I was reading The Homeless Parrot's post about the heatstroke dog and the idiots who claim to care. For some reason, the post finally made me able to somewhat put into words the battle inside me over the past 4 years since I graduated and started to practice.
Technically, they call it compassion fatigue but that seems a really lame term for the feeling. Incidentally, I found it telling that there were lectures for technicians but none for veterinarians on the subject at the AVMA meeting. For me, I remember very vividly a case that I saw on my terminal preceptor just before graduation that was one of many that set off the downward cascade. It was a 2y old Dachshund that had intervertebral disk disease (presumptively) whose owners could not afford referral therefore we attempted medical management. Like always, I poured heart and soul into the dog, pulling out all the stops. It was a long road and just as the dog turned the corner and began to take a few ataxic steps on its own with no support, the owners opted to euthanize. They, it seemed, were not ready to pour heart and soul into the dog; they decided that they couldn't face the possibility of going through the same thing again. They didn't even come to say goodbye. I took the dog outside and fed him treats as I injected the fatal solution to the world's ills. He died sitting in my lap on the grass, eating (his favorite pastime).
I could relate dozens of these stories. Point is that the fact that the empty feeling grows daily and has followed me from job to job proves to me it is not simply job burn out. I find it harder and harder to give so much of myself on each patient. It used to be a nonentity; something I didn't even think about, I just did. Now, there are times when I have the shocking feeling that I just don't even care. I feel as if my emotions are cauterized. (Not talking about my own children, I would move heaven and earth if I could to do for them. It's just really hard to continue to drain oneself by caring so much when you can do nothing primarily because the owner won't let you.) This has been progressively building over time. I sound as if I'm saying everyone is that way, which is not true, it just seems that the majority of people I deal with are. I understand financial concerns; heck, I'm struggling to make ends meet at the moment, too. The necessity of caring for the herd, however, is the sole reason I have a credit card and have credit card debt at the moment. And it seems as if many of the people who will do nothing do not make the decision because of money but because they are too stingy to spend any on the animal.
If this continues, I think I'll seriously have to look at another work venue because I don't think I can live with myself not caring. Needless to say, it's worse right now, too. Each morning I put on a professional mask in order to function at work all the while questioning what I could have done differently for my dog and listening to people turn down even simple care that could vastly improve their pet's life. Blaming myself for my loss while fielding calls from clients who took their overweight dog out to exercise in the heat of the day (did I mention this is northeast Alabama where we are in the middle of a heat wave with heat indices in the triple digits?) and it died of heat stroke because we recommended it needed to lose weight therefore it is clearly our fault their dog died. Compassion fatigue? It really doesn't seem to be a strong enough description. Emotional burnout? Cauterized caring? What is the word for the disease in which people are incapable of feeling pain? Maybe some derivative from that would be a better description. Or maybe there is just no way to describe it until you experience it...
1 week ago