MJ Wixsom: Bridging the gap between two worlds

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 1, 2023

Strange things happen at the Animal ER, but this might have been a first for me. The intricate interplay between science, human emotions, and the difficult truth that sometimes, we must contend with individuals who test the boundaries of empathy.

It all began with a contentious diagnosis and an extraordinary reaction.

I have a cartoon hanging on the door to my office. It has been there for decades. It serves as a reminder of the extensive knowledge and experience veterinarians accumulate throughout our careers. On the cartoon, a doctor and a client engaged in a conversation.

Email newsletter signup

The doctor says, “I’m sorry that my diagnosis differs from yours, but my diagnosis is hampered by 10 years of post-secondary education and 30 years of continuing education and experience.” I think the modern form is the coffee cup that says “Dr. Google is an idiot.”

In this profession, our dedication revolves around understanding the intricacies of the animal kingdom. Our training goes beyond the fundamentals; we delve into the complexities of biology, physiology, pharmacology and pathology. We are in a constant state of learning, striving to provide the best possible care to our beloved patients.

Nevertheless, we acknowledge that even the most comprehensive education cannot encompass every scenario, nor does it make us infallible.

Last Saturday, a challenging situation unfolded that brought this cartoon to life. A distressed lady arrived at our animal ER with her ailing dog. Her beloved pet had been experiencing severe discomfort, and her anxiety was palpable. She believed her dog was in heart failure, because her other dogs had died of that a few years back. After a thorough examination, the diagnosis most certainly was not heart disease.

Three different tests failed to show any heart problems.

However, the lady was far from pleased with my diagnosis. She questioned my judgment and expressed her reluctance to follow our recommendation to keep her dog overnight for observation. It was so bad that the office manager took her dog to her and told her that she should seek care elsewhere.

Now we understand skepticism, as no pet owner wants to see their furry companion in distress. However, it was her reaction to our decision that left an indelible mark on me.

The following day, when her dog exhibited signs of improvement and was ready to go home, she left a peculiar note for our team. The note contained words that left me both perplexed and contemplative. It was evident that she harbored strong negative emotions toward our team and had resorted to expressing her dissatisfaction in a hurtful and unconventional manner.

As a veterinarian, I am well aware of the diversity of beliefs held by people. Our world is a tapestry, woven with threads of various cultures, traditions, and faiths. In my line of work, I’ve encountered individuals who firmly believe in alternative healing methods, holistic approaches, and even the influence of curses. While my own beliefs are firmly rooted in the principles of science and evidence-based medicine, I have always maintained a respectful stance toward the beliefs of others.

This encounter with the lady and her curse was a stark reminder of the delicate balance we must strike between our scientific knowledge and the deeply-held beliefs of our clients. It’s crucial to respect their perspectives, even when they seem unconventional or at odds with our training.

In the case of the lady’s curse, it was evident that her actions were solely driven by her dissatisfaction with our team and had no connection to her dog’s treatment. Perhaps it was her way of venting frustration or gaining a sense of control in a situation where her beloved pet was suffering. While her actions were hurtful, I do recognize the power of emotions and the importance of empathy in these moments.

As veterinarians, our role extends beyond diagnosing and treating animals; it includes providing emotional support to pet owners during their most challenging times. We must remember that our responsibility encompasses not only the technical aspects of medicine but also compassion, communication, and understanding.

Returning to the cartoon on my office door, it humorously highlights the contrast between the knowledge accumulated through years of rigorous education and the perspectives of those who may not fully grasp the intricacies of veterinary medicine. It underscores the significance of effective communication between veterinarians and pet owners, bridging the gap between scientific expertise and individual beliefs.

In the end, the dog that prompted this peculiar episode did recover with the assistance of our medical intervention. Who knows, she may have gone home and said a spell for him. What remains indisputable is our unwavering commitment to the well-being of the animals we serve, regardless of the challenges we encounter along the way.

In the world of veterinary medicine, where compassion often intertwines with adversity, we continue to navigate uncharted waters with dedication, expertise, and an open heart for the diverse beliefs that shape the fabric of our profession. While most clients are wonderful partners in the care of their pets, we also understand that, at times, we must face individuals whose actions test the limits of our empathy.

Nevertheless, our commitment to the welfare of animals propels us forward, one diagnosis at a time, as we strive to be a source of healing and compassion amidst the storms we may encounter.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566