It’s 615 and his phone alarm goes off beside him. Perhaps it’s already rung a few times through the night. Concerned owners at hope’s mercy. He could have sworn it was still 11 the night before. Doesn’t feel as though he’s slept at all. Still, there’s a job to do. No time to be exhausted. Ignore it and keep going. He’s up and back through the clinic doors by seven. Often there’s already someone waiting at the door. They know The Vet will see them. He always does. He always has time and even if he doesn’t, he’ll make it. They know that. It’s part of who he is. And they admire him for it.
Did he know when we drove past that empty little shop on the corner of the village seven years ago, his hopes and dreams would become so big? Perhaps not.
Some days…shit, most days, he’ll see up to forty clients a day and by lunchtime will start on the sometimes four or five surgeries waiting for him in the hospital. You name it. Could be Anything from a basic castration to a tumour or mass removal, to the skilful and lengthy extended surgery of a cruciate, pyometra or exlap. A few hours and at times it’s touch and go. Maybe he’ll get in and discover something worse than expected. He’ll have to call the owners and convey their options…and they’re not always good ones. It’s a hard thing to do and one which never gets any easier, not with time or experience or age.
Today he might have to say goodbye to an old friend. Not his but maybe one he’s known, seen and helped for years. Sometimes he might go to their home to make them more comfortable. He quietly and gently tells them it’s going to be okay, rubbing their belly and tickling their ear as he shaves a patch on their often weak leg. I’ve been there once or twice and watched as he’s done it late at night when he’s the only one there and the owners have been too distraught to witness their last goodbye. He talks away to them just like he normally would, changing their sense of fear to one of calm. ‘It’s okay to let go,’ he’ll say. ‘You’ll feel all better’. A gentle tail wag or a blinking eye in return as if to say thank you for what you do. Thank you for helping me. Long after the medication has taken affect he’ll still talk to them, give them the respect they deserve for a life of loyalty and unconditional love.
He’ll say goodbye to many friends each week. Some long suffering, others to prevent the suffering. It’s never his choice. One he always gives them, the owners. He’ll gently tell them ‘if it was my friend, this is what I’d do’. It’s reassurance so they know what they’re doing is right. Lessening the burden. Helping to make a decision no one ever wants to make on their own.
He’s seen men, once big hulking strong blokes reduced to a simmering grief-stricken soul. Witnessed owners wait an entire day in the car park, too frightened to leave in case their friend won’t make it.
A little piece of every loss will sit with him. It’s impossible not to.
Then the next day a new friend, teeny and fluffy and bounding full of life will jump around his head as he lays on the floor with them. High pitched barks of delight at meeting this new human who will help keep them healthy and happy over the years.
There’s the days when he’s faced with owners who either have no option or haven’t allowed for the treatment of their friend, who haven’t listened or followed advice or come back for check ups, when a revisit could have meant an entirely different diagnosis. Sometimes there’s ignorance blanketed in fear… but his job is not to judge or berate or belittle. Nope. His job is just to listen. To block out his own feelings. To help. And most importantly, to heal.
His humour, the silly jokes, the cheeky laugh, mask the burden of what could easily swallow him whole. The enormity of everyday pressures, responsibility of being just one person when you need to be five. Of owning and providing for staff and his family. Of expectations and reliance and those who think he should just fix it anyway because it’s his job. Regardless of cost. Regardless of their inability to pay for what needs to be done. He’s a just a vet.
Long after the day is over, when the last patient is safely checked out and sent home he’ll look through the day’s visits and sit down to call the ever-growing list of people who are waiting on his words of wisdom. The night is always getting on and he has a family to get to…but they wait. They know. Dinner often goes cold. But he must get through it all. Results. Diagnosis. Advice. Decisions. Sometimes he’ll tell them the same thing three times. He knows it’s hard to understand what you’re being told when emotion clouds your ability to absorb sense.
The hours are long. The days stretch into night, seem to flow straight into the following day. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what he did the day before. Twelve, fourteen, sixteen hour days. Doesn’t matter, he does it because he loves it. His passion. Devotion, humility and kindness like I’ve never seen in anyone before. I tell him but maybe not enough enough, ‘I’m proud as damn hell of you, to stand beside you in life every day’. I worry for what he carries inside his head with him, for the exhaustion and fear and determination to always be better. I worry for the pressures this job – even though we both know it’s so much more than that – weighs heavily on his shoulders. It’s a job that’s both as demanding as it is rewarding. I’m well aware of what this career can do to those caught in its clutches.
People will ask, ‘what do you do for a living’ when he coyly almost quietly replies ‘just a vet’ then often come the snide remarks cloaked in ignorance ‘oh shit you must be rich as hell all the money it costs every time I go to the vet’.
I love these comments. They make my back go up like a hissing cat. I resist the undying urge swelling in my gut to punch them square in the face.
Haha Yes, he is rich you shitstick but not in the way you’d think. And not in the way you imply. He’s rich from the love he gets from every patient who walks through his doors every day. Whose entire Bodies wag when they see him, his face is smothered in slobbery kisses – their reward offered up for the love and kindness he shows. He’s rich in the love from their mums and dads and brothers and sisters who know he does his absolute best every day to keep them from harm, illness and worse. But mostly he’s rich in the love of his family. Of me and the 14 y o and the Supermutt who hear the pain and exhaustion in his voice when he comes home every night. Who listen to his daily tales of fear and grief and frustration. Who hug him and smother him with kisses, who hear and sense the pain of his burden and tell him ‘it’s all going to be okay’ just as he does to his patients and their families. He’s rich with the everlasting constant and undying love and pride not even my words (and I’ve always got plenty to say) could ever accurately convey.
Yes he is just a vet. And yes, he’s rich…but not with money. Instead with love, with appreciation, with admiration, adoration and the utter unconditional devotion he gives. Just a vet. Just the most incredible human I know.