I frequently think back to a patient I worked with during my time as an ICU technician at a large animal clinic in Vermont. A horse came in to the clinic with a terrible case of Potomac horse fever, confirmed by PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to identify the causative agent as a member of the Rickettsia genus. I was taking microbiology and molecular genetics at the time, so it was interesting to see the progression of infection from one of the microbes I was studying in class.
This case was important to me, because it pushed my emotional boundaries beyond my previous experiences. I spent countless nights with this horse, doing everything from holding hay up to his mouth until he lethargically ate it, to changing ice packs tied to his pasterns every 2 hours to reduce inflammation. It was difficult for me to watch this horse attempt to stand and be overwhelmed by pain again and again. I thought, “Could I personally do anything better to help this animal?” The case really challenged me. It also reminded me of one very important thing.
A physician who has been one of my great life and career mentors taught me that, as practitioners, we cannot ever promise cure to patients, but we can always promise care. I frequently think back to this concept. I remind myself that if we treat each individual patient as being worthy of the best medical care, we win no matter what the biological outcome is. Cure is always what we aim to achieve, but the intricacies of biology do not always allow cure to become a reality. Even with many of our perfectionist tendencies (of which I am guilty) by thinking of care and cure in this way, we can guarantee that care takes place while giving cure its best chance. As aspiring veterinarians, perhaps it is a balance of cure and care that we should be striving for in our interactions with clients and patients.