Reflection: Effective Communication Is Worth Its Weight in Gold

Or dog poop, take your pick.


It is Friday at 2:00 am, and I sense a furry critter bedside staring me down, standing where he normally does not.

Scoutie, what is going on?

He paces over to our bedroom door and peers out into the living room. I can tell his brow is wrinkled from the forward position of his ears, like maybe he hears something suspicious. But the house is silent.

Come on over here and jump up on the bed, I beseech, longing to return to sleep. I pat the foot of the bed and smooth out his blanket, beckoning. Obediently, he jumps up and curls into a ball. For an instant. But then, he’s back down, out of the room, and I hear him trot upstairs, something he never does in the middle of the night. So I follow sleepily, and by the time I reach the foyer at the foot of the steps, am greeted by fresh, aromatic, and powerful dog fartage. I find him pacing from room to upstairs room.

Let’s go outside, buddy.

He follows enthusiastically. And the instant we find the lawn, it all comes, you know, exploding out of him. He seems so relieved, as do I, but it’s really difficult to clean up. I do the best I can and let him sniff around a bit, in case there is more. There isn’t, and so we go back inside and back to bed.

Then, about two hours later, we awaken to the sound of retching and vomiting, which happens before I can get him out the door. Up again, I find the cleaning supplies and get to work. I could go on. Suffice it to say, the morning unfolds like this for several more episodes. We take turns dealing with it, The Chef and I. At some point I decide to forego my usual early morning workout and instead sleep in for another hour so I’ll have my head about me for the workday. The sleep does not last long before duty calls again. And again.

Let’s Go Visit the Vet!

4:00 pm finds us, me and Scoutie, at the vet’s office. We’ve had a fairly uneventful day after the early morning catastrophe. I’ve offered him a small bowl of rice and yogurt in lieu of his usual ground turkey and kibble, and he has turned it down. Instead, he has spent the day asleep at my feet while I work, alternately snoring and farting.

But then mid-afternoon, I feel him poke my back, his quiet way of asking to go outside. This time, once outside, what comes exploding out of him is blood, and lots of it. I try snapping up a sample using the poop bag in my pocket, but it’s really a lost cause; there is a little on a leaf, so I include that in the bag.

Here’s the funny thing. Once back inside, Scout decides he wants the rice and yogurt I’d offered him much earlier in the day, and so he eats all of it. Every speck.

The woman on the phone at the vet hospital beseeches me to bring a stool sample. I have one, a small one, I tell her. Great! she chirps. You’re already ahead of us!

We wait an insanely long time to be seen, as it’s Friday afternoon and they are running behind. In some ways, this is a blessing. Scout once looked forward to going to the vet, in our erstwhile life in Vermont. Everybody knew him, he associated the place with peanut butter and feel-good vibes, and the care he received there was nothing short of exemplary.

For whatever reason, this is not the case at this practice. Scout hates every single thing about it except doggie daycare, what we call dog “camp.” Doggie daycare, he digs. Just not what goes on in the front of the building. So the insanely long wait, thankfully, allows him to settle in and stop shaking, and by the time it’s finally our turn he is calm.

The nice vet tech takes down the history I report to her, on a laptop. I tell her everything in excruciating detail. She listens, and nods, and types. She asks me to repeat myself a couple of times. Then she says, I just need to take him and get his weight and check his temperature, and I’ll be right back. So off they go, and then here they come again. The doctor will be in soon, she says.

And soon the doctor is in the room, and this is where the entire experience goes off the rails. Once again, we’re asked to give her all the details. She is young, earnest, energetic, but her brow is furrowed and she looks really worried. I can’t tell whether that means I should be worried too, or she’s just hyper-focused on her canine patient. The tech is there too, and now we’re holding Scout, the tech and I, so the doctor can examine him, which she does with many more agonized facial expressions, and for a long time.

Scout is great. He’s not enjoying it, especially, all the poking and prodding on his belly, but he does not object.

Now the doctor is telling me she wants bloodwork, but won’t do the panel for pancreatitis. If he had that, she says, he’d have winced when I was palpating him. And we need to analyze the stool sample you brought us to rule out parasites. So we need to take him to do that and we’ll be right back.

Off they all go, and so now I’m sitting alone in the room, texting Chef David, who has arrived in the parking lot outside, on his way home from work, just waiting for us.

Another long while later the vet comes back in and tells me, what? I don’t know, because she is alternately talking to me like I’m five, call it veterinary doctor-’splaining, and speaking to me about the medications he needs using lots of scientific jargon. It is truly impressive how she can oscillate between similes she probably uses hundreds of times each week (this medication will coat his insides and soothe it—kind of like a band-aid), and in the same breath lob a long chemical name at me and ask, as if it’s a perfectly normal thing to do it, whether I’ve ever given this before. So I am sitting there simultaneously nodding and shaking my head and wondering if this is how they teach communication skills at the college of veterinary medicine where this nice young woman obtained her degree. My thoughts wander to a young Dr. James Harriot attempting to explain to a farmer what is the matter with his bellowing cow on a cold night in early 20th-century Yorkshire. Seems like this ought to be comparatively easier.

