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Nobody puts Geeky in the corner

When I was six, my mother enrolled me in my first dance class. I enjoyed it, I had fun, I got to wear cute little sailor costumes and get up on stage and tunelessly tap my feet.

The teacher always arranged us in two rows, and this being the early 80s before everyone had to get equal play, she arranged us not by height but by talent. The precocious dancers with the big smiles and the good rhythm were front and center, and those who tripped on their shoelaces or danced with the angry pounding feet of someone trying to stomp out the last burning embers of an old campfire found themselves perpetually in the back.

My dad has a lot of pictures of half of my body hidden behind the other girls.

Had I been desperate to improve my lot in life as a dancer, I imagine my parents might have encouraged me to spend more time honing my craft. I have learned in life that training trumps talent almost every time. However, I didn’t mind the back row, and they didn’t mind, so they let me be in between dance classes to pursue what really floated my boat: palaeontology.

I read every book I could get my hands on, gaping in horrified intrigue at the artist’s rendition of a Tyrannosaurus gorging on a defeated looking hadrosaur. It was riveting. I spent my allowance in the craft store and would rush home every day to put together my little wooden skeleton models. I had them all.

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It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t be interested in science or that my time would be better spent improving my jazz technique than reconstructing extinct fossils. At night, we’d gather around the TV and watch Nova, or Cosmos- the original Carl Sagan version.

My mother, who is herself very Victorian and feminine, never made me or my sister feel like we weren’t girly enough, even when I was plastering the walls with Garbage Pail Kid stickers and cackling at the, ahem, crude humor. We were who we were, and in my case, that was a sci-fi loving anti-fashion science geek.

I worry sometimes, raising a daughter, that things are different now and there’s more pressure to conform along certain stereotypical lines. I don’t ever recall seeing shirts like this for sale when I was a kid:

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I saw this shirt in Children’s Place, shortly before it got pulled, and promptly went next door to Peek where I found that amazing Jane Goodall children’s shirt I posted earlier this year. These messages we send to kids matter. They do.

Shortly before that T-shirt incident my daughter said to me, “I guess I’m just not good at math mom,” in response to a poor score on a math test she didn’t feel like studying for. Needless to say that didn’t fly; she may not care for it, it may not come naturally to her, but I wanted her to know she could overcome that. And with the help of a good tutor, she did. “I never,” I said, “ever, want you to think you’re not smart.”

She’s always been an artistic kid, and while I encouraged her to pursue those confidence building theater experiences I wanted her to know it didn’t have to be the only thing that defined her. You can be an actor and a writer and a mathematician and a dancer and an athlete. You can be in the front row of any show you want and are willing to work for.

I can only hope that in the face of many conflicting messages, she will remember this.

We’ve been watching Cosmos as a family the last month or so, because Neil deGrasse Tyson is amazing and the show just makes me happy. My son plopped down instantly to get his science fix, and a few moments later after realizing we weren’t going to be watching American Idol, my daughter sat beside him. A day later, they were discussing time travel in the car on the way to school and my nerdy heart soared. “When’s the next episode coming out?” they asked breathlessly.

That afternoon, my daughter took a break from recording and re-recording herself singing “Let It Go” over and over, sitting at the table earnestly scribbling away on a piece of paper. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“Writing a fan letter,” she said. “Can you help me mail it?”

I paused. I wrote my first fan letter when I was eight. I remember it well. Ricky Schroeder. I even sent him a Polaroid selfie, 80s style. He never wrote back and I was devastated.

So who was it going to be for my daughter? Harry Styles? She and her friends were just getting into One Direction and I wondered if she was about to ask me to subscribe to TeenBop or Tiger Beat. Maybe I’d luck out and find out she was thanking Idina Menzel for belting out such a catchy power ballad. “It’s not to Justin Beiber, is it?” I asked nervously.

She scowled. “Eeew Mom. Come on.” She handed me to letter. It began, “Dear Doctor DeGrasse Tyson: I really love your show.”

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The kid’s gonna be all right.

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Dog Trail: Poetry, sheer poetry

People often email me things in the hopes I’ll share them: contests, stories, pictures, YouTube videos that tickled their fancy. Sometimes I share them, when I know it’s something you would enjoy.

I love to write poetry and I think you all know that. I even have a tag: “Bad Poetry.” My poems are bad, but lovingly crafted. I know this. But the other day I opened an email from a writer, a real live good one, and it was just beautiful and I think you all would really like it. It’s about a black labrador. Here’s a snippet:

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On our hill there was a trail to the moon.
Our black dog found it, beat it into the ground with his paws.
It could be supposed that he hated moons,
that his ferocity was more than dutiful,
but we’ll never know.

Do yourself a favor and head on over to Literal Latte to read the whole piece. Then tell me if you loved it as much as I did! A + + + + + + +

Shared for no reason other than a love of a beautiful turn of phrase.

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Moo-eauty is in the eye of the beholder

Ever since my first $5 velvet tiger bought at a flea market when I was 12, I’ve been a fan of animal art. My mother, whose taste runs more to lighthouses and anything by Thomas Kincaid, was flummoxed but tolerant, as long as I kept it all in my room and away from her floral landscapes.

