What We Can Learn From Nurses
Nurse. Just another word to describe someone strong enough to tolerate anything and soft enough to understand anyone. – Unknown
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a very, very long time, and last night’s session reminded me why I needed to do it. I want to talk to you about nurses and teachers. Oh, yeah… and dogs. Believe it or not, these three things have a lot in common.
Last night I hit the lottery with my clients. Woman’s name was Elsa. Man’s name was Jack. And then there was this cute little guy, Rally:
Rally is your typical No No Bad Dog. Definitely not dangerous; just really really annoying. No No Bad Dogs tend to be between 5-12 months of age. They jump a lot, pull on a leash, and may even do a bit of counter surfing. Technically, they aren’t “bad” dogs, they’re perfect….dogs. They just really suck at being human. That’s why we’re here, to help them with that by answering their questions. Not bullying them. Not dominating them. You are not their alpha, any more than they are yours. You are their Pilot.
So back to Elsa and Jack. Both are young professionals with a brand new No No Bad Dog. Both are eager to work with Rally and help him be the best dog human he can be. Neither were prone to losing their temper, nor getting frustrated with Rally no matter how obnoxious he got. Both humans showed extreme amounts of patience. Suspiciously so. On top of that, neither of them ever gave up. They just kept answering Rally’s questions until he accepted their answers, learning how he communicates, so as to be the best humans dogs they can be for him.
I had to ask what they did for a living. Elsa told me that she was a teacher (2nd grade, I found out later). I wasn’t too surprised. Think for a moment about what she does all day for a living. She’s a chaos director.
There really isn’t too much difference between Piloting a dog and Piloting a child of that age. Each ask really stupid questions…or do they?
When my son Eric was 3, we had a very edifying conversation. We were in the car, on our way back from a trip to the dentist, and Eric wanted to know why we brush our teeth.
“Well,” I explained, taking the imperious, condescending tone that parents sometimes accidentally take, “Right now you have practice teeth. If you take good care of your practice teeth, and brush them and don’t eat too many sweets, they will eventually fall out, so you can get your grown-up teeth.”
Eric was quiet for a few moments. Then a tiny voice came from the backseat, “Do we get to keep our eyeballs?”
It seems like a stupid question, “Do I get to keep my eyeballs?”, until you realize where he’s coming from. He literally has no point of reference upon which to draw. Just as he thinks he’s go this whole “being human” thing down, what do I tell him?
Yeah, kid…body parts start falling out of your mouth.
Second graders may have a little bit of an easier time, as they’ve been around the block a time or two compared to a toddler, but it’s still so difficult for them. Will I be able to make friends? What if I forget what’s 2 + 2 on the test? I don’t care what anyone says, being a child is terribly difficult.
So what does Elsa do all day? Manage these little humans. She is charged with not only educating them, but she has to Pilot them through various crisis situations. Like when little Tommy loses a tooth during spelling. There is a terrified child with blood dripping out of their mouth and a tooth in their hand. What do you do? Answer his questions and calmly be there for him.
Fortunately for Elsa, these children know and trust her. She’s been their Pilot for a little while now. They now welcome her answers and even though sometimes she can be The Meanest Teacher in the World (seriously? Reading homework on a weekend?) they trust her to care for them and to protect them from things like, stray teeth and bumblebees.
On to Jack. He’s a nurse. Not only that, he’s an ER nurse. My favorite. Think about what an ER nurse does all day: answers the questions you have on the most terrifying day of your life. They Pilot you. Only, unlike Elsa, they don’t even know you. They have to earn your faith and trust in a very, very short amount of time, while taking care of you, remaining safe themselves, and working as part of a larger team. Talk about organized chaos!
And sometimes, they have to stand up for you when things get scary. They speak for you when you can’t.
When my son went into the hospital at 3 years old for strep, I had a nurse named Laura skillfully Pilot a situation for us. Eric was stretched out on a hospital bed, frail and weak from dehydration. I was terrified, as just 10 hours prior he was fine. Then Nurse Laura informs me that they need to get an IV in him immediately. So I inform Eric that they are going to use a needle to poke his skin to put medicine in him. I told him that no matter what, he mustn’t move.
Obviously it hurt. Truly heroic, Eric never moves, but starts sobbing, “Mom, she’s hurting me!”.
Actual footage of my heart breaking.
I was about to start sobbing myself, watching my son crying on a gurney, desperately trying to be brave, accepting that someone was hurting him, and I had to let them. ”Mom, she’s hurting me!”
Until Nurse Laura walked over by us, leaned down by Eric, and "whispered" loudly, “Her name is Wendy”.
I started laughing, and Eric got through his little ordeal. Nurse Wendy didn’t want to hurt Eric, but she knew what needed to be done, and shut out her own emotions to do it. In other words, trying to comfort him by telling him it didn’t hurt (it did!), or that it would only be a moment (it wasn’t) wasn’t going to make anyone feel better except for herself. She quickly did her job. Nurse Laura didn’t give us a pep talk. She didn’t try to convince us that it didn’t hurt. She gave us what we needed: a bit of levity. There’s a difference between comforting someone and Piloting them. Wendy and Laura Piloted all of us, and thus comforted us.
Where do dogs come into all of this? Well, whenever I’m dealing with a dog who is scared, acting aggressively, or just simply a No No Bad Dog, I always think back to Nurse Wendy and Nurse Laura. I try to act how they need to act for 12 hours straight every day. Not lying. Not sugar-coating anything. Calmly answering questions. Calmly being there, and setting the tone by their example.
So when your dog is scared going to the vet, or is anxiously barking at another dog during a walk, remember, dogs suck at being human. It’s not a situation they were meant to be in. You have to Pilot your dog through the situation. Not with saccharine words nor with phony falsetto words rapidly thrown at them. Don’t mix your wanting to placate them with what they actually need. They need calm. They need a rational person. They need you to act completely normal. They need a Pilot.
They need Wendy.
Kerry Stack Darwin Dogs
Dog Training, Differently
In these troubling and uncertain times, we all need a Wendy in our lives. It's easy to need a Wendy, but have you considered that you can be a Wendy as well? Piloting isn't just for dogs, nor for dog training. Piloting is a way of life. Some professions, such as teachers, EMTs and nurses, live their professional lives Piloting every day. Their Piloting uniform goes on when they put on their scrubs, and they pass their calmness on to us during scary times. We can mimic them, and bring a sense of calmness to our lives. Being calm breeds more calmness. Spread that shit around....6 feet away from each other. #socialdistancing #coronageddon