Dealing with loss of a loved one

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 13, 2024

This past week was one of the more challenging stretches I’ve experienced in my veterinary career. It began with a full shift in the emergency room (ER), where the unpredictability of cases is matched only by the urgency they bring.
Following a long holiday weekend, our team faced an added challenge: three employees did not show up for their shifts on Tuesday.
This absence created a significant strain on those who were present, as we worked tirelessly to ensure every patient received the care they needed. The caseload was relentless, and while we often hope for quick resolutions, reality doesn’t always align with our wishes.
Allergies, for instance, are a common issue we encounter. They aren’t something we cure but rather manage over time. It can be frustrating for both pet owners and veterinarians alike to realize that control, rather than a cure, is the achievable goal.
We always strive for faster and more affordable solutions, but this week reminded me that patience and persistence are crucial.
In the midst of these ongoing cases, I found solace in a small victory: two dogs that had been admitted with severe toxicity-induced seizures were able to go home healthy.
Moments like these are what keep us going, providing a much-needed reminder of why we do what we do. Yet, not all cases had such happy endings.
Several complex cases came through our doors, each presenting its own set of challenges that tested our skills and resilience.
The week also brought a heart-wrenching decision—a behavioral euthanasia. A pit bull, who had bitten its owner, was brought in. The owner was understandably terrified, and we shared her concern for safety.
Behavioral euthanasias are always tough. They represent a failure to some extent—a failure to rehabilitate or manage.
However, we must also recognize the limits of our interventions and the need to prioritize safety. Using a handling technique I once demonstrated to applause in Saipan, we were able to peacefully sedate the dog and perform the euthanasia without further incident. It was a somber moment, shared with a deep sense of empathy for both the owner and the dog.
As if the week hadn’t been difficult enough, we received devastating news on Thursday.
One of our missing employees had been in a motorcycle accident the previous Saturday. Though he was not found until Thursday, it was determined he had died instantly.
The shock and grief that followed were palpable. Our team, accustomed to dealing with death regularly, was deeply affected. Even with our professional familiarity with loss, it is never easy when it hits close to home.
His family has chosen not to hold a formal funeral, but we have planned a private gathering for next Sunday. This will be a time for us to share stories, express our emotions, and perhaps confront the vulnerability that comes with such a loss.
It will be a moment to reflect on the importance of safety and the sometimes precarious balance between living fully and living safely.
In the midst of processing this difficult news, I found myself contemplating the brevity and unpredictability of life. The realization hit hard: life is too short to postpone the things that bring us joy.
So, in a somewhat impulsive but deeply meaningful decision, I purchased tickets to see a celebrity I’ve long admired. This choice, born out of a painful week, serves as a reminder to embrace opportunities and cherish the moments that make life rich and fulfilling.
This week has been a poignant reminder of the unpredictable nature of veterinary medicine. We celebrate the victories, no matter how small, and mourn the losses, no matter how routine they might seem.
Our profession demands not just technical skill, but also emotional resilience and a profound sense of compassion. As we move forward, we carry the lessons of this week with us, ever committed to the well-being of the animals and people who depend on us.
In memory of our colleague, whose presence and contributions will be deeply missed, we continue our work with renewed dedication, ever mindful of the fragility and preciousness of life.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. 606-928-6566

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