On Fatigue

Welcome back to SeeingSophie!

Sorry for being MIA recently, but I’ve had exams recently, as well as a tonne of overtime at work because of sick colleagues AND patients.

Today I thought about something that influences everybody in the veterinary industry: fatigue.

Much like any healthcare worker, working in veterinary science means that vets, vet nurses, and vet techs often suffer from fatigue, and I find that this is often mislabelled as ‘compassion fatigue.’

Compassion fatigue: A condition characterised by a lessening of compassion over time, and is a state experienced by those helping animals or humans in distress.

No matter how much I work, and expend my compassion for countless animals, I never seem to be lacking in empathy.

What I do suffer from, however, is fatigue.

Unlike many occupations, it is often and not abnormal for me to work overnight or 14+ hour shifts. Just when you think you’re done, a HBC walks through the front door, or a ‘my puppy can’t go to the toilet,’ becomes a late-night ex-lap, or a good samaritan turns up with a bag of abandoned kittens. The only thing you can do is roll up your pants, and set up that IV fluid line and anaesthetic machine.

Some cases, I am the primary caregiver, and I am the sole person in charge of nursing an animal back to health; checking vitals every hour, medication often, adjusting fluids, and giving as much love as I possibly can. While these are the most rewarding cases (the ones I work alone, from admit to discharge), they are also the hardest.

These are the Sunday 8pm-2am cases, where I’m exhausted, often famished and busting for the toilet, but my needs come after my patients’.

Here are my most recent, particularly difficult cases:

Ruger: A TECA and bulla osteotomy, complete with radiographs and incredible aggression.

Kira: A GDV turned ex-lap because she had ALSO eaten a towel.

Both had recovery periods of over two hours before extubated. Neither of them could lift their head before I left. But I couldn’t stay with them overnight and so that’s exactly what I did. Left.

Did I sleep at all that night? Not a wink.

I’d left a dog that couldn’t lift its head after an extensively long GA. It’s after the Sx has been completed that a dog is most at risk of falling comatose, and that’s exactly what I was worried about. I’d worked so long, for so many hours, on these dogs, and I could possibly walk in the next morning to a deceased patient.

I was exhausted from the extensive shifts and yet couldn’t possibly sleep for fear of what could be happening to those dogs while I was ‘relaxing,’ at home. Sleepless nights like that are incredibly common for me, and many veterinary workers, and it’s difficult to work under those conditions at the BEST of times. Days like these happen. And then again. And then again.

And so the fatigue hits.

We work until we drop, and I mean literally. I’ve fainted countless times on my shifts from exhaustion, and lack of energy, and I’m not alone in this at my clinic.

People often wonder why the veterinary industry is one of the highest for suicide rates, despite being one of healthcare. This is one of the big reasons that cause it, because we are paid so low considering the amount of work that each and every one of us puts into our jobs, and into our patients.

While this is one of the big reasons, there are others that contribute to the high rates of suicide in animal healthcare, and I plan on posting about it some time next week.

I guess what’s most important is to lift you head, take a breath, and smile.

Around my clinic, my family and my friends, I’m known for always, always smiling. No matter what is thrown at me, I always feel better when I’m smiling. Not only does it make me feel happy from the inside out, but it’s infectious, and it always makes the people around me smile.

If you’re ever suffering in any way possible, don’t hesitate to contact someone that can help you, whether it be family, friends or strangers.

Subscribe using the button on the left to stay updated on all things SeeingSophie and you’ll hear from me later this week.

Love always,
Sophie xx

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Below I have included a short description of all the abbreviations and terms I’ve used in the post above 🙂
  • HBC- hit by car
    animals involved in car accidents
  • Ex-lap- exploratory laparotomy
    a surgery performed when the abdomen is opened and the abdominal organs are examined
  • IV- intravenous
    medication or otherwise administered directly into a vein
  • TECA- total ear canal ablation
    removal of the entire ear canal
  • Bulla Osteotomy- opening of the bulla to remove infected tissue
    the bulla is a part of the middle ear and often requires osteotomy in the case of ongoing infection
  • GDV- gastric dilation volvulus
    commonly known as ‘bloat,’ when the stomach dilates and then rotates on its axis and requires emergency surgery
  • Extubated- removal of the ETT
    an endotracheal tube (ETT) is placed in the animal’s throat to supply oxygen and GA, and must be removed once in recovery
  • GA- general anaesthetic
    what makes a patient become unconscious during a surgery
  • Sx, surgery
    a shorthand that is used in medical professions

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