Warning! When you marry a veterinarian, you not only agree to live with that person, you also agree to live the vet’s life. Divorce rate charts indicate that around one quarter of veterinarian marriages end in divorce, which is lower than the national average, but vets’ spouses might still be surprised at the demands this profession can place on their partner.
The reasons cited for veterinarian divorce are often related to extended work hours, lack of family time, and stress. After forty-one years of living with a vet, I can attest that all these factors put pressure on a marriage. But the rewards can be even greater if your expectations are compatible and your veterinarian spouse works to put family first as often as possible.
For me, it all started before the wedding. Fortunately we took our time to know each other well before tying the knot, so I didn’t have that many surprises afterward. My husband, Charlie, started his own vet practice and worked solo throughout his career, which meant he took emergency call for his clients whenever he was available twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week. It wasn’t unusual for him to provide emergency care for several animals during a given evening.
While dating, I learned quickly that if we could finish our meal at a restaurant before being called out to an emergency, it was a bonus. I remember one date when we had to request our meals to go even prior to our plates being served. A dog had attacked a pony, and Charlie needed to respond immediately. The pony sustained numerous bite and slash wounds that were bleeding severely when we arrived. It took hours to clean and suture each wound, but Charlie worked patiently to piece the torn flesh back together. That pony lived, a reward in itself.
Another time before we married, Charlie needed to perform surgery on a horse. This was before we purchased property to establish our own clinic with an equine surgery stall, so he set up a temporary surgical suite in his backyard. Several friends came to help but he put me in charge of drawing up anesthesia. When more medication was required, I drew up the correct amount in a syringe and injected it into a buffalo cap in the IV that Charlie had inserted prior to surgery. My ability to do this seemed to amaze my future husband, and I’m pretty sure that’s when he decided to marry me. I don’t think he knew how often I’d assisted my rancher father with drawing cattle vaccines and medications.
After we married I was introduced to sleep deprivation. Nighttime emergencies were frequent, especially during the early years of our marriage. Seasonal changes can stimulate colic in horses, a condition that requires immediate treatment and can be deadly in some instances. Horses and cows often give birth at night and invariably require veterinary assistance, so the workload in springtime can be intense. Add our own newborn infant into the equation, and months go by without a good night’s sleep. We have photos from those days with our daughters in which both my husband and I look completely exhausted. And we were.
Although I assisted Charlie countless times with after-hours emergencies, I had my own daytime job as a speech therapist. Like most parents with two different careers, we juggled schedules so that one of us could attend school events and meetings with teachers. We counted ourselves lucky if both of us could be present. Seasonal demands at the vet clinic dictated that family vacations were always in November, the slowest time of the year. The kids and I often rode along on mobile vet calls up in the mountains, taking along a picnic lunch, so we could have summer family time.
When our children were older, I left my job at the local hospital to establish a Medicare certified rehabilitation agency offering occupational, physical, and speech therapies to children and adults. Although I wanted to schedule writing time, primarily for a nonfiction book I’d been thinking about, I couldn’t find the time. I admire writers who awaken in the early morning hours to sneak in writing time before they rouse the kids and everyone hustles off to their daytime responsibilities. But after years of disturbed sleep and insomnia, I just didn’t have it in me.
In time, I sold my clinic and retired from speech therapy practice. Charlie and I had decided that I would take a year off and focus on writing. During our winter vacation, I wrote the first chapter of that nonfiction book titled Intuitive Communication, but then…I opened up a new document and wrote the first chapter of a paranormal suspense novel called Beyond the Abyss. Guess which one was more fun and even exhilarating. You guessed it. Once I tasted fiction writing, there was no going back.
I finished that first novel within six months. It was awful. Beyond the Abyss is in a storage cabinet and will never see the light of day, but I learned many lessons writing it, the most important one being that I knew nothing about writing fiction. Fortunately for me, Colorado offers several terrific fiction-writing conferences each year, and soon I discovered both a marvelous way to learn what I needed to know and a new tribe of supportive people who had similar career goals.
I decided to write a mystery, and again, my life as a veterinarian’s wife influenced my process. Since most people seemed to enjoy watching Charlie care for animals, I hoped that readers would like to observe a vet at work, too. Cole Walker, DVM came to me fully formed and ready to go to work on the page. I easily imagined a workaholic veterinarian whose neglected wife had left him and their daughters to fend for themselves. But even though vets might solve medical mysteries, they’re not often called on to solve murder mysteries. Soon Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo showed up on the page to help out.
They say, “Write what you know, and research what you don’t.” Although Charlie and I had trained two of our dogs in Search and Rescue over the years, I’d never served in law enforcement or handled a patrol dog. Fortunately, Charlie had a client who specialized in training protection and patrol K-9s. This trainer allowed me to shadow him during a session with several police officers, and they sat with me later at a picnic table and answered all my questions. I’ve sought out countless opportunities to meet with K-9 handlers and their dogs since then, and I’ve come away with stories about the amazing talents these dogs have and their remarkable accomplishments.
It took much longer than a year, but after reading countless books by great mystery writers, studying “how-to write fiction” books, and attending workshops, I finally created a manuscript that attracted the attention of an agent and then a publisher. Since then we’ve published eight Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries together, including the latest Standing Dead. Set in a fictional town nestled in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, each episode provides clues for Mattie, Cole, and Robo to discover and a case for them to solve. I invite you to join them on one of their outdoor adventures.