My dog is dying, albeit a slow protracted decline. She is a twelve year old lab who has enjoyed a wonderfully rich life and brought great joy to my wife and I, and later our three young children. Her first seizure was about six months ago, and as you might imagine it was appalling and sobering. Frequent consultation with local veterinarians led us to giving her phenobarbital, which abated the seizures but put her in a semi-catatonic state robbing her of her joyful personality. Just as we were contemplating reducing her dosage and weaning her from the drug, she lapsed into a series of eight or more seizures over a 72-hour period. Her recent battle with the seizures left her fatigued, unable to stand, and us as a family monitoring her twenty-four hours a day and beginning to mourn her passing. That’s the back story – still in progress today. My inspiration comes from our vet who has patiently taken the time to understand Joker’s situation, and helped us tweak her treatment almost hourly to break the cycle of seizures and bring her back to a state of comfort, and relieve the insistent seizure attacks.
With every conversation he asked the probing questions around her diet, disposition and mobility, and never addressed the obvious eventualities that had entered our minds. As a medical pro, he knew a possible outcome of unabated seizures and predicted our private considerations of euthanasia and Joker’s passing. But he didn’t go there. As a compassionate professional he let us – who were emotionally engaged – drive the questions around “what if” and “when it happens” and “what do we do if she doesn’t recover?”
He was empathic and clear in his description of cremation options, but not leading. He never took us to the emotional place of losing our dear family pet, although certainly he understood this as an imminent possibility. This was a powerful demonstration of emotional intelligence for him to gently lead us through the process and allow us to arrive at these difficult conclusions ourselves. There’s a useful message here: as a leader, when in the midst of a crisis, help people work through immediate solutions but always know prescriptions for the worst eventualities.