By Dr. Abby Whiting, cyberbully survivor
Recent events in our on line and globalized community have given me some food for thought. As many already know there was a case of a sick animal in St. Louis Missouri that resulted in some misinformation, cyberbullying, and threats of violence against particular veterinarians and their staff. I work at the targeted clinic and I was in the thick of it. This was the second time cyberbullies have hit me straight in the gut. I cannot thank NOMV enough for the support and resources provided to me and the staff.
Until you yourself have lived through a true cyberbullying attack or siege on your business, you cannot possibly fully comprehend the emotional damage and cost to the practice. As a profession that has a higher than usual rate of suicide, stress, anxiety, depression etc this needs to concern us, all of us. We are a group of compassionate givers, people who give their entire lives for the betterment of humans and their animals. To have such bile and hatred directed at us, shakes us to the core. It can write on the slate of innocent souls and change who we are, how we practice, and how we interact with the world. It can and has contributed to suicides in our profession.
This is not the only time cyberbullies have targeted veterinary medicine, and it will not be the last…but this time something was different. This time I suspect we as a community of veterinarians are somehow different, stronger, more committed to each other and our futures than ever before.
As a result of the unfortunate set of circumstances I saw veterinarians from all around the globe stand together in unity. I saw cards of support and on line words of wisdom from the US, Great Britain, Germany, South Africa, Australia, Canada and more. I saw a small community of local veterinarians band together in complete solidarity: the “We are ALLONE” motto came to life before my eyes. These practices pooled resources, and spoke in a single voice. There was no me, it was WE. The staff at the affected practices banded together and with woven arms held each other up. Outreach from across the world poured in, almost as though all veterinarians knew something powerful was about to happen. I saw, I heard, I felt all of us declare our worthiness.
For the first time in cyberbullying history an organization in veterinary medicine stood up and spoke. They spoke in a single clear loud voice. They spoke with love, compassion, and truth. It was such an honor to see us stand up to the emotional renegades. The Missouri Veterinary Medical Association laid the ground work for development of more resources for cyberbullying attacks. They were brave enough to speak. Years from now when we look at cases of cyberbullying we will refer to the MVMA’s statement this February. Their words and their courage are a catalyst for positive change in our profession. Through all of this I have seen new leaders take shape, and I can tell you the future is bright! We are no longer afraid. These bullies will not control us through fear and emotional extortion.
Statement from the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association:
“The MVMA has reviewed the facts of the recent events in the St. Louis area involving Veterinary Specialty Services and St. Louis Animal Control. We have spoken to the parties involved, and with many of you, our members.
The laws of the state of Missouri, the county of St. Louis, and the Missouri Veterinary Practice Act were all followed. We stand behind the actions of the veterinarians and veterinary team members involved and will continue to support them.
We condemn the social media cyberbullying and backlash that has and continues, to take place.
MVMA supports our veterinarians and veterinary teams, and their important role. They give their hearts and their expertise in service to the public every day.
If you have questions or concerns on this matter, you may email them to email@example.com. Veterinarians and team members: we encourage you to visit the AVMA’s Cyberbullying Toolkit for resources. Again, know that the MVMA supports you. “
When I saw the collection of cards and supportive letters and gifts I cried, but when I read the MVMA statement I cried again. I am so excited for our profession. I am beyond grateful to be a part of a state VMA with this level of commitment and grace. We are stronger together !
I want to share a great story... recently at the Missouri VMA annual meeting we offered a QPR class. 31 brave individuals got QPR ( Question, Persuade, Refer) certified to help identify and intervene in order to aid in suicide prevention. I'm honored to be a part of a state VMA who is so progressive. A 2016 study of all state VMA executive boards indicated only 37% of them were aware mental wellness and suicide was a problem in the profession.
