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Compassion Fatigue: when good turns bad

Updated: Apr 27

Well, you know how I had some really great days in the last couple of weeks? I spoke too soon. This past week drained me. I was wondering why I was so exhausted this weekend, and why the weekend was just not long enough to rejuvenate me. Then it hit me, realizing it was compassion fatigue.

I had a patient come in with an acute abdomen. This patient I had seen many times, and I knew he had a liver mass that was quite large. I ended up in a 3-way call with the pet parents (husband and wife). I had given them three options: 1) humane euthanasia, 2) go home to spend time with the family with some pain medication, or 3) refer to emergency for continued care. I was stuck in between them as they could not agree. I was running late for the scheduled appointments and finally had to let them go to decide between themselves. We had already determined that we were not euthanizing that night. The wife wanted pain medication and to take him home, and the husband wanted to take him to the emergency clinic. So while the husband was on his way to the emergency clinic he called, and we sent the records. The next day we got an update and the emergency clinic had recommended euthanasia. They wanted to bring him to us, but with our COVID-19 restrictions we were only allowing one pet parent in the room for euthanasia. They ended up cancelling with us, and did an in-home euthanasia, which in all honesty I was hoping they would do, as I was not sure they would be able to agree as to whom would be present in the room with me and their fur child. This one was tough. I called to send my condolences and they were feeling remorseful. I tried to reassure them that had they taken him for surgery when we found the mass, he may not have been operable at this time. When I hung up the phone, I cried. These are the moments of the job that are tough.

All week, the staff were stressed because we had an angry client calling every hour. At one point one of the receptionists was crying because of how rude this client was to her. The usual protocol is for clients to call in when their pet is sick, and book an appointment to have their pet seen. During COVID, we are also offering telemedicine, for those clients who do not want to risk coming out. Both were offered, but the client refused to schedule an appointment and was demanding to speak to me. Even after our manager spoke with them to discuss our protocols, they called the next day, and the next day. At some point, people do need to respect our time. I do a lot of work on my own time, and my work-life balance is what suffers.

On Friday, we had a walk in torn nail, and I was juggling appointments, running about 45 minutes late and then walking past the kennels saying, right, I need to call that owner about the issue their dog is having with the limping that I cannot see. I am just fortunate that not all of the clients have been impatient. I have to remember those ones that are appreciative that we are still able to see their pets. I also have to be thankful to the team for getting through this craziness.

I had another limping dog, that also seems to have a bony growth, which I need to consult with our medical director about, because it could be nothing, or it could be bone cancer. What are we going to do about it, and how long do we wait before we biopsy to find out?

On top of the work stresses, my husband is overwhelmed with his work, taking on three jobs at once and also running on fumes. He woke me up startled from a nightmare he had last night. That's also alarming. So the weekend comes to an end and I'm just as stressed as I was when it started. Luckily, we have a holiday coming up so I will get one extra day off this week. Happy Canada to me!

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