As a trainer and facilitator, one of my recurring themes is the importance of questioning one’s assumptions. I teach people to understand how Chris Argyris’ ladder of inference works; how we add meaning to the things we see happening around us, and draw conclusions from those meanings, and eventually make assumptions about how the world works as we move unconsciously up our “ladders.” And I ask people to examine the assumptions they’re making and the stories they’re telling to explain reality; I suggest that they practice distinguishing between “truth” and opinion, and that they get in the habit of checking out their stories through any means possible. It is perhaps the most constant theme of my work.
Which is why I can’t stop beating myself up this week. About a month ago, my dog Jave began showing signs of impaired vision. I made the assumption that he was simply getting old, and that nothing could be done about it (I rescued Jave about four years ago, so I don’t know exactly how old he is).
I should mention that Jave is like my child to me; I take him everywhere, unless I’m getting on a plane, and I structure my days around taking him hiking and spending quality time with him. I won’t plan a vacation that doesn’t include him. This just makes it all the more inexcusable that I handled the situation the way I did.
Last week, after he banged into a couple of coffee tables, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps I should take him to the vet. I had to catch a plane that day, so I called and got a last-minute appointment shortly before I needed to leave for the airport. The doctor measured Jave’s eye pressure and immediately diagnosed him with glaucoma. In case you don’t know what glaucoma actually is (I didn’t), it’s the build-up of pressure in the eyes from fluid. In dogs it is very painful, but treatable if caught early. We did not catch Jave’s early, and the vet told me he was now blind in one eye. She said I needed to rush him to an emergency clinic if I wanted a chance to save his other eye.
Thank goodness my mother was available to go with me. I knew I couldn’t cancel a job for a veterinary emergency, no matter how important my dog is to me; my contractors and clients would not understand. We rushed Jave to the clinic, and then I had to make the incredibly painful decision to leave him there and make a mad dash to the airport. I will never forget the look of disbelief in his eyes as I walked out the door. The clinic kept Jave overnight and put him on a drug regimen to get the pressure down, and my mother picked him up in the morning. So far it looks likely that his one good eye will be saved, although we don’t yet know for sure.
What I do know is that as human beings, no matter how hard we try to avoid acting on unquestioned assumptions, we all end up making mistakes sometimes. I will learn from this one, and I just hope it doesn’t cost Jave his sight.