In class there was a retired veterinarian sitting quietly in the back...during our small group role play practice the QPR instructor, a NOMV native!, Noticed he was struggling. She intervened...to find out his wife had committed suicide 2 years ago to the day. Since that time he noted he has really been lost and alone. When I say she saved a life in the lecture...she did. She helped him exchange numbers with her and another recently retired vet and made him commit to calling them and allowing her to help him get into therapy for himself. It was powerful...it was inspired. I see these little touch points of light in our community every day. Checking in on a friend or colleague, a quick text, a message from a stranger on line…reigniting the tiny spark of light chases out the darkness.
NOMV Nation you are changing our profession for the better.
If you are not yet QPR Certified it is free for AVMA members on line.
Thank you Dr. Marcy Hammerle for being g a QPR Gatekeeper.
Abby Whiting, DVM
A few years ago I was getting ready to graduate from veterinary school, a lifelong dream about to be reality! I was in what I thought was a soul mate/partnership relationship….it should have been the happiest time of my life…but life has a funny way of sending challenges and obstacles our way when we least expect it.
I excitedly moved home from vet school just days before graduation. I started my new job, with eager anticipation. I also started working towards “the life we were building”. Finally all that I had sacrificed for was coming….or not.
Within hours of moving home I was informed my spouse was cheating and madly in love with the other. To say this was devastating doesn’t really do the emotion justice. Divorce is something so hard and so powerfully emotional that until you have gone through it, it is genuinely difficult to really understand. Boom my world was shattered. I was struggling just to make it breath to breath. My anxiety and depression took on new meaning.
Here I was the girl trying to pretend she had it all figured out….trying to pretend at a new job that I could in fact be “the doctor”. I was trying to be “strong” in front of family and friends who had gathered for my graduation parties. But inside I was completely demolished. There were days when I couldn’t stop crying. There were days when my anger ruled every moment. There were days I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
I am a very lucky and blessed person…I had many guardian angels at this time. I had friends who showed up late at night with cupcakes and beer and just sat with me so I wasn’t alone. I had family who knew better than to ask if I was ok. I also had this new little spirit enter my life….”Piglet”.
I was a volunteer foster for a canine rescue group that frequently rescued puppy mill retired breeders…and since my life was in shambles I figured at least I could help a tiny creature…but little did I know she was sent to save me.
“Piglet”, then named “Iris”, arrived a hot mess. I picked her up from a kind USDA officer who had removed her from the breeding operation. She was honestly a parasite transport vehicle. She had fleas, ticks, ear mites, whipworms, giardia, coccidia, and hookworms. She had cystitis, mastitis (which had broken open and was draining), she was dripping milk (and who knows what happened to her pups(, she had ear infection, and she was poorly nourished. She was also albino. The first few times I touched or handled her, she panicked…human touch was so foreign to her.
But rapidly as she got healthier I began to see that she was sent to me for a purpose. This was meant to be. She was a teacher of joy. This little creature started each day eager and happy…truly happy. She explored the yard, the vet clinic, the couch with eager anticipation and true joy. She became the light that led me from the darkness I was submerged in. People who met her realized she was joy materialized. If this tiny creature who had never known kindness or health could rehab herself…so could I.
Many a night she spent lying on my chest snuggling. Many a day she spent wagging her bob tail and demonstrating for me that there is joy in every moment, if we can only look for it. She became my greatest teacher in joyfulness, gratitude, and living in the moment.
I am not sure if I would have been in real physical danger without her, but I suspect I was pretty close. I feel firmly she was sent by the Universe to rescue me. I look at her every morning and see her joy; it reminds me constantly that happiness is the gathering of little joyful moments. It’s not a lifestyle; it’s a choice about how I interact with the world. A choice about how I influence my own perspective. A choice in the moment. I know my heart break, depression, and anxiety prevented me from feeling joy: it robbed me of the opportunity to be present in a moment and feel anything but despair. But Piggy showed me, slowly, repeatedly. She is my angel in dog clothing.
