Neonatal pediatrics vs. veterinary medicine'¦no contest
I have a delightful acquaintance whose career in human pediatrics is nearing its finally-out-of-residency phase. Her exuberant style ensures that I never fail to find her in-hospital anecdotes engaging, irreverent and funny.
Everything from questioning how it is possible for healthcare workers to consume so many cookies and brownies while babies are succumbing in the NICU, to describing the wild antics of her pet ferret is fair game, lending the impression that this is a pediatrician more likely to send her patients into fits of giggles than wails of despair.
Last week she imparted a bit of off-the-cuff wisdom (in her trademark loony-tunes tone) that left me scratching my head for the rest of the week. “I don’t know how you guys do it,” she offered. “Being a veterinarian is soooo depressing.”
Wow. This is the woman who just finished telling me about the six year-old kid in a car crash who might never make it off a respirator. I dunno, but I think we’re lucky not to have to deal in the pediatricians’ stock and trade of horrific, family-rending tragedy.
Maybe I’m wrong, but there’s nothing like losing a child. Sure, some of you might feel that statement amounts to an insensitivity towards my human-childless pet owning families and their pets’ significance—but there you have it. There’s something about our own species (not to mention my personal experience as a mother), perhaps, that alters my perspective, veterinary profession notwithstanding.
Yes, our work can be tragic. But compared to working in a NICU where babies die every day? Omigod, no! The compassion fatigue would effectively ensure an early burnout—or craft coping mechanisms so invisible I’d likely die without knowing I was immune to a whole class of human suffering by virtue of my work.
Interestingly, this pediatrician also offered a few more choice tidbits to help me tease out where she might be coming from. “It’s the money!” she blurted out. There’s no way I could fix some and kill the others just because of the money!”
Despite her blunt delivery, it sure made some sense to me. Sometimes when you’ve been doing things for so long you tend to lose sight of the obvious. Clearly my coping mechanisms are there somewhere—and not too far from the surface, either.
Of course I see the heartache that accompanies the inability to pay, the stress it incites, and the way we deal with its aftermath. Yesterday’s post on the Orlando vet whose unwillingness to euthanize an animal was a perfect example of someone putting her foot down and saying, “No way. Not today.”
Because sometimes it is too depressing. Taking that unwanted American Bulldog pup home over the weekend because he can’t be expected to be happy in a cage? Collecting stray kittens like Halloween candy come kitten season? Sucking up the fee when the puppy with the GI obstruction needs surgery? We do these things to cope with the financial failures of pet care. And we all hate that we feel compelled to do them.
But watching babies fight for their lives in incubators all day? No amount of stress-related brownie and cookie overeating can take the edge off that. I’ll stick to the devils I know, thank you very much.