Emotions can run high in the veterinary world. Whether you are a vet student swamped with studying for multiple exams, a technician who has been working for hours without a break, or a veterinarian juggling twenty different appointments in one day, stress can take its toll. Apart from the high cost of education, there is an emotional cost that comes with becoming a vet. A classic example is the vet who performs euthanasia on a cat she has been seeing over the past 15 years and then moves on to the adjacent exam room to greet a client with a new puppy. Because the vet has developed a relationship with the cat, it’s not just the owner feeling pain. Nor is it only the vet. The entire staff in the hospital may be affected. Compassion fatigue is a simple reality of the profession, and it is incumbent on us to realize that nobody is immune to it. Being able to cope with it can help us take better care of ourselves, which translates to better care for our patients.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the immense gratification from doing well on an exam for which you’ve studied for days or seeing your patient leave the hospital in better health than when it arrived. Life has ups and downs every day, every hour, even every second (if you pay attention to the oscillations on the heart monitor). A few weeks ago, I came across a curious-looking bracelet called a Lokai bracelet said to have one bead containing mud from the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, and another containing water from Mt. Everest. I really like the idea of bringing these two together as a symbol of the balance needed in life. This philosophy brings to mind a Chassidic quote attributed to Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa that says: “Everyone must have two pockets, so that he can reach into the one or the other, according to his needs. In his right pocket are to be the words, ‘For my sake was the world created,’ and in his left, ‘I am but dust and ashes.’” As paradoxical as these statements may sound together, both are true and can help people find a degree of balance (homeostasis, if you will) in their lives as vets or other healthcare professionals.