Many times when I am feeling down: I like to try to approach life like Piglet does. Had a bad experience at work? A loss maybe, or an emotional client? Or maybe someone was rude? I go into the next exam room and sit being immersed for a millisecond in the new pet’s tail wag, or fluffy fur coat, or bright eyes. It brings me back to focusing on the joy instead of always on the negative. I have been Piglet’s apprentice and she my mentor.
by: An anonymous husband of a veterinarian
I write this to the public, to every single person living in the US. Please thank a veterinarian.
A few years ago I had no idea the many critical and crucial services that vets offer to each and every American…and then I met my wife. She has educated me and in turn I strive to educate others.
You see my wife does not pet puppies and kittens all day, in fact far from it. My wife, like thousands of other vets, is a hard working scientist. In addition to keeping the pet population healthy, veterinarians are responsible for biosecurity in this country (and abroad), food safety, research and development of medications, medical devices, medical implants, and medical monitoring equipment for HUMANS and animals. Without the tireless work of veterinarians, many of whom are not being paid during the government shut down; we would not enjoy access to clean water, healthy safe food, safe medicine, etc.
There are veterinarians right now ensuring the food on the grocery shelf is safe and wholesome. Have you ever thought about that? Have you thought about how the glass of milk you are holding (even if its almond milk) was made safe by a veterinarian? Have you considered the lifesaving medication you take was developed and safety tested first by veterinarians? Do you know that bio security provides not only food safety, and protects us humans from contagious disease, but it keeps our economy open for global trade and profit? Have you ever thought about the veterinarians deployed overseas that provide for our national security? Do you know right now an unscrupulous pharmaceutical developer is trying to get an untested unproven medication cleared for sale ….and will get stopped by the FDA, some of whom are veterinarians?
Somewhere in the US a baby is being placed under anesthesia, safely…he or she will have a procedure or treatment developed and tested first by a veterinarian. The supplements you take, the vaccine that kept you from getting small pox or measles…Think about the number of times that access to quality human medical treatment has impacted and lengthened your own life. My father in law needed a new heart valve: he would have died without it. The surgery that saved his life was first developed by a vet. The artificial heart valve he now has keeping his heart beating…it was tested and cleared by the FDA for use in people: 2 of the FDA reviewers on the team were veterinarians.
My wife and her colleagues don’t so this work for the thanks and the accolades, but surely they deserve some recognition. In this time of uncertainty I find myself grateful that they continue their mission. I don’t know how to help, so I wrote this hoping to educate a few people about the common misconceptions of being just an animal doctor.
Abby Whiting, DVM
A few years ago I had the pleasure of helping the Sisters of Carmalite monastery care for their beloved cat, “Saint”. Now I am not exactly a religious person, and certainly not let’s say the ideal parishioner…but I have so much love and admiration for these nuns.
“Saint” was a young neutered male indoor/outdoor cat who inhabited the rectory and provided companionship and comic relief to the sisters as well keeping the mole population out of their garden. For those who may not know, the Carmalite nuns are a sect of Catholic nuns with a vow of poverty and an absolute commitment and conviction to God and service of his people. These amazing women grow their own food, make their own robes, and live a truly inspired life.
One afternoon “Saint” was brought in not feeling well: because Saint’s care is not usually an expense they had planned on, finances were limited. I treated him conservatively and sent him home with my phone number. The following day, a call from Sister Maccaletta: Saint was worse. I met them at the clinic and sure enough he was a very sick cat…I felt pulled to help this cat. I quickly arranged with the practice that I should donate his care to them…and they agreed! I started treatment for Saint’s tulermia right away. I am grateful to tell you that with faith, the healing presence of modern medicine, and true love Saint made a full recovery.
I went on to see Saint twice a year for his annual wellness check ups and to talk with the Sisters. They included me in their weekly prayers as a thank you. For reasons I cannot exactly explain I have felt a sense of connection to these nuns and their cat that goes beyond what I can comprehend. I left that practice and started working emergency only and suspected I had seen the last of the Sisters but knew the practice would continue to care for Saint.
