Most veterinarians, myself included, lapse into “medical speak” because we are so used to these terms running around in our heads. We might say to a client, “Ruffy is in renal failure and needs aggressive diuresis,” instead of, “Ruffy’s kidneys aren’t functioning properly, and we can help him by giving him intravenous fluids.” We need you to stop us in our tracks when we confuse you. If you are a “visual learner,” ask your vet to draw a picture or show you what she is talking about on your dog’s X-rays, lab report or ultrasound images. Remember, always “pause for confusion”—when you don’t understand, stop and get clarification.
VII: Thou shalt share thy concerns.
Most veterinarians do what they do because they appreciate how much dogs mean to their humans. Who better, then, to empathize with you? To help you, your vet needs you to tell her your particular worries and concerns:
• Are you feeling scared or angry? (Anger is a normal stage of the grief process—many people experience it in response to a dog’s illness.)
• Are financial limitations creating a roadblock?
• Are you convinced your dog has a terminal disease?
• Are you terrified by the thought of anesthetizing your dog because a beloved pet once died unexpectedly while under anesthesia?
• Are you receiving pressure from family or a co-worker to put your dog to sleep, but you don’t think it’s time yet?
Your vet will be better able to understand your reasoning if she knows how you are feeling, and you will receive a much-needed dose of empathy.
It’s never easy discussing financial worries—candor suffers because the subject is often awkward and much too personal. Clients feel guilty and worry about being judged when cost needs to be a factor in medical decisions. Be aware, though, you should discuss this matter up front. Be sure to get an estimate before services are provided so as to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Ask about payment plans or prioritization of services. Most veterinarians are willing and able to provide reasonable financial options.
VIII: Thou shalt ask questions.
Asking questions is the most resourceful way to be your dog’s medical advocate. In the heat of the moment, when you have received some disconcerting news, a child is tugging at your arm and your dog has just lifted his leg rather too near the veterinarian, it is easy to forget the important questions you were meaning to ask. It pays to write them down beforehand. No doubt you will do some homework and research when you get home, and you will invariably think of more questions you should have asked. No problem. Veterinarians expect clients to call with questions after they’ve had some time to process and ponder the information they’ve received.
IX: Thou shall treat the entire staff well.
I get really peeved when I learn that a client, who has been sweet as can be with me, has been abrupt, condescending or rude to one of my staff. Everyone deserves to be treated with equal respect, and, without a doubt, the entire staff will know if this has not been the case! Likewise, a client who has been respectful and gracious will have the “red carpet” rolled out the next time she visits.
X: Thou shalt always come away with a plan.
What do I mean by this? It is this simple: Every time you talk with your veterinarian, be sure you know exactly when and how you will next communicate. Consider the following examples:
• Your six-year-old Norwegian Elkhound has just had his annual checkup, and, much to your delight, everything is completely normal. The “plan” is to bring him back in one year for his next “annual.”
• Your three-year-old Chihuahua-Jack Russell Terrier mix has just been evaluated for coughing, and prescribed an antibiotic and cough suppressant. The “plan” is to call the hospital in one week to report whether or not the cough has fully resolved. If not, chest X-rays and a blood test will be scheduled.
• Your Golden Retriever puppy has a heart murmur. Ultrasound reveals a problem with the mitral valve in his heart. Future prognosis is uncertain. The “plan” is to repeat the ultrasound in six months, or sooner if coughing or decreased stamina is observed.