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.
1). Home delivery services! Use them!
For example I use a meal delivery service: fresh ingredients with easy to complete recipes arrive at my door every week...no shopping, no figuring out what’s for dinner...it's great!
I take it a step further: Cooked whole meals in boxes arrive twice a week at my house. Zero effort. Calories on the package. Actual vegetables. Mine is called Methodology. -Carrie Jurney
Also- I love grocery shopping on prime now. I can, from my kitchen order my groceries and they are delivered by the afternoon.Out of cat food? Order it. - Carrie Jurney
My pet food: yup delivered to my clinic on autoship. My dogs have not eaten Cheerios for dinner in a long time! -Abby Whiting.
2). Scrubs, White Coats, uniforms:
All my scrubs are the same color. That way they all match. No looking for pieces that match -
My “white coats” are now steel grey, hair and water resistant ...so much easier to keep
clean and “fear free” appropriate! -Abby Whiting
3). Meal Prepping!
I'm a meal prep person so I will dedicate 4-6 hours a week to cook and portion food ahead of time. I go off of what I get from my produce and what proteins I have and go. Then the night before I work I pack my lunch box and snacks! -Dr. Hawley
I got sick recently and as a result had a great opportunity to change my eating habits: I went to eating whole foods like real foods, from a farm or garden. I cook a couple days a week and pack up everything I need in pre portioned containers. This makes the work week so much better! And no more fast food means I feel better too. - Abby Whiting
4). Home Care:
Don't judge, but I hired someone to pick up my dogs' poo from my backyard weekly. I have a mastiff with anxiety issues, food allergies, and IBD. Best investment in my sanity in a loooooooooooong time. - Dr. Jewell
I got a house cleaner that comes q two weeks. I still clean in between, but it takes an amazing amount of pressure off. If my house isn't moderately clean I can't sit down and relax, so this gives me that extra time. -Dr. Gallaghager
I hired a yard guy and bought a Roomba!- Dr. Mullin
A steam mop makes my floors clean in no time! -Dr. Simpson
I grew to accept dog hair as the ultimate living room accessory- Abby Whiting
5). Self Care:
Am a runner. Sucked it up and bought a decent treadmill and some freeweights. Because those precious minutes matter when you are trying to run before work. I don't care if the gym is five minutes away, its still a drive, parking, etc. Now I just walk in to my office. I also love Youtube yoga!
Also working out before work just works for me. I know it gets done that way- if I wait, then that emergency, being tired, etc is just going to suck away my chance/motivation. - Dr. Jurney.
Road Races: I register for one a month...helps keep me motivated and on track.
Groupon: I don’t “pamper” myself hardly ever...but coupons for massages and such make it easier! -Abby Whiting
I schedule my next vacation while I am on vacation...otherwise it falls to the end of the list! -Abby Whiting
I text my friends and family every Sunday...otherwise life gets moving too fast and we lose touch.
Drink plenty of water, then drink some more . -Dr. Patnik
Meditate! - Dr. A.L.
Read non veterinary books! Food for the tired soul!
Remind myself that I am a superhero...and that I did good today!
Sometimes I take a nap...or watch a useless movie, or just sit still and quiet.
I get "off the grid" at least twice a year...out into nature, away from emails, social media, phone calls. It really re centers me. - Abby Whiting.
When I was a new grad: I held pot lucks at the house once a month to have other new grads over to talk through the transition from student to doctor and know none of us were alone. -Abby Whiting
6). Clinic Life:
Find the good and praise it! Teams work better and more efficiently if they feel appreciated and important.
Keeping my desk area tidy...which ain’t easy...there seems to always be an empty diet coke can, 5 million post its, and a stack of to be dones on it. -Anonymous.
Take a break! A 600 second break does the body and soul good - Dr. Jurney
Leave on time: the more individual members of the profession that begin to fiercely defend and protect their time off, the healthier our profession will become. - Abby Whiting
Snacks! I keep on hand some high protein yummy snacks to keep me outta the candy jar!
Laugh! Smile! - all of us!
I hired a student loan financial planner who has extensive knowledge and experience with medical professionals and their unique loans. Best investment! -Dr. Beckley
I made a new rule: no spending money outside the house on work days: no coffee, no out to eats...My savings account and my waistline are happier!- Abby Whiting
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!
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.