Lost your compassion? Learn how to care without hurting yourself

Lost your compassion? Learn how to care without hurting yourself

If you're like most people in the veterinary profession, you were drawn to your job because you love animals and people. But that doesn't mean you're destined to exhaust those emotions. Learn how to care for yourself and others.
Jul 15, 2008
By dvm360.com staff

It was a typical Saturday at Columbus Animal Hospital in Columbus, Neb. Team members were busy catching up on paperwork, cleaning cages, and waiting for the weekend to start. No one expected the boy and his father who visited with their beloved Husky would affect team members so deeply.

The dog was clearly distressed. Every breath required enormous effort. To determine the cause of the dyspnea, Jim Kramer, DVM, CVPM, took radiographs, which indicated massive tumors in the Husky's lungs. "He had a hopeless case of neoplasia," Dr. Kramer says.

As the father shared the family's story, the team quickly realized the decision to euthanize the dog was a complicated and heart-wrenching one. The son wasn't a boy. He was a college graduate who suffered from cystic fibrosis, a disease that may cause delayed growth. The young man had spent his life battling a chronic lung disease and had recently suffered through a double-lung transplant.

"It was one of the deepest moments of my long career," Dr. Kramer says. "I stood across the small room from a young man who had fought for breath every day of his life and from his father who had endured every painful breath with his son as only a parent can."

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The father and son decided that ending the beloved dog's life was necessary, justified, and right. The dog had been with the son through all those painful days and frightening nights. Now illness plagued the dog's lungs, and euthanasia was the solution. "In the end, it was the right thing to do, but it was difficult," Dr. Kramer says.

Emotional cases like this can hurt the mood of the team. "Sometimes we reign in or bottle up our feelings, which prevents us from moving to acceptance," Dr. Kramer says. "If we allow our work experiences to move us and share the experience openly with our team members and clients, everyone feels comforted and more connected."

And you want to experience these events with your team so you can walk through them hand-in-hand. Because the team members who burn out are the ones who deny their emotions or pretend the tragic event isn't happening, Dr. Kramer says. You must express those emotions to grieve.

"People pay to experience a range of emotion, from laughter and tears to resolution, through movies, books, and music—and they're disappointed when they aren't moved," Dr. Kramer says. "Veterinary professionals have the wonderful opportunity to feel these emotions every day, but we must allow ourselves to do so. We miss the benefit by seeing the sad experiences as negative, rather than seeing them as part of the range of emotion that gives life depth and purpose."