“So Much For That”, the Lionel Shriver book I finished recently, featured a character who decided he had had enough and put a full stop to his life sentence, at least partly because of a botched penis lengthening procedure. It really was as silly as it sounds.
Being male he did it by putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger, splattering much of the contents of his head all over the family kitchen. This got me thinking that, no matter how miserable you are and no matter how bad you think your life is, spare a thought for those that will find your body and have to clean the mess up afterwards. If you choose to do it in your own home this will likely be one of your beloved family members. In this case it was his wife and daughter. Who wants the final image of their husband/father to be one of him lying on the kitchen floor with half his head missing, blood, brains and bone having sprayed everywhere? Do you know how hard it is to get blood out of curtains? Needless to say the wife refused to enter the kitchen ever again and wound up selling the house. But who wants to buy a house with a history like that? I can just imagine the new home owners finding a bit of skull under the fridge several months after moving in. So, if you must flush your life down the drain, at least have some consideration about how and where you do it.
Veterinarians have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession (1.54 times the average). I believe there are two reasons for this. I can’t say I am much of a Jeremy Clarkson fan but I believe he hit the nail on the head when he said that people become veterinarians because they have a love of and affinity for other species. They want to devote their lives to helping animals and mitigating suffering. Unfortunately a lot of that relief comes in the form of euthanasia. Don’t get me wrong. I would much rather euthanase a terminally ill, suffering animal than have it go through months of pain and anguish, the way we allow people to. But all that death takes its toll after a while. Years ago I spent six months working at the RSPCA. The number of cruelty cases I saw and the number of animals I had to euthanase, some quite healthy, simply because we had no room was almost enough to drive me to join them. While the RSPCA performs a vital function six months was more than enough for me.
The second reason is that if a veterinarian decides to end his life he will probably succeed. Veterinarians obviously have an excellent command of physiology and have all sorts of lethal drugs available, one of which is etorphine, an incredibly powerful anaesthetic used to immobilise animals like elephants and rhinos. It is rumoured that one scratch from a needle dipped in etorphine is enough to kill. The drug is rigidly controlled and only veterinarians working with these animals can gain access to it, but I did have a friend who used it to end his own life. He did it because of the aggressive bone cancer that was spreading up his leg, but his profession gave him access to the means.
Even regular veterinarians have shelves full of pentobarbitone, the drug of choice for euthanasing dogs and cats. I have heard more than one story of a veterinarian hooking himself up to an IV line, connecting the line to a bottle of pentobarbitone and then slowly going to sleep as the drug ran into his body. No doubt it is a very peaceful way to go.
The flipside of all this doom and gloom is that veterinary medicine also provides some pretty amazing highs. Seeing that falcon that came into the clinic with a broken wing fly off into the sunset is close to the top of my list, not mention the quoll with the really bad skin condition I saw recently that now appears to have made a miraculous recovery.
Dr. F. Bunny