Staying Centered in a Crisis
“The price of greatness is responsibility.” — Winston Churchill
In this time of great uncertainty with both societal and personal concerns, our responsibilities have come into focus. As I write this, the COVID-19 illness threatens millions of people worldwide. Drastic measures have been put in place to limit human-to-human contact, including curfews and quarantines, the use of personal protective equipment, and the introduction of social distancing. Unfortunately, a reality of these crisis management techniques is that members of our profession naturally have to distance themselves from mainstream pet care, when all they want to do is provide care for those without a voice in this chaos. Of course, our duty as humans to society—while nature has provided us with a checkpoint on our entitlements—is to our fellow humans. As health professionals, we can offer equipment, supplies, knowledge, and conversation, but all of this takes its toll while we learn how to work differently than we have before.
For example, we now offer curbside pickup of our patients. We send people out in gloves, masks, and protective clothing to take a patient from the arms of desperate owners and there is limited face-to-face communication. We take histories over the phone, assist visitations in outdoor spaces, and even perform euthanasia appointments over FaceTime. A crisis of conscience is upon us: We must determine how to protect the health of family members, neighbors, and ourselves while continuing to offer care—and hope—for the pets in our community, the ones who themselves offer comfort to scared and confused owners. Our relationship with clients must change during this time, which is difficult when some of them may be part of an extended community family.
Our role as the social caregivers for many clients has also been affected now that a simple hug of compassion to an emotionally struggling owner has been discouraged.
Given all that we know, we start to triage the cases we are willing to see and grapple with how we will deal with those that we can’t. The rules of engagement on emergency duty have now changed. There are, of course, arguments both for and against retaining any type of cover in an individual practice. Animal welfare remains paramount, and obviously owners must be able to access emergency veterinary help when they really need it. But, equally, the welfare of the veterinary professionals providing these services must be considered, and that welfare includes the physical and mental health issues that accompany professional responsibilities in a worldwide pandemic. On top of the most visible concerns, we deal with challenges to get our required CE, train our young graduates, provide practical experience to our senior students, provide clinical advice to isolated practitioners, access our medical records from home, and supply our long-term patients with much needed medications.
Despite the challenges that we face as veterinary professionals and as we prepare for an uncertain future, we are developing short-term fixes that could evolve into long-term solutions. This crisis must make us think about our daily routine: Are we doing something because of ethical and legal obligations, or because it’s good business? There’s no doubt that this pandemic will change society as a whole in many ways. But one thing is clear for veterinary professionals: We must re-evaluate how we function and be ready to adapt at any moment.