Working as an Emergency Veterinarian, Thoughts From the Trenches

In this blog I actually am going to share a blog that I wrote in 2008.  For those of you who may not know me, I am a veterinarian.  I have wanted to be a veterinarian since I was 6 years old and worked diligently to achieve that goal.  In 2005 I finally realized my dream and graduated from veterinary school.  Since that time I’ve discovered that working as a veterinarian is a very difficult job.  Veterinarians work insanely long hours with sick animals and stressed out people and see very sad things.  Often, sometimes as often as every day, veterinarians are expected to volunteer their services or treat animals for free “because they care about animals.”   I could go on and on about it, don’t get me started about caring about animals…  I focused my entire life on caring about animals.  If there is anyone who cares about animals, it is your veterinarian.  The profession is riddled with guilt, and every veterinarian I know has spent his or her own money to save a stranger’s pet on more than one occasion.

Anyway, I’m coming up on my 9th year of working as a veterinarian.  I have never had the sense of delight with it that I had dreamed of as a child.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like being a veterinarian, but mostly I don’t like working as a veterinarian.  I like helping animals, mostly I like the people.  What I don’t like is that every day seems overly busy, sometimes chaotic and almost always has some crisis that requires me to stay late and work several hours past the time I was supposed to be home.  I have worked as a vet in day practice and in emergency practice.  Both are utterly exhausting.  Currently I work as an independent contractor, offering my veterinary services to hospitals who need shifts filled when other veterinarians are gone for conferences, vacation, or whatever.  I charge by the hour.  It’s the best gig I’ve had so far.  I can make my own schedule and I get paid for my time.  However, feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment haven’t exactly filled my soul.

Recently I have been attempting to find a way “out” of the profession, or at least a way to scale back my work hours.  I have always been very passionate about travel and would love a job in the tour industry.  I am currently applying to be a tour guide through a company called G Adventures.  I hope to find out about the position by the end of this week and my fingers are crossed.  If that doesn’t pan out, I guess I’ll have to look at other options.  I thought of working for the USDA as a meat inspector.  They are looking for people who have veterinary degrees.  It’s supposed to be a good job with nice benefits and decent hours, and meat inspection is very important, but I think it could be a new low for someone who is a vegetarian like me.  I really would like to work as a tour guide or a hiking guide or something related to outdoors or traveling.  I spend all my spare time fixated on traveling, hiking, or pursuing other outdoor activities anyway.

Anyway, I am getting off course.  What I wanted to do was write a short, introductory paragraph to precede a blog I wrote back in 2008.  At the time I wrote the blog I was working as a full-time veterinarian at a 24 hour emergency veterinary hospital.  I worked strictly the overnight shifts from 6pm until 8am… or more realistically 9am or whenever I got my cases all wrapped up, transferred and charts written, sometimes shifts stretched to as late as noon….

The photos from the blog are something I added today, and they were collected over time.  All photos in this blog were taken either by me, or by someone I handed my camera to.  I like to have photos of cases for lectures or presentations I may do.  No animals are ever mistreated or made fun of in any way in any veterinary hospital I have ever worked at.  Everyone in the industry that I have met has been nothing but utterly compassionate and caring towards every animal they came across.

So here’s my old blog from April 8, 2008:

Ugh.

I am so exhausted. I get my ass kicked every day I work. It’s now full on parvo “season”.   Parvovirus is a very serious gastrointestinal disease that causes extreme vomiting and diarrhea and is often deadly without treatment.  It’s like cholera, but for unvaccinated dogs or dogs with weak immune systems.  Most victims of the disease are puppies.

Puppy sick with parvovirus

People who have parvo puppies rarely have money for vaccines, let alone thousands of dollars for treatment and it sucks.

I am so sick of people coming into the hospital with no money. What the hell do they want me to do? At my job we can actually “provide emergency first aid” on a payment plan called a promissary note, which for a parvo dog consists of one dose of fluids under the skin and some antivomiting medication and maybe also some antibiotics.  This treatment alone is almost guaranteed not to save the puppy, and the owners will need to seek additional care at a daytime veterinarian the next day or consider euthanasia.

Puppy being treated in the hospital for parvovirus.  Parvovirus is very painful.

Puppy being treated in the hospital for parvovirus.

Anyway, this “emergency first aid” plan can be set up with no money down, but I am so fucking sick of people with no money.  Sometimes I see 8 parvo puppies in a night with owners who have no money.  In my opinion, the owners need to pay something.  I usually tell people that they at least have to come up with the $105 emergency fee, if that is impossible, they need to come up with something.   It’s so emotionally draining and I am sick of it.  Last night, I actually made a lady go out to her car to dig up change to pay, I told her she had to pay at least a dollar. The receptionist, Nicole, felt so bad for the lady that she gave me a dollar and told me that she “saw the lady drop it earlier.” The lady actually managed to scrape up $3, including the dollar from Nicole at reception. The fact of the matter is that most people who set up these promissary notes very, very rarely pay anything at all, ever, usually not even one payment, and they usually end up sticking the hospital for the costs.

