Do you have that one thing that fills your soul? That one thing, that no matter what, makes you content, happy, and warm inside. For some it maybe running, or holding a newborn baby, or taking a walk in the woods. For me not surprisingly, it is animals. I can spend hours being still and just watching animals, from the elephant seals on the California coast to my own cat as he sleeps on my chest as I lay on the couch. I cannot count the hours I have wasted just watching the rise and fall of his restful breath. Looking at the shape of his mouth, or how his ears still move ever so slightly to pick up any stray sound, at his long white whiskers, or the tiny bumps making up his perfect black nose. Yes animals make me complete.
But at this time in my life I find myself thinking not just about the animals that I have gotten to know, but the people who have come and gone and have made my story mine. Perhaps I find myself reflecting on life because I am fast approaching the same age that two very important people in my life developed cancer and passed away. Being an introvert I have never been that person in a group who always has a story to tell or able to talk to anyone about anything. In fact even to this day my heart will beat faster and my palms begin to sweat when I have to tell my name to a group of strangers. Yet everyday I must meet new people as my job as a veterinarian is actually very much about people. Each and every pet that I care for has a person attached, and each and every person has a story to tell. And so, though it has never been a surprise that I ended up with a career that involved animals, what has been a surprise, are the people I have been privileged to meet through my love of their four legged family members.
In my exam room I have shared the ups and downs of my client’s lives. I have enjoyed the thrill of a lottery winner and the stress of clients who have lost their jobs. I have had clients with MS, cancer, and one client with Alzheimer who called us daily about her dog who had already passed. It has amazed me how open and willing clients have been to share their lives with me. One lady informed me that she broke her finger falling out of bed while having wild sex. I have examined the cat of a cross dresser and met clients who were struggling as they had family members who were going through surgery to change from a man to a woman or vice versa.
Every morning I scan the appointments to prepare myself for the day. After 23 years of practicing I read names of clients that are coming in and think, “Oh great Joan is coming in I wonder if her daughter is home or still off in Europe with her modelling?” or “Hey Sharon is back from Scotland.” Many of my clients are no longer just names rather their appointments have become a time I get to catch up on their lives. I get to travel vicariously with my clients as I listened to travel stories of trips to far off places. I have two very adventurous clients who I am always excited to see as they have made the most of their retirement, with trips to amazing places such as the Galapagos or their latest adventure of trekking through Nepal and staying in remote villages.
I have felt privileged to be a small part of my clients’ lives and I have watched as some of my clients have gone from strong independent people to frail seniors. One such lady, Mary, was no longer able to drive and so I offered to transport her cat to and from our hospital. “Shelley stop in for a drink when you bring her back.” She had said as I walked out the door. When at 4pm I returned her beautiful cat who had spent the day with us getting her teeth cleaned, Mary asked me what I would like to drink. “Any chance you would have a cup of tea?” I had replied. “Tea. No you need a real drink how about some vodka?” Mary is no longer with us but her beautiful Wysocki print now hangs behind our receptionist’s desk and I think of her and the stories she shared with me, as I walk into my office and pass by that picture each and every morning.
Over the years I have discussed up coming wedding plans with excited brides including my favourite bride who was just shy of 70. I remember the morning she dropped off her cat to stay with us in our Cat Nap Inn and she informed us that she was off on her honeymoon with her new husband.
I have celebrated births, watched children grow to adults, and attended funerals. One of my hardest conversations was the day I had one of my favourite couples in my exam room with their two dogs. Somehow we got onto the fact that the husband was dying and only had weeks to live. The conversation was matter of fact. I was shocked but they had been living with the knowledge for years, that he had cancer and would not see 50, and they had made peace with it. But when it came to the end of the exam I wasn’t sure what to say. “Have a great day?” “See you next year!” “Enjoy your summer.” All my standards did not work. And though a very difficult appointment I felt a sense of honour to have been allowed into their lives.
My job has given me more than I ever thought it would. I love every fur-covered face and laugh, as I get wacked by tails. I have my soul filled by getting to pet puppies and kittens daily, but it is the people’s stories that can make me laugh, cry or realize that one just never know what lies around the next corner of one’s life.
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