A veterinary meditation: Sources of hope in the midst of an outbreak

It’s tremendously hopeful to know that when things suddenly change, we can still grow and improve

In uncertain times, a fundamental human tendency is to project into the future and foresee the adversity that lies ahead. Some of us go straight to catastrophe, inventing worst-case scenarios from thin, but plausible air (foreclosure, homelessness, infection, and death), while others experience a more nebulous dread in which nonspecific financial and health consequences figure predominantly and oppressively.

To entertain either set of negative outcomes is to wallow in the wreckage of the future, a state of being that’s dispiriting to the point of psychological paralysis as well as self-perpetuating. Once you’re there, it’s hard to claw your way back.

In my compulsive attempts to remain informed, however, I’ve run across certain individuals who are capable of observing the same circumstances while arriving at astoundingly positive conclusions. You can label these people the blindly optimistic, unduly bullish, or even Pollyannish, but one thing is clear: They might be “wrong” about the future, but they seem to be doing better than the rest of us.

Seeing hope and goodness

This is not to say these positively minded people are COVID-19 naysayers, the kind who feed transmission by ignoring science. In fact, most of them seem even more inclined to follow the rules. Rather, they see this pandemic in a more positive light, as an opportunity for us all to experience gratitude and hope more personally, more closely, and, most significantly, as a community.

While others have resorted to finger-pointing, blame-gaming, and fear-based bias, these seemingly more enlightened individuals have managed to identify bright spots in this pandemic, beacons of hope in a landscape as bleak as any we’ve witnessed in most of our lifetimes.

I don’t pretend to be someone who’s predisposed to this kind of thinking. It does not come naturally to me. I can, however, recognize a good thing when I see one, and those who can find goodness and hope amidst the blackest chaos are the best kind of people to have around at a time like this.

Unfortunately, I have not seen too much of this positivity in the veterinary medical arena. Perhaps it’s just not in our DNA––for the most part, anyway. Columnists (myself included) are tackling themes as diverse and discouraging as how to keep clients physically at bay, how to gain team compliance, who gets unemployment benefits, which employees/vendors to pay first, how to apply for disaster relief and, most pressingly, how to battle insanity in the midst of a global pandemic.

All that Debbie Downer stuff got me to thinking about the hopeful voices I’d recently heard on a podcast––people identifying unique sources of optimism amid disease, death, uncertainty, and fear, which, of course, led me down the veterinary path. Where is our hope in all of this?

For the most part, I see hope arriving in the guise of a “forced opportunity,” by which I mean the crisis itself has compelled us all to confront a common enemy and, in doing so, to think creatively, act heroically, and behave collectively. It’s required us to change how we think, how we live, and how we work. Most importantly, it’s forced us to confront our fear of death, reprioritize our loved ones, and recruit feelings of gratitude for the simplest things in life.

While there are many, many more, here are some uniquely veterinary examples of hope I’ve witnessed in just two weeks of COVID-19 high alert:

Team love

So many veterinary hospitals and clinics are behaving in a manner anyone would consider heroic. Braving infection, team members are ready and willing to work closely with the public, bringing animals into our facilities, checking clients out at curbsides, and generally putting themselves at risk by simply coming in to work. I’ve been awed by their unflagging devotion to the animals, even as PPE runs low and fears run high. Given the team nature of what we do, is it any wonder COVID-19 is bringing us closer?

Client appreciation

How many times were you thanked today? This is way better than the holidays on that score. Our clients are overjoyed we’re here for them. I know this to be true, as social media is aglow with delightful odes to veterinary hospitals from pet owners grateful that most of us are still open for business.

Novel tech opportunities

If you haven’t learned at least a few things about practicing remote medicine from this crisis, I’d be shocked. Some clinics and hospitals have taken this opportunity to expand their technological reach, offering telephone consultations and video examinations through any number of applications and platforms. This will inevitably expand veterinary medicine’s reach, especially as we strive to make veterinary care more available and more affordable.

Social media

Plenty of practices have seen visits drop off dramatically, yet they refuse to be shuttered. They’ve poured themselves into social media, instead. Creativity flourishes when all else fails and, as we all know, bonding clients to practices doesn’t have to be monetized immediately for it to work wonders for our practices. On that note, I’ve also borne witness to a social media spike after a staff member forced to self-quarantine took over the reins from home. That’s one person who’s proven she’s unsinkable.

Flexibility

You don’t have to engage in oodles of Zoom yoga to know flexibility also comes from a state of mind, not just your physical infrastructure. Same goes for your practice. How much more flexible are you now that you’ve been forced to tie yourself into pretzels making changes again and again to meet this virus’s demands? You’re a better practice for it. No doubt.

It’s tremendously hopeful to know that when things suddenly change and the environment becomes radically altered, we can still grow and improve. Think of how much our society has already achieved over the past few weeks. Who knew we could do all this?

If that’s not cause for inspiration, well… you’re just watching too much news. (Remember, there’s an inverse relationship between news consumption and positivity, so ration yours.)

Stay safe. Be kind. Be compassionate. And, above all, remember to stay hopeful!

Patty Khuly, VMD, MBA, owns a small animal practice in Miami and is a passionate blogger at drpattykhuly.com. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

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