Finding Strength in a Time of Loss
All of us in the field know what a blessing it is to do what we do. While there are as many blessings as hardships, there remains the constant drive to be the best caretakers for those entrusted to our care. When we begin this line of work, we take an oath that we are bound to follow and uphold, no matter what. At the end of the day, I can sleep soundly knowing I have always tried my best with the tools, knowledge base, and skill set I’ve acquired.
Even though I’ve been in the field for a fair amount of time, I’m still finding myself experiencing new or unexpected things. While their occurrence has decreased, their impact on me has actually increased. Recently, I was given cause for a certain amount of pause and reflection. A fellow technician, who is also a longtime friend and former colleague, was faced with the ultimate decision of the final act of kindness we can show to our beloved. The attending veterinarian had confirmed that the pet had reached a point warranting a humane euthanasia. As this beautiful boy was resting in my friend’s arms, he transitioned smoothly and was at peace. No pain, no fear, no suffering or distress. I could only wish the same for myself when my time comes.
When I got home, I’m not sure why, I just felt a nagging urge to review our Technician Oath. I’ll admit, it’s been years since I reviewed it, but doing so and reflecting on the day’s experience lead to an emotional response I was not expecting—I felt reinvigorated about my calling. So, I had just helped one of my most respected friends make the best of a hard situation, a life was gone, and even though I was absolutely wrecked for her and her family (including young children), I was now almost elated? Initially, it just did not make sense. I’ve assisted with plenty of these procedures, both in general practice and specialty level hospitals and using a variety of protocols. I made my peace a long time ago with our responsibility in assisting in these procedures. The way I see it, if it’s the last thing that I can do for a patient, then I’ll make sure it is done correctly. I will not walk away from my patients in their time of greatest need. Remember our oath. In our profession, we have the ability (and thus the responsibility) to perform a humane euthanasia for a patient to alleviate the pain and suffering associated with a terminal disease. It is a painless procedure, geared to preserve a patient’s dignity and provide a smooth transition, preventing the patient from having to suffer until death. Because we have the ability to prevent undue pain and maintain a patient’s dignity in the end of their life, we must ensure that this final facet of patient care remains available as an option.
What I witnessed that day was a veterinary technician who was able to be strong, wise, and kind enough to make the appropriate call to action at the right time, and I commend her for it. We should all aspire to rise to the level of care she displayed that day. I have high hopes for my friend and colleague; she is a wiser technician than I was at that point in my career. In turn, this also gives me so much hope for our future colleagues and our profession. I realized this technician will help shape the next few generations of our colleagues, and it gives me comfort to know techs like her and others across the country. One would think it gets easier to deal with as the number grows, and sure, we are better emotionally prepared and have the muscle memory to do what has to be done—but that does not mean that we have also gained the strength, integrity, and selflessness it takes to make the right call at the right time. As any veterinary technician/nurse will say, we must always advocate for those for whom we are entrusted to care. Sometimes, those entrusted to our care are our very own most beloved. No amount of training or experience makes this situation easier to deal with emotionally; it just gives us a better technical skill set to deal with it.
Primum non nocere, this is our primary directive and should always be at the forefront of every decision we make as boots on the ground. Failure to take an active course of action in medical care is in essence breaking our primary tenet; we must always be proactive in our actions as medical professionals. Lack of action is not an option. I remember years ago a veterinarian giving me some of the best advice I’ve ever heard: he simply said, “Ren, be like a duck.” What? So he leaned in and said, “Calm on the surface, yet paddling like hell underwater.” Simple, yet powerful words. Thankfully, it stuck with me, and this advice has proven itself to me time and time again. In this instance, even though I may not have been calm and collected on the surface, we made sure “Thunder” was given the respect, empathy, and medical care he deserved. After the initial grieving period, the experience actually energized me as a technician; it gave me a new perspective on something that is usually the first thing people mention in why they could not be in our line of work. Again and again, we hear friends, family, and clients say things like, “I couldn’t do what you do, it must be so hard.” Well, yes, it is difficult, and no, it doesn’t get easier, but it is also a responsibility we took an oath to provide for our patients.
With time and experience, we expand our knowledge base and skill set. As these expand, so does the responsibility to share this knowledge and to pass it on and thus help implement these skills for the greater good. In doing so, we are providing for the best medical care to our patients, as well as enabling our fellow technicians to grow by learning new techniques. I’ve always thought that even though the experiences we gather as the years go by belong to us as individuals, the knowledge that we gain does not belong to us but instead to the medical community as a whole—and to our patients. Clearly, here I was reflecting on a specific experience, not skill sets. However, it made me conscious that even a technician who’s been out there for a while can still learn from new things and how those things are perceived. I’m sure there are plenty of other technicians who have experienced such instances, and I would encourage them to share these, as we all grow as a group when this happens.
And so, what was a difficult situation (and usually the primary reason people do not get in our line of work) actually became a source of drive instead of a drain. While it is a blessing to be a veterinary technician, it’s not always puppies and kittens, and that’s the reality of it. We don’t pick them, but we must treat them. Bring it—I choose to keep moving forward. Once more unto the breach.