Mindfulness in Practice

The Mindful Bitch Spay

For many years I would get extremely anxious when I knew that I had a bitch spay to perform, which resulted in an enormous amount of stress which led to difficulty in carrying out the procedure. After being introduced to the technique of mindfulness I started to ask myself why I felt so anxious. So each time I performed a bitch spay, I focussed my awareness on what I was doing, concentrating on each moment of the operation.

The anxiety came from past experience as a recent graduate when my more experienced colleagues made a big fuss of bitch spays and all the possible complications. But, as I thought about it more, I realised that I had seldom had any serious problems whilst performing bitch spays, and any time that I or a colleague had, it was always corrected successfully.


The Thought Process

So I started to focus on what the complications were. As you will be aware the most common problem is bleeding, but why does bleeding occur? It occurs because of inadequate ligation of the ovarian and uterine arteries. Why does inadequate ligation occur? It occurs because of poor exposure of the ovarian pedicles making visualisation of the ligature difficult and not ensuring that the cervix is exteriorised and a transfixion ligature is not used.

How are these problems avoided? They are avoided by being mindful and aware of the potential problems and by focussing on each step of the surgery.

Firstly, by making the initial incision in the correct place and of the correct size. Secondly, ensuring that the ovaries are exteriorised sufficiently to triple clamp the pedicle. This means spending time on breaking the ovarian ligament in some cases and not being tempted to attempt ligation with insufficient exposure.

Thirdly, transfixing the cervical end of the uterine body.

The Practical Process

I started to ensure that I focussed entirely on each step of the surgery, not being tempted to take short cuts. After each surgery I reviewed how the procedure had gone and how I felt before, during and after the operation.

Initially I still felt the anxiety that I had always felt before the surgery, however following my mindful approach, I did not have any issues, and procedure after procedure went well. I felt relief following each procedure, but more importantly I realised that this approach was allowing me to improve on my technique each time, and that the mindfulness aspect of the process was becoming second nature, I did not have to concentrate on being mindful, it just happened. After each successful operation I took a minute to experience the feeling of a job well done and held on to this feeling.

Gradually the anxiety faded until a point where I do not experience it at all now. I know that I can perform bitch spays well, I know that by being focussed on each step I am minimising the chance of complications occurring and at the same time knowing that I can react to any unexpected occurrence and deal with it if one occurs.

The Long Term Benefits

By using mindfulness techniques, I experience significantly less anxiety, I have ensured that I follow a sound surgical technique and have good outcomes on the procedures that I carry out with patients recovering quickly.

I qualified in 1985 and has worked in small animal practice throughout his career, firstly in the charity sector with the PDSA, then in a two vet independent practice, a large multi-site independent practice and in the corporate sector.

Having had various roles including assistant veterinary surgeon, branch manager and clinical director and now works part time in local practices I have experienced many aspects of the veterinary profession, and, indeed, the evolution of small animal practice from large numbers of individual practices with very limited availability of external laboratory and referral services to what it is today.

Self-doubt was a constant companion to me through much of my career, which eventually took its toll at which time I sought and found help. I have shared my story with the Vet MindMatters &Me
campaign and this can be seen at &Me – Allisdhair McNaull – Mind Matters (vetmindmatters.org).

The techniques of mindfulness, especially when combined with cognitive behavioural therapy allowed my return to the profession and ignited a passion for helping others avoiding the pitfalls that I experienced. This inspired me to write the VetMindfully Blog and to develop a keen interest in mentoring within the profession.

Listen to podcasts featuring Allisdhair:

The Importance of Mentoring with PetsApp HERE

Podcast with Chloe Hannigan (Vet Yogi) for the Vet Times borborygmi series HERE