By Dr. Jason Sweitzer
Shared with generous permission from drandyroark.com
April 4, 2016
For Vet Teams
Guest Author JASON SWEITZER DVMI’d like to correct a logical error we, as veterinarians, have been making, that we should look at as more of a typo. In veterinary medicine we should change the spelling of alone to allone.
I have felt alone and helpless in my darkest times. I am a thirty-four year old veterinarian with ADHD, elementary school puns, and pre-pubescent humor; married for over ten years, with two children under the age of five each with their own problems; working 60+ hours a week in 4 days, living back in the town I grew up, racking up several injuries, in braces recovering from jaw surgery; and love to teach and care so much about others that I don’t take time for my family or myself and break down crying on the freeway at 2:45 AM coming back from work. That kind of alone.
Thankfully, I had recently joined a veterinary support group. A group dedicated entirely to supporting each other, in whatever way we may need. I shared my unique story and problems. Through my colleagues, I shared every single struggle, every aspect of my life.
My colleagues helped me shine a light in the darkness of my life and realize that I shared everything. We shared everything. Someone had been through what I was going through, often multiple people, and they had survived. They offered insight, resources, support, and something much greater.
I am proud to be a part of a profession of colleagues so great that they take time out of their equally busy and stressful lives, for me. I would like to pay forward a small part of that. In the darkest and most obscure situation, where not another car or light could be seen anywhere for miles, I had felt alone, broken, clinically depressed, and starting down a path towards suicidal ideation. Through their efforts, I realized that I am not alone. We are not alone. We are all-one. I submit we need to edit our mental autocorrect to permanently change alone, to allone. We are ALLONE.
Someone had been through what I was going through, often multiple people, and they had survived.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Sweitzer, DVM, RVT is an associate veterinarian at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital in Thousand Oaks, CA. He does general practice and emergency medicine for small and exotics animals, as well as wildlife, with special interests in behavior medicine, management, and teaching. He balances his life with family, playing field hockey, and voluminous quantities of bad jokes and puns.
Dr. Abby Whiting
Recently a young girl who is very near and dear to me was diagnosed with a serious chronic and debilitating illness. Needless to say this has had an explosive impact on her, her family, her friends, her life, and her future. In the beginning the focus was on getting to the diagnosis and finding treatments to direct our energies towards...but after a couple years and no real definitive answers….her disability became clear. I firmly believe no child should endure what she does on the daily. I was lost , as was her patient care team and her family. What can we do to have a meaningful touch in her life, how can we mitigate the pain?
After many specialists appointments, therapists, PT, etc someone recommended a Service Dog. In an instant I knew how I could help. It was like being pulled by a magnet in this direction. In years past I had been a puppy raiser for a SD...and I knew I could do it again. After researching countless SD organizations and considering the adoption of a fully trained SD, we came to the conclusion, financially speaking, we had to do it on our own.
Where to start? I researched everything I could. I found trainers who were willing to advise me and plenty of support from the SD world and my veterinary friends. Then we had to go about the business of finding a SD prospect. This is the moment when I started to believe in divine intervention/coincidence. We heard about a Golden breeder who was everything I had hoped for: they were a tiny operation, 1-2 litter a year...health guarantee, raised in the house with children, temperament fantastic, and previous litters from these parents had resulted in SDs. And then, our angel contacted me: a friend and client who prefers to remain anonymous called me. She too has a SD and she and I talked for months about my hopes to get one for this child. She called to tell me she was donating the adoption price of the dog. WOW I was blown away. We called the breeder: and yes we were on the waiting list. A few weeks later we heard they were born and we were invited to come see them. We selected our pup and visited him weekly while he was growing.
As a group we decided the pup, now known as “Thor” , would be sent to me for puppy raising and basic foundational training. At 9 weeks old he arrived at my door a bundle of golden cuteness. We have been so blessed by so many angels in our network. My veterinary clinic donated his pediatric care, Ceva Animal Health donated Adaptil products, a gifted dog trainer (Trainer Kevin) with Kennelwood Village Pet Resorts in St. Louis, MO. donated his basic training and coaching of me, and his “side kicks” donated his food, equipment, and a medical insurance policy for him.
