In veterinary medicine we rely on our knowledge and expertise, the physical findings and data from the patient, and (very strongly) we also rely on the history provided by the humans living with the veterinary patient. Providing a helpful history is a skill and an art. It requires good observational skills and careful communications skills; and above all it requires humans to NOT interpret. We need information on what is observed, NOT what someone thinks is the reason for what they observed. (That comes during the wrap up.)
This concept is also important when providing witness to our own medical concerns for our human physicians! Tell them what IS, not why you THINK it is. When we interpret “why” our dog (our body) is doing something, we instantly bias the data. We are limiting the possible reasons for medical abnormality to only those of which WE have thought. And the description of the medical abnormality we provide is colored by why we think it is happening…and then dangerously, it may color how our medical professionals take action (down a wrong or long path).
With animals (and perhaps children too), the sky is the limit for creative ways they decide to make themselves ill!
Veterinarian (with open ended questioning): Tell me about how Tater has been acting this past week.
Owner of Tater (with interpretation lenses on): It has been so hot out, he hasn’t wanted to eat.
Veterinarian: Tell me about Tater’s bathroom habits this past week.
Owner of Tater: Since he hasn’t been eating all of his food, I think he is constipated.
Veterinarian (with targeted questioning): Has Tater gotten into anything or eaten anything he shouldn’t have this past week?
Owner of Tater (with rigid denial and biased interpretation): Nope, not possible. He’s just not hungry right now.
Veterinarian (wrapping up interview): What do you think is making Tater so ill right now?
Owner of Tater: I am sure his constipation is from not eating enough. This past week, he is just not himself; the weather is making him feel cruddy, but maybe it is also Lyme disease or something like that.
Case outcome—Tater had a washcloth and several miscellaneous materials surgically removed from his gastrointestinal tract; off food and not defecating because of intestinal obstruction. (see photos)
Take home message—Be an objective observer. Provide information unclouded by our personal bias. Provide information, even that which seems unimportant. Be the witness’ our pets need.
The veterinary detective trying to help you and your pet will have so much more to work from and the outcome will be that much more easily achieved.
Tater survived and thrived after his encounter with the inedible.