As a veterinary community, we have had to cooperate responsibly on a global scale to slow down our essential business for the priority of human life. We have had to postpone elective procedures due to reduced availability of PPE or Personal Protective Equipment. Surgeries require all personnel in a surgery suite to wear a sterile surgical gown, gloves, mask, cap, and shoe covers. This requirement is necessary to prevent contamination or bacterial introduction to a surgical field, especially a part of the body that is not exposed to air, such as an abdomen or chest. This protective gear is also strongly recommended during dental procedures, more to protect our staff from bacterial contamination on our clothes, hair and face. Our responsibility as a veterinarian is to not compromise that quality care, ensuring a successful surgical/anesthetic event. I understand that in human hospitals the same decision to postpone elective procedures had to be made as the same PPE was needed to protect our warrior human medical workers from this pandemic viral infection.
To give you some basic statistics, we used to order 6 boxes of non-sterile gloves per week. Once Covid-19 hit, we were allotted only 1 box per week, not of each size, S M L, but 1 box period.
We used to order surgical masks almost every other week, and were told our allotment was zero.
We used to order disposable surgical gowns: 30 to a box every 3-4 weeks, and were allotted only 5 per month.
The generosity of some of our human hospital workers has been to share a box of surgical masks with us because those in the medical field also understand the need for PPE in the veterinary realm. That collaboration was a beautiful example of the Human-Animal Bond, where Human Health Care Providers helped Animal Health Care providers, understanding that their patients had to be prioritized but still had room for compassion and comprehension of the Veterinary sacrifice during this Viral Season.
We have seen pet parents cling and worry over their pets even more now as the full time relationship at home is required for those that have to shelter in place. Many staff members have children or immunocompromised family members that had to choose the responsibility of family health and education over serving our community. We have stories of clients just prior to the Shelter in Place order overhearing others who were already laid off, unemployed, but had a pet that needed care. These clients paid those bills, without expectation, only to celebrate the compassion and relational understanding of a love for an animal.
We have experienced the fatigue of being a service provider where we cannot accommodate as much or as often as we did just two short months ago, where pet parents are discouraged and impatient because they are so concerned for their pet but also their own household. The gratitudes seem farther apart compared to the grumbles on a daily basis.
The joy we have been able to see is the attentive evolution due to being at home. Obese pets are losing weight due to the increased number of walks. Pet parents are studying more, and asking more questions as to the ailments of their pet. Observations of different pet behaviors are new discussions now. People have the time to study diet and nutrition, look at their aging pet and notice the “slow down”, or are able to capture a photo of their children interacting with the family pet. The enrichment of memories and companionship has been wonderful to hear about.
I have written an article about the human-animal bond in the past, and I am reminded of it daily during this time. Especially as the only physical link to our pet parents now is through their animals. We are operating via a curbside basis, to decrease exposure risk for both our pet parents and our staff. Communicating has required us to specify, increase patience and manage understanding while discussing over the phone rather than face to face conversation. The necessary physical disconnect has required an ingenuity to combat that void and protect the necessary relationship of a pet parent to their veterinary care provider. Especially for our senior community where a face to face discussion usually brings about a clearer understanding rather than a phone discussion.
Our pet care providers are not only embraced in this identity of Veterinary staff, but also mothers, sisters, grandmothers, spouses. The multiple layers of identity are revealed during this time where priorities must be shifted for the optimal cause. The definition of “essential” has a systemic variance among all of us, none of which is wrong. But I believe we will never be the same after this. Communication has evolved, our pet relationships have evolved. Normalcy will have a new identity and a new definition of balance.
We in the veterinary field are reduced in staff and reduced in supplies but are not reduced in our sense of compassion and responsibility to protect the human-animal bond. All aspects of your pets’ health is essential, and we look forward to getting back to full normalcy again, but until then, we are here when your pets need us the most. When pets are hurting, viably threatened, uncomfortable, we are doing our best to be the heroes our pet parents need us to be during this challenging season. Our pets were there prior to this, and with our veterinary commitment, they will be there after this.
All my best,
~Dr. Celina Hatt, DVM.