A Letter From Our Medical Director

Kathryn Fink, DVM

Top Rated Veterinarian in BeltsvilleI wrote this at home after calling out sick from work for 2 days. Prior to this I have called out maybe 5 times in the previous 16 years. I worked right up until labor for the births of both of my children. My only symptoms for these two days were a slightly sore throat, runny nose and headache. But I wanted to keep my staff, clients, and patients safe. While ill, I didn’t even take ibuprofen because I worried it would mask a fever — one of the more telltale symptoms of Covid-19. I returned to work on Monday.

I am 16 years into a career as a small animal veterinarian, and I have worked at my current practice for almost that entire time! My clients and co-workers are like family. I have clients who are on pet round number 2-3 while under my care. I have known them while they battle cancer, lost spouses, and even sometimes children. I have also watched their kids grow up, and now I treat their pets, too. So many of them tell me the same thing: “I have never experienced anything like this.” I agree. This is one of those times, like 9/11, that we will all recall for years to come.

Since my return, I have been getting accustomed to the new reality of limited contact exams: No client face-to-face interactions; Washing hands to the point of bleeding; being hyper aware of any face touching, coughing or sneezing. And these urges to lead by example are offset by my guilt regarding other realities: Cleaning wipes and products are in short supply and high demand; Personal protective equipment is of the utmost importance for those on the front line, those who are helping and handling the severely sick/dying as the virus ravages this nation.
Overall, the lack of control anybody has over this situation can be very scary and overwhelming — especially to this type A personality who likes to plan and prepare. So, I have tried to take a deep breath and focus on what I can do.

Surprisingly, there is a lot:

  1. I can be there for my staff.
    I do not want to see them without jobs. I do not want to see them sick. I can therefore balance the work and the risks and try to accomplish this with as much preparedness as possible and without panic that would only make things worse. I can lead by example, washing my hands, not touching my face, staying home when sick. Being a leader also means asking them what they need to keep themselves safe. I can also use my knowledge to educate and curb some of their anxiety.<\dd>
  2. I can be there for my clients/patients.
    I do not want you, my clients, to think you cannot reach out to me with your questions and concerns about your pets. I know many of your pets may have chronic conditions and medical histories that would be difficult to relay to a new physician. I can help ensure your pet receives the life sustaining medication. I can be there to support my elderly clients, many of whom count a four-legged friend as the only constant companion during this isolating time.And I can be there for the unpredictable sicknesses bound to afflict cats and dogs in the midst of this human pandemic.
  3. I can be there for my family.
    I can work and try to limit the risks by following the CDC recommendations: Staying home when not working, washing my hands, and making my kids sanitize their hands. (I honestly CANNOT believe how many times a day I say “wash your hands and stop touching your face.”) I can support my family by keeping our groceries stocked, and getting take-out (from local businesses, of course) when I don’t have time or energy to cook. I can limit my exposure (and by extension, my family’s exposure) by purchasing necessities online. I can keep them informed by reading the research and not overreacting or believing all that I read online or hear on the TV. I can let science lead rather than hysteria. care and caution to limit exposure and good hand hygiene.
  4. I can be there for my extended family.
    I can call to check on my parents as they practice social distancing to stay safe. I can text with my youngest sister as she is all by herself, several states away, without a job as her company has closed. I can worry about my father-in-law with his many underlying health issues that make him high risk should he contract this virus, and call to see how he and my mother-in-law are holding up. I can send pictures of flowers, smiling kids, and playful pets to make them happier.
  5. I can be there for my friends.
    I can reach out to someone (but not with my hands! I’ll use a phone, text, or social media, obviously) I Haven’t talked to recently. I can smile as someone drives by when I walk out to get the mail. I can wave at a neighbor! Sometimes the littlest thing can make the biggest difference. Knowing that someone is listening/seeing your struggles can make anything seem just a little bit better. The thought Letting somebody else know they are who you are NOT having to go through it alone can be powerful. is so very important during this extreme. Connections are hard during this social distancing but can still be accomplished within the new limitations.
  6. I can staty up-to-date.
    I can stay up to date on the AVMA information regarding veterinarian essential status, dog and cat dangers for exposure, and results as further testing reveals more and more information about this virus. This information can be about both human and animal health, as they are often so closely interrelated. I can make everyone safer by educating myself, my staff, my clients, and my family. I can spread truth as far as we know at this time and try to temper the untruths that lead to higher and higher anxiety.
  7. I can step away from the TV, Social Media, and Computers.
    I can sit on the porch during a nice weather day and hear my kids’ laughter. I can make my anxiety a little bit less by just telling myself to take one day at a time and take a deep breath. I know that daily I am making a difference for someone who needs me.
  8. I can be thankful for..
    I can be thankful for all of the people in the county/state/federal government that are trying to make decisions to save lives with forever updating and changing information. And thankful for the scientists that are trying to figure this out without previous histories to compare to. I can have the grace to realize what a hard position they are in and that politics aside they are trying to do what they can to minimize lives lost. I can be thankful that we are all human and this is an unprecedented situation that we are all experiencing together.
  9. I can be there for the healthcare professionals on the front line.
    I do not need to wear full protective gear as of right now. I can minimize my use of gloves, masks, gowns, and facial shields until the situation dictates otherwise. This doesn’t mean I’ll be living dangerously. I just won’t go to the extremes without realizing what that means for someone else in this time when we are experiencing national shortages of crucial medical supplies. I feel for those medical professionals on the front lines who are battling so hard to prevent life loss and seeing death daily. They put themselves and their families at risk. We are a profession that deals with death, but the concept of the magnitude of the pandemic is unfathomable, and the stress is beyond our comprehension.
  10. Most of all, I can enjoy the little things because what this has really taught us is that we should never take them for granted, because the guarantee is not always there. This includes the time when we are able to return to our “normal” life, with its routines and protocols. Thank you for reading!

– Dr. Kathryn Fink

More about Dr. Fink and our team at Beltsville Veterinary Hospital.