A Sinking Feeling Came Over Me

It was the end of a day of work in a veterinary clinic. It had been a steady, but not insane, type of day. It was nearly time to lock the doors, clean up and make our exit for the weekend. I handed in my last chart to the reception team to check out the client. I noticed someone else standing at the desk who seemed vaguely familiar. We made eye contact; his face was non-expressive. “Do I know him?” I thought to myself. I couldn’t place his face right off the top and he didn’t have an animal with him, or seem distraught, so I moved on to charting the last case.

Within a minute or so the team member came to me and said “Mr. X” is asking to see you but wouldn’t say what about. We quickly looked up his name in the database and realized I had met him twice before. Once was a very brief discussion when his elderly lab presented as a drop off appointment with what turned out to be a mesenetric torsion. Our conversation was basically … “Hi, I’m Dr. Quammen, your dog is very sick and needs one of three things: emergency surgery, transfer to an emergency clinic, or another (less optimal) decision.” The second time we met was a couple of weeks later when we removed the sutures from that lab (we opted for emergency surgery during our first meeting). This third meeting was 8–10 weeks later and I had no idea why he was there. I asked that he be escorted into an exam room so we could talk.

My mind went into overdrive. For some reason I had an immediate sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It even went so far as for me to think he could be here to verbally or physically harm me. I’ve lived long enough to know that when that feeling is there, you should listen to it. I told the technician I had an “odd” feeling and asked her to listen outside of the door for anything unusual. She obliged. I went into the room, closed the door and opened the conversation. Guess what? He wanted to show me pictures of his dogs, including the one I performed surgery on, and tell me how great they are doing. Oh, and he wanted to discuss treatment options for noise phobia for the lab. Internally I was thinking “What caused me to feel so much anxiety about this?”, but externally I was appropriate, smiling, and happy to discuss a litany of options for noise phobia.

I’ve spent a few days now reflecting on this and still don’t have a good reason why I made such off base assumptions. Maybe because it was the end of the day and I was tired, not as “on my game” as I might normally be, maybe it was something else entirely. Part of me wants to tell him and apologize for my thoughts … but that seems a little too much. I did talk with the staff and explain I was completely off base and explain I appreciated them looking out for me. I have talked it over with friends, run the scenario in my mind a hundred times, and still don’t know what set me into such a sympathetic state. At this point I am taking it as a learning experience, not allowing my thoughts to consume me, and moving forward. I am choosing an attitude of learning and understanding with myself, and realize that I am only human, fallible, and imperfect. I am choosing to be caring towards myself, not overly judgmental or critical. Self-compassion is my High Performance attitude.

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