How to stay calm during emergencies
Preparation and mindset are critical in performing under stress
Content submitted by IndeVets, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner
It’s the middle of a busy day when an owner bursts through the doors of your clinic, limp pet in hand, begging for someone to do something for little Fluffy. Their pet may have been hit by a car, may be having trouble breathing, or may have even arrested. What do you do?
For many of us, emergency cases activate our sympathetic nervous system, setting off internal alarm bells and clouding our judgment. But don’t worry—you’re not alone. Even the most seasoned professional can get tripped up by an urgent case. While we may not be able to stop our natural instincts altogether, we can condition ourselves to become more comfortable with those times when seconds and minutes count.
Take a breath
As in our veterinary patients, humans don’t do well when our brains aren’t exchanging gases appropriately; we either hold our breath or begin hyperventilating when we’re stressed or anxious. These behaviors can lead to worsening anxiety, confusion, and altered decision-making. While it may not seem as if we have a few seconds to take a deep breath to slow the flow of stress hormones, the alternative is panicking, which could compromise patient care. Take a moment to ground yourself and breathe to prepare yourself for the task at hand.
Know your ABCs
Airway, breathing, and circulation are primary considerations in any emergency, as these are the processes we must triage first and correct rapidly to avoid additional morbidity and mortality. The polytrauma patient isn’t going to die from his road rash, but he’ll decline quickly because of his pulmonary contusions. Successful initial stabilization relies on not being side-lined by lesser, though visually more dramatic, problems. Once our ABCs are stabilized, we can move on to the fracture, proptosis, or laceration.
You don’t need all the answers right away
Many veterinarians become overwhelmed when an unstable patient crosses their path if there is not an obvious etiology of the pet’s signs. Remember that maintaining an airway, ensuring appropriate oxygenation, and establishing adequate perfusion are our primary goals in the initial stabilization of these critical cases. It may take time, monitoring, and a number of tests before we get to the bottom of the extent of disease. Preparing owners for this process unburdens us from feeling as if we need have all the answers the moment the pet arrives.
Well can wait
In most emergency situations, we end up dealing with secondary stressors: Appointments are pushed back, normal workflow is disrupted, and patients need referral. Regardless of these other pressures, our focus should be on treatment of the emergency in front of us. Using support staff and hospital signage is key to signal to clients that the sickest pets are seen first and those who are well will have to wait.
While we all hope that emergencies don’t become routine occurrences, we can at least become familiar with what we tend to see the most. Make sure your team understands how to set up for common procedures like urinary catheterization and keep those supplies in a labeled cabinet; have a fluid pump primed and ready; and keep your crash cart updated and stocked, confirming that every staff member knows the basics of resuscitation. Emergency preparation is a great way to educate and empower your team and will ensure that there is minimal confusion when the real thing arrives on your doorstep.
The next time you encounter a true emergency, don’t panic. With a little preparation, an understanding of triage, and a deep breath, you’ll be well on your way to saving your critical patient.