I have never vaccinated an animal. Let me start by saying this is something I never had any intention of doing. As a general rule of thumb I try to stay away from anything that creates medical waste, and I have always found the idea of sticking another living being with a needle to be entirely unappealing. As a result, up until now I have been happy to pay my veterinarian to take care of vaccines and other animal health needs like most pet owners in the United States. I figured that way I could let the professionals take care of the necessary messy work in the least painful manner possible, which would keep me and my dogs happy, healthy, and anxiety free.
Of course, that was the case until today, when a veterinary technician and friend of ours, Mary, offered to walk me through the process of vaccinating an animal as a part of my “I have never...” journey. While Rachael and I were away at my Brother’s wedding this weekend, Mary looked after our dogs Buddy and Taco, and, as timing would have it, Taco was due for a vaccination. As an added bonus Mary made us aware both of her dogs, Wilbur and Jeffery, were also due for vaccinations, which provided more than enough opportunity to gain my first experience injecting an animal with a vaccine. With some options for today’s “I have never...” event, I was originally hesitant to commit to vaccinating the dogs, but I knew in the back of my mind it was a unique experience from which I would likely learn a lot. In turn, I reluctantly committed to vaccinating an animal for the first time upon our arrival back in Madison this afternoon.
When we arrived at Mary’s house, we were greeted by Mary, her boyfriend, Clint, and a small herd of dogs ranging from a Chihuahua to a Pitbull. After taking care of the dogs and engaging in small talk for a bit, Mary casually walked into her kitchen and returned with several bags of vials and syringes. She set them on the coffee table in the room as she continued talking with Rachael. My eyes immediately fixed on the array of vaccination materials until Mary turned to me and said, “Alright, Caleb. You ready to do this?” I cautiously responded with a “Yeah...”, which sent Mary into an explanation of the materials before me. She explained the contents of each bag were specific to each animal, and that Taco, Jeffery, and Wilbur were all to receive separate shots containing Lepto, Bordetella, and Distemper vaccines. Continuing, Mary specified how each process would work and explained there were two syringes containing saline “in case I wanted to practice.” I quickly dismissed the idea of practicing given it meant I would have to stick a needle in the animals more than necessary, which caused Mary to chuckle a bit as she began laying out the contents of each bag.
Suddenly, the concept of sticking a needle into an animal began to set in. As rush of thoughts focused on undesirable outcomes flooded my mind, I felt nervousness consuming me. While I was doing my best to maintain a reasonable perspective on the experience, I couldn’t escape thoughts of inadvertently hurting the animals, other people in the room, or myself with a slip of my hand. With my thoughts racing I moved to the opposite end of the table and took a seat. “Can you demonstrate some of this for me first?” I asked in an obvious tone of uncertainty. Mary happily agreed to do so before reassuring me I would do fine during the process.
|Prepping the vaccination|
Although I trusted her completely, Mary’s words did little to calm my nerves. I took a deep breath as I saw her reach out for a prepared vaccine and move toward her Pitbull, Wilbur. In a matter of seconds Mary was before the animal clutching a portion of the dog’s scruff between the fingers of her left hand. Then, without hesitation, Mary slid the needle into the chunk of raised skin. She advised of her actions and method at each step as she continued, first pulling back the syringe plunger to check for blood before slowly injecting the serum contained in the small plastic tube. To my surprise, Wilbur was completely unfazed by Mary’s actions. He was simply happy to be near her, regardless of the fact that she had just poke through his skin with a needle. Admittedly, the ease with which Mary completed that first vaccination made me feel better about the process for a few moments until Mary set the syringe on the table, lifted her head toward me, and said, “Alright, do you want to try it now?”
Mary’s offer reinforced her earlier statement about her confidence in my ability to successfully vaccinate one of the dogs, but the reality of situation sent me reeling once more. For several moments I gave contradicting answers to her question as I tried to force myself to commit to following through with the experience. Eventually, I tamed my nerves long enough to give Mary a straight answer. “Yes, OK, let’s do it. Yeah, I’ll do it,” I said as I moved from the table to the ground. In response, Mary advised I would first have to mix the next vaccine by moving fluid from one vial to another via a syringe. Over the next minute, I carefully followed her instructions as I moved the liquid, mix the contents of the two bottles, moved the mixture into the syringe, and replaced the needle to prepare for the vaccination. My slow, careful movements gave Mary plenty of time to get the next dog ready for the vaccination, which happened to be our five pound dog, Taco...
|Making the mix|
Taco’s small size and frail frame made me immediately concerned there was an increased likelihood of harming him during the vaccination. Mary again provided me reassuring words as I wrapped up the final steps of the preparation and worked through my nerves aloud. Realizing there were no steps let in the preparation of the vaccine I looked to Mary for guidance. Ever steady, Mary directed me to take a seat next to her and Taco on the floor. Following her directions, I moved down onto the carpeting as Mary lined Taco up perpendicular to my position. She reminded me of the steps of procedure once more before I moved to complete the vaccination. I slowly lift up a pinch of Taco’s scruff and lined up the needle with the raised skin. I briefly hesitated as I checked over the position of the dog and my needle. “It’s ok. You just slip the needle in the raised skin,” Mary said continuing her directions. In turn, I took a breath and moved the needle toward Taco’s skin.
With slight pressure I drove the tip of the needle through his fur until I felt a slight resistance against the surface of his skin. The action caused Taco to flinch and kick slightly, which caused me to panic briefly and remove the needle from the raised fold of skin. With my palms getting sweaty I looked up to Mary with a stunned look on my face. “It’s ok. Just try moving the needle a little lower on the scruff,” Mary said pointing to the raised portion of Taco’s skin. Following her instruction I moved back to my position over the animal and again pushed the needle in. This time Taco didn’t respond to the presence of the needle, which gave me relief but made me feel as though I should act with haste. “OK, now I check for blood, and then push the fluid in,” I said in a tone of uncertainty. “Yep, just move the plunger back and if it’s clear you can finish up,” Mary responded in a calm tone. In response, I carefully moved the plunger back and saw no change in the fluid. In turn, I slowly began forcing the vaccine into Taco’s body until the syringe was empty. Then, I slowly removed the needle and quickly set it on the table.
“Did I do it right?” I asked looking over the dog. “Yep, there would be fluid everywhere if you missed. So, we know you go it right,” Mary said in response as she set Taco on the floor next to her. Mary’s words sent a rush of relief through my body and gave me a new sense of confidence related to the process of vaccinating an animal. In that moment I knew I could do it, and that was a huge shift from where my mind had been just a few moments earlier. With my newfound sense of confidence, I accepted Mary’s offer to complete one more vaccine on Wilbur before enthusiastically announcing I had enough for my first experience vaccinating animals. Understanding my perspective, Mary quickly went about finishing the remaining vaccinations as Rachael, Clint, and I chatted about the weekend’s events.
With my experience over, I found myself moving back into a normalized state of mind. As I felt the excitement and fears from the experience wane, I found myself surprised at the almost overwhelming internal response I had at the idea of vaccinating an animal. I knew it was something I didn’t really want to do before I committed to doing it, but the feelings I had during the process were among the most nervous experiences I have encountered during my “I have never...” journey to date. That’s a response I never would have expected from something so simple, but it happened never the less. As a result, I can walk away from this experience knowing I conquered something that I likely would have backed away from in any other circumstances. While I don’t know if I will ever vaccinate an animal again, I can say I successfully accomplished the task, and that’s a little victory worth holding on to.