People who come to my house these days are unsurprised at the amount of animal art we have. Sure, it’s not the only thing we have on our walls, but in the grand scheme of things one could easily deduce we like little creatures. Wooden giraffe. A bronze cat. A painting of Emmett. What I did not have, however, was a cow. It wasn’t something I thought about, or laid long nights awake thinking, “You know what I need here in this house? A depiction of a bovine.” 

And yet when I saw it, I had to have it.

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I’m not sure what exactly about this cow (her name, according to the title, is Geraldine) appealed so much to me, but her face just instantly made me smile. It’s that combination of guilelessness, mild interest, and derpiness that I can’t resist. She has Brody’s eyes and Kekoa’s nose.

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HELLO I AM A COW

My husband, who had already moved past this piece in the small beachside store and was looking at candlesticks, saw me going back and forth, back and forth in front of the painting as it hung out by its lonesome out on the front porch.. He looked at the price tag. It was priced to moo-ve. Geraldine had been out to pasture for a bit, apparently.

“You like it, don’t you?” he asked.

“I do,” I said.

“Where would you put it?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe the hallway outside the kids’ rooms?”

A few hours later, I left Geraldine reclining in the entryway while I gathered the kids, who would surely delight in this whimsical piece of colorful art soon to be greeting them every morning.

“What’s THAT?” asked my son dubiously.

“It’s a cow,” said my daughter. “I think.”

“YES it’s a cow,” I said. “Isn’t it cute?”

“……um, sure,” said my daughter. “Where are you going to put it?”

“In your hallway!” I said, as my son wrinkled his nose. “Or did you have a better idea?”

“It should totally go in your bedroom,” said my daughter. “It’s perfect for there.”

My son agreed. “We were going for a Frozen/Minecraft thing upstairs,” he reminded me. I think it’s fair to say tastes skip a generation. My husband looked briefly horrified at the thought that this would not be secreted upstairs but would in fact greet him each and every morning, staring him down as he brushes his teeth, but to his credit he recovered quickly.

Clearly, Geraldine and I are meant to be together, a face only a veterinarian could (does) love. I have placed her assertively across from the doorway to the bedroom so the second you open the door you are greeted with Geraldine’s quizzical face.

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Nobody puts Geraldine in the corner.

Everyone’s a critic these days. Ah well.

 

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“No Obamacare for dogs”: 5 things you should know about the vet ER

Another week, another veterinary ER under fire. This time, it’s the Southwest Michigan Animal Emergency Hospital, now receiving angry calls and even death threats after declining to perform emergency exploratory surgery on a young German Shepherd who developed complications after a spay at a different clinic earlier in the day. The issue was the owner’s inability to provide upfront payment. It almost always is.

There is no doubt that this is a terrible and sad outcome for the owners of the dog, and I am utterly sincere in saying my heart goes out to them. As a result of going to social media, both the heartbroken owners and what is, by all accounts, a good emergency clinic are receiving heated scrutiny they probably don’t deserve. Here’s 5 things I wish everyone knew about this sort of situation:

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1. This may be once in a lifetime for you, but it’s once in a shift for the ER.

Veterinary care, and emergency care in particular, is expensive. It’s not price gouging; it accurately reflects the increased cost of running an overnight facility with high overhead. Due to the nature of emergency work, there are a high number of large estimates, and a good number of people who say, “I can’t afford that.” Good people, and good pets. None of that changes the fact that the costs are fixed. Because they weren’t inflated with a “just because I feel like it” tax to begin with, there isn’t wiggle room to negotiate it down. If you do, you go out of business.

 

2. “I can’t” doesn’t mean “I don’t care.”

When the doctor in this story said “I’ll be fired if I don’t charge appropriately,” I’m sure she (or he) meant it. When I worked an ER shift as an employee, lowering cost equaled theft of services. If an audit found treatment in the medical record not on the bill, it was either added to the bill or came out of my paycheck. There are only three variables in this: the practice owner, the vet providing the estimate (who often is not the same as the owner), and the client. Someone pays that bill. There is no “make up for it through inflating insurance charges to the insured” option we see in human hospitals.

Saying no is really, really hard. People ask me to do things all the time that I cannot do. Just because I have to say no, doesn’t mean I don’t go home and cry about it sometimes. Don’t confuse lack of ability to give you something you want with lack of wishing I could. Vets talk about this struggle every day, and every day work on ways to ensure pets get the care they need without going under. That being said, there’s only so many times one can apologize for wanting to get a paycheck for doing work. Like most vets I know, I give away plenty of services and time, but no one gets to determine the how and why of that except me.

3. We don’t know why the dog died.

It could be a surgical error, yes. Spays are major abdominal surgeries. It could also be many other things having nothing to do with the surgeon. A genetic clotting disorder, for example, is something no one can predict and can absolutely cause death in a textbook perfect surgical procedure. Let’s say hypothetically that this were the case, that testing was done and it was something no one could have predicted or prevented. Then who would be responsible for the bill? Still the original vet? Do we need to know who is at fault before attempting treatment?

