This week marks the 20th iteration of National Veterinary Technician Week. I can’t tell you just how happy I am to see this group of professionals get recognized for the work they do. They have one of the most ridiculously challenging jobs on the planet for what is, comparably speaking, miniscule pay, high risk of injury, and often emotionally draining work.
As so often happens in many professions, vets get all the glory and all the kudos, the cookies at Christmas and the hugs for a job well done while the techs are holding up the framework in the back. I’ll give you an example:
A dog comes in because he’s vomiting. Now, if that’s all the information I have, which is usually the case when the front desk makes the appointment, I have my work cut out for me. But I have my tech, and she is my front line soldier. An inexperienced tech may simply get a temperature and tell me how long the dog has been vomiting, which helps me a little bit. But the techs I’ve known and loved usually spend a good 10-15 minutes in the exam room before I go in and come out saying this:
“Loki is an 8 week old Rottweiler puppy that the owners got at a flea market- I know, Dr. V- and has been vomiting for 2 days. It started with food but now he can’t keep down water either. The owner says he hasn’t had diarrhea, but when I took his temperature there was some mucous and blood on it. He’s moderately dehydrated and his temperature is 99. No vaccine history. I’ve ordered a parvo test, fecal exam, CBC, and I’m getting an estimate together for hospitalization. I alerted the front desk to quarantine the room for possible parvo.” BOOM.
Then I get to go in there and look smart while my tech orders up all the tests and anything else I decide to add. When I’m done, she takes the dog, completes all the work we ordered, and gives me the results while I run around doing other things which are invariably cleaner. She bleaches the place from head to toe. She holds the client’s hand when they cry because they didn’t realize this was going to happen. This is what they do.
They are the heart and soul of a good clinic, especially when you have the kind of atmosphere of trust and respect where a technician can be a second set of eyes for the vet, help them catch things they might have overlooked, and alert the doctor when things are going downhill with a hospitalized pet. I rely on my techs, I learn from them, I am so grateful for them.
Beyond that, they are just good people who look out for their staff and for your pets. I will never forget the one time I truly lost my composure in a room- I get emotional at times, it’s impossible not to- but this time, I really did get overwhelmed. It was the euthanasia of a little dog who had been a beloved companion to an elderly woman. I was already weepy because my own dog Mulan was on her last week of life, which I saw coming, and it was the day before Christmas to boot. I asked this sweet woman if she was sure she was ready, and she sighed and said, “Well, I would have liked to have Jenny for one more Christmas.”
To which I said, “Well, she’s stable….why don’t you go home and enjoy the next couple of days? We can do this after Christmas.”
And she said, “Well, my family put it to a vote, and they didn’t want her piddling on the rug at Christmas, so we can just do it now.” Then she sighed again, smiled sadly, and patted my hand as I stood there with my mouth open. “It’s OK, honey.”
I asked her if she wanted us to go get her daughter in law to come in with her so she wasn’t alone for the euthanasia. “Oh no dear,” she said, “My daughter in law said it would be too hard for her to be in here.” In the meantime, said daughter in law was out in the parking lot with a Marlboro, talking loudly to her husband about how long this was taking and how she couldn’t wait to get home and see him.
I mean, can you blame me for being upset? I have a soft spot for sweet elderly people.
So then I euthanized the dog, and I cried, and she sniffled a bit but I was clearly the more distraught of the two, mostly because I had listened to her tell me for years how this dog was all she had left, and her family couldn’t even give her one last Christmas with her dog. I had a rough time with it.
“Oh honey,” said this sweet woman when we were done, “Is it always this hard for you?” She was concerned for me, after all of that. Which just made me more upset, because of course it’s never this hard for me, but then again I’m not usually overflowing with bitterness at a stranger’s family for letting a kind widow wake up on Christmas morning, for the first time in 15 years, without her dog who was the last real link to her husband and a time when she was happy.
So back to my tech, D. He has known this woman for as long as I had- longer, even, and kind of looked at her like a second grandmother. He had also, apparently, gone to high school with the daughter in law. And because I left the exam room in a bit of a shambles, unable to do my usual routine that I do with owners after, he sat with her and talked, and held her hand for me, because I had let my emotions get the best of me when I shouldn’t have. He did this without asking, because he knew I just could not.
When it was time to go, the daughter in law returned. The lady asked her daughter if she could take Jenny’s carrier to the car for her. She rolled her eyes and said her hands were full (Big Gulp.) Our receptionist came back to relay this to us as D was patting my shoulder in the back. He raised his eyebrows, burst through the doors, and found the daughter in law while the client was getting her purse. I don’t know what he said, though I like to imagine it was something along the lines of “I know where you live,” but nonetheless she did end up taking the carrier out to the car. He carried her Big Gulp and marched out behind them both.
So thank your tech next time you’re at the vet. They’re good people.