I got home late at night. It had been a long day and it was just a few minutes before bed time. I went to check on our hamster, Humphrey.

When I opened his cage, he immediately crawled up a small set of cardboard stairs he had and looked up at me. The look on his face bore an expression of helplessness. His eye was almost hanging out of his head. He was clearly traumatized.

I looked at the clock. It was late. If I called a vet and took him somewhere, I was going to get very little sleep and tomorrow was a workday. On top of that, the prospect of having to pay an emergency vet bill was not at all appealing to me. I knew I had a decision to make.

I started calling around. The first vet I spoke with didn’t see hamsters. They only saw cats or dogs. The second was the same. Vet number three told me the same. Half an hour later, I had gone through a lot of vets. I finally found one that would see hamsters. But it was a forty-five minute drive to get there.

I looked at the clock again. I’d wasted half an hour calling and in drive time there and back I was now looking at an hour and a half. If I left immediately, I would lose two hours of sleep, not including the time it took to actually see the vet.

I thought of the look on his face when he climbed up seeking help. I knew what I had to do.

The vet said there was an infection under his eye. The infected area had swelled up and become inflamed thereby pushing his eye out of his head. He needed antibiotics. I had to spend more to get them.

Humphrey after his eye was starting to heal.

He took the medications for the next few weeks. The swelling went down. His eye slowly crusted over and went back into his head. Eventually he seemed okay, except that he could no longer open his eye.

The Analysis

While I was sitting there contemplating whether to take the hamster to the vet, I momentarily thought about all the negatives in what was happening. Sleep was looking like an impossibility, my kid would be upset if the hamster died, I would be upset if that happened, and going to the vet meant a large expense.

I made a wristband a while back which says, “Just solve the problem.” It’s a reminder to me that if something happens I don’t like, to resist the temptation to get wrapped up in telling myself how horrible it is. It also reminds me I need to avoid complaining about the situation, stop myself from doing something self-destructive, or from doing something to make the situation worse. Ultimately, focusing energy on fixing what’s going on is far more productive and leaves me feeling better.

For a minute, I wanted to complain. It’s a practice I’ve done many a time in the past. Indeed, I used to have life problems that I would sit around and tell everyone about, cry over, and get upset about. The end effect was that I would make myself feel miserable. But this time, I held back. I just solved the problem.

The Lesson

Humphrey can’t open his eye now. I don’t know if he will ever again be able to. But he is alive.

His eye has healed, but he can’t open it.

Sucky things happen. Humphrey didn’t want to go through this. I didn’t want to either. You can do everything right and still have a sad ending.

But, you can always find positives. Humphrey is alive. Also importantly, I focused on just fixing the issue at that time. The effect was that I did not make the situation worse and make myself suffer needlessly. My own irritation and frustration were held in check and I created no new drama.

I mentioned what happened with Humphrey to a few friends. Several pointed out I could have purchased 15 hamsters for what I spent on the vet and medications. But life is valuable. Humphrey was valuable.

The lesson I learned from Humphrey is you should try and preserve life whenever you can. You should also not allow bad things to derail you. Simply solve the problem. You’ll feel a lot better when you do. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on how much you don’t like it.

To learn more about concepts like this or the psychology behind how we deal with conflict or to find tips on how to effectively solve the problems you’re facing, check out Emotional Embuffination the book. Learn more here.