Thor and I went to work. We started with the basics: house training, crate training, socialization, basic obedience, and moved on to public access and task training. We worked hard with Kevin to get him ready, and soon it was clear he was destined for a higher purpose. He took to his training like a fish to water. We were able to wheelchair train him in 6 days when his girl took a turn for the worse.
Recently he was placed with his girl for a trial. While his training is ongoing, his placement confirmed he will be the Superhero she needed. He has transitioned well so far especially for a young dog. They are becoming a team and watching them come together has refilled my bucket immensely.
It was a ton of work: there were no days off of puppy training and public access. I worked him when I was tired, sick, crabby, and when I was motivated and happy. He went to work with me, grocery, malls, movies...everywhere. Actually I recently went to the bathroom alone for the first time in months. There were moments when I wasn’t sure this would help. What if he failed as a SD, then all his sidekicks and angels would be let down. What if I couldn’t train him, I mean I’m not a trainer...but then I saw the look on Sophie’s face when she worked with him. I saw the confidence he gave her. I saw him instantly seem to know he needed to stay close to her, to protect her.
Anyone who has had experiences with true Service dogs knows the amazingly powerful impact they have on their handlers. It is a relationship like no other. I am so grateful Thor is here for Sophie. I am beyond grateful that I was able to be his puppy raiser. It refilled my emotional/spiritual bucket and allowed me to be the change I long to see in the world. It dissipated my helpless feeling in regards to her illness. It was the honor of my life.
My friends thought it would be very hard on me to let him go to her home, to say goodbye. I had folks expecting me to be in tears, or to be lost without him. The weekend we placed the dynamic duo together I got to spend with them, coaching them. He impressed me beyond words and it was clear to me that all of us have been on a journey guided by something higher. He is meant for this. I am not sad at all. I am warmed by the gifts that he brings to his new handler and the independence she will find with him.
Why am I telling you all this, why on this blog? Because this has been a huge piece of my self care, a big infusion into my personal bucket. If you can volunteer your gifts to make a difference in the life of another, let me tell you...do it. It makes me feel a touch selfish, as perhaps I got more out of this experience than the family will.
By Dr. Megan Dunn and Pebbles the blind cat
To understand cat people there are only a couple of things you need to know. First, yes, they are a little crazy, and, yes, they fully embrace it. Second, they are passionate about their felines, to put it mildly. They may jokingly complain about all the havoc their furry companion wreaks on a daily basis. But if you even think about saying anything sincerely negative about any cat that has ever lived, prepare for a firestorm of crazy to be unleashed upon your head, the force of which you can’t even imagine. You’ve been warned.
Being in the “cat people” club is considered an honor by all who are admitted (by feline standards, of course). And it is indeed a club. You can go to the farthest corners of the planet, not knowing a living soul. If you happen upon a fellow feline fanatic, there is an instant bond that outsiders just can’t understand. So in order to reinforce those bonds (and give the crazy cat people something to talk about), here are ten things that only cat people will understand.
10.) Cats will not tolerate cluttered countertops Too often humans insist on leaving objects sitting on top of counters, tables, or nightstands. Obviously, this is feline territory, and therefore, it must be kept clean and clutter-free at all times. But cats do understand that humans are often absent-minded and may accidentally leave objects (cups, pens, books, clocks, etc.) just sitting on top of a cat’s favorite surface. Not to worry, though. With a swipe of the paw, this unacceptable mess can quickly be cleared. You’re welcome.
9.) Cat people know what “zoomies” areYou are sitting peacefully reading a book with your furry angel in your lap, enjoying a quiet evening at home. Then suddenly you feel it. Her muscles tense up. Her ears go back. You can see her pupils dilate like the waxing moon. Then, zoom, off she flies around the house like her tail is on fire. Up the curtains. Around the couch. On the chair, then off the chair and into the kitchen. You hear a crash and see her sliding around the corner and out of site. And suddenly she is back in the living room, stretched out in the floor breathing heavy.