4. If you want to blame someone for vets not offering payment plans, blame the other people in the waiting area.

Most vets have toyed with offering payment plans at one time or another. Of course that would be preferable to turning someone away, if they worked. The pet gets treatment and the vet gets paid. If people followed through, payment plans would exist, plain and simple. Truth is, 80% of the fees are never recovered. It’s an unsecured loan to a stranger who, history has shown time and time again, is very unlikely to repay you. The more someone swears up and down that they are good for it, the less likely that is to be true.

CareCredit, the financing option many vets offer now, is admittedly a shaky proposition, though it’s often the best we got. It’s hard to qualify for and the interest rates are often over the top (26% after the introductory period in many cases.) I’m glad to see other options being tossed around- MedVetPay being one I’ve just recently heard about- but it’s not the vet’s obligation to provide financing. Still, we try. We want this to work for you, too.

5. Every pet owner needs an emergency plan.

“I didn’t know I needed $2,000 ready to go,” said the owner. Many people don’t. Know your clinic’s emergency policies. If you are living in a relatively urban area with an emergency facility, it is fair to assume your day vet may refer there after hours, and if you run into an emergency such as coyotes, cars, or sudden collapse, initial treatment and stabilization can easily cost four figures. Assume this. Assume the ER vet has to charge you upfront because people before you didn’t pay up later. So what is your plan if this happens?

  • Have a credit card with this much available balance on it
  • Have an untouched savings account with this socked away
  • Have ‘that one vet your sister mentioned who will totally do midnight emergency services for $0 down’ on speed dial.
  • Have friends and family willing to front you the money on sudden notice
  • Have pet insurance (though you still have to provide the money initially, you get reimbursed a percentage later, reducing the long term cost)
  • Know your financial limits and be willing to understand that economic euthanasia is an option
  • Go on a social media crusade after the pet dies, knowing you’re going to get hit just as hard as the target of your anger, harder than either of you deserve; solving nothing.

Your choice.

Edit: Obviously this is a touchy topic for many people, and I appreciate all the people who have chimed in. Comments are back on for now as long as it stays civil. From this point forward I will delete anything with profanity or name calling. Thanks!

 

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Lean On, Over, and Around

March is Women’s History Month, if you didn’t know. I work in a strange profession, one that has changed quite solidly in demographics from its original incarnation to its current status, graduating classes of row after row of- well, men, mostly- now replaced, to an 80% extent, by women. I spend a lot of time talking about veterinary medicine, and I would say about 80% of the time I am talking about it with women (who’d have guessed?)

Does the changing demographic matter? Yes and no. I may be a little prejudiced here myself, but I think women are pretty badass and are doing a bangup job in veterinary medicine. Like their male counterparts, they’re practice owners, associates, specialists, leaders, and, you know, individual people with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Whenever I mention the idea of exploring that concept and what it had meant for the field, editors all run screaming. You can’t, they say. It’s too controversial. There have been some attempts, like this one from Dr. Don Smith at Cornell, but the conversation is by and large stagnant. Fortunately for me, I have no major sponsors to frighten here in my own little corner of the net, so let’s just go ahead and go there, shall we? It’s not like no one is talking about it, just not out loud.

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So we’ve all heard of Lean In, right? Sheryl Sandberg’s go get ‘em tome extolling women to jump on in and take the bull by the horns? Yes, that was very nice, and excellent advice for a particular target group who want to be Sheryl Sandbergs. All you gunners out there- you know who you are- read and take note. And for the rest of us, who maybe want a break from running at full throttle at career advancement for a little while in order to live life?

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Who said I hated her? I just have a different definition of success. Stop making us snipe at each other for goodness’ sake.

I’m here to tell you that it’ll be OK. And guess what I’m going to do? I’m going to use math, because I’m a woman who loves math AS WELL AS SHOES, and I also think more women should be saying out loud that you can like both. I write my own rules. You, by the way, should as well.

1. Logistical Growth Curve: Up, Up and Away

Let’s start with the typical career trajectory, as defined by the Sandbergs of the world, like a logistical growth curve:

logisticExcept instead of population growth, imagine perhaps income, or accolades, or whatever you want. Point is, you start slow, gain some momentum, then go out on top- ever moving upwards.

And in all the talk about women in the workplace, the one elephant in the room is always this: women sometimes choose to have babies. As do men, albeit in a less direct manner. And women sometimes want to take some time to stay home with their children. (Men do too, yes, but when we’re looking at a general trend here, I’m stretching to think of a single male veterinarian who left the field to be a stay at home dad.)

And in honor of Women’s History month, I am going to commit to words the experience I had, that my friends and I have all spoken about in hushed tones and felt we couldn’t discuss out loud because controversy and all. This was my experience. YMMV.

From the moment I set foot on campus, motherhood was presented in a subtle but unmistakable light as an either/or phenomenon when it came to veterinary medicine. Either you went all in or you went home. Women who took a year off to have a baby got eyebrow raises and sighs of “too bad she took the spot from someone who really wanted it,” as if pregnancy opened up a small but permanent hole in one’s brain through which all your knowledge dripped out, bit by bit, until all you were capable of is popping pacifiers in mouths and talking about Robeez. If you really wanted to be a vet, you would have not chosen to have a kid- especially in school.

