After a year of amazing/exhausting internship (aka indentured servitude) and several years at a soul-sucking corporate veterinary medicine gig, I can no longer ignore my muse. My stress levels have grown past my level of comfort with self-medication so I have returned to the outlet that has been my escape since childhood. I always knew I would be a writer, I just used to have the far-fetched idea I'd make my living at it; now I think perhaps it is better left as an outlet.
Corporate veterinary medicine is not evil. I appreciate the work, and I appreciate the experience it gave me, and the ability to pay my bills while I found the next step. What I am not proud of is the person it turned me into. I became negative. Angry. Awful. I let the people around me dictate my mood. When I was working with the "good" crew it was even fun at times. When I was stuck with the "bad" crew I became the worst among them. My close friends knew some of my co-workers only by the derogatory nicknames I had given them in my mind. I was that person. It was not a good fit. I'm not saying the criticism I delivered didn't have a solid, factual base; but it was administered in the worst way possible. I was tearing down those around me, and destroying myself in the process.
Somehow, God met me in my dark place and steered me to the next stop on my path. I am now a truly mixed-animal practitioner. It isn't the dream, but it's a pretty good reality most days. My corporate small animal experience has given me enough background to hold my own with the pets, and I'm building the large animal side as quickly as I can. It might even be the new dream.
No veterinary reality is without its trying times, however. Some days those trials come in the form of animals with problems I can't fix. Lately the hurdles have been financial, it seems. Veterinarians as a whole are generous to a fault and I definitely fall in to the trap of "They don't have much money so I'll help them out by not charging the full price for this exam, or slipping an extra treatment in for free" or "It's not economically feasible to keep a calf on ICU rates, so I'll just charge regular hospitalization even though I'm coming up to work on him every 2-3 hours round the clock" more often than I should. I am glad that I don't own the practice, or I would have a harder time holding my ground. I don't mind doing the occasional favor, but I won't steal from my employer. Emergencies are a whole new challenge, because I don't get paid my cut of the emergency until the invoice is paid in full. I have a file of unpaid invoices dating back to my first week on call. Some of those fees I will never see. I'm not starving, but between paying student loans, paying a mortgage, and renovating/repairing a 50-year-old house I would definitely like to get paid what I'm due for a) getting a veterinary medical degree and license to practice, b) being available to animal owners in need at any hour of the day or night for 50% of my life, and c) leaving my friends, family, and animals to shift for themselves or wait for my return when I get a call that requires emergency treatment. I actually declined an emergency call recently because the client had a drastically overdue balance owed and the situation was not yet emergent (i.e. no animal suffering). One part of me felt like a cold, greedy bastard. The other part was elated that I had the intestinal fortitude to say no. It's the sad reality of our business. And yes, veterinary medicine is a business. My employer's outstanding accounts receivable would pay my salary for the year and buy the clinic a new radiograph system, which we sorely need. In another situation, I saw a pet whose situation was emergent, after hours, and required calling in myself and one of our wonderful technicians, who also have families and responsibilities at home. We assessed the animal, I discussed the condition, diagnostic next steps, and possible outcomes with the owner. I had already given them a cost estimate for the emergency evaluation. After deciding that the animal's condition was too dire and suffering was likely, the client requested euthanasia. I comforted the pet and owner to the best of my ability, ended the animal's suffering, and the client gathered the pet and essentially sprinted for the door. I'll sleep tonight knowing that the pet isn't in pain, and that only a sucker would bet on ever seeing a dime on that invoice. They won't take our phone calls. This is actually the second "euthanize and dash" I've administered. They'll linger in my "unpaid ER invoice" file gathering dust. As long as we have enough good clients to keep the doors open, this will continue to happen. I've made my peace with that. This is only one aspect that I believe contributes to the high suicide rate among veterinarians. You can only give of yourself so much without compensation before you lose your faith...in people, in karma, in God. For tonight I have good beer, a puppy who slept in my arms at work today, and a dog who chases the stream of water from a hose with an intensity and joy I can only aspire to in my daily life. For tonight, that is enough.