Fast forward a year: I had not seen them since their last wellness visit. I was working a busy ER day shift and facing a number of challenges: including a difficult euthanasia and some complicated medical cases. The day was by no means “smooth”. …let’s call it what it is…I was having the kind of day where you feel like your rear end is getting kicked in a can. In addition to a tough work day, I was feeling lonely and health problems among my family had me worried.
I sat down at the doctor’s desk next to another ER vet and said, “I sure could use something good to happen about now!” To which she laughed and said “If only it worked that way”. Yeah I thought , if only. Ten minutes later the front desk had a phone message for me…from a friend.
The message was from Sister Maccaletta asking me to call the convent. Uh oh I thought 1). What’s wrong with Saint!? 2). How did these ladies find me? I called the number and waited for Sister to pick up. The warmest “Oh Hello, Doctor!” greeted me. She went to tell me Saint was doing well but that during her daily prayers today she had felt compelled to talk to me and offer support to me if I needed. She said she was so strongly moved she requested to look me up on the internet and her supervisor allowed it!
My heart literally danced with joy. It was exactly what my spirit needed. I was instantly feeling better, not overwhelmed by my job, my cases, or life…I was feeling loved. We talked and I told her how much her call meant to me. The following day she dropped off home made raisin bread for me for the Holidays along with the most beautiful prayer for peace in my heart.
The reason I share this story here: is I realized that the Universe will send us what we need if we can open our hearts to receiving it. I cannot explain what made her think of me, or call me…but it feels an awful lot like a guardian angel’s hug. It restored my faith in humanity, in grace, and in my journey to provide care to people and their animals. To pay it forward, pay it back I did a few gratefulness exercises and I encourage you to do the same. 1). I sent a care package of cat food and treats to Saint. 2). I sent a bottle of her favorite wine to the DVM who graciously did my dog’s dental… which was a complete overhaul . 3). I stopped a few technicians at work: those I do not know very well, and told them something they do better than anybody.
Dr. Abby Whiting
As a type A : addicted over achiever, never say no, sure I can help you do that person…I struggle sometimes with self care and boundaries. Perhaps this is a common flaw amongst the veterinary community? Perhaps we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and therefore on each other?
When I was in veterinary school I was let’s say, financially challenged. I was all on my own and proud to be that way…but all my expenses were my expenses. When I saw my classmates head out for vacation I told myself, when I can afford it I’ll go. Then I graduated and started the “real world”…and my loan payments kicked in…as did life. Again I thought I can’t afford vacation so I’ll take time off when I can afford it.
Time went on…I worked hard…I started to feel burn out heading my way. But again, I couldn’t afford to slow down. I worked at a busy very successful practice, headed up by hard working folks who had sacrificed decades to build the business. These were folks who never took vacation until retirement…they expected me to do the same. “Make hay while the sun is shining” was the motto. And for a time I was easily persuaded that this makes sense, after all I was raised by a baby boomer who worked 60 hours a week my entire childhood. …but there in the distance was burn out. I started to feel my give a damn getting fractured, stress fractured.
About that time in my life I became increasingly curious about the top 2%, the far right of any bell curve…those who are really successful, at, well anything. What sets them apart? What is it that makes them better than average? Its multi factorial for sure…but one thing they had on me….recharging the batteries.
Statistically on average Americans take less vacation than other cultures in the developed world…and in truth veterinarians are top offenders in not even taking their allotted vacation time.
NOMV ran a poll of its members inquiring how much vacation time is was taken last year:
28% of respondents took 2 weeks’ time off (total for the year)
19% 3 weeks, 9% had 4 weeks
30% had 1 week or LESS
And 5 % had no time off at all.
And I for one completely understand: not only is there financial pressure, but there’s pressure from clients and managers who struggle to cover the missing veterinarian…all adding stress to the people pleasing over achiever. There can be all kinds of guilt imposed on us when we ask for vacation time. Recently on the chat page I saw a post from a young vet who was a little anxious as her boss was forcing her to take a day off…a zebra in our world.