No, your cat has not been possessed by aliens (hopefully). As a predatory creature that sleeps a few (well, maybe, like 16-20) hours per day, the extra bursts of energy are needed to catch prey. So, no judgments, okay? Just give your feline some fun cat toys to play with, and enjoy the show!
8.) You never need to set an alarm clock! It’s the weekend, hurray! You finally get to sleep in and catch up on some much-needed sleep, right? Yeah, right! Just because you don’t have to work doesn’t mean that your dear feline’s tummy can wait. If you normally have to get up at 5 am for work, it is not unreasonable for the cats to start reminding you at 4:45 that breakfast time is quickly approaching. The most common reminders include laying on the face, pawing, and licking of the face and head. But never underestimate the power of the chest sit with the death glare.
Some “clever” humans attempt to outsmart the cats by simply shutting them out of the room. Oh, you poor, poor simpletons. How you underestimate the motivated feline! Cue images: paws reaching under the door, shredded carpet, doorknob rattling. When all else fails, there is always loud, constant wailing. Come on, already, just give in and put out some food. You know you’re not going back to sleep until you comply, anyway!
7.) Two words – Can. Opener. No explanation necessary. It doesn’t matter if it is a fancy electric opener or some jacked-up hand-held can opener from the 1920’s. Your cat knows what it is. And she will appear out of thin air, frantically crying at your feet the moment you even approach the can opener. Be prepared.
6.) Cats love hide-and-go-seek – cat people… not so much Maybe it’s just my crazy mom. As soon as kitty finds the perfect sleeping spot, that quiet, hidden, up high spot that no one can find, she gets into a frenzied panic. She calls, but no answer. Immediately she believes that said kitty must have gotten stuck in the dryer, or under the bed, or has been electrocuted somewhere, or somehow escaped out the door and has been mauled to death by hungry wolves. She looks in every possible place she can think of, whilst weeping and calling for kitty, imagining every possible grim fate that kitty has likely suffered.
Hehe! It is so much fun to sit in the secret hiding spot, observing the amusing display of hysterics. Eventually, of course, this gets old and boring. Then it’s time to come out for a treat. But, felines, beware. Mom’s reaction can vary between scolding to elated (overly tight) hugs. But it’s worth it in the end if you are able to slip by undetected and save the hiding spot for the next time!
5.) You include “toilet paper replacement” in your monthly expense budgetAll cat people know this. Toilet paper on a roll is the most pawesome invention ever! How in this world is a cat expected to just ignore the soft, delicate material that flows so perfectly in your paws? Just accept it, and prepare for the astronomical toilet paper bill. Or maybe an investment in a Paws Free toilet paper holder would be worth it. But for fun’s sake, I say let the poor kitty have a T.P pawty! I still maintain that I was framed!
4.) Wearing black in public is only a dream Well, I wear fur all the time. Why do humans think this is such a big deal? For those who (inexplicably) find feline fur offensive, maybe stay away from dark colors. Or any solid colors. Just go ahead and get the t-shirt There's probably cat hair on this.
3.) Cleaning vomit is just part of life, Yes, cats puke from time to time. It’s usually no big deal. But it can sometimes signal other problems going on that need to be checked out. For more information on feline vomiting, you can read about hairballs in cats here.
2.) The most desirable location for a nap is wherever the human is lookingWatching television? Perfect! I’ll go sit on the t.v. stand. Reading a book? Well, obviously the best, most wonderful place to sleep is on top of a book a human is looking at. Don’t forget about computer keyboards. They are super comfy, as well. Obviously, your cat is the most wonderful thing on the planet to observe, so this behavior is only done as a service to the humans. Felines can be so selfless sometimes.
1.) Only true cat people know how affectionate and loyal a cat can beWe felines have a reputation for being aloof and independent. Okay, so maybe some of that is legitimate. But we can also be every bit as loyal, loving, and friendly as dogs.
People who are not true cat people may say, “I once had a cat I loved, but that’s only because he acted just like a dog. He was waiting for me when I got home from work and followed me around the house. He just wanted to be close to me, like my dog.” Ok, I’ll try not to be too offended by that. Clueless humans. While all felines have different personalities, the typical cat is super attached to their human and just wants to be loved.
