Back on the “other” side of the exam table, I sit with my tabby boy, Mickey (Mickey and Minnie Mouse, siblings, were babies in this picture…the one sitting up is Mickey). We sometimes call them the “Disney Tornadoes” when they chase each other around the house. But Mickey hasn’t been chasing lately; in fact, he’s sick, I can feel it in my gut, but exams and labs have given us no clue as to what is actually wrong … and IF we can fix it. Soon we work with a criticalist and ultrasonography, so I hope we get answers, whether it’s good news or bad. This hovering in the middle, not knowing, is killing me.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you likely met Rosy, my Somali girl who we lost last August. She was in hospice for nine months. We suspected GI lymphoma, and she responded well to steroids and anti-nausea meds. She lived happily until the last week, when her personality started to dissolve.
This time, Mickey’s personality started to fade a while back, and he has not been himself in months. Yet we have no answer to what is wrong and worse still, no response to any medications we’ve tried for pain, nausea, cancer, inflammation, you name it. I can’t help but wonder, what’s left, will we find anything that helps?
Through this process, I’ve been treated different ways by different people involved in his care. Most are professional enough, but I have felt the need for more, the need for someone, everyone, to really reach in and touch my heart, empathize with my anguish of “knowing” something is wrong, terribly wrong, and not being able to name the monster.
We veterinary professionals pride ourselves on being compassionate, caring and empathic. We do our difficult jobs with animals while trying to reach the people who own them. I talk with many veterinary professionals who feel they give everything to their clients, to the point where they have nothing left for themselves … i.e. compassion fatigue.
But speaking now from the client’s perspective, it is sometimes not the amount of caring, but the demonstration of caring that we lack. We can feel it in our hearts, and I have no doubt that each of us does, but if we never let the clients know we care then there is still more to do. It’s not hard, and in fact here are some tips to make your clients feel cared for, even on the most hectic day:
• Ask every client “how are you feeling today?” whether it’s a wellness visit, but especially when it’s an injured or ill pet. Show you care about how THEY are handling this time right now with their pets.
• Then answer, “I understand how you must be feeling ________; I would be too!” (Fill in the blank with the answer they gave to No. 1). Validate that their feelings are natural, and you have been there fore too…because chances are, you have been!
• Calll an emotion out when you see it. For example, during a discharge of a patient you notice that the client seems frustrated. Notice, and say “you seem frustrated, are there some other questions I can help you with?”
• Pay ATTENTION to the client’s nonverbal communication to KNOW what they are feeling and be able to comment on it. It’s easy, and quick, to just walk away, telling yourself you did your job. Well, you have done your job to your minimum capacity, but your clients deserve more.
• Just as important as calling in a few days to see how the patient is doing, is asking how the PEOPLE are doing…how do they feel about the progress they’ve seen at home? How are they feeling about the future? This is the only way to triage the client as well, and it’s important we do just that.