Are you busy?


Janet Gilmore peeked through the door into the small waiting room. She could see Harold, holding two cats and Harry, his pet Beagle. She saw several other clients she knew quite well and one new client, who looked a bit uneasy as she sat with a small mixed-breed dog.

Compassion Veterinary Clinic:

Janet Gilmore peeked through the door into the small waiting room. She could see Harold, holding two cats and Harry, his pet Beagle. She saw several other clients she knew quite well and one new client, who looked a bit uneasy as she sat with a small mixed-breed dog.

No one had made appointments.

Harold had been a regular since the day the practice opened. In exchange for heavily discounted veterinary care, he helped build the interior of the practice. He had been coming back with pets now for several years. Harold wasn't an especially good carpenter, but he was an eager handyman and had shown Janet several ways to save money on various projects. He also wired and "fiddled" with the clinic computers.

Janet caught the eyes of two of her clients and quickly motioned them to come to the back. Two purebred dogs accompanied them.

Brendan, a smartly coifed standard poodle, and Jacque, a stately giant Schnauzer, knew the surroundings well. They calmly sat beside their owners near a small exam/surgery table in the back room.

"We are busy today — I think," Janet announced in a loud whisper.

"Hang around and I'll vaccinate and heartworm-test the boys in a few minutes."

Jennifer Williams and Darlene Andrews smiled and started chatting about kennel-club business and other issues related to quality dogs. Janet scurried off toward the front.

Annie Collins met her near the small lavatory.

"Janet, we have a few new clients this morning."

"Let 'em wait. I need to get to Brendan and Jacque. I also have to spay that stray cat for Cindy Allen this morning. Did I tell you she agreed to help out up front a few days while you and Darlene go to the kennel-club meeting in Seattle?"

"That's great, but I didn't know about the spay. Well, anyway, Harold and his crew are waiting in the exam room."

Janet entered the tiny exam room and disappeared. Minutes later, Harold and Harry popped out, followed by Dr. Gilmore. She held a cat under each arm and quickly plopped the tubby felines on her back table in full view of Brendan and Jacque. This was not good timing.

From the front waiting area, a loud squall and frantic barking penetrated the walls, followed by Annie's impassioned plea for assistance.

Louise Sizemore squirmed in her seat. Her dog Sammie whined in anticipation as she heard the unmistakable sounds of felines in full war cry. A few other clients looked around nervously as they drew their pets instinctively closer.

Annie rushed to the back just as two portly cats were moving on the floor in opposite directions. They disappeared somewhere into the clinic's potpourri of equipment and stacked boxes. Jacque and Brendan by this time obviously had forgotten their pedigrees and were in full search-and-rescue mode.

Soon Dr. Gilmore and Annie had corralled the cats and some semblance of order returned. Annie returned to the front.

Dr. Gilmore kicked into full gear.

Within minutes, syringes, needles, anticoagulant and vaccines appeared in a jumble in front of the three clients. The cats were vaccinated while Darlene and Jennifer hovered in the background and covered the eyes of their pets.

Harry was heartworm-tested after Jennifer helped hold off the cephalic vein. She had helped before. Harold returned to the front and paid a discounted bill.

On the way to the front, Dr. Gilmore opened an Internet connection to Veterinary Information Network for a question from a client while swigging some cold coffee she had poured an hour earlier. Things were heating up.

At midmorning, Jane Arnold appeared. She was a fresh-faced junior in high school who volunteered from time to time. Annie was not expecting Jane, but waved her to the back while trying to juggle the phone and the computer keyboard at the same time.

Jane entered the treatment area and swiveled her head from side to side looking for Dr. Gilmore. She barely noticed the messy spectacle of a busy morning. Jane was a nice young lady but mostly stood around and watched Janet's tornadic behavior.

The phone now began to ring at shorter intervals. The waiting room buzzed with a cacophony of animals and clients. Some people left.

As the morning pressed on into the afternoon, everyone grabbed lunch when they could. Annie appeared more often from the front desk. Each message she brought was attached to an emotionally charged client or vendor on the other end, who wanted a direct connection to the doctor. One vendor called three times and insisted on staying on the line until the doctor answered. Janet rolled her eyes and reached for the phone as Annie silently twisted her lips and meekly shrugged her shoulders.


"Hello, this is Dan Sweet from Global Imaging and Medical Supply. Doctor, I know you are busy, but we simply must have the payment for the balance owed on your recent X-ray-machine purchase. This bill is over 90 days past due. Unless paid now, we will need to go C.O.D. on your future supplies."

"I'll do the best I can. I will look at the checkbook after closing tonight and see what I can do."

Janet hung up, leaned back in her chair and pulled the skin of her face tightly with the palms of her hand. She drew a gigantic breath, leapt from the chair and charged into the nearby examination room. Her neighbor was inside. Before her scrambled an unfamiliar and somewhat slender Border collie.

"Janet, this dog appeared on my doorstop yesterday and never went away. Can you check it up, 'do whatever' and find it a home? We really can't keep him."

Dr. Gilmore separated the neighbor from the animal and dutifully slung the emaciated dog onto the stainless-steel surface. She zeroed in on two or three obvious deficiencies. As she looked up, her neighbor was gone.

As the day drew to a close, client traffic began to ebb. A post-mortem would indicate that most were happy that Dr. Gilmore was able to see them. Some were unhappy with the wait. Some were unhappy even with the meager bills that were presented to them.

Today had been normal.

Annie pulled up a seat and brought out the clinic checkbook from under the computer drawer in Janet's office. Janet plopped herself down in her one extravagance — a beautiful leather office rocker that was sweet refuge during the day.

"Annie, I need to know if we can pay Global Imaging."

"Janet, we just paid a bunch of bills yesterday and I think we zeroed out the account, but I still need to deposit yesterday's receipts. We have to pay quarterly taxes in a few days. We don't have the money for that right now."

"Well, Dan Sweet is putting us on C.O.D. Monday," said Janet, leaning back and pulling on her face again. She drew a colossal breath and exhaled through clenched teeth.

"I cannot figure this out. I am continually busy and I can't get my head above water. I love my clients and they love me, but what is going on here? To pay bills I need to get busier, but I cannot get any busier and stay sane."

Just then Annie noticed Harold tapping on the office window. He was pointing to the front door.

Janet and Annie rushed to the front door together. Harold entered and pulled an envelope from his shirt.

"I forgot to give you this bill for my computer services this morning," he said.

Annie opened the bill, l looked down and asked, "What is this fuel surcharge?"

Harold never blinked.

"Price o' gas is up."

Dr. Lane is a graduate of the University of Illinois. He owns and manages two practices in southern Illinois. Dr. Lane completed a master's degree in agricultural economics in 1996. He is a speaker and author of numerous practice management articles. Dr. Lane also offers a broad range of consulting services and can be reached at

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