Conquering flea-nial

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Whenever Mrs. Bicker walks into the office, I know that we are in for a "TnT" situation.

Whenever Mrs. Bicker walks into the office, I know that we are in for a "TnT" situation. I use the term to describe a potentially explosive office call during which tension will quickly develop between me and the client. It is the "tension" that puts the first "T" in TnT.

At her last visit, Alice Bicker came to see me because her dog had developed what she called "a mysterious rash." The pooch was a mess. His thick coat harbored one of the greatest collections of mats, dirt, dandruff and debris that I had ever seen.

One look at the poor guy, and I could see that there were several things wrong. He was a regular Smithsonian of canine dermatitis. While listing a few of his problems, I happened to mention that he probably had a few fleas as well.

That did it. Mrs. Bicker became indignant at the very thought. We have all run into this situation. The mere mention of the word "flea" can sometimes turn an otherwise tolerable client into a defensive, argumentative zealot.

At any rate, the fuse was lit. I knew there was only one way to de-activate the issue. Prisoners would have to be taken. In order to win the ensuing battle, I would have to demonstrate the presence of live fleas.

I began my search as Mrs. Bicker hit me with the all-too-familiar salvo of anti-flea logic. This included classic statements such as: "Oh, that's impossible. I keep a clean house."

"If he has fleas, as you say, I certainly would have seen them."

And, my personal favorite: "He can't have fleas. There's a fence around my yard."

The tension (T) was mounting. I knew that it was up to me to demonstrate the object of her fears or face exposure as a bad diagnostician. Luckily, it took no time at all to capture a few of the little devils and confirm a diagnosis of "fleabitis."

This is one of the great triumphs of veterinary practice. Just as we have all faced clients rage in a state of "flea-nial," we have also tasted the sweet victory that comes with confirming our suspicions. Hence, the second "T" in a TnT situation. It stands for triumph. There are situations in which tension leads to triumph for our side.

One typical source of TnTs is home diagnosis. This includes such things as, "We think she's been poisoned."

"My father says it's probably a brain tumor."

And, "Someone must have abused him when he was young."

It goes without saying that home diagnosis rarely hits the mark, or even comes close for that matter. However, the tension is in setting the record straight without alienating, embarrassing or angering the client. With a little tact though, a complete TnT can be achieved.

The trouble with TnT situations is that you never know if the second "T" will materialize. Sometimes it does not. For those encounters, we use a different set of terms that are not suitable for publication.

In the case of Mrs. Bicker's last visit, the TnT went pretty well. After I converted her into a flea believer, she seemed quite rational, although a little upset.

"I've got to call the groomer right away," she said. "I can't have these bugs in my house."

I was able to overhear as she panicked into her cell phone.

"I need an emergency flea bath for my dog, right away. All of a sudden he has fleas. The doctor took some off, but there might be another one ... "What's that? Why, yes, I do have other animals, two cats. Why do you ask? Oh, don't be ridiculous. They can't have fleas. They don't go outside."

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

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