This doesn’t end outside of school. I’ve been asked in interviews if I was pregnant (thanks for that, carb bloat I guess?) or planning to become pregnant, which is as illegal as you are thinking it is. I’m glad the guy asked it though, so that I knew where he stood on the topic. I’ve sat in meetings, 7 months pregnant and bloated from 12 hour emergency shifts, while the medical director’s best piece of advice to the interns was, “motherhood and medicine don’t mix. Mothers are terrible vets.” I’ve heard of a person who fired their veterinarian for having two maternity leaves, because she is ‘clearly not committed,’ because she wouldn’t give him her cell phone number while she was out on leave. The nerve.

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So what’s the message here to women who want to have a family? If you want to be a good vet, you come back to work two weeks later and find a good nanny. By the way, I completely support any woman who wants to do this. The key word here, though, is “want.” What about the women who don’t want to do that? Get out. You don’t deserve to be here.

2. Extinction Curve: Down and Out

I’ll ask for a raise of hands- and I’ll be the first to put mine up: who has been told in an interview “I don’t like hiring young women because they always have babies,” as if all women inevitably do this, and those that do should be ashamed of their lack of commitment. Slacker.

Cue the sad trombone. You, my female friends, are now an extinction curve. Even the possibility that you might one day want to do something so egregious as reproduce is enough to keep you from getting hired in some places. I can see how that might make the women who choose not to have kids potentially a little irritated with the women who do. This is really, really counterproductive. But it happens.

logistic success

The weight of a family is going to drag you right on out of there.

Being the troopers that they are, I’ve seen some amazing women fight tooth and nail to hold on to their professional commitments full bore despite the fact that it wasn’t exactly what they wanted to be doing at the moment, thinking that was their only option. Then they quit, never to be heard from again. They have been told that you are 100% in or you are a failure, and so they left.

And boy is that a shame. Wanting a personal life- whether that means kids, a hobby, a passion outside the field- is not only all right, it’s pretty darn important when it comes to retaining one’s sanity. I’m a big fan of that.

There is a reason we have one of the highest suicide and depression rates among professionals, and part of it is our own doing by having such distaste for those who strive to live a life outside the office. Martyr complexes only get you so far, and it’s become ingrained as part of the definition of what veterinarians do. I promise you this: I am so, so much better at what I do now than I was when I was stressed, overtaxed, and resentful. I am grateful once again to be a veterinarian.

3. Steady State: Fluctuating around a stable baseline

Now: let’s review what really happens out there in the world (no one will tell me my population biology course was a waste of time! Viva la diff eq!) Real life, messy, biological populations that are stable (though not necessarily stationary) enter what’s known as steady state, sometimes up, sometimes down, but maintaining height:

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Who doesn’t want stability? Life- and the average vet- is tougher than we give it/her credit for. If populations can bounce back from plagues and droughts surely we can manage to have a kid, or vacation, or a marriage or divorce or whatever distraction that comes with being human without having to panic and toss away an entire career.

When I went back into general practice after two years of emergency medicine punctuated by two pregnancies, I hadn’t done a routine spay in a year and a half. I was freaking out. I was convinced it was as if I possessed virgin hands and somehow I would mess the entire thing up. I stood over the patient, my boss in the next room in case of mass emergency, and guess what? I did it as if I had been doing it just the day before. Muscle memory is an amazing thing, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

You tune out to take care of things and come back better than ever. This is how leaders are born. By cutting out a huge percentage of our field from believing they have what it takes to succeed long term because they want a breather, we’re killing off our future leadership.

When the increasing numbers of women in the human medical field pushed this same sort of reckoning, asking for flexibility and balance, the end result was happier doctors and both women and men who benefitted from it. Maybe you don’t want kids, maybe you want time to pursue hiking the Appalachian trail or to take care of an aging parent or further dominate your field. You deserve that too. The old timers tut-tutting the up and comers when I was in school a decade ago may still be hand wringing and bemoaning the fact that the new generation doesn’t want to work 80 hours with one day of vacation a year, and guess what? They’re right. Nothing wrong with that. Not everyone can or needs to be a Sandberg.

What made sense back then may no longer hold true.

What made sense back then may no longer hold true.

Redefining Success

When I was in school, one of my best friends was a woman named Carrie. She is awesome. Like me, we both decided halfway through that we weren’t all that interested in being small animal veterinary practice owners, and by junior year our colleagues were taking bets on who was going to leave the profession first.

We both did, in our own way. But we did it on our own terms, and we both came back, which is more than I can say for some of my really amazing classmates who opted out under the weight of unrealistic expectations. I am a writer, and now, in a strange twist I never anticipated, I’m exploring a new subcategory of medicine in hospice care. Dr. Carrie is- get this- travelling to the world’s hotspots as a public health consultant. She just got back from Peru, Indonesia and Thailand. THAT IS SO COOL.

