My dog Bjorn is recovering from an orthopedic surgery I performed today.
Here I am, a veterinarian with access to the best conventional pain control medicine has to offer. He has Hydromorphone, Metacam, and massive doses of Tramadol on board, with other drugs in reserve if need be. [Editor’s Note: This article was first published in 2009. Dr. Dressler’s most recent pain control advice is in this article.]
He has technological help, too: a device on the surgery site that is used in human surgery for post-op pain that creates a voltage field. Supposedly they will be using this loop on upcoming space shuttle missions.
On top of that, he was receiving Reiki treatments tonight.
So I had all the bases covered for pain control: medicine, technology, and spiritual.
And he was still not happy and relaxed, and neither was I.
Why Can’t Bjorn Relax?
So I’m using the best pain control and healing modalities available, and it wasn’t until I gave him something for his anxiety that he started to relax.
Ah, the power of the mind. It was anxiety, not pain.
Anxiety and pain look a lot alike!
I was so focused on what I always think about (pain) that the puzzle almost beat me.
The point is this:
Sometimes we get so focused on solving difficult problems with our usual tools that we miss the solution.
If You Only Have a Hammer, Every Problem Looks Like a Nail
There’s a saying that if you only have a hammer in your toolbox, every problem looks like a nail.
In other words, if a problem doesn’t require a hammer, you won’t be able to solve it … but you’ll hammer away at it anyway!
The carpenter uses the hammer, the surgeon the scalpel, the acupuncturist the needle, and the oncologist chemo and radiation.
Sometimes our tendencies, patterns, and default mechanisms will prevent us from seeing what is really needed. This is a fact that I have seen in my own life and those around me.
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It is critical for us, when we are faced with problems, to be flexible and vulnerable enough to realize that we do not have all the answers with the tool we are accustomed to using.
Only then will we top hitting everything with our hammers.
One cannot use a hammer to fix every problem.
Vulnerability and Imperfection Are Gifts
We need to allow our vulnerability and imperfection. This position allows us to realize our limitations, and realize our hammers are not always of use.
It is only from this mindset that we become flexible enough to step out of our patterns and default ways of thinking.
From that vantage, we can then move sideways to make real gains, whether it be in resolving cancer, dealing with the hardship that the disease imposes upon us and our loved ones, or just getting a breath of fresh air to recharge.
Sometimes widening back is more important than charging forward relentlessly.
It is this mindset that encourages leaps in medical evolution, and in problem management overall.
Yes, this book is full of treatment advice and nowhere-else-to-be-found helpful insights. But possibly it’s most valuable gift to readers is a mindset that helps us relax, learn, and choose treatments with confidence. Read it and feel empowered!
Take Care of Your Mind to Care for Your Dog
Tonight, I needed to step back and take a few breaths to see that I’d been using a hammer — pain medication — when I needed to use another tool.
Taking care of my own mind, oxygenating my brain, and lowering my OWN anxiety levels helped me to see that Bjorn was anxious, and that might be why he was unhappy.
It can sound simplistic, and hopelessly so, but the more I deal with dog cancer and my own life, the more I realize the truth:
Healing yourself helps your loved dog heal.
So, allow yourself the space to breathe and recharge yourself. Realize there are hardships and our own limitations in our lives.
Sometimes admitting what seems like our own powerlessness can be very therapeutic. Then we can move forward and find new ways of handling the situation.
My thoughts are with you in these challenging days.
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.