The Critical Nature of Good Communication

Imagine you are out walking your dog and you run into one of your neighbors. Normally, your neighbor – an older gentleman – would be walking his dog as well. You ask your neighbor where his dog is and you hear a horrifying and sad story.

“I took him down to the vet last evening for constipation and two hours later we ended up putting him down.”

That’s a horrifying story right? It’s in fact a true story, I know this because it happened between a client and myself. But there’s more to the story than that and because the owner and I had an open line of communication, that’s not the way the story is told.

The whole story goes like this:

A client I have known for a number of years called late one evening and mentioned that their dog was struggling to go to the bathroom, seemed weak and had a bloated abdomen. There are a couple of red flags in that sentence that made me say, “Why don’t you bring your pup right down and we’ll take a look right away.”

The owner did just that and the dog was struggling to stand, did indeed have a distended abdomen and also had very pale gums. These are all very bad things.

I explained to the owner that I wanted to take the dog out back and look in the abdomen with ultrasound to see if I could get a sense of what was going on in there. The owner agreed and we did just that.

I put the ultrasound probe on the dog’s abdomen and immediately found what I was afraid I was going to find. The dog had a very large tumor associated with its spleen and that tumor was bleeding into the abdomen. I immediately returned to the owner and as gently as I could, broke the news that we were looking at a life threatening condition and we would have to be making some tough decisions over the next few hours. The owner returned home and the my staff and I went to work gathering as much information as we could to give the owner the best chance to make an informed decision.

I called the owner about an hour later and explained that the tumor appeared to be isolated to the spleen, was actively bleeding and we had a few options. I recommended referral to a 24 hour facility for further work up and possible surgery. The closest facility like that to Rutland, Vermont is currently a little over an hour away. The client understandingly declined the referral. Our next option was surgery at our facility and I explained the procedure, possible complications including the need for blood transfusions, treating arrhythmia and critical care. I explained that even after surgery we would still be a far cry from safe and there would be some significant monitoring and care that would be required for some time. We never did discuss the cost. The owner and I determined that it would likely be in everyone’s best interest to have the dog euthanized. If that sentence made it sound like it wasn’t the most heart wrenching decision the owner of this dog had made in a number of years, it’s only due to the limits of the English language.

We already had the IV line in place so we discussed cremation plans and the costs of everything. After getting the logistics out of the way, the owner spent some time with alone with their dog and then we went through the euthanasia process together. I left the owner in the room to collect their thoughts and have a moment to say a final goodbye.

When the remains returned, I asked the owner for permission to use the story for this post.

From my perspective, it is easy to see where the entire experience could have been tempered differently had any part of the communication not been open, honest and direct. Instead, every step of the way we discussed what was happening and what that might mean. It was probably the hardest moment this person has ever had as a pet owner but they were able to do what was best for their dog because the communication was open and direct. This probably has some meaning that carries over into all aspects of life but for now, promise me you’ll keep those lines of communication open with your veterinarian and I’ll be happy.

Thanks for reading.

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2 thoughts on “The Critical Nature of Good Communication

  1. Pingback: Living with Each Other’s Choices | Vetcha

  2. Pingback: Fun with “D” words. | Vetcha

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