Obviously trying to cover gender issues in one post is like trying to sum up War and Peace in a paragraph, but someone needs to start the conversation. Success in the veterinary profession the way we define it now stacks the deck against a whole lot of people. So let’s redefine what it means to be a successful veterinarian. Find a steady state. Your steady state.

To all you new grads and my old friends who are all emailing me saying they think they are ready to leave the field, I have this to say: leave if you need to. It’s OK. You can come back, you can. And if you don’t want to that’s ok too. If you want to single mindedly pursue dermatologic domination at an academic institution, you can do that too. This is a really, really cool field, and you are allowed to make your own path through it. You will always be a veterinarian no matter how you occupy your day, and don’t let anyone who chose a different path tell you otherwise.

14K feet up in Africa. Wouldn't have happened without my DVM.

14K feet up in Africa. Wouldn’t have happened without my DVM.

Stay. We need guides on all the paths up the hill.

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Stupid people tricks

There’s nothing worse than sticking your foot in your mouth. I hate that feeling when the words escape your mouth and hang there, floating in the air, as it slowly dawns on you what horrible thing you’ve just said.

I try to be cognizant of these things in my work as a vet. I’m pretty sure I’ve said some awful things unintentionally, and the most I can do is hope the person didn’t actually really register it. Like when I’m coughing in the middle of a euthanasia, and I apologize by saying, “My allergies are killing me today.” AW DANGIT I DIDN’T…UGH…. that sort of thing.

Unintentional gaffes, awkward as they are, are still better than remarks that are just plain oblivious. People who have adopted children can usually rattle off at least 20 awful things people have said. The always uncomfortable “When are you due?” question to a woman who is not actually pregnant. “Well, you can always get another one” to someone who has just lost a beloved pet. Or, “Who died?” to someone who has just actually lost someone.

I went to Disneyland this week, my first trip since the time they lost my wheelchair bound aunt on the Haunted Mansion. As fate would have it, she was with me again this time. There are few places better for people watching than Disneyland, a location of highly concentrated humanity teeming with all its best and worst attributes desperately, painfully intent on having a VERY MAGICAL DAY.

As we were waiting in line for our magical $15 burgers, I watched a member of the self-appointed mood police harass the cashier in front of me. She was very neutrally taking orders, neither kind nor unkind, simply doing her job. This man was having none of it. “Where’s that SMILE?” he asked, loudly.

She looked up, confused.

“Where’s your SMILE?” he asked again, a bit aggressively, forced cheer pulling his mouth into a rictus. SEE? LIKE THIS?

She gave him a wan smile. She looked tired. She was a captive audience, though, so she tried her best.

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“I knew you had it in you!” he boomed in response to her most unenthusiastic ‘smile’, before engaging her in a totally unnecessary discussion of drink preferences. (The line is piling up behind him by this point.)

“I usually drink regular soda,” she said in response to his inquiry. “I like things sweet.”

“Yes,” he said, smirking. “You look like you like things sweet.” It was clearly a comment on her size. He looked up and around, proud of himself and his wittiness, and I slowly shook my head at him. His wife stared at her feet. I doubt this was the first time he’s said things like that.

I bumped into the same guy not 10 minutes later, as I was heading back out to the patio area with a tray of food. My aunt was waiting with the kids, sitting in her motorized wheelchair we had rented from Disneyland. Keep in mind, this is the standard grey wheelchair anyone can rent. It was not special in any way, an unwieldy, functional looking thing with a metal bumper on the front and a small metal basket.

Our friend paused, and pointed to it with a big grin on his face.

“How’s that working for you?” he asked. “You liking that thing?” He asked this the way one might admire a new Porsche 911, or a Harley, instead of an industrial grade medical device.

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“Oh yes,” my aunt said without missing a beat. He nodded in admiration. “Yes, I love being in a wheelchair.” Then she turned her back to him while his wife stared on in embarrassment.

“How are you liking walking?” I started to say, but my mother saw the look on my face and kicked me before I could get past opening my mouth. She knows me well.

spacey-bitch-please

This is precisely why I prefer working with dogs. :)

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A place of passing

“I’m never going back,” I have heard more than one pet owner say. They are talking about the office of their veterinarian, a person with whom they have built a relationship for years, someone they like and trust. But their pet died there, and the painful memories are too strong. So strong for some people that they go and find a new vet, even if they liked their old one just fine.

It’s one of the reasons I like having the option that I offer, of performing in-home euthanasia and pet hospice with Paws into Grace. Because I know more than anyone that as much as the client hated the office that one time, many pets hated it every time. That can be pretty upsetting for some families.

Which leads to the next concern, one I hadn’t thought of until a client voiced it to me. “I don’t want to go to the vet office, but I can’t euthanize my pet at home,” she said. “I can’t have that memory associated with my house.” So sometimes those clients end up decamping to a third party location, a park or a beach. And I respect that decision, though I would encourage those who feel that way to think on it a little while before making up their minds. Here’s why:

1. The precedent has been set in human hospice for staying at home.

The gold standard in human hospice, for those who have adequate support systems in place, is for people to pass at home whenever possible. That is by far the most comfortable place for a patient, in familiar surroundings. I was with my grandfather when he quietly died on a rented hospital bed in the living room he called his own for 40 years. He hated hospitals and I’m pretty sure had we put him in one, he would have haunted us all.

