The last weekend. For ten years, I have spend anywhere from a quarter to half of my weekends “on call”: working and often away from home. As a family, we learned early the folly of making plans on those weekends. The best illustration of the sort of comedy of errors that could erupt came one Sunday morning at brunch. We were scraping the last bites of French toast through syrup; I was wiping the foam of my latte from my lip when the phone rang. A neurologic, rabies- suspect patient of mine had just died. I closed the phone and said to Mike, “The donkey died. I need to go.”
Not missing a beat, my husband hailed the waitress, and spoke the words that live in infamy to this day. “Can we get the check? My wife has to go decapitate a donkey.”
This is the last of those weekends, the last ‘we can’t make any plans, Christy is on call’ weekend. After 5:00pm Monday, our clinic doors will close, and we will each walk away to different lives. That’s the strange part for me, not my transition into a new career, but the knowledge that the whole thing will be gone. In the past, when I have left a job, the business, the entity, remained behind, replacing me and continuing its daily work. I find this sense of complete annihilation unnerving.
Recently, I was talking about this concept of transition vs. ending with a friend. I tried to explain that while I’m generally pro-transition, I hate endings. Not unreasonably, my friend asked, “How are they different for you?”
I couldn’t explain myself then, and I’m still not sure that I can. I think it has to do with the difference between an individual and a concept. I accept that for me, the individual, this is a transition. I will move from veterinary medicine into writing, struggle, and grow. But the concept, the entity that was my job, will vanish.
This is the part of the discussion where my friend pointed out that all of the pieces remain: clients, animals, co-workers. None of them are being wiped from the face of the earth – well, not unless I have any euthanasias scheduled in the next four days. The individuals involved in this entity that has been our clinic are not ending, they are transitioning. True.
For me, though, a composite relationship like this becomes its own entity, a synergistic being – more than the sum of those parts. When the parts are detached, each reverts to its natural state, and something, the synergy is lost.
So many pieces have made up this whole: stumbling to my truck half-asleep beneath the cold stars; foals slithering onto fresh straw; a decomposing calf delivered by pieces into a blackberry thicket as my second-trimester stomach threatened to rebel; our technician saying, “Do we want a little more sedation, maybe?” in the tone of voice that really means, “If you don’t stick some more drugs in this crazy-ass horse, this time I will walk away and let you die”; the same technician saying, “I have great faith in you,” because she never would walk away; our office manager calling with a “situation”, but rearranging my schedule by some mysterious alchemy to accommodate the situation; clients asking, “should I be worried yet?”; the folded invoices clipped to my message board telling me that someone is very unhappy with the bill, unhappy with my work, or just hates my sense of humor; the inevitable midnight pygmy goat C-sections where entire families unload from the pickup, parents wearing the expression that tells their sullen kids, ‘this stupid goat is your 4-H project and if I have to be here, so do you’; the client who brings me bags of alpaca fleece; the cowboy who can’t comprehend that I won’t finish our appointment by joining him in a beer (Sorry, but the secret truth, is that I hate Coors light!); the client who, after listening, watching carefully, and making me write detailed instructions, goes home and applies the layers of the horse’s bandage in exactly the wrong order; the “good” clients who have called us out once in three years, but who solicit advice over the phone every few months; the clients who would sacrifice everything (including house, spouse, and children) to care for their animals; people waiting to give detailed histories until I have my stethoscope jammed in my ears; farriers who show up by uncanny magic exactly when needed…
The pieces are myriad and, in some part of my mind, inextricable. A family is more than the sum of its component members. It is a web of interactions: good, bad, ugly, humorous, tragic, and uncertain. In my mind, at least, this workplace, this practice has been a family. Each of us will transition into a new phase, but those interactions will be lost.
Yet, that isn’t entirely true, and I see the flaw as I type. Memory. Humans learn and grow from memory and experiences, and none of those are undone. Maybe my friend was right, maybe the difference between end and transition is less than I would think. Damn! I hate it when I’m wrong…