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.
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.