Anyone who has truly loved, or been loved by, a cat surely knows well the deep bond and attachment that forms. Cats are not small dogs (thankfully). But a feline somehow makes you feel like it’s a tremendous honor just to be loved by them. But isn’t it, though?
As the great Charles Dickens said, “What greater gift than the love of a cat?”
Until next time… Keeping Pebbles Strong!
Shared with permission from Uncharted Veterinary Conference
Presentation by Dr. Carrie Jurney
By now you all know I love veterinary medicine…I love the science, the clients, the pets, the agriculture…I love it all. Those who really know me understand that, while I adore helping animals, my real joy is in helping people with their animal’s problems. After all, isn’t that what most of private practice is? If we look at the number of veterinarians in the US, a big majority of us are in clinical practice, so why have so many of us fallen victim to the “us versus them” mentality? That in some way we are opposing forces fighting each other?
Every day I hear concerns from frustrated vets, - complaints and judgments from exhausted veterinary staff and doctors about clients. And, sure all people in service industries are naturally going to gripe about certain client interactions, its human nature…but have we taken it too far? Do we actually see them, the clients, as our enemy?
These frustrations and concerns are understandable. Veterinary medicine is a challenging profession. It requires knowledge, empathy, emotional intelligence, and physical stamina. Practice can drain you of each of those things; sometimes simultaneously. But I still have to ask: Aren’t we – veterinarians, staff, and clients – all in this together? I know my paycheck is signed by the practice owner every month, but I earn it from the clients I serve. Relationships I build provide better care for pets, celebration of the human animal bond, and builds the practice. So, in truth, how can they, with whom I must partner for the care of their pet, be my enemy?
Anyone with access to the news knows the United States and the world more generally are divided and, at least so it seems, increasingly so. Could it be that this trend toward tribalism in the culture at large is causing our cultural divide in veterinary medicine to grow deeper? Are we influenced towards judgment, blame, and disdain to those who are “not like us”? Does the current lack of civility and increasing cultural anger encourage us towards professional anger and resentment? I would submit, it’s an idea at least worth consideration.
As a community we need to support each other and further encourage each one of us to build our own emotional intelligence. We need to step back and realize our clients are often hurting people who are not rational, fair, or kind…and that is rarely a reflection on us as people or professionals.
It can be exceedingly difficult to not respond in kind when we are mistreated. When I have a particularly challenging or negative experience with a client, I try very hard to stop myself and ask where I could have gone differently. Could I have explained something in a different way? Was my tone appropriate, was I wearing my resting bitch face? Did I close them off? Should I have stepped out and brought someone else in? It was so easy for a while to just join in the bandwagon, grab a pitch fork and declare they make my life hell. But…that made me burnt out, angry, sad, and lost. Yes, I still get mad,. Yes, I still complain, and yes I’m rude sometimes. But centering myself back to a place of empathy helps. I am learning to understand that the folks who attack me in person or on social media likely come from a place of true pain all of their own, separate from me. I have given myself permission to have my own self value, self-worth, and esteem regardless of the judgment of others. This has made practice more enjoyable, and while still just as demanding as before, it is sustainable. So long as I remember to practice self-care, I can have a long career. But the most important self-care begins inside my own head as I learn to respond positively and view my clients not as opponents, but as members of the team.
Dr. Lauren B. Smith DVM
Original Content from Uncharted Veterinary Conference 2018
We’ve all heard about the death of expertise. And if we haven’t heard about it, we’ve witnessed it with our own two eyes. Clients come in with a diagnosis from Dr. Google long before they even step into the hospital. They bring paper work from their breeders telling them under no circumstances to let their vet “sell” them on lepto vaccination because it will kill their pet. They tell us what medications they want before their animal has even been examined.
This isn’t just a veterinary problem, it’s happening everywhere.
Big Pharma is poisoning us to make a buck
Climate scientists are in it for the money
Lawyers are crooks (okay so that one’s not really new)
People today don’t trust “experts.” They don’t trust us. There are a lot of reasons for this, most of which I’ll leave to the sociologists. But there is one reason in particular that I think resonates in veterinary medicine.
