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So Many Other Things: The Reality of Veterinary Practice Part 10 - No Answers

Posted in So Many Other Things... @ May 16th 2019 - By Michael Weinhardt, Michael Weinhardt Photography

Holding a mirror to the veterinary industry to show the realities you work with every day.

A photographic documentary that relates what working in a busy veterinary practice looks like - the highs, lows, challenges, day-to-day, unusual and extraordinary.

“If only vetting just consisted of treating sick animals. But it didn’t. There were so many other things.”

- James Herriot, If Only They Could Talk

Image: 8:47am. Ultrasound showed this very sick dog's liver was tumorous. The only option was euthanasia and it had to be done as quickly as the dog's onwers could get back to the practice. 6 July 2018.


Viewing is recommended for people aged 15 years and over.  Photographs may disturb some viewers as content includes graphic images of death. People under 15 should check with responsible adults before viewing.

Viewing is cautioned for those grieving the death of a pet. Some photographs in this photoessay may be confronting and upsetting to some viewers who are grieving the loss of their pets.

Part 10: No Answers

As good as a death can be through euthanasia, when the gift of giving it is taken away, it can be heartbreaking. It doesn’t happen often, but it happened once while I was at Brudine and it was the most impactful event that I witnessed.

Cosmo developed a cough that concerned Jane [ed: name anonymised for privacy] enough to contact an after-hours/emergency clinic, who recommended taking him to a veterinary practice in the morning.

Jane brought Cosmo to Brudine and the consulting vet subsequently began diagnosis. After a physical examination, history, blood work and consultation with two other vets, a respiratory issue was considered most likely; Cosmo was prescribed antibiotics and kept in the practice for observation.

During one of the regular and frequent observations conducted by staff, Nurse Julie Marten found Cosmo unresponsive. Marten immediately called Dr Grace Butler for help and, very quickly, the entire practice became involved in the emergency response and consultations were briefly halted.

After approximately twenty minutes, the attempt to revive Cosmo was stopped and he was declared dead. Post-mortem radiology revealed nothing conclusive about the cause.

It seemed that the loss of control over Cosmo’s health, the inability to prevent his death during the emergency response and not being able to determine the cause was like a perfect storm – an incredibly rare confluence of events that undermine human intervention and lead to a tragic, unavoidable outcome.

Unsurprisingly, Cosmo’s death hit the practice hard.

When I talk about it with Marten a few days later, she is still feeling its effects. She says through tears, “When you get an unexpected death, it’s a shock. You wonder, ‘Did I do everything right? Was it going to happen anyway?’”. She also recalls with appreciation being called after work by Butler to see if she was okay.

The consulting vet took it hard, and still seemed to be trying to reconcile what happened months later, constantly replaying the sequence of events of the day and unable to find any kind of answer, and said, “That typifies the hard part of being a vet; the most devastating, horrible part is when something like that happens. You kind of don’t want to do it anymore. You start questioning whether this is for you.”

Dr Karen Viggers says that reaction is not unusual and, “it can take a couple of years to come to terms with it.”

The consulting vet was also philosophical about the experience as part of vetting: “I don’t think you ever stop questioning that, you just learn to deal with it, you just try to do the right thing every time.”

The consulting vet called Jane to tell her Cosmo was dead and met with her when she came in to see Cosmo and say goodbye.

Cosmo was an important part of Jane’s life. She fondly recalls Cosmo as never having grown out of the puppy stage.

“He was boisterous, a ball of energy and sometimes just plain mischief itself. He was also loyal, affectionate and protective.”

She also tells of her relationship with him.

“Cosmo was happy just being with us, he didn’t ask for anything else. Like a shadow he would follow me around the house, sit at my feet or give me a single lick on the hand as he was going past. He was ours and we were his.”

It’s easy to understand how hard it would have been to lose Cosmo, particularly without a reason.

Jane says, “The staff tried their best to console me and provide a reason but really, without the ‘why’, no words would have made a difference that day.”

Remarkably, though, Jane empathises with the entire practice.

“People that choose to go into professions involved with the care of people and animals share a common sense of humanity and whilst you know death is an inevitable part of these professions, sudden and unexplained death leaves a mark. I could feel the sorrow in Brudine the day that Cosmo died and the struggle to explain to me why it happened.”

2:31pm Despite all efforts to resuscitate Cosmo, he did not survive. 22 February 2018.

2:51pm A post-mortem review of Cosmo's death reveals nothing conclusive about how he died. 22 February 2018


Click here to visit the 'So Many Other Things..' Blog Category to read more in the series

About Michael - in his words...


I make long-form photographic essays that are faithful to my subjects and their stories.

I have spent a decade in the USA, Peru, Cuba, and Australia, covering stories about people whose lives I can't not be interested in.

Most recently, I completed a photographic documentary about the reality of veterinary practice, called SO MANY OTHER THINGS. It was shot over a year and released on September 24, 2018.

Previously, I spent from 2012 to 2015 documenting music and friendship in an Australian metal band, FRANKENBOK. 

Other stories I've photographed over the last 10 years can be found in my Archive.

Contact Michael via: Website -  So Many Other Things


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