How are you?
That’s the question I hear most as an opening to conversations right now. I’ve had more communication by videoconference than in person meetings this week, and I suspect that will be the way of things for a while.
How are you?
Because we are all vets, I can make some guesses. You’re tired, but you’re putting your patients first. You and your staff have raw hands, because you’re scrubbing down every surface between visits, and scrubbing your hands more often than you already usually do. You’ve answered a lot of questions from the public and your families about this virus. You’ve put to rest some crazy theories, and pondered some others. You may be out of toilet paper. You may have donated supplies to human hospitals already.
How are you?
I ask, because we know our clients are depending on us to keep providing medical care for pets and livestock. Despite all the uncertainty in the world, citizens need access to a safe, accessible and affordable food supply. On any given day, but especially in a crisis, the human-animal bond provides stability, relief, and a coping mechanism for an incredibly stressed population. Veterinary researchers are poised to lead the world in understanding the nature of this virus (and every other zoonotic diseases, current or future).
Humans will continue to rely on animals. Animals will have continuous medical needs through the next 12 to 18 months, regardless of what happens on the world stage. I’ve been thinking about the lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina, where people refused to evacuate deadly situations rather than leave their animals behind. Thereafter, federal legislation [Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act and the Post-Katrina Emergency Response Act (PKEMRA), 2008] was passed to include a mechanism to shelter animals belonging to people in evacuation zones. In subsequent hurricanes, and even local flooding, veterinarians have been able to mobilize as teams to provide shelter and emergency vet care for displaced animals. This provided stability and comfort to animal owners, who could then look to their own needs. The current situation is a slow moving natural disaster; rather than leaving animals behind, we are sheltering with them. I’ll be the first to admit that my dog and cat have suffered my sudden neediness and have even absorbed a few tears. I know I’m not alone in that.
Veterinarians are the essential support for maintaining the public’s coping mechanisms, a safe food supply, and economic production capability for a large segment of society. We always have been. Now, in a time of global crisis, our roles are clearly defined for all to see. There are questions to be answered still, such as how to ensure human hospitals have the reagents, PPE, and equipment that they are desperately short of. Also, what is the best method of triaging veterinary patients this week, and will that be the same as next week or week after? How do we keep our staff members safe? And the question on everyone’s mind, who knew that toilet paper would be the prized possession of 2020? But I digress.
How are you?
As always, vets tend to provide service to all others before they look to their own needs. I know, I get it, and I’m just as bad about it. But this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. I’m committing to at least one healthy activity per day, whether it’s leaving my computer for a 15 minute walk break, or finding a cool project to do with my kids, or just taking time to listen to the birds singing in the mornings. We are all in this together. We already have the skills and knowledge of how to help our clients through a difficult time. Let’s be sure to help each other, and ourselves, too.
Be healthy, be well, and know that I’m grateful for each and every person who is working in the veterinary field. Each role is crucial, today and every day.
Amanda Fales-Williams, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVP
Iowa Veterinary Medical Association