Client communication: The games we play


Last Thursday morning found me busily engaged in an animal hospital game I call "Where's the Lump?" Mrs. Carbuncle rus

Last Thursday morning found me busily engaged in an animal hospital game I call "Where's the Lump?"

Mrs. Carbuncle rushed in with her dog, Nodule, because she had detected a "huge" growth while grooming him. Naturally, once her pooch was on my exam table, she could not find the lump. Like most pet owners faced with this situation, the Carbuncle family figured the best way to handle it would be to have the entire family poke at the dog until someone stumbled upon the elusive lesion.

Mrs. Carbuncle, her husband, Tubercle, and their son, Tubercle Jr., all put their hands on the dog and began enthusiastically palpating. As an experienced practitioner, I could have found the growth much faster, but with all those hands in the way, I'd have been lucky even to find the dog. I waited patiently for the frantic fondling to cease, and then quickly discovered the object of their frustration — a harmless protuberance of the sternum.

"Where's the Lump?" represents just one of the many animal hospital games we play with our clients. Unfortunately, we rarely get to choose whether we want to play. The client usually starts the game and draws us in out of necessity.

"Harpoon the Eyeball" is another game we play. The last time I played was when Mrs. Spears brought her cat Squinty in for an office call. Squinty is a Persian with a face so pushed in his eyes are out in front of his nose. His mouth contains an assortment of teeth arranged in completely random order, and his nose is so small it is hard to find.

At any rate, on this particular occasion, Mrs. Spears was concerned about some inflammation around Squinty's left eye. Like many of our clients, she kept pointing to the problem and asking what it could be, while simultaneously keeping me from getting a decent look at it. In situations like this, I am tempted to say, "Oh, I see the problem with his eye. Someone has her finger sticking in it." In this instance, however, I thought it best to keep quiet. I didn't want to risk being slashed by one of her two-inch fingernails if she took offense to my wisecracks.

Therefore, with her talons hovering perilously close to the eye, I finished the examination in only twice the time it would have taken had I been alone.

The very same day that Mrs. Spears came in, I got to participate in another of my favorite games called "Untape the Cat." This game actually starts at the owner's home when he or she puts the cat in a totally inadequate cardboard box and then proceeds to wrap it with approximately six miles of tape. Once positioned on the exam table, it can take five minutes to unwrap the carrier enough to extract the cat. It may take eight minutes if the client assists and 12 if there are kids to help. On this particular occasion, I played the game with Mr. Linguini and his cat, Ornery.

"I hope we don't have to take him out of there, Doc," he said. "You know how nasty he can be. Can't we just give him his shot right in the box?"

I wished I could have complied with this request, but I could not. I had to see the cat in order to vaccinate him. Giving Ornery the shot would be difficult, but not as difficult as getting him out of a box that looked like it had been through an ancient Egyptian mummification. With our untaping skills in high gear, it took only seven minutes to reach the first plateau, getting the cat. Administering the shot was, of course, the easy part of the office call. Finally, there was the traditional tape request. Mr. Linguini wanted to "borrow" some tape to re-wrap the box for the trip home. In my experience, excessive tape users never bring their own supply for the trip home. They usually want six more miles of tape to re-mummify the box. Somehow, we always seem to do the job with much less tape than they deem necessary.

Of course, these games represent just a few of our typical daily client interactions. Some are more fun than others. In fact, the Linguini office call led right into my least favorite game. It's called "Try to Collect."

Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.

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