Tomorrow is a half day for me, and then I have the entire weekend off. Off meaning not working, and not answering the phone, and trying really hard not to have even one thought relating to my hospital slip inside my head, for two entire days. So of course, I have a bandage that runs nearly from wrist to elbow. This one supplants the one I took off this morning from the other arm, which replaced the one on this arm that I needed last week.
I work with dogs and cats, and each comes fully equipped with teeth and toenails, weapons designed to help them capture and kill prey, and also to defend their very lives from others of their species, and those bigger ones who would kill and eat them. They are born willing and able to use these weapons. Yet I can go weeks without so much as a nick on my precious skin. That’s the norm for me, and I’m proud of it. Decades of this work, dedication to making my patients comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, and lessons learned from all those mistakes have taught me how to stay healthy in this work. So yeah, I can expect to go weeks without getting injured. Until I take some time off. That is my Achilles heel.
The bite and scratch gods lay in wait for me to plan a day off. Their eyes light up at the prospect. And they turn loose upon me the nasty dogs, the evil cats, and those resoundingly clueless people that were somehow placed on this earth with no higher calling than to let their animals maul me.
It is no one’s fault that I chose a circumstance that mandates long hours and dedication to folks and their pets. I picked this deal at a tender age, and I rarely regret the decision. But after a few months of 60 hour weeks, I crave some time away. I recharge in really nice places, mountains and deserts and seashores, places of beauty, solitude, and quiet and fresh air. I look forward to these moments of respite, away from the pathos and tragedy that is the inevitable dark side to the work I love. And when these places have done their work on me, I return to my calling renewed, happy, and frankly a lot more effective.
But something happens as I approach these moments away from my work. I change somehow. And the bite and scratch gods sense this, and they make me pay. Maybe after working myself ragged, my reflexes just aren’t up to the challenge. Or maybe that negative side of me, that I’m-not-perfect-and-thus-deserve-punishment side just folds and lets the harm happen. I don’t know… maybe I’m just tired.
This time it was the 7 month old puppy that never read the directions, the directions that state that puppies should love everybody and kiss the world. And this tyke lives with people who expect it to snarl, bark, and maul pretty much everyone it comes into contact with, so they yelled at me when their dog tore me apart.
This time it was the man with a career in education, the man with the geranium IQ, and the life skills of a four year old, who brought in the 108 pound dog wearing the harness. Every veterinarian knows that the dog wearing a harness will bite you, for the harness is the owner’s concession that the dog need never mind. The bite missed, but the claws have left their scars forever on my arm.
And this time it was the cat that reminds us that cats are only semi-domesticated animals, and he lived up to that potential.
So I’m going to leave tomorrow wearing a bandage again. But the coast beckons, and I will nap and read and write and relax, and the only thing that might go wrong is the other same thing that happens whenever I take a day off. It will probably rain.