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From the Trenches: Veterinarians are Struggling

I’ve kept my mouth shut about COVID19 for the most part- mainly because there is so much that we don’t know about yet and I didn’t want to add any fuel to the fire. Also, because I am employed at a veterinary hospital, and my job and therefore my livelihood depends on people bringing their pets to the veterinary hospital for treatment for illness AND for routine/preventative care.

I didn’t want to say anything that would be taken as me whining or complaining. I didn’t want to say anything that could be thought of as too controversial. However, after a few weeks of learning how to practice veterinary medicine in these unprecedented times- and seeing how other veterinarians are handling the COVID19 pandemic- I felt like I needed to say something to the pet owners out there who are willing to listen with an open heart.

Some of this is going to come across a little bit harsh or maybe even whiney in parts. This post is not meant to sound like a blame game or a pity party- but I want to help others see how things feel from the other side of the exam table. I want you to understand that we- your veterinarians, veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants, and veterinary receptionists- are humans, too. Humans that have never lived through a pandemic like this, either. Everything is new and just as scary for us as it is for you.

And we are struggling.

We are struggling to find the balance between discontinuing non-essential services (which has been mandated, at least to some extent, by most state governments) while still being able to pay our staff and keep the lights on.

We are struggling because we worry that we will not be able to generate enough revenue to pay our bills or that someone on our staff will get sick with COVID 19- and we will have to close our doors. We are struggling because, if that happens, who will be left to care for the sick pets?

We are struggling between wanting to be there with our clients so we can connect with them and show empathy and wanting to stay far away so that we don’t get sick- and bring the virus home to our loved ones. We are struggling because we used to be able to pat your hand or give you a hug after we help you say goodbye to your beloved pet, and now the process seems so much colder.

We are struggling because more people are euthanizing, surrendering, and declining treatment for your pet. We understand your fear and your concerns, and we know that funds are tight- but the feeling of hopelessness and impotence is weighing on us.

We are struggling when we go over an estimate for treatment and see the sad, angry, or resigned look in your eye. We hate telling you that “veterinary medicine is a business” when what we really want to say is “we know times are tough and we’re sorry that this happened to you.”

We are struggling because we have been asked to be on “standby” to help in case the human medical field needs us- and we are terrified. Terrified of being exposed to COVID19, terrified of being in strange and unfamiliar situations, and terrified of not being taken seriously or treated fairly by our colleagues in human medicine. We want to help- and we will be there to help- but we are scared.

We are struggling with balancing feeling between being so thankful that we still have a job that we love and a paycheck- but we feel a little tinge of guilt and jealousy when we see our facebook friends complaining about staying home with their kids, pets, or spouse on quarantine. We are tired and we wonder what it would be like to work from home for once, too.

We are struggling, just like everybody else. Times are tough for everyone, and so I have one small request for anyone who is still reading this. This applies inside and outside of the veterinary clinic, and I think if we lived by this principle the entire world would be a better place- not just in times of pandemics and quarantine and fear, but for when we get back to “normal,” too.

First, Be Kind.

That’s it. That’s all I want to ask of you, today. Be kind to the veterinary receptionist when she explains that you can’t come into the hospital or that only 1 person is allowed in the hospital with the pet. Be kind when you’re asked to fill out a health survey to screen you and make sure you’re “safe” to let into the building. Be kind when the veterinarian does most of the services outside of the exam room, away from you, or when there are stricter rules regarding visiting hours for hospitalized pets.

Please be kind. If every person started the day with just a little more kindness, maybe the pandemic wouldn’t be such a scary place, after all. Remember, we will get through this together.

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