2. Moving an ill pet can be a challenge.

Pets who are very ill can be nauseated, painful, disoriented, and uncomfortable. This goes for people, too. How many times have we been down with the flu and known that we should probably go to the doctor but we feel too rotten to move? Same goes for pets. Add in mobility issues and it is just one more stress for owners, especially with very large pets or very upset cats- no matter the destination.

3. Your home is deafeningly, loudly, overwhelmingly a place of comfort.

This is the place Kekoa died:

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But unlike a vet office where I might only have a handful of memories, I see this place every day and I don’t look at it as the place my dog died. I look at it as my living room, the place we opened Christmas presents, the place Brody plops down while I’m writing. It also happens to be the place Kekoa chose to settle down and leave this earth, because she knew as well that this is a happy place.

And you know what? It still is. I am glad she chose our sun dappled living room. At home, when I administer a pet’s sedation, they choose where they want to be: outside, in the kitchen, in mom’s lap. People find comfort knowing their pet selected the place they are most at home.

home euthanasia pet hospice

I’ve only been in this house a year and it’s had more than its share of sadness. I am looking at the floor where Kekoa died while sitting on the couch where Apollo died. I actually drove him home from the specialty hospital as quickly as I could- after he got lots of pain meds, so he could curl up on my lap after everyone got a chance to say goodbye.

But right now, it’s the place my dog is chewing up a toy and my son is doing his homework. This is our home, where life happens. And I feel good about that.

Want more info or to know if anyone in your area provides this?

Not all veterinarians even know this service exists, and information can be hard to come by. Here are two national databases of veterinarians that offer this service:

The International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care

Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement

Here in America’s Finest City of San Diego, you can of course reach me or my wonderful colleagues through Paws into Grace.

Filed: Blog, Cancer sucks, Daily Life, Euthanasia/Hospice, Featured Posts, Health, Musings, Picks of the Litter Tagged: , , ,

Grumpy Vet is not amused

I was debating going to SXSW this week, but as it didn’t come to fruition I needed to rely on my husband’s reporting back to let me know all the stuff going on and if it was really worth the four figure ticket price.

“They have animal stuff here,” he said. “You can get your picture taken with Grumpy Cat.”

Really? I asked him.

“Yes,” he said. “There were lines out the door last year. She’s here again.”

“The cat is at a tech conference?” I asked again, trying to get my brain around it.

“Yep,” he said. “They swear she is fine with it, though.” Oh, OK then. Have you ever been to a show like this? I’m a primate and I barely escape without an anxiety attack.

Now look, I try to remind myself not to be the hand wavy finger shaking vet, and those of you who know me, know I tend to give a lot of passes to people when it comes to doing things with your pets. Dress up your dog here and there, OK. Have a pet who likes to show off and skateboard or whatnot and clearly enjoys the bonding time? Go for it. And I would even try, within reason, to understand an occasional appearance here and there for a specific purpose. Within reason.

She’s Fine With It

At what point does ‘occasional’ become too much? I guess it’s an individual thing. My definition of within reason is different than other people’s, sure, but I suppose that is why the internet is such an interesting place to hold discourse. I’ve found a line I would not cross.

Let’s take a look at Grumpy Cat’s Wikipedia, “According to the Bundesens, Tardar Sauce is a normal cat “99% of the time”. Photo sessions are only once a week, and handling by strangers is limited.  At SXSW (2013) Tardar Sauce made limited two-hour appearances each day as Grumpy Cat.

Aaaaand she’s back again.

People tell me all the time their pet is happy when their ears are plastered against their head and they are 2 seconds from snapping. Just because you say it, just because you believe it, doesn’t make it so. The absence of actively trying to escape doesn’t mean you’re fine with it; I once saw a rabbit sitting on a red carpet surrounded by cameras and dogs sitting stock still while it waited to get eaten. I wasn’t thrilled that time, either.

If you’re going to exploit your cat’s genetic defect for millions of dollars, I’m not going to stop you, but at least be honest enough to say yes, this is what I’m doing. Because you can swear this is to the cat’s benefit all you want, but truth of the matter is I can’t think of a single feline I’ve met in my lifetime who would enjoy getting passed around to strangers while on a boat ride. Come on. This does not require an advanced degree to know. It simply involves having met any cat.

I know I’m not the only one who is a little skeeved out by this, and it’s not just people in the animal profession going “ummm…”. It’s too bad that every time someone tries to say, “Hey, you know…?” they’ll get drowned out by people calling them crazy animal activists or whatever similar marginalizing thing they can come up with, but I’m OK with that. When tech guys are telling PETA, hey, I think you got this one wrong, you know something very Carroll-esque is going on. We’re all mad here.

Not Neglect, But Not Exactly Altruistic Either

Let me be clear: I do not think the owners are abusive, or neglectful, or horrible people. I do not think the cat is being pushed to death’s door and needs to be removed by animal control. Compared to all the real and horrible animal abuse going on out there, this cat has it made. But let’s not kid ourselves and say this is the life she would have chosen or even that this is not stressing her out.