We’ve always been relatively powerless to the whims of biology. People and animals get sick. No matter how many advances there have been in modern medicine, we still keep getting sick. But add in all the new ways we feel powerless in our lives—powerless to the politicians who govern our society, powerless to the big corporations that rule our economy, powerless to Mother Nature and the ever-worsening natural disasters that cripple our cities; and people are grasping for any little bit of control they can get.
Sickness is scary. And when the health of you or someone you love is at the whim of someone else, it’s even scarier. I experienced this first hand last fall when I got sick. I had stomach pain and nausea. I could barely eat. I lived off matzo ball soup and sherbet for two months. I had ultrasounds, CTs, MRIs, and endoscopies. I got no answers. And it took an awfully long time to get those non-answers. I had to wait for insurance clearance. The first available endoscopy appointment wasn’t for over a month. Eventually I just got better, but for those two months I was miserable, not just physically but emotionally too.
I thought of all the ways veterinary medicine was superior to the care I’d received. I thought of all the things I did for my patients that were better then what I was getting, but also the things that I didn’t do but wished were done. How could my doctors have helped to empower me and make me feel less out of control.
This video is a collage of thank you's collected during a Dr. Ron Shaw's first year in practice! What an awesome gift his practice gave to him for the anniversary. We all should sit for a minute a let our hearts and minds really bask in the joy of gratitude and a job well done. As driven, Type A , perfectionists we are skilled at self judgement and criticism... let's work on being gifted at truly hearing gratitude and praise.
A huge NOMV thank you to Dr. Shaw for sharing this piece of awesomeness!
by David Bledsoe DVM
Dear NOMV Nation,
By now most of us are aware of two recent celebrity suicides. These events have a tendency to focus attention to mental wellness and the additional dialog can be healthy and helpful. But it’s also a fact that such events can act as a contagion of sorts and may perversely increase acceptance of suicide as an option.
NOMV exists to provide a safe space for veterinarians to discuss and seek support for these issues. Our goal - as our name says - is that not one more vet will feel the need to take their life as a “solution” to their problems and pain.
PLEASE reach out to NOMV if you need to talk, vent, cry, or shout. Go to the NOMV anonymous post page if you want us to post anonymously for you. We are here for you.
Together we are stronger. We are not alone. We are ALLONE.
On behalf of the admins and moderators, thank you for making NOMV what it is.
If you are struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out to a NOMV moderator, or contact these numbers. Additional resources are also listed on this page: Support Resources
Bosnia & Herzegovina: 080 05 03 05
Bulgaria: 0035 9249 17 223
Canada: 5147234000 (Montreal); 18662773553 (outside Montreal)
Finland: 010 195 202
Hong Kong: +852 2382 0000
Ireland: 116123 or 1800 247 247
The Netherlands: 09000113
New Zealand: 0800 543 354 or 0508 828 865
Russia: 8 (800) 100-49-94
South Africa: 0514445691
Sweden: 0771-22 00 60
United Kingdom: 116 123
USA: 18002738255 or TEXT 741741
Dr. Monique Koll
A few months ago I had made a commitment of 1hr/week of writing to NOMV. I managed that okay at first, and then, I was hit by Hurricane Harvey. I live just north of Houston and am a single mom living alone with my kid and pets, and to further complicate matters our 15yo Spanish exchange student had just arrived two weeks prior. But no biggie! I really wasn’t concerned. I had a quite serious boyfriend, but I was just fine on my own the way things were. I was renting my house, and besides I *really* didn’t think I was going to flood. I grew up in New Orleans so I’m an old hand to this flooding business, and it’s just stuff, anyway.
My son turned 11 on August 26, about a day before Harvey was scheduled to affect us, and the city was eerily quiet as we went out to celebrate. In the wee hours of the next morning, my boyfriend and I made the decision to pack the kids and pets up and leave. It would be no fun being stuck in my neighborhood, so we made a vacation out of it and went to Dallas for the weekend. We had so much fun!