It sucks, and I’m sorry, but it costs money to have a pet, and having a pet is a privilege, not a right.  If you don’t have any money at all, maybe you should not have a pet. It is not fair to the pet. You are not doing it a favor.  I am forced to euthanize way too many cute puppies who could have had a decent life if their owners could have provided the proper care.  Last night I had to euthanize the world’s cutest puppy and it almost broke me. One of my techs did the nasty deed for me. You can only euthanize so many before you can’t do it anymore.

Oh, and what the fuck is up with every single night I work being a nightmare and crazy busy? It’s so draining. Last night on top of all of the parvo, there were a million other things coming in. Every time I turned around I was faced with another dying animal. I had a cat to unblock, which I literally couldn’t get to for about 4 hours because quite frankly it wasn’t dying as fast as the other animals around it. It’s so frustrating, and if the upper management of the hospital complains one more time about being slow or not making enough money (which they like to do), I’m gonna fucking take the nearest thing I find and shove it up their asses!  I had a dog who had been attacked by another dog and had wounds, and after I admitted it to the hospital and treated with pain medication and fluids, it took me 7 hours to get to in order to deal with its wounds due to all of the other shit going on in the hospital. The shit really hits the fan around this joint. It seems that single night is a catastrophe. I am so exhausted.

Clients are stressed, clients like to yell at me and yell at my staff.

It is really hard to be an overnight emergency vet. You give up your nights and weekends and change your entire lifestyle in order to subject yourself to people who are stressed and screaming and convinced that you only care about money. You have to deal with many, many dying animals and truly horrible and sad situations, with very rarely a thank you.

The poor puppy was attacked by another dog in the house

The poor puppy was attacked by another dog in the house

I rescued "Honey" and paid for her treatment for parvovirus.  One of my favorite veterinary technicians is here posing with her.  Honey came in with her three sisters as a very sick litter of pups, and the whole litter was dying of parvovirus.  My deed was to euthanize them all.  "Honey" was the last in line to euthanize and she was the most alert of all nearly comatose pups.  She had just watched me euthanize all of her sisters and when it was her turn she wagged her tail and tried to kiss me.  The euthanasia solution was drawn up and ready to go, but I couldn't do it.  I took her on as a rescue and treated her with my own money, costing me almost $1000, even with my discounted costs, luckily she survived and I found a family for her later.

I rescued “Honey” and paid for her treatment for parvovirus. One of my favorite veterinary technicians is here posing with her. Honey came in with her three sisters as a very sick litter of stray pups, and the whole litter was dying of parvovirus. I was burdened with the task to euthanize them all. “Honey” was the last in line to euthanize and she was the most alert of all nearly comatose pups. She had just watched me euthanize all of her sisters and when it was her turn she wagged her tail and tried to kiss me. The euthanasia solution was drawn up and ready to go, but I couldn’t do it. I took her on as a rescue and treated her with my own money, costing me almost $1000, even with my discounted costs, luckily she survived and I found a family for her later.

Honey's new family.

Honey’s new family.

Nobody ever said the job would be glamorous.  Here I am digging through vomit trying to count pills.  This dog ate 50 pills of ibuprofen.  I made it vomit in attempt to prevent toxicity.

Nobody ever said the job would be glamorous. Here I am digging through vomit trying to count pills. A dog ate 50 pills of ibuprofen. I made it vomit in attempt to prevent toxicity.

Shot in the face with a handgun

This dog was shot in the face with a handgun

Some asshole superglued this kitten to a tree.  It was found by someone and brought to the hospital.  The person couldn't get all the branches off the kitten and had to cut some branches that remained stuck to the cat.  The poor kitten was very dehydrated.  The kitten was treated and adopted by another veterinarian's parents, who named him "Elmer"

Some asshole superglued this kitten to a tree. It was found by someone and brought to the hospital. The person couldn’t get all the branches off the kitten and had to cut some branches that remained stuck to the cat. The poor kitten was very dehydrated. The kitten was treated and adopted by another veterinarian’s parents, who named him “Elmer”

Sometimes I think that this job is breaking me. It wouldn’t be bad at all if I didn’t consistently get my ass kicked every single time I ever set foot in the building.

My shifts at work are 15-16 hours long, and the ENTIRE time is always spent stressed out, things are always backed up, with clients who are angry and stressed out. I almost never get the chance to eat anything. I almost never get the chance to pee, and when I do, I have to go to the bathroom way out of the way so that I don’t walk by any clients because if I run to the bathroom where clients can see me they start calling to me “doctor, doctor, are the x-rays done on my pet yet?, how is fluffy doing right now?, and I just thought of 20 more questions…..”