What I came to know through my research, intensive life coach sessions, and personal experience….is it’s a financial drain and business drain on the practice NOT to take vacation.
Here’s a few things I know for sure:
1). I am a far better veterinarian, employee, leader, team mate, sister, aunt, pet owner, and human when I am rested and recharged. I am better at diagnostics, I am better at client care…and I know my patients do better when they get me at my best. My mental health and wellbeing is better…my bosses, my co workers, my family, my patients deserve the best…not the left overs. For me to be my best sometimes I need to unplug …and I am not ashamed to say it.
I have met many vets who live in fear of their clients finding out they are on vacation, for fear they will surmise the clients paid for some exotic and fancy vacation trip… I tell my clients: I’ll be out of the office next week, Dr. A will be touching base with you about Fluffy. I need to recharge my batteries so I can continue to provide the best medical care. My physician isn’t afraid to take a vacation, or my dentist. Why should I be ashamed of caring for myself…and in a profession that is struggling with wellness I should set an example by walking the walk.
2). I can’t afford it. Well this may be true on some level, the human psyche has a magical way of moving the goal post. Each goal I set for myself: like I’ll be ok once I have 2 months expenses in the bank as a “pad”. …well 2 months isn’t much…I’ll be better when I pay this bill off…or when I have X.00$ in the bank…then like clockwork I move the goal post farther out.
In a great conversation with my life coach I came to realize for me: no amount of money in the bank would make me feel safe. I have genuine worry about money. So the “I can’t afford it” was deemed…well a myth.
In fact looking at the reality of continued work as a half busted, burnt out person…the fact is I would have been less productive, less accurate, less trustworthy, and less profitable. In many ways we cannot afford to NOT take a break.
So in light of my newly learned truths about vacation…I started to take my time off…and I did it without spending a lot of money. First a stay cation can be great! I also visited national parks, crashed on friends’ couches, and rented places with groups of friends to defer cost. We cooked dinner in, and enjoyed each other. I set a budget and stuck to it. And when I return I promise I am more of me then when I left.
So…join me in the revolution of taking time off…take your regularly scheduled days off, schedule vacation…and then really take it…no client interactions, no scientific research or case reading….really unplug from professional life and plug back into you, your spirit, your family, your true self. I promise your patients will appreciate it…and together we can set a healthier example for our newer professionals.
Abby Whiting, DVM: VLE Epsilon class
I imagine when you’re asked what the best piece of advice you have ever received is…the answer is strikingly different for each of us. For me it instantly transports me back in time to my VLE experience.
The advice I will never forget, that which has changed my life, my outlook, my mission….came from Dr. Rick DeBowes of Washington State university. Dr. DeBowes is a self proclaimed “equine plumber” (aka a brilliant surgeon) but he is also a philosopher, a teacher, a mentor, a coach, and a servant leader.
I was a second year veterinary student, and a second career student at that. To say that I didn’t exactly fit into the class would be an understatement. I was older, I had previously had a career, and I was as far on the introverted scale as the Meyers Briggs is capable of. But: I loved vet medicine and I had a burning in my soul for a greater purpose. At the time I had no idea what Servant Leadership was, or that it would completely re architect my journey.
I was one of 2 vet students at MU chosen to attend VLE Epsilon class. It was held in Idaho at a gorgeous retreat. Like I said before...I was an outcast…a stage 5 introvert who did not belong with the others in the VLE class. I travelled to Idaho with a serious case of the “what am I doing here?” in my head. Upon arrival I hid in my room as most truly gifted introverts do. The next Am I would have to face them: the brilliant, young, social, got their lives figured out superstars I was to be in retreat with…sigh…
I forced a smile and walked myself into the breakfast area, tried to say hello and polished my strongest mask of “I belong here”…but I was terrified. We loaded onto buses for the journey to camp…and I was glad to sit quietly and watch the gorgeous scenery pass. The buss came to a stop and folks disembarked…and then it happened.
