This is not a Hallmark story of the evil uncaring boss and the overworked employee with a strong sense of justice. The terms of my employment are very fair, and I have been fortunate to work among people who had more faith in me than I had in myself (this, however, is not difficult :-). As the recession rolled by and I gave away more and more recheck exams for free, I was never chided for this but rather reminded to value my own time and efforts. The staff knows that I like to recommend EVO and Wellness canned foods for enormous cats on the brink of diabetes, and no one has suggested that I recommend m/d instead. My opinion, albeit based on meticulous research rather than non-existent experience, was respected and solicited from the first day I started here. My boss and I share a very similar sense of humour and do not hesitate to use it to diffuse the inevitable tension that comes with our work. And yet here I am - backing out, giving up, quitting, (insert chiché of choice here). This post started as a rough draft of an explanation I feel owe to my boss but probably more to myself.
My work appeared in a different light once I knew I would no longer be here in three short months. Quite abruptly I stopped having the little panic attacks I had been having for months every time the phone rang after hours to tell me of an animal that needed help. I was no longer afraid of not knowing what to do or how to do it. My knowledge and skills had not changed, only my propensity to worry about their absence. I drew some strength from the fact that I had already been through the worst, - my personal idea of the worst, - so nothing could happen now to trump that. That worst consisted of a little Boston terrier whose owner dearly wanted pups, who was made to conceive them despite her steadfast indifference to any male sent her way, and who like most Boston terriers could not give birth naturally and needed to be cut open to be delivered of her pups. Something was wrong before she ever conceived them. Her uterus tore like rice paper with the gentlest pressure, but I needed to get the three pups out before they were starved of oxygen and had to suppress worry about anything else (which for a worrywort takes a huge effort). Two of the three pups were not breathing after five minutes, after ten minutes, then a shrill little voice, then silence again. As my nurse and assistant worked to make them breathe I turned my attention to the mother and closing the rents in her uterus. I was sick to my stomach with a despondency and anxiety for which there is no English word, the two puppies were still silent and trying not to think about them was futile, and the task of repairing the torn and disorderly flesh seemed endless. Only one puppy lived, she is now a strong and pushy youngster. The mother dog recovered without a care in the world and needed to be reminded of her motherly duties for days before she caught on. Two days later my boss delivered two pups from the breeder's other Boston terrier, and neither of them survived beyond a day. The breeder was devastated by the outcome and her pocketbook by the bill. This was the beginning of my decision to leave, to never put myself in the way of such unhappy turmoil again.
My problem is that I think too much, and as a habit carried over from my previous life I take the inherent uncertainty and imperfection of my work as a personal failure. (And our work is inherently imperfect because our best guesses - called diagnoses - cannot keep up with the changes in the living body we call the patient.) I launched into veterinary medicine at the tender age of forty after a career of teaching at university - subjects that had nothing to do with the sciences. Nice leisurely subjects that invited long leisurely discussions that were, as it seemed all too often, of no consequence. Something in me chafed at this suspected insignificance, and at the dust that settled in the library on articles published by my colleagues and read by no one. I wanted to do something of consequence, at least to see if I was capable of this, and I wanted it to involve my high-school love of science. This is how this story began.