I really think that I do like the cases I see, and I like to help the animals, but I see way too many cases at once and it’s overwhelming EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.  If I could at least have an occasional shift where I get to think or eat for one fucking second, my life would be better.

Sometimes I fantasize about going back to school for something else. It’s been my life goal to be a veterinarian. Sometimes I think… “okay, now I did that, time to do something else”

Maybe I will regret posting this blog later…. there are a lot of people I work with and love who will probably read it, but I guess now I’m too exhausted and drained to care.

I have to honestly say that it is never the staff that frustrates me about my job. They are hard working and go through the same shit I do. The stress comes from the shear volume of shit, and the frustration of the clients, and also upper corporate-like management running the show for which they have no idea how the show goes down. It should be the rule that the board of directors at this place should have to work one busy shift per year. They would probably change a lot of things for the better if they knew what the fuck the staff and vets had to go through to make money for them.

I may be reaching the snapping point. I need to relax.

I have the next 4 days off. It’ll probably take me at least 2 to catch up on sleep and wind down, then maybe I can relax a little before being thrown back into the meatgrinder…

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “Working as an Emergency Veterinarian, Thoughts From the Trenches

  1. Oh, Melissa. My heart breaks for you. I wish there were so many things that were different about veterinary medicine as well. That being said, you are awesome and I want you to be happy. You have been through more than most veterinarians that would certainly cause PTSD. The rest of it just builds up and up and up. I have your back, my friend!

    Like

  2. Would a small-town vet owned (and working at) be any better? Hard to say. Our large animal appointments are slow now (1-3 a day), you could hang out with me.

    Like

  3. I too was in the trenches (small animal private practice) and after two years knew it wasn’t for me for all the reasons you vividly describe. Since switching to public health work I’ve been a lot less stressed out and I find the work is enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding. I work at Usda and wanted to let you and others know that there is a lot more that vets can do than meat inspection. For example we can always use good enforcement, investigations, analysis officers (eiaos) who don’t inspect but evaluate how well a plant ensures they produce a safe product. I work with a number of vegetarians working to further public health, no slaughter house work involved! Though working in plants can be rewarding in itself from those I work with who have done it.

    Like

    • Thank you so much for your comment!! I really appreciate it. Great info on the USDA, I have started an application through them twice, but didn’t actually have the courage to submit it and I keep checking into other alternatives. I really would like to try something completely different, and I really REALLY want the job as a tour guide! It’s nice to know that the USDA offers a variety of jobs that could be really rewarding. Thanks again!

      Like

  4. I ended up leaving the profession because of this. I sometimes feel like I’ve let everybody down who helped me along the way, but honestly, when it gets to the point where you find yourself thinking that if you crashed your car into that bridge support right over there while driving home, you’d have a really, really good excuse not to go to work in the morning (ie, less than ten hours from now)… yeah, time to change.

    I’ve stopped telling people I used to be a veterinarian because they inevitably ask why I’m not any more. I don’t think anybody who hasn’t been there can understand, but this post does a pretty good job.

    Like

    • Oh man! I hear ya! I really think I’d be a happier person if I got out too, but I’m trying to formulate an “exit plan” as typically I have high student loan payments, of course. As bad as it sounds, I am relieved to hear there are others before me who have also felt similarly, sorry you felt that way, but happy you could leave a toxic situation. There have definitely been several times where I thought some horrible fate would be better than working. Examples: I worked at a hospital where one veterinarian tragically died there during her shift (she died years before I started working there) and when I heard the story the thought crossed my mind: “well, at least she didn’t have to finish her shift.” Also, my veterinary hospital was robbed at gunpoint in a hostage situation (I’m currently working on a blog regarding this story) and I was one of the hostages. While the hospital was on lock-down and I had a gun to my head I literally thought for a brief second “at least I don’t have to work right now”

      Like

  5. People are always surprised when I tell them that veterinary school is harder to get into than medical school, and that after graduation the hours are often the same.

    I can relate to the exhaustion, to a point. I worked as a vet tech for about a decade, which was a hundred times easier because I didn’t have to make the tough calls that the doctor did. And although I did love it, even that burns you out so quickly.

    Non-emergency clinic work was what saved my mentor’s career

    Like

    • Thanks for the comment. Being a vet tech is also a very hard job and has quick burn out as well. It’s also a very physical job and several techs I work with have back problems from lifting and wrestling big dogs. Day practice is really hard too. At least the one’s I’ve been in are sort of like running an emergency clinic during the daytime and trying to juggle in regular appointments also. It seems it’s always crazy. Are you a full time photographer now? Your photos are really cool.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s