Dandelions in a meadow outside Thunder Bay, ON

Dandelions in a meadow outside Thunder Bay, ON

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Same forest, different trail.

With not much time left to live here I need to finish exploring all the woodland trails I have not yet taken. The "local" mentality says they're not going anywhere, I can do it some other time, - until my time as a local comes to an end and I feel more like a visitor on holiday, and familiar places acquire an allure that is not mundane. Almost an anticipation of the nostalgia I know I will feel after I leave. The trail I took was new to me but eventually rejoined a well-known one that led through a deep forest to Alice Lake. It was unbelievably warm and smelled like April on this last day of February. I got back just in time to grab some groceries and a bottle of wine before heading home to watch the Olympics closing ceremony. At the store I ran into one of our clients and my first, uncharitable, thought was "Oh great... " seeing as he is a very chatty man and I never discovered the secret of putting a polite end to a conversation. But what he wanted to tell me was that their cat had lost a third of her bulk and was bounding around as they finally got her to eat wet food on my repeated advice. Oh, and her poops were no longer little hard pellets, they were nice and juicy. The things that fill a veterinarian's heart with gladness... . Elated, I proceeded to the meat counter to find something appetizing.

Not a single thought I put out here is a new insight, all has been said before by people wiser and better than myself. So with all the wealth of wisdom out there, why are my fellow veterinarians still burning out and even committing suicide? I had no desire to think about this on a day like today but was reminded of the fact as I did a search for blogs by and for vets. Yes, there are lots of reasons for frustration: people who haggle or weasel out of paying, people with a sense of entitlement and no sense of responsibility, people who are determined to see us as greedy, new clients who start the appointment by declaring as a general reproach that they have already spent X amount of dollars on their pet's problem, people who hoard animals and neglect them, etc., etc. But nobody ends their life out of annoyance with other people. I can't see it being about the failings of other people or the entire rest of the world, it has to be more personal, a case of "it's not you, it's me" if a cliche is at all appropriate. I suspect it is the most conscientious, the most self-demanding among us who come to accuse themselves of something they deem unforgivable. Like not being able to give people an answer after batteries of tests, and their animal still ill or even dead before an answer is found. I can see how enough of these would shape into a self-accusation. I don't know if this is what drives some of us to end our lives. There is also depression which casts a horrible gloom and hopelessness over anything else a person is going through. My own depression years are behind me, I dealt with it and grew out of it before I started vet school. So I cannot fully empathize with a veterinarian afflicted with this blight, although I can empathize quite well with a depressed civilian. Here is what I mean by this.

The language we use to refer to our work - "from the trenches" - is a reminder of the military origin of medicine as we know it. Field surgeons, expected to work for days without sleep: this image is at the heart of medical and veterinary training to this day. Few people question whether this is still necessary; this is after all how previous generations of medics were trained and forged, and the power of inertia is great. So we are an army of footsoldiers in the midst of a society encouraged to get in touch with its feelings and coddle them. (Oh, the cult of feeling! Don't let me get going :-) But a war has to be against something, so what is ours against? Disease seems like a good and obvious answer. Or how about a war on consumerism toward animals? As in no more perpetuating of really cute breeds that can't give birth on their own or that suffocate to death on a hot day. Something nice and manageable like that. Maybe there should be no war at all; maybe we should all go home and become civilians, conscientious objectors. Eh?

Two howling cats say they have not eaten in years. Time to step down from that soapbox in the clouds.

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