Talismans of Caring
Every now and then it is good to be reminded of the predicament that our clients are frequently in. They have a sick or injured family member or valuable athlete and teammate, and they need to decide where to seek treatment. One option is to ask their primary veterinarian for a recommendation, and in fact, this is most often what people do. They trust their primary care provider to steer them to a facility that will provide excellent care and compassion.
My dear sweet little Beagle, Emily, has been coughing a little while she is sleeping for the last month. She’s also been a little less perky, and has lost a little weight. But she still plays chase games with our other Beagle, Dill Pickle, and seems mostly like herself. But after a month of the cough not resolving, I finally asked the interns in my equine hospital to take some radiographs and run some blood work; after 25 years of equine practice, I’m WAY far away from the small animal piece. But even my eyes could see the two golf ball sized masses in her doggie chest. Suddenly I have become a client. I need to trust someone to aspirate her mass to determine the type (probably a primary adenocarcinoma) and then perform a thoracotomy and remove one of her lung lobes.
If any of you have ever injured your ribs, you know how painful that is. I’m concerned about the technical expertise of the surgeon (“This is a rare tumor. How many of these surgeries have you done?”), but more concerned that my furry friend has adequate pain relief, a warm dry blanket to lie on, someone petting her while she is hospitalized, and calling her by name with affection. I want, above all, to know that she will be CARED for.
Clients have no way of telling if a veterinarian is technically competent. They can ask for word of mouth recommendations, and they can read certificates and diplomas on the wall, but who hasn’t got those? It is no wonder that they frequently have fear or anxiety when they arrive at a referral hospital!
What really matters is how the facility makes them feel. If every person that they encounter seems to genuinely care about their animal, they gain confidence that the work done there will be done with precision and care. If every part of the hospital is clean and organized, they feel confidence that extra gauze sponges won’t be left inside the patient. If the stalls or cages are pristinely clean, with deep bedding or comfy blankets, they begin to relax and make jokes about how their horse or dog is staying at the Ritz Carleton!
When I decide who is going to care for Emily, my decision will be made by these talismans of caring: the receptionist who calls her by name; the technician who pets her and talks soothingly; the doctor who addresses questions about pain management and immediate post-surgical care without needing to be asked; the facility that is calm, clean and organized. Caring that is demonstrated in every step of the process. This is what matters!
The message to take away: Caring matters. The entire veterinary team weaves the warm blanket of caring that enfolds the client and their animal. Make sure your team is doing this important work. And when you make referrals, make sure caring is alive and well at the facility where you are sending your clients.
Emily had multiple masses in her liver as well as her right dorsal lung lobe. I elected to do no treatment but simply give her lots of love. She is thriving a year later, enjoying her life, and showing few signs that she has cancer. September 2014
On Christmas Eve 2014, dear Emily died surrounded by her human family and her Beagle companion. Though she couldn’t run in circles for very long, and sometimes woke up coughing, she enjoyed her life to the very end. She was an inspiration, and I miss her very much. January 2015