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A practitioner ponders

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As our 25-year university reunion approaches, I continue my love-hate relationship with out-of-hours work. Admittedly, I no longer jump out of my skin when the phone rings, but life is still somewhat dictated by the constraints of that next night on. To some extent this burden – once a fact of life – has become optional, at least for those in small animal practice. Sharing of duties among large animal practices still struggles to overcome the limitations of geography.

It seemed sometimes that the only thing standing between veterinary practice and an ideal working life was the burden of out-of-hours work. Now that nights and weekends on call might be optional, I have to decide if I would truly prefer to see the back of them. There were times, when I was younger, when I thought life would be improved without my middle brother. With age, we have both mellowed and I have to say, now, I would miss him. I sense my relationship with midnight working may be undergoing a similar transformation.

As a schoolboy on the farm, the nocturnal calving in a dimly-lit barn was the height of excitement. All steam and blood, hard graft, team work, and new life where there might have been none with the vet as conquering hero. It was not the periodic blood tests on a Monday morning that lured me into this game. For me, farming seemed a little mundane – vetting was where the drama was.

Reflecting now, that vet might have taken a different view. Getting out of a warm bed, driving to the back of beyond and then having to deal with my father! But to my eyes, it was that sacrifice of a normal life, the ‘all in a day’s work' expression over a pre-dawn cuppa that defined a noble calling. There was no ‘How much?’ or ‘When will you be paying?’, just a job that needed doing and only one person who could do it. For a farm boy like me, he was the next best thing to a superhero.

I could knock off at six or seven, I suppose, now that I am a cat and dog man, leaving the clients in the hands of a night shift. But would a profession be a profession any more if it were not inconvenient and demanding? Is it just a job in the medical sciences?

Everyone needs rest and we must be fair in the demands we put on our staff. However, if you never get the opportunity to say ‘No problem’ when a client realises with amazement that you are the vet they saw yesterday and again late last night, and you are phoning them at 8.30 am today to say all is well, you have missed one of those moments that give your life real value.

I like to be comfortable at home, I like a glass of beer and I like my bed – but I do like to be a superhero, just for a while, now and then.

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