Thanks to reddit, we’ve seen all sorts of strange-looking animals launched into internet stardom, from shepherds with 2 noses to cats with no faces. Strange sells. Sure, altruism abounds and people’s hearts are in the right places generally speaking, but let’s not pretend this is anything other than what it really is:

sideshow

Our generation’s circus sideshow.

So go enjoy the show, I told my husband, but I don’t need a picture of you with Tardar Sauce. One less person she has to ‘meet’.

Filed: Blog, Featured Posts, Musings Tagged: , ,

It’s OK to laugh

On March first, I hit ‘send’ and the first draft of my manuscript went flying through the ether to New York to land in the capable hands of my editor. It was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. If any of you watched the Oscars and heard De Niro deliver this little nugget:

The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.

That pretty much sums up my experience of churning out a manuscript. It lifted my spirits to know I was in such good company in my certainty of inadequacy. I’m still not sure of the publication date yet; it depends on a lot of things, such as Grand Central’s current catalogue and how many rounds of editing the book has to go through before it’s whipped into shape like a perfect meringue. I’ll be sure to keep you posted because I did guarantee AT LEAST 25 copies sold and my mom can’t buy them all. :)

In the meantime, I set myself to a side task which turned out to be rather entertaining. As part of my contract I get to submit about 15 black and white photos for the book, covering my life with Taffy, Emmett, and Kekoa. The latter two I’m set on, but finding old pictures from my childhood was a bit more of a challenge.

My father, like my husband now, was an early adopter of new photo technology. This is all fine and good if the technology sticks, but of course as we’ve found it usually doesn’t. This resulted in two major problems:

1. 1975-1983 exists solely on old slides.

2. 1997-2002, the early digital age which also coincided with vet school, ended up on an old-school iOmega zip disk. The whereabouts of said discs are unknown. They may be floating in a box that’s been packed since the day I left vet school, or in a Goodwill store somewhere, or maybe Brian put them on an old PC that is also dead and gone, who knows. It is possible the pictures could be recovered if I actually HAD them, but at this point I would need a genie and a committed tech nerd.

Fortunately for me, my father kept his slides miraculously intact, and spent the last year faithfully transferring them into a digital format. It was crazy to see what he delivered, keeping in mind the last time my father actually set up the projector in the house was 1983. I hadn’t seen any of those pictures since then, kindergarten, first communion, all those moments from decades ago. Taffy as a puppy.

I chose one or two of Taffy looking cute then a few more of me looking as dorky as possible, which meant pretty much all of them (I had a very extended awkward phase.) So because I love you all and I thought it was funny, I wanted to share one of the pics I didn’t end up using but is very illustrative of my formative years:

Scan 3.jpg

I’ll need my sister (the elegant brunette in the back) to chime in on the age of this one. Mid 80s for sure. And there’s me, the love child of Sandy Squirrel and Benny Hill:

sandy

It was a bad time for fashion in general.

And of course Taffy, who was as always plotting her escape. Or perhaps planning where in the house she wanted to pee next. I owe my dedication to the newest odor removing technology to years of following her around with an ineffectual roll of paper towels and whatever carpet cleaner they had in the 80s.

Your turn- who was your first pet? What is your most clear memory of them?

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Featured Posts, Musings Tagged: ,

We love you to death

Veterinary medicine, the happiest field on earth, land of puppy butts and kitty snuggles and Pet Doctor Barbies in hotpants, or so they told me when I was 10.

Or perhaps it is the land of crushing student debt, clients frustrated that they are priced out of affordable care, and the unending mental strain of not being able to make every client happy and whole at the price they want you to provide it for.

Maybe it’s somewhere in between, but to be honest it seems to me like it’s leaning a little more towards the latter than the former. It wasn’t always this way, and yes, there are plenty of vets who still tell you they couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but for many, they can. And do. I was shocked to see how many of my colleagues- good, smart, compassionate veterinarians- have left the field. It happens a LOT.

kittysnuggles

Kitty snuggles may not solve all the world’s ills, but it does help a whole lot.

Burnout rates are high, depression is rampant, and though the world was shocked to learn veterinarians have the highest suicide rates of medical professionals, no actual vets seemed too shocked by the news. The truth is, this is a tough, tough field, and the toll it takes is financial, physical, and mental, each and every day. We are expected by society and each other to buck up and put your own needs on the backburner, day after day after day, and it. wears. you. down.Justine Lee has a great article on the topic: one in four vets have considered suicide.

Last week, a colleague followed through, and our field is all the less for her loss.

It might surprise you to know that while our field tiptoes around the concept of compassion fatigue, it’s not regularly acknowledged as an almost inevitable part of what we do. Those who feel the strain are often left to feel guilty and disappointed in themselves for feeling that way. When the timing is wrong, when the wrong case hits at the same time as a broken water main or someone delivering a court summons, it can be very easy to forget that there is a way through that mess.

Animal lovers are deeply sensitive by nature, and I think both animal care providers and clients may be prone to those intensities of emotion that can veer into unhealthy places. I’ve dedicated my work the last year or so to acknowledging we need to do a better job supporting the emotional needs of our clients, but the truth is we need to so the same for our own.

