Over the past decade, I have worked hard to become a good nurse. Initially quite cautious, over the years I have developed confidence in my abilities, and now pride myself on remaining calm while fielding acute crises. Clinical judgement is equal parts education, training, experience, and common sense, and virtually no one is blessed with all of these components at once.
It is imperative that medical personnel learn to separate the personal from the professional, so that our ability to provide excellent care is never compromised by our own feelings and fears. Luckily, this is something I have been able to master. In fact, I’ve become so good at separating church and state that I can now completely forget that I have any relevant training when my own pets or children have medical issues. Web MD is currently the most popular bridge to misdiagnosis, however I have no need for such things. My own head is fertile enough ground for cultivating worst-case-scenarios, especially where my loved ones are concerned.
My first rescue dog Tucker averaged two vet visits per week. He was 12 when I adopted him, and suffered from multiple significant conditions – however, his biggest barrier to health and happiness was his owner. Malnourished when I adopted him, I promptly set about getting him “on track.” Within a few months, he was double the recommended weight for a cocker spaniel, and had an ass like Jennifer Lopez. Noteworthy, but not necessarily healthy. Never having had a dog before, and spooked by his cardiac history, I fretted over every little thing, and the poor guy spent half of our days together at the vet.
When I adopted my second dog, Ladybug, I gave myself a stern talking to, and vowed to take a less dramatic approach to dog parenthood. Nevertheless, within 48 hours of bringing her home, I was rushing her to the vet, having stumbled upon a horrible series of abdominal growths that could only indicate a terminal illness. I cried while the veterinarian examined her, certain he would confirm evidence of a disease that would take her from me when our time together was just beginning. The vet sat me down and gently explained that the lumps on her stomach were not cancer, but nipples. Who knew?! If there is a wall of shame in his office, I feel certain I am front and center on it.
As I dove into people-parenthood, I became even less cool-headed (if that is even possible) about potential medical problems. Within weeks of his birth, I had convinced myself that baby T had a variety of terminal or at the very least disfiguring conditions ranging from gangrene (black fuzz on his toes from new footed jumpsuit) to a bowel obstruction (official diagnosis: Farting). He is now two years old, and I am every bit as paranoid as I was when he was a newborn, only now I have recruited a team of experts to consult before I go all-out and dial 911. My sister is an emergency room pediatrician, and not afraid to tell me to get a grip. Also great resources are the two mom’s groups I participate in, lovely parents with similar aged children, happy to bounce ideas off (or send photos of rashes to) each other. Most importantly, I consult Gaylene the Guru, who has been in the trenches with her three kids, all of whom have lived to tell. She is my go-to person for kid advice.
As for my own body and mind – I leave them in the hands of the experts, because I know better than to unleash that crazy. Admittedly, there are some with a talent for self-diagnosis. While on vacation in Breckenridge, my father developed a cough which we all assumed was viral, but he adamantly believed was HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). One helicopter ride and three oxygen tanks later, it turned out he was right. My boss’s daughter famously diagnosed her own lymphoma by Googling her symptoms. Impressive, definitely, but rare, so kids: don’t try this at home. I would like to encourage civilians not to try to identify and cure illnesses via the internet, rather to trust in the experts. You know, the unflappable, reasonable, never-hysterical experts… like me.