Have you had your mudita moment today? - Veterinary Practice
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Have you had your mudita moment today?

GARETH CROSS had a moment of intense satisfaction when flushing a rabbit’s tear ducts, discovering (not for the first time) that doing a simple job well is both stressfree and well worthwhile

THIS week I experienced that not uncommon but largely under-rated feeling of intense satisfaction of doing a simple procedure really well.

In that case it was flushing a rabbit’s tear ducts, the snuffly bunny wriggled and sneezed as a large gobbet (technical term, stay with me) shot out of his nostril and freed up his nasolacrimal duct, for now anyway. The rabbit duly went home much less snuffly and a lot happier than when he came in.

The same feeling of job satisfaction may be had dealing with a cat bite abscess, digging out a horse’s foot abscess, doing a simple calving or lambing. A cat bite abscess is a good example as the diagnosis takes seconds, the treatment is simple, the cure guaranteed. If you’re lucky you get to lance it and put the client off custard for life.

The real joy, however, is twofold: in doing a simple procedure well, and making an animal that comes in ill go home well with the minimum of fuss.

We are constantly reminded of the need to do CPD and to expand our skills, which is all good, but sometimes it makes simple procedures seem mundane and occasionally leaves us feeling that we are not making use of our skills sufficiently.

The simple thing, done well, should not be overlooked in this clamour for the top of our game. The simple thing has none of the stress of the technical fracture repair, corneal graft or colic surgery. There are no nights awake wondering if your diagnosis of the sick horse or cat was correct, is your small intestinal suture holding up, etc.?

Plus, the animal has had minimal invasive procedures done and, well, just gets better. From their nonunderstanding point of view, going to the vets ill or in pain, and going straight home mended, beats the hell out of having weeks of the cleverest treatment or the most technical surgery money can buy.

If we change the way we view cases and learn to appreciate the simple things rather than just view them as the constituent parts of a boring afternoon, it will improve our working day and increase our job satisfaction. Plus improve our state of mind. There is a zen-like satisfaction from a really well-done simple task.

To help explore this further I thought I could expand on it a little myself with my own home-spun psychology, or enlist the help of a professional psychologist. These guys don’t come cheap for a consultation but luckily I know one with a book to plug (his latest novel, The Art of Impossibility, published by Raven Crest Books, is well worth reading and is available at well-known online stores).

So I’m handing over to the expert to help us make the most of these daily small triumphs. Bill Whal is a full-time clinical psychologist working in an NHS hospital and also a part-time stand-up comic and writer.

“I’d like to expand on one aspect of what Gareth is describing above. To my mind, he is describing a particular experience he has as a vet, an experience which I imagine is quite important but nevertheless receives little attention. In part, Gareth is explaining that there are moments within his veterinary work where he takes genuine pleasure through the act of helping animals and their owners.

“As Gareth suggests, what may be a simple intervention for a straightforward medical presentation, may well have been a source of significant distress and confusion for those he is helping. And what seems of interest to me is how Gareth rightly points out that the act of helping, of relieving pain and offering reassurance, is pleasurable to him.

“This is no small thing, though it may seem like an obvious or insignificant point to make. There is much within our culture and the way we use language which makes little mention of this phenomenon. It is easy enough to get the impression that our cultural world-view is principally one of Schadenfreude, that odd German word which refers to the taking of pleasure in others’ misfortune.

“But Gareth’s description seems an apt and optimistic reminder of a quite different side to human nature. Human beings are quite capable of taking genuine pleasure in the happiness of others, and perhaps this experience is bolstered by knowing that we have also used skills and knowledge we acquired through all the hard work we put into our development.

Too simplistic

“We are not very good in the West at describing this sort of experience. We might use the concept of altruism to make sense out of it, but this term isn’t really right at all. Altruism means helping others in a way which offers us nothing in return; it’s a sort of selfless helping. This is too simplistic and actually quite misleading.

“I imagine that when a vet sees the look of relief on an owner’s face, or sees that an animal’s distress is reduced, that the vet does get something: pleasure in relation to another’s happiness.

“The Buddhist concept of mudita is probably a better descriptor of this phenomenon. Mudita translates to “sympathetic joy” or perhaps “happiness in another’s good fortune”. In other words, happiness is reciprocal or shared. Selflessness is not required or even relevant in such experiences.

“And I wish to make one final point. My view is that it is the experience of pleasure in another’s happiness which helps every vet endure or bear all the emotional and technical difficulties they must face every day. This very human sense of sympathetic joy not only gives meaning to our work, but sustains us in the face of so many challenges over so many years. It’s no small thing at all.”

And then today I had another mudita moment, not at work, but with my own pet dog. We were running along the beach about a third of the way into a long run. I was feeling it and starting to dig in to keep going.

The dog was loping alongside looking tired and panting. Then she spotted an oyster catcher a few hundred metres away at the water’s edge. Her adrenal glands must have let go a huge pulse of sympathetic hormones and she sped away. As she sped off I could feel a rush of sympathetic joy: mudita.

The bird was never going to be caught and whooped and screeched into the air in a cartwheel of black, white and orange. Bird, dog and man all sharing a high-speed mudita moment of chase and release.

I had never really thought of it in that way until reading Bill’s piece above, how we feel happiness, joy or relief in sympathy with an animal. I guess that’s why he’s the psychologist and I get my kicks (or mudita) out of lancing abscesses.

So go back to work now and get your daily dose of mudita where you can.

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