Last week Jen was down in St. Pete visiting with family and she invited me to come out to a local bar for a mini meet up. David and I drove down from Orlando area after I got off work. It was awesome finally meeting and getting to chat. Jen, myself, my boyfriend David, a reader Tom, and Anwar (he was working there) got to meet. She asked me a few questions about my career as a vet tech and it inspired me to reflect on some of the things I’ve experienced so far in veterinary medicine.
Please know that my situation isn’t typical. I’m 27 years old (my birthday is in July) and I have been working in veterinary medicine for almost 14 years. I started volunteering at my family pet’s veterinary clinic when I was about 12 years old. My family told me that I always wanted to be a vet since I knew what one was. My mom wanted me to get some experience so I would have an advantage over other students so she asked if I could volunteer. I was always mature for my age so at 12 they let me walk the dogs in the kennel and even watch surgery. I volunteered every summer after that.
I remember when I was 14 and got the call from Doc (Dr. S)—she asked me if I would like to have a job! I was ecstatic. I had already been working for a year on the weekends with the company that offered clowns, face painting, balloons, pony, and horse rides. For an animal lover I was in heaven. I also loved being able to be out of the house weekday and weekends as it was a more legitimate reason than hanging out with friends or boyfriends. I worked a few hours every afternoon after school and in the summer I worked more. When I was old enough to work full time I did. I worked there until the summer after I graduated from high school. I started in the kennel, began assisting in surgery, and then began educating clients about pet care, vaccinations, preventatives. I learned to draw blood, place catheters, clean teeth, take radiographs and so much more. I learned a strong sense of medical ethics and standards—Dr. S was an amazing and passionate vet who clearly loved her profession. I learned that we are in this for the animals and people who love them. I experienced life and death, shared happiness and sadness with clients. I loved spending time at the little clinic. The vet had several dogs that I got to take care of as if there were my own. One dog named Bob was my favorite—when I was 17 my parents went to NJ to visit family and I stayed home because I needed to work, Bob came and stayed with me for the week so I had some protection. He slept on my bed with me and I was sad when I had to return him but I would see him at work everyday. The year I left for college Bob was sick and even though I no longer worked there Dr. S called me. He ended up having stomach cancer and treatment would have only prolonged the inevitable and would have been tough for him. Dr. S decided it was kindest to euthanize him and asked if I would like to be there. I drove out to her home and hugged him and kissed his nose. He was one of the best dogs I’ve ever known. He had been there with me through break ups, issues at home, happy times, and it I could have taken him with me to college I would have. I held his paw as we cried and gave him the injection. He fell asleep and just didn’t wake up. I had a mixed CD in the car that afternoon and now anytime I hear Hands Down by Dashboard Confessional or the theme song from Donnie Darko I relive those feelings to a minor degree. Even now there’s a knot in my throat and I’m beginning to feel sad.
When I moved to UCF area for college I thought I would just get a job at a restaurant but I hated the food industry and missed working with animals. I searched for a job at a vet clinic but at only 18 no one wanted to hire me. I had almost 5 years of experience but no one would give me a chance because I looked so young. I finally was offered a position bathing dogs at a vet clinic. I ended up taking a big pay cut but I wanted to work with animals. I should have known from the beginning that this wasn’t a good environment but it was the only place in town that would give me a chance. Within weeks of starting I became head technician as the entire staff quit. The doctor had a horrible bedside manner with clients and didn’t really appear to like animals. He constantly made odd demeaning or vaguely (sometimes not so vaguely) sexual comments to the staff. I was young and determined to make a name for myself in veterinary medicine. I considered it a speed bump in my journey—I knew I wouldn’t be there long. The only saving grace were the few good people that filtered through the clinic for employment and one beautiful but neglected bird. Raspy or Rasputin was a beautiful, sweet, and free spirited Catalina macaw. He was owned by Dr. D but he began living at the clinic shortly after I started working there. No one liked him. He was loud and aggressive. I was determined that he just needed some love. Seriously that’s all he wanted. I started with a leather glove so in case he did decide to attack me but soon I was able to hold him on my arm without concern and eventually he would sit on shoulder and nuzzle my cheek. I feel such regret to this day that he is still there, but what could I do? He wasn’t mine, I couldn’t very well steal him (as much as I wanted to). He was Dr. D’s only pet (which is so freaking weird) and only became so because his previous owner couldn’t pay the bill and decided to abandon Raspy. I miss him to this day. I have a feather of his that I always kept. He probably wouldn’t know me now, but if there was a way to adopt him I would.
I was only there for about a year and a half but it was long enough. The hospital had such a high turn over rate and the staff that was there when I started warned me. I should have quit after I lost my first patient. I was doing a dental cleaning on a sweet golden retriever whose owner would tip us every time she had a bath and every major holiday she would give us each a gift card to borders. Her name was Sunny. I noticed that her she stopped breathing and her color wasn’t good. I called the doctor and other staff. He didn’t give us any instructions. Thankfully the other tech who had returned (she was there when I first started) to work knew CPR from her assistant classes and told me what to do. We didn’t have an airway because at this particular clinic they did not intubate (my previous clinic we always intubated!)—the only thing Dr. D tried to do was intubate Sunny. When he was unable he just stood there watching us. L gave Sunny chest compressions while I gave her breaths. (Knowing what I know now—Dr. D did not tell us to give her any epinephrine or atropine or anything! I don’t know why.) Sunny’s color began to turn pink—we were getting her back--but suddenly I guess Dr. D had decided that we tried long enough when he heard the front door chime. He told L she needed to go up front and take care of the customers. He told us we needed to stop CPR. That dog should not have died. When I was sure she was gone I went up front and sobbed in L’s arms. I came to that hospital with higher medical and ethical standards than the owner—in 5 years I never lost a patient, but it wasn’t the fact that we lost a life. What bothered me most was that it he didn’t seem to care. What I experienced was awful but what I heard after I left was even worse. If you ever questioned Dr. D he would always counter that we didn’t go to vet school so what did we know. Real mature.
Ha. I stayed there too long.
Next up is my second short hiatus from veterinary medicine. I left the profession three times for just a few weeks or months at a time and kept trying other things but nothing was as satisfying. At this point we are about 6 years into my career—I’m about 20 years old here.