Take a breath


This veterinary team member's lost pen served as a reminder not to take interactions with clients for granted.

It happens to all of us at some point. You walk into an exam room only to find that you've lost your pen. Rather than looking unprepared, if you're like me, you just wing it. Quickly you glance over the notes on the medical chart and hope for something simple. Maybe Ms. Jones won't have too many questions or maybe this visit will be so routine you'll recall the entire conversation later. But it's never that simple.

This exact scenario played out for me recently, but nothing—especially not my pen—could have prepared me for what followed. Ms. Jones wasn't bringing her beloved 17-year-old cat to our office for a simple wellness visit. She was bringing her in because she knew they had come to the end of their journey together.

Shielding myself

This wasn't the first time I witnessed a client in the midst of an emotional crisis. This was, however, the first time in a long while I found myself in the middle of it. Without my pen to distract me from Ms. Jones' feelings, I couldn't escape them. Until that moment I wasn't even aware of how much I'd been guarding myself from the grief and heartache associated with my work. I wondered how long I had hidden my own emotions behind my pen and paper. More importantly, I wondered how many grieving clients thought I was cold during their most difficult time. I realized that my usual method of diligent note taking was actually a way of shielding myself from the pressure of offering comfort.

Standing there across the table from the woman with tears welling up in her eyes, I looked down at her hands running over the cat's weak and bony frame and did the only thing I could do—I listened. I listened to her tell me how her cat used to be "a little chunky", but now won't even take a bite. I listened to her apologize for her cat's appearance and explain how she doesn't groom herself anymore. I soon understood Ms. Jones wasn't just saying goodbye to her cat—she was saying goodbye to her friend.

Breaking the routine

Looking back on it now, I'm glad I lost my pen that day. This situation reminded me that it's important to put your pen down and listen. Look up every now and then to see the faces of those in front of you. Don't be afraid of the feelings that are tossed around the room, and don't lose your sense of compassion. Ultimately, caring is what it's all about. As long as you remember that, you'll always be prepared.

Suzy Quick is a veterinary assistant at Airport Veterinary Clinic in Terre Haute, Ind. She regularly blogs as SuzyQ on the dvm360 community.

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