The list of medications Scout needs goes on and on, and the instructions go on and on. No food tonight. Tomorrow, lots of very small meals. Boiled shredded chicken, maybe a couple of tablespoons at a time; we just need to make sure nothing comes back up. (I interject that a couple of hours earlier he consumed a small bowl of rice and yogurt, and none of it has come up, but this appears to fall on deaf ears.) We couldn’t use the stool sample you brought, she continues, because there wasn’t enough, so we’ll need you to collect another and bring it in. I don’t think we need to keep him overnight, but before you go we’d like go give him some subcutaneous hydration. So let us get that going and then we’ll get you checked out and on your way, okay?

Now she is more cheerful and less worried, but I stop her and ask, Is there any way you can write down everything you’ve just told me?

Oh, yes, of course, she says. It’ll all be included with his medications.

And then she is gone with the wind, she and the tech, who again whisks Scout away for his hydration thingummie.

A little while later, here comes Scout, but with an entirely different human, who says, All set!

All set to, what? Go? We were supposed to get medicine, and instructions….

Oh, I don’t know about any of that, she says apologetically. I just help out. I know Scout from doggie daycare—he’s great! And then she too is gone, but not before promising she’d try to find out where everybody went, where the meds are, and the instructions.

Now the tech is back with a bag full of things, lots of things, reporting Scout has no fever, so that’s great. As fast as lightning, she is whipping out the contents of the bag, and with some ceremony, holding up one at a time, explaining what they are. She is so, so fast. And I have forgotten my readers, so I squint in vain trying to see what she is pointing out. Adjust this syringe to the 5ml mark like this (she twists), one-two-three-four-five marks, see?

I can’t see a damn thing. I tell her I left my readers at home. Okay, she says, I’ll just leave it on this setting. Now she explains that this pill must be dissolved in water first, but after fishing around inside the bag, finds there is no water syringe for the dissolving of it, and so she opens a cabinet, grabs one, and plunks it into the bag. Next she holds up the poop specimen container in my face. Get it back to us as soon as you can, she urges, and then pantomimes the turd size they need using the big joint of her thumb. We close at 4 pm tomorrow. Oh and these tablets, she says, are just Pepcid. Like humans take.

Hang on a sec, I say. The only way I know how to get these meds down him is with a pill pocket. Yes, she says, that’s fine if he’ll take them that way.

But I am confused. The vet says give no food tonight. But if I’m pilling him with all these…pills…that’s quite a few pill pockets.

Okay, maybe just try to give them with half a pill pocket. But don’t let him taste this one, it’s bitter. If he tastes it, it’s all over. That happened to my cat.

I ask her to confirm what I’m allowed to feed him the next day, because now my head is swimming. Small, frequent meals…. Yes, she says, so boil the chicken and don’t add any seasonings to it. So maybe, a half chicken breast at a time.

I’m no expert at maths, but I’m pretty sure a couple tablespoons of shredded chicken is less than a half chicken breast…. She shoves the bag into my hand, and then she is gone, and so are we.

How It All Came Out in the End

Well, it didn’t and there’s the rub. How on earth am I supposed to get a poop sample from a dog who spent basically 12 hours, pooping. He is, er, all pooped out. So we abandoned that task until, who knows. Only Scout.

As for the medicine, it has been tough going. I knew one was an antibiotic, and the rest were palliative. But I had to do some online research to suss it out, determine what was what. The antibiotic seems like it’s important. So if I had to pick and choose, I’d go with that one. And the pill to be dissolved in water? It didn’t actually fit inside the syringe without forcing it. I filled it with water the way the tech explained, and then started shaking, also the way she showed me, and let me just say, these tablets do not fully dissolve. So Scout had a par-dose of that medicine (the “band-aid” one). For kicks I left what remained of it soaking overnight in the water, and this morning, there it was, a fully formed pill leering at me from inside the impossibly tiny syringe.

Later during a phone chat with my kiddo, who happens to be a pharmacy tech, he explained each of the medicines to me, adding that they fill veterinarian prescriptions all the time, and then just said, yeh, just crush that pill. I suppose a smart person, one who does not need the band-aid simile to understand what “soothe” means, would have thought of that.

There are also these comical mentions on the receipt for services rendered (which cost us an arm and a leg, no surprise there):

“Your pet was given fluid therapy under the skin. You will notice a swelling where the fluids were administered. This swelling with grad-ually subside as the fluids are absorbed into the body.”

Hmm. And where might that be? We have no idea. And this:

“The medication your pet was prescribed is a special order item. Please give us at least 1 week advance notice to order this medication for your pet.”

Which of the four medicines might that be? And are we supposed to ask for more?

For his part, Scout seems pretty much himself today. He’s had a couple of medium-sized meals with the bland chicken and rice, a little yogurt, and a tiny bit of kibble. It has all stayed down. His poop looks like something that comes out of a cat, so his pipes still aren’t fully back online. Next, we await the phone call with news of the blood panel, and for the much-anticipated thumb-sized poop sample to turn in for further scrutiny.

I’ve waffled back and forth between garden-variety irritation and genuine confusion. But maybe the most important thing finally is doing the best you can, like trying to get foul-tasting liquid pink penicillin down a cranky toddler with an ear infection. Time it right, aim well, and hope at least some of the good stuff hits its mark.

But this whole episode has got me thinking about effective communication…in the workplace, among friends, and at home. For the most part, people want to understand what you want.

If only you know how to communicate it.

don’t eat anything; take these meds with food

5 thoughts on “Reflection: Effective Communication Is Worth Its Weight in Gold

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