Kevin…

I’ve been avoiding mainstream medicine, as much as possible, for years. I will only go to a doctor, or take a family member to one, when I want to confirm a diagnosis or fix an injury. Most prescriptions that are offered are either declined or left unfilled, unless the doctor can give a compelling reason why their benefits would outweigh their many downsides.

This attitude and approach is the result of repeated disappointment with the medical industry’s ability to prevent or heal disease…something they repeatedly claim they can do. I see doctors as a resource of information, with limited knowledge and a limited viewpoint. Since I read health and medical books for fun, I have a growing foundation of knowledge regarding various conditions and their treatment options. I consider my perspective and opinions to be just as valid to the situation as theirs; and often more so, since I know myself and my family members far better than the doctor ever could.

It rarely takes long in the course of a visit to realize that the doctor doesn’t agree with me on this point…at all. The doctor is the “expert” and I am expected to “comply” with the doctor’s “orders.” Clearly they don’t know me very well. I will be polite during the visit, ask questions, and get his/her opinion…then go home and do additional research about other options, before deciding how best to move forward. I had never met a doctor who showed me an equal level of respect and consideration, where I could actually voice my opinion during the visit…until Kevin.

The family member who needed care was our 14-year-old toy poodle, Booboo. He had a growing list of health issues, yet every vet I had taken him to either didn’t think my concern about his symptoms was anything to worry about, or wanted to run a bunch of expensive and invasive tests that wouldn’t accomplish anything towards improving his health or comfort level. It had been two years since Booboo’s last vet visit, and the only thing accomplished during that visit was the stressing out of our poor old dog.

So here we were. I wasn’t happy with any vet we had seen so far, and yet I needed some insight into the specific problems Booboo was dealing with. An internet search of local vets led me to a new vet in town…Kevin Toman at Mission Animal Hospital. His website showed he embraced nutrition and homeopathy, in addition to mainstream medicine. I have found that any doctor willing to accept homeopathy as a valid form of medicine has loosened the straps of his medical training enough to allow himself to be open to alternatives. This was a good sign. I called his office and made an appointment.

Booboo’s health issues were quite advanced, especially his congestive heart failure. His cataracts, deafness, spinal arthritis, and dental decay all aggravated his declining condition. We accepted that we would not be able to heal most of these diseases, and instead focused on things that might make him more comfortable…until it was clearly time to let him go.

My interaction with Kevin, his wife Diane, and their office staff lasted a total of two months. It was an experience that far surpassed any interaction I have ever had with anyone in the medical community…before or since. When I made my last visit to his office to pick up Booboo’s ashes, Kevin was working alone at the front counter. After we took care of business, I looked at him and asked if he had any idea how unique he was. He paused, and then joked that his wife would probably agree he was unique, but he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing.

There are several things that made it clear that Kevin sees his role differently than most medical professionals do. He is very open about everything he does. There are windows in his examination rooms and no roof. You can hear everything he’s telling the pet family in the next room, which gives you a feel for his approach to animal care before you even meet him. When he comes in, he drops the “Dr” when introducing himself. He’s just Kevin. This sets a collaborative tone to the visit, rather than an expert/patient hierarchy. He then sits on the floor and listens, really listens, as you tell him about your animal and any concerns you have.

During our visits, information flowed both directions – him getting a feel for Booboo and our relationship with him, and me getting helpful information and answers to questions. If I asked about something he wasn’t familiar with, such as an alternative treatment option, Kevin had no problem accepting the limits of his knowledge and expertise by responding with “I don’t know” …and then qualifying that answer with, “I don’t have any knowledge or experience with that form of treatment, so can’t advise on it.” It was incredibly refreshing, and rare, to find a doctor willing to admit he didn’t know something. Most doctors would give an opinion anyway. Kevin just offered a couple of cautions and left it to me to research more and make the final decision.

My opinion and his differed on a few points, to which he always responded, “We can disagree and still be friends.” That was my absolute favorite thing that he would say. And he meant it. I know that, because it was put to the test during Booboo’s final week with us.

Kevin had prescribed a few medications for Booboo to help stabilize his congestive heart failure and ease the pain of his spinal arthritis. These medications helped Booboo physically, and yet they muddled all traces of his personality. In addition, his appetite had declined significantly, which made it even harder to get him to take his meds on the prescribed schedule without having it turn into a battle of wills.

To give Booboo and me a break, I skipped a dosage on one of his meds. Within a couple of hours, I noticed a slight return of his personality. I then skipped the next one and he came back to us a bit more. It didn’t take long for me to decide to drop more of his meds. After a few days without the drugs, he did a bow-stretch…something he hadn’t done in weeks, and a glimmer of our old, loved friend came back for a bit. Getting that last glimpse of his former self, however brief, was well worth any speeding up of his decline that most likely took place.

At Booboo’s next appointment with Kevin, I told him that Booboo had been off his meds for a week and  explained my reasons for stopping them. This action had caused a worsening of fluid build up in Booboo’s heart, which was a serious backslide of his physical condition. Kevin sat on the floor and visibly struggled with the situation. He looked from his left hand to his right, with one representing his opinion and the other representing mine. He concluded that we were both trying to do what was best for Booboo, but each had different priorities. In the end, Kevin confirmed that Booboo’s condition would continue to decline – with meds or without. We came to a compromise on the medications and I agreed to give Booboo the one he felt was most important.

With any other doctor, I would have been scolded for not following his “orders”… or I would have withheld information about my actions, to avoid having to endure his judgment of my choice. Neither one is helpful to the healing process – whether it’s physical healing we’re striving for or emotional/spiritual healing. The respect Kevin showed towards the needs of our emotional relationship with Booboo, which toward the end overrode Booboo’s physical needs, was something I had never experienced before from anyone in the medical profession. True mutual respect.

Kevin’s final gift to our family, and especially to Booboo, was his willingness to come to our house to do the euthanasia. Booboo was able to spend his last day with us in the comfort of his home, surrounded by the love of his family, until his last breath.

The rest of the medical community needs to get off their high horse and take a lesson. Care of the body, mind, and spirit requires true mutual respect…and an acceptance that the doctor may not agree with the path that needs to be chosen. And that’s okay.

“We can disagree and still be friends.”

Thanks, Kevin.

-Jenne Hiigel

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