It was a regular day working from home, with four teenagers pounding up and down the stairs, work and home phones ringing, and the Blackberry buzzing like crazy. I was frantically trying to get dinner on the table and preparing for an overseas call with India that has been in the works for nine months. The ballet carpool honked for my then 17-year-old daughter. She ran out the door with our two dogs barking goodbye, a 45-pound, adorably goofy Wheaten Terrier named Dewey with his new best friend, a four-pound Morkie puppy named Dunkin.
As my daughter got in the car, the usual bark, bark, bark chorus was pierced with a screech from the puppy unlike anything I had ever heard before. I raced out the front door and scooped him up, and he thanked me by biting my hand. He was clearly in pain and there was something terribly, terribly wrong with his right front leg. Panicked, I called my husband. We started arguing, turning the typical crazy into chaos. I ran around the house with Dunkin cradled in one arm, phone wedged between my shoulder and ear, and stirred a pot roast as I tried to figure out what to do.
Breathe! That is what I needed to do. As simple as it sounds, I can’t do anything right without breathing. I can’t calm down, I can’t solve any problems, I am useless. I need to take my hand place it on my stomach and count each breath. To do that, I had to put Dunkin down, hang up the phone and forget about dinner. I stopped and took 10 deep cleansing breaths and called the animal hospital.
The nurse listened to my competing concerns for Dunkin and the looming call from India. She told me it would be fine to wait until after the call to bring Dunkin in. Breathing, breathing, breathing, I went into my office to focus on work. I need and love my job. I had worked hard to build it from nothing through single parenthood, childrearing, and other disasters. Messing up at this point would help no one. I did what needed to be done for my business first, turned off the stove, and took Dunkin to the hospital.
No big deal, I thought when the vet said Dunkin’s leg was broken. Fix it! A cast, a splint, a shaved leg, and a few weeks of limping are no big deal in the life of a dog. The vet told us he needed to wait until morning to fully evaluate the injury. My husband and I left the hospital in silence, wondering what Dunkin’s alternatives were. He was only a few months old. Would we have to put him down because his best friend, Dewey, fell over him?
I was up all night thinking, why me? Dunkin is my dog. He is the little puppy that I wanted my whole life. Dunkin was my mental booster shot. Whenever I would come home after a grueling day, Dunkin would joyfully jump up, making me feel better. How could this happen to me on top of all I have been through? It wasn’t fair. Why can’t life be easier? Why can’t I handle this? Do these questions sound familiar? All night I focused on poor Wendy!
When the call came the next day, the vet explained that the leg was shattered, that it would be almost impossible to put it back together. I stopped. I froze. I totally shut down. The leg would have to be amputated. No way! I want a second opinion, a third, just fix it! I ranted on and on to the doctor about how and why it happened. Now, in calm hindsight, I know that was a useless waste of time and energy. Although I have taught personal productivity skills for more than two decades, I could not see that my actions were counterproductive. All I knew was that I so badly didn’t want this to have happened. I couldn’t hear or understand one word that the doctor said. I remember the room swaying and thinking, why doesn’t someone just make this problem go away? Why do I have to deal with yet another issue in my life? Why? Why? Why?
It was at that moment that I took a necessary pause. I knew the only way to move the problem forward was to become a problem solver rather than focus on the problem. I had to use the same tool that had worked the day before, and the day before that, and days before that. It was time to start deep cleansing breaths. Again, it was the breathing that came in very helpful and calmed me down enough to face reality. I focused on the breathing so that I could focus on what the vet was saying. To stabilize myself I asked the vet to give me a second. I picked a focal point in the room. Staring at it, I counted to 10.
Once I calmed down, I was able to take in new information. I was ready to ask, “So what can we do to solve this problem?” Then, and only then, could I listen to what the life of a three legged dog would be like. I was able to think about Dunkin rather than myself. I could understand that Dunkin was in so much pain that he must be treated immediately. With a heavy heart, I told the vet to do what needed to be done. He explained that it would take the weekend for the procedure and recovery. “Expect to come Monday and pick him up,” were his last words.
Imagine my surprise the next morning when the hospital called and told us, “Dunkin is up and running!” He had jumped off the table and was clearly ready to come home to us! I just couldn’t believe it. We picked him up bandaged and pretty drugged up, but he could walk around. How did he do that? How could that happen? This was when I learned to live like a three legged dog.
Wendy Kaufman is the President and Founder of Balancing Life’s Issues, a national corporate training company. She can be reached at email@example.com.