I sincerely hope our field is able to provide better support for our own in terms of learning to cope with the unique stressors of this career, that those support groups that exist within the veterinary community are not kind of shoved in the corner to be sought out in desperation but held up as a standard for healthy venting and encouraging each other to live well and live outside the clinic.

I bring this up for several reasons, namely because I was very saddened by Dr. Koshi’s death and the circumstances surrounding it. I want my colleagues, especially those of you who are young and still learning how to do this vet thing and do it well, to understand that we all know how hard it can be. The internet has not made this easier. We need to be able to rely on each other and on the profession as a whole.

If any of you are struggling, please reach out, to your friends, to a hotline, to me, I don’t care who you reach out to but just stick your hand out and wave and we will take it. I am happy to hear multiple veterinarians including Dr. Lee, Dr. Myers, and others at NAVC met up to discuss what we can do to be more organized in our support of each other and stop being ashamed of admitting sometimes, this field is HARD.

And for you non-vets, because I know many of you are amazing clients, I want to thank you for being the kind of people who make going to work worthwhile. You are the reason we continue to pull our lab coats on every day.

RIP Dr. Koshi, and know that we will acknowledge and remember the wonderful work you did in this world.

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Musings Tagged: , ,

Love Is…Making Moments

I’ve learned a lot in the process of writing this book, going back and reflecting on what three very special dogs have done for me in my life. It’s almost done, the first draft at least, and I can rest easy knowing that if I get hit by a bus tomorrow there’s enough for a talented editor to work with so that this, at least, will live on. Happy Valentine’s Day, by the way.

Speaking of dying and all of that, though, the one thing that really jumped out at me when I was writing, and just living and working in hospice, is this: Love every moment, even when it’s just hanging out on the couch. Make a moment out of nothing.

This morning, Brody came over to tell me his bowl was empty. I decided, prior to filling it, I would take a picture of his hangdog face and make it a doge meme.

bro1

I fed him, eventually. But not before practicing balance and self control. The cat, being a cat, was excused from practice.

bro2

And because life is short, we even attempted a dog/doc selfie, which never really works because after all, your dog only wants to look at you.

bro3

Which is, really, nothing to complain about.

Love is putting up with me, at least from Brody’s perspective, and man does he put up with a lot. But it’s good, and I’m glad I took 5 minutes to make a moment out of an empty food bowl. I challenge all of you to take just a minute or two today and make your own moment. You’ll be glad you did. :)

Filed: Blog, Daily Life Tagged: , ,

A Lesson in Love and Heart

One year ago today, we said goodbye to Kekoa. After a month of bucket list indulgences going from kale to turkey and then, that day, chocolate chip bacon ice cream, I said I love you one last time.

We pet owners talk a lot about heart dogs, that dog who just ‘got’ you, the dog who changed you and will never, ever be replaced (you can substitute dog for any pet, of course.) And once you have a heart dog, once you lose a heart dog, you may wonder if you will ever have another one again.

I’m here to say yes, you can.

Emmett was my heart dog, the dog who taught me fierce love and how to be a family and how even the best of us were allowed our jealous moments but we’d get over them eventually. He taught me forgiveness. I loved the other dogs I had before him just as much, Taffy and Mulan and Nuke, but he was the dog who spoke to my soul.

Kekoa was brought into our lives furtively, a sneak adoption if you will. We were supposed to adopt a different lab, a younger one, one glossier and with better teeth, but as I didn’t realize until after she was gone, she spoke to my daughter’s soul, and there it was. She was the shoe that fit. That was a February as well. This is her month, the month of heart.

koa4

Kekoa lived without a spiteful bone in her body. I think she growled once in her life, when Apollo tried to steal a bite of her food, and even then it was more indignant than menacing. She loved food, almost as much as she loved us.

When she died, when I made the decision to euthanize her when her bone cancer was causing her pain I couldn’t control, I wrestled with the same emotions every pet owner struggles with: uncertainty. Is it the right time? Guilt. I’m acting too soon. Pain. I don’t like seeing this. She was bothered by none of this internal turmoil, choosing instead to just trust us and sleep in my daughter’s room at night. I was so busy thinking of my own distress I really missed the boat on thinking about how the kids would be affected, but Kekoa stepped in- completely unaware she was even doing it- to be there for them.

Many things happened afterwards as a direct result of her death. I began working with Paws into Grace. In the midst of my mourning, her story wrote itself into the book proposal I was working on, which will be a forever monument to her. I committed to getting certified in pet loss counseling, which I completed last week, in order to give a voice to those who are sad and suffering so they know: NO, you are not alone and your grief is real. They don’t call them heart pets for no reason. They take some of it with them.

She was a heart dog too, and I never even gave her credit for it until long after she was gone. This sad, head hanging little black dog with terrible head/chest proportions and bad gas taught me how to take care of others just by being true to yourself. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

koa2

Miss ya, girl. Thank you for everything.

Filed: Blog, Cancer sucks, Daily Life, Musings Tagged: ,
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