 year after his family brought him in to euthanize him
as he required a "diaper" for his bladder tumor incontinence.
I am a veterinarian, (with a few more decades under my belt), who has begun to question that the pervasive denial of struggling (or 'suffering' as we too willy-nilly coin it) has instead brought us to the place where life is cheap and death is easy. The pride in yielding either instantly is costing us our desire to face the struggles of life along with the acceptance that the marrow of living a full life with all of its deep, difficult, confounding troubles builds us to be who we weren't before.

Kittens dumped on the road,,
there are after all too many of them, and they can "fend for themselves."
The drive to and from work every day is exactly 22 minutes. I know this because my smart phone stalked me in my previous travels and knows what I am about do before I pull out of my 'park' position. It prompts me with push notifications to simplify my unconscious dependence upon it. Along the way I pass the local police station. Everyday the numeric tally of "overdoses" and "deaths"  creeps incrementally higher. It is the communities annual count up reminder in ticker tape tally form of local lives lost to the losing war on drugs. Overdoses have become our generations escape gone wrong to avoid the perils of daily life and the struggles it takes to get through. The lives behind those statistics often seek relief from suffering, escape from pain, boredom or anxiety. Drugs today are expansive and omnipresent in the big pharma saturated advertising society.* We can't settle to living in the middle of mediocre, and yet we deal the deadly wish for death when a struggle might be looming.

A treasured Murray moment.
In vet med we euthanize too much and too often. So much so that we can justify just about every conceivable scenario as a way to accept it. So much so that we HAVE TO OFFER IT AS A TREATMENT OPTION, a mandated, OPTION, to clients. If you are a practicing veterinarian you HAVE to tell people they can euthanize to TREAT their pets dilemma. It is so pervasive that I often find people who won't go to the vet for help because they FEAR WE WILL FORCE THEM TO EUTHANIZE. How did we get to the place where anyone feels they will be forced to kill their pet? Isn't that admission of fear enough to cause us to take pause as to the power we yield and the divide that exists?

I fear that we give up too often and now we have colleagues who build their whole career on providing that home catered "peaceful passage". The pervasive push for making everything easier has cost us our ability to feel the ends of the spectrum. Our kids are spared the edges where questions lie, the earth shifts beneath you, and the answers may not have a consolation prize, or a merit badge "just for trying." We give up so often that our profession has an alarming, suicide rate to prove it.

Now I am very well aware how much pride veterinarians take in being so compassionate to end the suffering of our beloved pets. (After all it is the place where you all love us the most). We are without question a big part of the "avoid the responsibility" problem. We, far too often, place the option to end 'suffering', (even when it is not 'suffering' by any stretch of any medically based imagination), to every single ailment imaginable. Parasites, infection, half-baked guesses of cancer, the homeless, the elderly, the sick and too young, the overwhelmed and too many to account for... the list includes every conceivable reason making a problem go away. Death, euthanasia, makes it all go away quick, cheap, and easy. We can call it suffering, but it has been too often my experience that we don't try. We don't want to be inconvenienced, and we don't want to invest in a potentially losing proposition. It is after all, cheaper, easier, quicker, and legal to do so. If our clients can't/won't/don't want to we can offer a "peaceful passage" and in some odd twist of humanity, be hero's for it. (No wonder we are confused about who we are and where we stand anymore?).

Life, death, and every trudging crippling, staggering step along the way can be brutal. Heartbreaking, mind numbing, fall to your knees in hopes the rain will cease to drive you into a shallow grave, hard. It can be unfair, unkind, and unyielding. Isn't that what we are supposed to teach our kids? Remind them to not feign from? And yet, why, WHY?, do we so malevolently permit it so eagerly when we acquiesce to providing death to so many?

Bottle baby from a feral colony.
We cannot have it both ways. The victim to a heartless hard society where drugs luring escape is so intoxicating we need a public billboard to be updated daily as the head count rises AND the compassionate society that bears peace via pink syringe to remove your responsibility to the life you don't want to face any longer. We give up too often because it is easier, cheaper, and we want people to like us. Worse yet, we do it to make our (the vets who need payment upon services rendered) don't/can't/won't try to make a life matter more. We all matter more. The beauty lies just as richly and deeply in the struggling/suffering and the despair as it does in the joy of sunny days and puppy breathe. If we deny the end of the difficult spectrum we cheat ourselves and others from understanding that they can get through it. To deny anyone any chance at hope that there is more to life than the quick and easy and chose to surrender to deny the edges is the true worst side of this society.

1. Nine Reasons People Use Drugs. The Jennifer Act.

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