I came back to find 8” of water had gotten in my house. It had mostly drained, and I had picked a lot of my stuff up, but the carpets were ruined, the insulation inside the walls were ruined, it was too early to tell about my piano yet and we couldn’t stay there, at least right then. I did the best thing for the house; we stripped out the carpets right away, started cleaning up. The landlord didn’t want me to do the sheetrock at first but I convinced her. My kids pets and I could stay with my boyfriend so no big deal, but he lived 30 minutes away, and they still had to go to same school and I still had to work, so I was super determined to get back in my house asap.
It didn’t work out that way. Under Texas law, I had the right to abandon that rental and get my deposit back, but it’s not what I wanted. I wanted to move back in asap. My friends and I worked really hard on the house, but the landlord still did not want to give me enough of a break on the rent to make it worth it. We did thousands of dollars worth of work, but the landlord did a shoddy job to get it together as cheap and as quick as possible. They did not remove the cabinets to remove the wet insulation behind them. They replaced the floors with cheap tile.
So then,, I’m waking my kids up at 5a, driving them to the bus stop 30m away, driving to work also 30m away for my 12 hours shift, repeating in the evenings. I work as an emergency veterinarian and we were busy, no rest for the weary! I was not happy anymore about moving back into that house, and life as it was was not sustainable. My exchange student was contemplating living with someone else. My son couldn’t attend Cub Scouts or anything after school. Sure, it is “just stuff” that I lost, but now what? It was easy to sink into depression for sure.
It was time to make some big decisions that I wasn’t ready to make. Fighting depression, for me anyway, means changing my circumstances. This is not always feasible, I know! In this case though, I made the huge financial leap and decided to buy a house! With the recent flood I was scared the market was going to skyrocket, and I wouldn’t be able to afford rent anyway. At that point, my boyfriend and I discussed our future. Buying a house now meant either buying one again in a couple of years if we were really going to move in together, or him and his kids moving in on my turf which would be less than ideal. In what was not the least stressful decision but maybe the one that made most sense in the long run, we decided to get engaged and buy the house together. Living with someone all of a sudden isn’t easy, especially since we were both just fine by ourselves, never mind four kids under one roof. The house-buying process was a whole other headache that I don’t want to relive enough to type. BUT, it worked! We are now in a house we love, in a neighborhood we love, where my kids can get to their school easily and attend all activities they like. I am engaged to the man that I love and we get to start our lives together earlier than we ever expected. I am not one to think things happen for a reason, but good can come from bad, and I am so thankful and fortunate that it did for us. We are not unscathed, financially or emotionally or otherwise, but I still have my job and my family and now a beautiful home that I own.
I know a lot of veterinarians in my city that did not make out nearly as well as I did. There is so much chaos and pain in our area still. It was wonderful seeing the community come together to help people and their pets. My son and exchange student grew so much out of it, and gained a sense of societal responsibility that they may never have had before. I’m still thinking of all of you that are still struggling with this disaster. Please let me know if there is any way that I can help you.
Monique Koll, DVM
Dr. Melanie Goble
Have you ever had those days when life just seems to be overwhelming you and you feel like you are going to drown in the chaos of life? Yeah, me neither…
Alright, yes, I have felt that way.
I struggle to remember that when life appears to be taking over, I need to take time to breathe. To take that 10-30 seconds of deep breaths. To ground myself. I recently attended an active shooter response training and the officer leading the training spoke about “Combat Breathing.” When things start to go out of control, you get tunnel vision (and hearing). Taking the deep breaths allow your body to get the oxygen it needs to focus well, not on the “other thing” that does not actually need your focus.
When the clinic gets crazy, especially during an emergency, I find myself obsessing over the wrong things. Things like:
How many clients are waiting? How long have they been waiting?
Is the next client going to be mad at me for being late?
Seriously, what did I drop on my shirt? I haven’t had time to eat anything!
I need to be focusing on the case at hand, but my mind seems to scatter and then focus on that stupid stain on my shirt.
How do I get myself to focus? I am still working on that. Asking those that I am working with to remind me to breath helps a lot. We can all take those deep, calming breaths, focus ourselves, and then kick butt like the amazing heroes that we are!
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.