Take a step back and just breathe
Over the past week a couple of the Instagram pages I follow sadly brought up that three of their fellow veterinary colleagues had committed suicide. They talked about how though these three were doing well in their fields the mental and emotional stress that they had been feeling is what ultimately led them down the road they went. The veterinary field is not a easy field to be in, we love animals, we hate to see them in pain, we want to support the pet parents, but we also have to set boundaries to make sure that our well being is not affected by the job. When you add the long hours and for some, wages that barely pay the bills, it’s not hard to understand that it can get overwhelming. I have been in the veterinary field for almost 16 years, I worked from being in the boarding facility to the hospital/surgery setting. I have dealt with, life and death, sickness and healthy, I have dealt with super sweet clients and clients that have been so mean I had to take a break to collect myself. I have worked with bosses who had the mentality of “lowest dose possible” except with the dose being replaced with “staff”. They would have the smallest staff count they could have and still be able to take care of the caseload (barely).
I work with a small group of people now, but the doctor and the hospital manager focus on the well being of their staff over the ever present caseload. When I started full time with them, I was giving them all I had and more because that is what I had to do at the hospital I was at before. I didn’t have time to breathe let alone think. Then the doctor and the hospital manager sat me down and in their own way said I didn’t have to do that anymore. I was to take my breaks and actually “take them”, I was to start later in the morning so that I would have more time to get personal stuff done. They have even made it a point to have monthly meetings to make sure I was happy. This wasn’t done just for me. The other staff members are treated the same way. It seems self care is important.
Which brings me to breathing. It seems silly to talk about it, since it is essential for life, but have you ever noticed that when you stop and take a deep breath start to calm down? While I was in college my roommates noticed that during finals week I would sigh a LOT. I did it so much I stop noticing I was doing it But my body was trying to “sigh” out the stress I was under. When you inhale a long breath and then hold it for a second before you release it, it causes your heartrate to slow down, which starts to calm your body down. The same goes for when you breath rapidly (hyperventilating) it makes the heart beat faster and the amount of CO2 builds up in the bloodstream which causes you to feel dizzy, which then makes your anxiety go up. When you step back from a situation, especially when it is a stressful situation and you focus on calming down, the quality of the breaths you take is essential.
As I go to work each day and deal with people worried about their pets, I wonder how it would be if we saw each other as the people we are. I wouldn’t just see them as the client who is worked up about their pet, and they wouldn’t see me as just the nurse who may know what I am doing and might try and get more money out of them. In these situations we all want the same thing, for the pet to be better and going home to his/her family. I am not saying all clients are this way, and I am not this way with all clients, but I can say that it is probably one of the factors that led to the veterinary professionals that took their lives to do so. Sadly it is a huge stressor and they may not have been able to do the self care needed to stop them from doing what they ultimately did.
I went to a client’s how recently to help her with her paralyzed dog. She had been texting back and forth with our receptionist about a bandage she had been trying to remove off of a couple of bed sores her dog had gotten. She had soaked the sites with warm water and the bandages were still not budging. She was starting to get worked up, and her husband who normally helps her was out of town. So when I called her she was almost desperate for help. So I went to her. When I got there she had her dog in the perfect set up, she had a rig and pully made with a sling for her dog to “hang” in. I came in calm, started to talk with her and while we talked I worked on loosening the bandages and stopping the bleeding. We cleaned and rebandaged the wounds and made her dog more comfortable. Could she have done this on her own? Yes, but since she didn’t have her support (husband) there and the bandages were not coming off, she started to panic. I knew I could bring in some calmness. I knew really what she needed was someone to say it’s ok, I am here and we will figure this out, and we did. Breathe in, breathe out. Most situations can be figured out by stepping back and taking a breather. Sleep on it, before big decisions. Calm down before saying something mean to someone, cry (soothing for the soul), but most importantly breathe. It may be the best thing you do for yourself. Until next time:
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius