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Not Another Question!

Do you hesitate to answer the question, “Where do you work?” or “What do you do?”

When you answer, truthfully that is, do you get plagued with questions about the better diet for a dog, or how to treat fleas, or what about that itchy patch on the cat’s ear? How about when you’re out in the community in scrubs, do you regret not changing first into street clothes on the way home from work?

I was in a drugstore once, looking at the cold medicines and such, when a woman came up and asked, what did I think she should use for her symptoms? I explained, sorry, I’m in veterinary medicine. Her reply? “Oh that’s okay, it’s close enough…do you think I should try this one?”

Amazing, huh? So it’s no wonder many of us avoid answering questions about the work we do, particularly if you’re beginning a long flight next to a chatty person! But I was reminded recently of our impact on the people we meet, because of the special work we do.

I spoke at NAVC a few weeks ago, and afterwards my family and I moved over to a hotel at Universal Studios so we could go visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! (Cool place, by the way, and the butterbeer really is superb!).

So there was a boat taxi that took us from our hotel to the front of the park. One morning I was traveling alone, having slept in for some much needed rest after my early days of speaking. I was carrying a blue Purina bag from the conference with extra clothes for my daughter, who had gotten soaked on one of the rides. The boat taxi driver, an older gentleman with a kind face, noticed the writing on the bag. “Are you a veterinarian?” he asked. Nope, a technician, who now worked mainly with practice management, I answered. Then the dreaded reply, “Can I ask you a question?”

Oh no, my mind screamed, not another question from a pet owner looking for free advice or someone whom which to share their favorite pet story! But of course I said yes…it was too late to turn back by that point. We were the only two standing on the dock, no one else around. He told me of a dog he had for 10 years, that had to be euthanized for a variety of medical reasons. He confessed to me that he just couldn’t be there with him in the end, he didn’t have the heart to hold him for the euthanasia. His question? “Was he alright, is it really painless? Did he suffer? Is it quick?” The tears welled up in his eyes.

I assured him, yes, it’s painless and fast, and someone was there with him as he passed, loving him and letting him know how much he was adored. I explained that as a technician, I often accompanied pets in their final moments when the pet parents couldn’t bear it.

By this time, the tears had welled up in my eyes too. “Thank you,” he said softly, wiping away tears. Then he told me that his dog was euthanized five years ago…I realized he had been carrying that guilt around with him all that time, unable to get another dog, unable to come to peace with his decision, unable to move forward. It was no coincidence that he was driving the boat taxi that morning…I never had him as a driver the entire rest of our stay.

Recently, I was doing a consulting observation in a practice, and a very old kitty was about to be euthanized in the back. His mom couldn’t bear to attend his last moments. I stepped up to the exam table, and stroked the old cat, whispering words of love in his ear. When it was done, the veterinarian and technician thanked me. All I could say was “Of course, it’s what we do.”

Never take for granted the impact we make on those we meet, both inside the practice and out in the bigger world. Never take for granted how we make a difference to those pets who we peacefully see slip from this world. We are all better for the compassion shown in those precious moments to people and pets alike.

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