I stepped off the bus and ran nearly straight into Dr. Rick DeBowes: Picture it if you will: He was standing in 35’F in a t shirt and shorts with the greatest, warmest smile on his face and he bellowed to me “Choose happy!”. In that moment time stopped…it felt like I was slapped in the face by a 2 x 4. It was a watershed moment…something Oprah fans call the “Ah Ha!”. That moment changed me forever. It wrote on the slate of my soul. I am not exactly proud to tell you that at 37 I had not yet realized or even considered that some aspects of happy are a choice, until that moment. I had never comprehended: that baring a mental or emotional illness that prevents us from engaging in joy…happy is overall partially our choice and therefore under our control.
That one statement changed the course of my journey. I am beyond grateful for his message and for the opportunity to be at VLE and begin my journey into servant leadership. I was meant to be there and meant for my heart to be open to the message.
Now I consider my many blessings each day and I practice joy. Collecting joyful moments and learning to be present in them waters down the hardship and strife. It trains our brains to make more positive neuronal connections and to see more joy…it helps us practice HAPPY. Anyone who reads my stuff knows I am a huge believer in the 10,000 hour rule: ie practice makes perfect. And as far as I can see, practicing joy and happy, makes me more happy.
This transition didn’t happen overnight. Certainly not. I spent a long time as a disengaged, angry, and bitter, down trodden introvert. Only after applying self-discipline, practicing my gratitude exercises and slowing down; to be present in the moment, did I start to feel happy. My burn out and Compassion fatigue went into remission.
Even now when I feel myself slipping into compassion or decision fatigue…and trust me it happens. I go back to basics. I stop and name out loud and in writing 3 things I am grateful for. I look around and name 3 things that are beautiful in that moment and I write a thank you / send a care package to a dear friend who I cherish.
Today I am grateful for : 1). This Community of veterinarians who together are stronger than we are alone. 2). I have the goofiest dog in the world. 3). I just got the best gift, a heated winter coat!
In this moment : 1). The crisp cool fall air. 2). The owl screeching outside my window. 3). The service dog napping at my feet are truly beautiful and fill me with little bits of joy.
I challenge all of us to “Choose Happy” a little each day.
Join us weekly in naming what you are most grateful for
Join me now in sharing the best piece of advice you ever got!
I am a hard working veterinarian who sometimes gets lost in my debt load, my clients’ emotions, and my own sense of self-doubt. Needless to say, sometimes I struggle. I am grateful to the community of veterinarians called Not One More Vet, as we together pledge to support each other and bring the risk of suicide down across the profession. I was introduced to this group more than 2 years ago…not knowing at the time I was being directed or guided for a bigger reason than managing my own worries and insecurities. I joined, and I loved it…I got true value out of my interactions here, and I saw true hidden suffering amongst my colleagues. Because of NOMV I got QPR certified (Question, Persuade, and Refer): training to help guide someone who is, or may be suicidal, to the support and resources they need to survive.
During the training I learned what to say, when to say it, when to intervene, when to trust that nagging little voice in my head that someone isn’t ok despite their claims of being ‘fine”. I was empowered to start a conversation I had for so long been afraid to broach. It made me feel like I could actually help maybe. …and then the real reason I was drawn to get trained presented itself a few months later.
I am notoriously a quiet person; I prefer to email or text over phone chat or face time. When I am occupied with work or at home projects it’s a general rule I don’t answer the phone…I will return the call…but I never drop what I am doing to talk on the phone. It was a glorious summer day and I was painting my deck, a project I had ignored for far too long. Dressed in my messiest paint clothes, hands covered in wet paint, I heard from the house the sound of the phone ring. My first instinct is, yeah like I’m going to answer now with paint everywhere. But then something I honestly cannot describe happened. I felt a huge urge, a pull from within my belly to grab the phone. It was magnetic and I couldn’t resist. I opened the kitchen door, got paint on the door frame, the table and the phone and picked it up to say hello. On the other end there was a pause and then a quiet sob…it was a colleague and they were in trouble. Instantly my training kicked my brain into question mode: “are you thinking of hurting yourself” I pleaded. “I already did”, came from the phone.
