Came into work today, at the VBB West Coast office. Just a typical day, but nearing the end of the week and I'm feeling a bit... tired.
Sometimes the fatigue comes in the form of true sleepiness, like the kind most of us are experiencing right now because of the time change. Other times it's a different kind of fatigue - the compassion fatigue sort of sleepiness.
So I wasn't really looking forward to the stack of messages on my desk, a few of which were from some very emotional clients who were having great difficulty making important decisions for their pets. Clients who had to decide "if it was time" or not.
Some of us really understand what it means to sit in a room with a crying client and think to yourself, "I really wish I didn't have to sit here and play psychiatrist and listen to this person cry about how hard it is to make this decision. Grow up. Be an adult." All of us have had those thoughts at one time or another. We are human, after all.
As much as I wish it wasn't so, this kind of stuff simply wears you down over time. You HAVE to grow hardened by it or else you'll end up blubbering along with every single client who tries to pull at your heart strings.
Anyway, a particular client didn't leave much of a message other than to say he'd be down later this morning to talk to me about the terrible prognosis given to his beloved pet this week by the internist. I admit it, I was sort of dreading it.
Client arrives, and my staff puts him into an exam room, and then they warned me, "He's very emotional."
Sigh. More emotional parasitism. Into the room I go.
As soon as he saw me, he burst into tears. He was really struggling with letting go and knowing when it was truly time to put his dog to sleep. The dog is dying, no doubt - eaten up with cancer so badly that no amount of surgery or radiation therapy will save him. The veterinary oncologist simply... sent them home.
Something happens to me in these exams. I'm burdened with compassion fatigue on an epic level. But, occasionally, one still gets to me on the inside.
See, as he was crying and tears were streaming down his face and snot pouring out of his nose, the real truth about why the decision was so hard for him became evident to me. It wasn't because he loves this dog that much, although he admittedly loves it a lot. It was because his wife, who had passed away a few years ago, had picked out this dog and gave him his unique name.
It was his last tie to his wife. I get that. I get that desperate feeling of not being able to let go of something you love. I'm certain that the void brought about by those decisions is never filled. Ever.
Its such a dilemma on my end. To let myself think about these things can sometimes be gut wrenching but on the other hand, I have to stay tough and hardened or else I would go crazy.
This client asked me how often I do this. I heard myself tell him "every day". It made him cry harder and he said he was crying for me because he couldn't do it. He couldn't face those kinds of emotions every day.
At the end, he decided he was not strong enough to stay with his beloved dog. In my detached psyche sort of way, I told him I'd be there, make it peaceful and kind and loving, and I told him I knew his wife would probably be standing right there besides us in spirit, waiting to take their dog with her and then start their wait until he would join them both in spirit as well.
It doesn't matter that I'm an atheist; it matters that I help end suffering. That is my job.
And sometimes, I really do wish I wasn't so good at it. But sometimes I do get the glimmer of humility that comes with truly helping pets and people, a feeling so few really understand at all.