After graduating from Veterinary Technician school, I jumped two feet first into the world of shelter medicine. Even from my very first days working in surgery, I craved to be just as brilliant of a tech as my coworkers. I didn’t give myself the excuse of “new to the field” or “fresh out of schooling” to hold me back from keeping up with these new badass chicks that were truly, in my mind, the best of the best. Complacency was never an option, and I was dead set on not being viewed as anything other than a fellow “badass”. Although my desire to learn any and all tricks of the trade in solo catheter placement, lightless intubation, and independent “hold off for yourself” blood draws, was a constant in my mind, I knew deep down that my hardest accomplishment would be the mental side of a working as a shelter technician. Technical skills seemed like a piece of cake compared to the daily mind game you played with yourself just to get by without going insane. I noticed quickly that there was never time for feelings. If you wanted to keep up with the rest, you had to push your emotions to the side until your job was done. This goes without saying that each and every one of us had our jobs because of that exact reason, our emotions. It’s like the Veterinary Services department was this skilled team of super heros, whose power was to not feel anything yet feel so deeply that you were in a constant state of compassionate confidence that allowed you to get the job done.
So, with this deeply rooted in the back of my mind, I knew that I was no exception to the rule if I wanted to be a fellow badass. It’s amazing what the mind can do when you truly want something, isn’t it? Just like that, I went from crying during my first euthanasia, to requesting more days being the euth tech, just so I could know that it was being done correctly for the animals sake. I went from going home at night and hiding in my bathroom for an hour just to decrompress, to having drinks with friends like nothing out of the norm happened to me that day. I went from wanting to physically hurt the abusers of animals that would walk through our doors, to not being able to visualize that there was anyone else in that animals life except the staff that would now care for them. Don’t get me wrong, my feelings never disappeared, I just used them for good. Instead of letting them be a crutch in my career, I used my deepest and most powerful, raw feelings to push me through my day. My emotions became my job and my job became my life. I was in complete control, or so I thought. It wasn’t until I was thrown into a world far from the only thing I’ve ever known, that I realized that I had completely lost my sense to feel, and that this unlikely place might just be the ticket back to myself. I knew volunteering as a veterinary technician in Thailand would test me, I just didn’t know how exactly.
I remember specifically writing in my journal months ago. The last line of my entry was,”I just want to feel again”. It had been so long since I felt, well, anything. Between my career choice, losing a significant amount of loved ones in a short period of time, and holding the weight of the heartache of those around me over the last year, I had completely shut off any emotions whatsoever. Almost to the point of concerning myself. So, I just wanted to feel something, anything, to make sure I was still human. Turns out, suppressing your emotions is much easier than trying to get them back.
I started working in a clinic completely foreign to me. Between diffrencing opinions, beliefs, and all around “way of doing things”, I realized just how grateful I was to have had my previous mental training. The phrase,”do it for the dogs”, became an all too familiar ringing in my ear, as I continually reminded myself why I was there. As the days went on, I started to notice I was being broken down. The only difference was, instead of reverting back to the norm of telling myself to slap out of it, I let myself feel. Tears streamed down my face as I attempted CPR on a puppy mill dog that was dying of pneumonia. I kissed the head and cried over an old village dog being transferred to the hospital with his owners, knowing he wouldn’t make it through the end of the day. I lost days of sleep over a mama with dystocia. But the one moment that would forever change me, would be holding the responsibility of helping one of the most beloved dogs at The Elephant Nature Park, be put to rest peacefully. After days of twenty four hour care, and praying for him to pass, knowing the pain he was feeling, I had the honor to help him sleep peacefully. I had done this so many times I have lost count. I remember each face, but couldn’t begin to tell you about any emotions felt during the process. There was no time for that. As I walked away with the syringe in my hand, something that had become second nature to me, a realization hit me like a freight train. The last time I cried during a euthanasia was that one time. My very first time, and I hadn’t since. Truth be told I hadn’t thought much about how detached I had become until that moment, but boy was I glad to be back. I realized in that monumental moment, as I walked silently back to the treatment room to pull myself together, that I was just being reminded that sometimes you have to be broken down to be made new again. And that is okay. We collectively dug his grave, chose the most beautiful flowers to burry him with, and the biggest banana leaves to cover him with. As I handed him to be laid to rest, I was struck again with the lingering notion that this, too, was a whole new experience for me. In my previous world, dogs were bagged after they passed. They were not placed in bags out of disrespect or lack of caring, but because of space and cremation necessities. Nonetheless, it was all I had ever known. So, as we silently poured piles of dirt over our beloved dog, I felt the change inside me growing. As I pressed my hands on the freshly packed Thailand soil, I freely let the tears stream down my face. This dog was no different from the rest, he didn’t mean more than any of the others. The only thing that was different was me. And that will forever be one of the greatest moments in my career. Because that particular moment was the one I decided that I would never be just “good enough” for the animals. I would never allow myself to not grow, even if it means being completely broken down to be rebuilt, once again.
There isn’t a right or wrong way. We all do the best we can with what we have. We won’t always agree, but that’s what keeps us going and growing. If we didn’t challenge each other, and be open to the challenges we receive from others, we would become stagnant and complacent. Perhaps the greatest challenge of all is accepting the change within ourselves. It sure was mine.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like”-Lao Tzu