Now I am not a crisis counselor, I have no real training or knowledge of managing situations like this…but here I stood. The universe was using me as a tool to send a rope, a lifeline, to a fellow vet. Because of my QPR training I hopped into action…and only now in writing this do I realize how many tiny messages were left for me by something greater to use to help.
Step one was to keep them talking and try to determine what exactly has occurred…ingestion of something perhaps? Then I had to get them professional help, and I was a thousand miles away. In my desperation I grabbed the work phone and dialed 911. I explained to my local operator that a friend was in trouble and needed ER services now…but they were 1000 miles away…I asked could they connect us to a local 911 operator? Well no…crap… Meanwhile I remembered a card I had gotten years ago from the family of my friend…and on it was a phone number. Why did I save this card…a simple thank you card? I honestly didn’t know until I sat to write this blog. I grabbed the other phone and dialed the number…a family member locally …voicemail…crap! I left a message and then it hit me again…the magnetic pull of what to do next. I continued to try to talk to my friend on one phone...I jumped onto the computer and searched for the highway patrol direct line in their community. Got it! Dialed it and told the operator my situation …she immediately called an officer to race to the address with an ambulance. The officer took my number and said he would call upon arrival. Then my friend told me goodbye and hung up the phone despite my protests and pleads.
The other line then rang: the family member had gotten the message and had called a nearby neighbor to run to the house right away. Time seemed to tick on forever. It was like in a science fiction movie where everything slowed down and it took eons for a second to pass. Then my line rang again: the officer: no answer on the door bell he was breaking in and he would call again once he had information. Crap, more waiting. I could hear my heart beating and see my pulse in my retinas.
He called again, friend was alive but in trouble. The ambulance was there and they were headed to the hospital. Now you’d think relief would have washed over me…but somehow I was calm through the thick of it, and now I was shaking uncontrollably, and couldn’t settle down.
The family called me a few hours later, friend was alive…and at that moment angry…with me. I was at first sad as I thought the friendship was now surely over. Overwhelmed with emotions I turned to my friends at NOMV. One of the admins was another angel delivering yet another message to me from a bigger place: She said “Better alive and mad as hell, then dead”. She was right on, and I needed to hear that.
Since that time I am filled with joy to see my friend thriving. We are closer than ever. The moral of my story here is 2 fold: 1). Get QPR training: its free for AVMA members and it really empowers you to help. 2). you never know when a small reach out, or simple text message check in may be the spark of light that guides someone else out of the darkness. We need to ask each other how we are, and be honest about it. We need to remember even amongst our busiest days to check in on coworkers, friends, and family. We are far stronger together.
By Dr. Ivy Barnhart
I was washing the dishes today and I took a moment to appreciate a message on one of my coffee cups.
“Rush not. Be still. It takes the time that it takes.”
A client gave me this cup, with a box of chamomile tea. She had brought her dog in for his annual exam a few days prior, and she asked me how I was doing. We had somewhat of a relationship outside of work in that I had taken a summer season of piano lessons from her a couple year prior. Of course, the typical response to the question, “How are you doing?” is something with a positive tone and then the question reciprocated, and as I smiled and took a breath to answer, that’s almost what came out. But I really hadn’t been doing all that well recently, and something about her tone and eye contact suggested to me that maybe I could answer honestly. I told her that, actually, I wasn’t doing great. I had been struggling recently with the loss of a patient, and subsequent fallout on social media, where the owner placed the blame on me for the patient’s death. It was a small town, and word traveled fast. I asked if she’d seen any posts about it and she said she hadn't. Of course, I didn’t offer any details, and she didn’t ask. She told me that she thought I was a wonderful vet, and that she was going to miss me because she was planning on moving away from the area. She told me that everything would be OK, that I was going to be OK, and that people who know me, know that I’m a good person and a caring and conscientious veterinarian. A few days later, she dropped off a gift bag with the cup, and the tea, and a really lovely card.
