When you deliver the bad news to an owner that his pet is dying or you are performing a euthanasia it always helps to look around and see a spouse or a friend there in the room to be the emotional support that person needs. Unfortunately there are many times that owner is there alone. Some of these owners you have known for years and know that they have a shoulder to cry on when they get home. Other times you barely know the person and you do not know what her support system is. Many will have people they can turn to but there are those times when a pet owner doesn’t have anyone to talk with but you.
Just last week I had that situation when a new client brought in his cat with dyspnea. The cat had congestive heart failure and the prognosis was poor, but after a thoracocentesis his arrhythmia improved and his breathing was better. After talking over the various options the owner elected to take his cat home and try him on medications. I called the next morning and he told me that his cat’s breathing had substantially improved but he was not quite himself. We discussed what to watch for in the next few days, we discussed that he was at risk of things such as an aortic thromboembolism. We planned on a recheck exam the next week. Not an hour later he was in the lobby; just as we had gotten off the phone his cat let out a horrifying cry and began panting excessively. There was no motor response to a firm pinch of his rear toes and the worst case scenario had unfortunately occurred. I looked up at him and could tell that he already knew.
In a lot of these situations I would explain what is going on and ask the owner if they had any questions. I would usually leave the room for a few moments so that the owner could discuss things in private with the other people in the room, or have a moment to make a phone call. I could tell this owner did not have someone to call, but he needed someone to talk to. He did not need to hear about the physiology of the heart, but he needed someone to listen about how he acquired this cat, what his favorite treat was and that making the decision to euthanize his child was the hardest thing he ever had to do in his life.
You never know when you are going to need that extra ten to twenty minutes in an appointment slot, it is impossible for the receptionist to know when to schedule the doctor that needed time. It just suddenly happens, in an instant you find that the person does not need a doctor, but a therapist, a friend, someone to just listen. We wear many hats in this profession and sometimes we just have to adjust that hat to the side to be there for them.
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