I have been thinking (soul searching, agonizing, pondering, praying) a lot about my path in life. On this journey to heal, I have started writing in a journal most nights. This journal has no punctuation or proper grammar or complete sentences. It’s simply a stream of thoughts as they come to my mind. The purpose is to empty my mind of thoughts and worries that make it difficult for me to fall asleep, and it tends to work amazingly well. As I look back upon these entries, one common theme has emerged.
What is my path in life and am I on the right track?
I know I am not the only one who has this thought, especially in the challenging world of veterinarians. Being a vet is not easy, for both the body and mind. As previously mentioned, we sometimes have long hours and after hour emergencies, which is time away from our families. The emotional toll of the job can often be extremely taxing. We deal with life and death themes on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis. We commonly see hit-by-cars, bowel obstructions, cats with urinary blockages, animals attacked by other animals, etc. These serious problems are often fatal with or without treatment, or the owners simply can’t afford treatment. I have had weeks where I had at least one euthanasia every day. What other medical profession is personally responsible for taking the life of their patients?
We took an oath to end the suffering of animals in our charge, but this aspect of the job is mentally draining and can lead to a well known phenomena in the profession called compassion fatigue. This is what happens when we reach a point of caring too much or even too little. An individual’s emotional stores are depleted and you feel like you can’t cope with one more tearful client or dying pet. But of course, we do it anyway and start a never-ending cycle of exhaustion.
This cycle is what has led me to question my life goals and pursuits and path in life. According to my parents, I decided to become a veterinarian when I was five years old. I didn’t know anything about compassion fatigue, stress, exhaustion or euthanasia. I just knew I wanted to help animals, as most vets will say when you ask why they became a vet. Later on, I became fascinated with anatomy and medicine and the puzzle that is the body. Dissection was one of my favorite parts of biology and never disgusted me. I was never afraid of needles, a common reason people give me for not becoming vets. I was confident I was meant for this life and never wavered in that (except for a brief desire to become a Rockette that was crushed by me being vertically challenged). I never considered another profession or changed my major in college. Every class I chose was based on my goal of entering vet school. How could I have been so confident then and so conflicted now?
Maybe it’s better to have a more open mind when we are younger. Maybe I should have explored all my options for a career- writing, teaching, business, etc. Maybe private practice is too challenging and draining. I’m not the only vet who has considered taking a different route. I have spoken with others who have the same doubts I have. I know some veterinarians who don’t even practice anymore. I wonder if that is because of the type of people attracted to the profession or because of the difficulties we discover once we are in the profession. I don’t have the answer to that question yet.
Ironically, in spite of my current thoughts I don’t have any regrets about my past decisions. I don’t truly believe in fate, as I think we make our own decisions that can have many different outcomes. However, I do believe that my life so far is as it was meant to be. If I hadn’t followed this path, I wouldn’t have met some of my best friends. My husband and I wouldn’t live in the community we are currently in. We might not have had our daughters, who came after I started working in private practice. I do believe this is the path I was meant to take so far, but maybe I’m supposed to follow another road for the future.
My four year old has told me recently that she wants to be a veterinarian. She is fascinated with the body and how it all works. She tells me about blood and the heart and bones in her body. I have never encouraged either one of my girls to follow my choice. She somehow came to this decision on her own, and is convinced that is her path in life. I want her follow what she is passionate about and will try to direct that. I have remained neutral about her choice to be a vet, and I’m sure it will change along the way. On the other hand, if she sticks with it, I will support her with all my might in her pursuit to enter this noble profession.
Joyful thought for the day: “You can’t get around pain and opposition, but you can try to be joyful in the trial, and thank yourself for the trial, and thank God for the strength to get through it.” -Mary J Blige