At the time, I was struggling with intrusive thoughts of self-harm and suicide. These thoughts were frightening and made me feel anxious and sad. Fortunately, I was able to talk about them with a wise friend who helped me see that I wasn’t having these thoughts because I wanted to die, but because I was extremely stressed and dealing with intense emotions surrounding a situation that was truly horrific. Maybe these intrusive thoughts were my way of escaping the situation, my subconscious mind saying, “This is really really hard and I want it to stop.” The intrusive thoughts were an escape mechanism, a short-circuit that actually accomplished the goal of changing the conversation in my head.
Eventually, things got better. The owner of the pet that died (new client, new patient, of course; someone who just dropped off her healthy dog for an elective surgery and had to come a few hours later to collect a dead dog) came to the clinic a few days later and we had a long conversation about what happened (closed pop-off valve during surgery prep, inexperienced anesthesia technician). The owner’s pain was raw and intense, and at first, she really wanted to see me as a negligent and uncaring. Fortunately, I was able to be completely honest and vulnerable with her without becoming defensive. I showed her the anesthesia machine, told her about the new safety valves that we’d ordered to prevent this from ever happening again, and expressed my heartfelt condolences. After we spoke, she actually gave me a hug and assured me that we were both going to get through this.
Things got better, and that was probably (hopefully) the worst thing that I’ll ever have to deal with professionally. There have been ups and downs, other social media storms that I have tended to emotionally overreact to because if this experience. A year ago, I moved away from that small town, where I started my career and raised my daughter. Moving away and leaving my home and family and community has been really hard. Additionally, my daughter moved out of our home and is starting her own life in another state. These transitions are difficult. Dealing with change is hard. But things do get better, and it takes the time that it takes.
By Carrie Jurney DVM DACVIM (Neurology)
The word “Yes” has gotten me in trouble more times than I care to count. My brain is the perfect storm of disaster with the word yes. I’m an overachiever. I’m a hard worker. I’m a people pleaser. I’m also very confident. In my bones, I believe that anything and everything is possible, and that I’m capable of getting it done. The trouble is, the cost of that enthusiasm is that I usually pay for it in suffering, in overwork and in exhaustion.
And of course, the simple advice here is to just say “No”. Isn’t that what Nancy Reagan told us to do in the eighties? But my brain rejects no. My tongue can’t seem to form the word. As much as I want to set boundaries and learn to protect myself, I’m fighting against my nature. And let me tell you, you rarely win in a fight against nature.
Am I doomed to suffer? I mean, isn’t that part of what so many religions teach us- that all humans suffer? Even the positive psychologist, the people who study how we can be happy, tell us we should accept our suffering as part of life and learn to be resilient.
I don’t like that either. That sounds like losing, and overachievers like me don’t like losing (which is a whole different can of worms). So, in the interest of winning, which I do like very much, I have gone searching for an alternative.
And eureka! I’ve found it! Ladies and Gentleman, fellow overachievers and people pleasers, lend me your ears. Repeat after me: “Yes, but.”
“Dr. Jurney, can you see this walk-in client?”
“Yes, but only after I’m done with my scheduled appointments.”
“Carrie, can you host this baby shower?”
“Yes, but only if I hire a housekeeper, you help me decorate and we make it a potluck.”
“Carrie, can you go to post office for me?”
“Yes, but only if you can meet the pest control guy.”
I’m really in love with “Yes, but”. I can please my inner people please by giving a path to agreement, but I can protect myself and set a boundary. It allows my brain to play to its strengths and still protects my sanity. It uses my strengths to my advantage. I’m allowing myself to help, but it engages the planning parts of my brain that like to plan. It challenges me to think about it before I agree. It signals to the person asking that I’m trying to be helpful, but have other priorities as well.
So, friends, take that dangerous word and use it to your advantage.
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.