Medicine is a rotation known for treating patients that are in a more critical state or that have more complicated conditions than what is typically seen in general practice. So not much that walks through the door is easy. Because of the critical nature of many of our emergencies, it also means we have to deal with the sad side of veterinary medicine: euthanasia and coping with the loss.
I think the worst part is that you very quickly get attached to these patients and their owners. You’re with their pet a lot while you’re providing treatments and doing a diagnostic work-up. Students are also a large part of the communication with the owners, so the owners look to us for information and we try our best to help them deal with the information they’re receiving. This makes it hurt so much more to have to tell them that their pet is not doing well, or that it’s time to consider euthanasia. Euthanasia in itself is not what makes me sad. I know that we’re providing an amazing service to animals by relieving their pain, but there is still an emotional toll watching the grieving an owner goes through for their pet, while grieving yourself for the loss of your patient and feeling empathy for the owner.
I asked one of our clinicians how you deal with hard days like that. His advice was to remember that, like I said, it’s a great service we can provide for a dying animal. He also recommended looking for a silver lining. There’s always something positive that comes out of a tough day. You find something out about yourself, you learn something new for the next patient that comes around, you improve your communication, and even better, you get to send a patient home in the midst of a bad time. Do whatever it takes to find what makes you OK with what has happened, whether it be talking to friends or watching crappy TV when you get home, but we as veterinarians need to also remember to acknowledge our grief at the end of the day or we won’t be able to do what we’re here to do–help animals and their owners.