I love animals. Pets bring so much to a household – companionship, love, lessons in loyalty, a creature to care for that forces you to be responsible for and think of the needs of others, something to force you to go outside and take walks, protection from intruders and postal workers, and countless other benefits.
My good friend has frequently opined that one of the most important reasons for families to have pets is so that children learn to deal with death. There’s a lot of merit to that. When the goldfish stops swimming and floats to the top of the bowl, a young child has a pretty good visual of the concept that “the fish died.”
In addition to giving us practice in dealing with loss, our longer lived, furry companions help all of us practice, on a different scale, a number of aspects of dealing with illness, caretaking, medical decision making, and navigating a medical system.
As you may have surmised at this point, our family recently had an unwelcome, up-close-and-personal brush with the veterinary medical world. Thankfully, it looks like our sweet dog will be ok – we just have a few more gray hairs and a smaller bank balance to show for the ordeal. And he has some (temporary) funny fur patterns from shaving done for surgery and procedures (honestly, he looks a bit ridiculous from certain angles). This whole process, however, highlighted for me a number of the issues we deal with when we or others we care about suddenly get sick.
First there’s figuring out that something’s wrong. Maybe it’s subtle at first, and it might take awhile to establish that something is actually wrong. Then there’s deciding when it’s time to call a doctor, when to visit a doctor’s office, or when to rush to an emergency room. When sent to a specialist, there’s the question of how to know the specialist is the right one, and how to know whom to trust.
Which diagnostic tests will be most helpful? How to weigh the costs and benefits of the tests and treatments? Once a diagnosis has been made, what do the statistics indicate about the prognosis of that particular diagnosis? How does an individual differ from the general statistics? Would a second opinion be helpful? If so, from whom? How long is it safe to delay action while seeking other input?
All of these questions on top of the general fear that accompanies an acute, serious illness can cause quite a bit of tension and stress. Things can feel pretty out of control. And there can easily be a feeling of being pushed into a corner, or of being forced down a path that seems hard to modify.
Remember to breathe. Ask for guidance from those equipped to give it. And always question, question, question until you understand and feel comfortable.