So, I had a teaching moment yesterday. It probably would’ve gone better if I hadn’t had a searing headache from the EEG, but nonetheless, I saw an opportunity and I figured I might as well take it.
I was at a hospital, having an EEG done, and afterwards I was wiped out with a severe headache, so I opted to call a cab rather than take public transit home. As I was waiting in the lobby for the cab to arrive, as the weather was unpleasant, I noticed a group of student nurses gathering. They had taken over one wall of the lobby, chatting about this and that, and I found myself thinking…this is a teaching moment.
I didn’t offer to talk to them about dealing with complex patients, or patients with rare illnesses like my own. No, I offered to talk to them about how to handle a service dog team…and how not to screw it up!
I know I’ve mentioned in my first piece on service dog etiquette that many people make all kinds of errors in dealing with a service dog team, but it surprised me how many of them I face in hospitals and doctor’s offices.
The doctor who always stoops to say hello to my dog before he talks to me. (If he wasn’t a hard to replace doctor, I’d have a talk with him about it, but he’s of a specialty where I can’t afford to alienate my doctor)
The nurses who tell me that the dog is just fine where he is, and then struggle to straddle him or reach equipment across him, making all three of us uncomfortable.
The doctors I’m seeing for completely unrelated specialties who ask me what purpose the dog serves.
I told them, one of the worst things you can do to me the patient is start asking me about my dog instead of asking about me. Once you’re through with your questions about me, I might humor a few about the dog, but that is getting a little off base and a little personal.
I talked about the wide range of things that serve as distractions for a dog. Most people just think petting the dog is bad, but I’ve had a nurse try even that! (What made me especially mad was that it was a sneak-pet as he walked by me in a hallway, and then told me not to bite his head off when I said ‘Please don’t!’) More often, it’s subtler distractions that medical professionals – just like everyone else – are guilty of. I pointed out to them, my patches on my dog don’t just say ‘don’t pet’ – they say ‘don’t pet or distract’ and I told them that distracting him is in a very real way endangering me.
I also told them hey, I’ve got a sense of humor about him most of the time. When you live with a service dog, you kind of have to! Everyone wants to know, everyone wants to ask, and a great many people want to share their stories or tell you how handsome your dog is.
I mentioned that it’s easier on all of us if you tell me if the dog is in the way – it’s really easy to move him, but it’ll make him and I both nervous if you reach around or over him awkwardly, and it’ll make your job harder.
And then their instructor asked what I thought was a good question. He pointed out that I had a service dog, not a seeing eye dog, and asked if I could explain what a service dog does for a person, since they probably weren’t familiar. So I talked about Hudson in particular and service dogs in general, and then excused myself as my cab had just arrived.
It probably wasn’t the best talk I could’ve given. However, it was kind of spur of the moment, and I had a monster of a headache, so all things considered I think I did okay. I know that to many people, seeing a service dog out in the ‘real world’ can be exciting, but I hope I’ve reminded them to treat their patients as humans first, patients next, and not as curiousities!