Dealing with persnickety clients


Dr. Brock shares his comical experience with a nit-picking banker.

The dictionary defines persnickety as, "placing too much emphasis on trivial or minor details." I've been practicing veterinary medicine for 20 years and through that time, my definition of minor details has changed.

I've quoted the life cycle of heartworms and the pathogenesis of navicular disease so many times that I'm bored to death with it. As far as I'm concerned, it's a trivial detail, and I never want to tell the story again. But most people have never heard either of those stories, and it's not a minor detail to them.

But it's not that type of minor detail that drives me nuts, it's that client who comes in with a list. Oh my, I hate lists. When I see a client pull one out, I just want to prolapse. I know that there's about to be a 20-minute question-and-answer session and that every answer I give will be researched on the Internet and amongst the checker at PetSmart and the bag loader at the feed store.

For example, take my true story of the list bearing banker who is the epitome of persnickety. I dispensed some antibiotic tablets for him to give his dog twice a day. The next day he called me up, "Yes, ahhhh, Dr. Brock, ahhhh, I was just calling with a question on the dosing of the antibiotic you sent home with my Poodle yesterday. I hate to be a stickler, but according to the dosage schedule on the manufacturer's website, ahhhh, Missy should be getting 13/32nds of a tablet twice a day, and I believe you had us giving a half of a tablet."

What? Are you kidding me? I'm talking to a banker about drug calculations, and he has corrected me? This guy got on the Internet, found the website, got the dosage schedule, calculated the dose, and now came up with a fraction of a tablet that has the number 13 and 32 in it?

I started to try and justify my "overdosage" by using some big medical diatribe and trumping his Internet with my education. But instead I decided to play along. I just told him to hang on a minute while I recalculated the dose. I then told him that he was correct and needed to break each tablet into 32 equally sized portions, giving the dog 13 of those portions twice a day. I apologized for being off a bit in my calculation and that the slight overdose was not dangerous to the dog in any way. I went on to tell him that it was very important that each of the 32 portions be exactly the same size.

There was a long moment of silence as he absorbed the matter. I wasn't sure what was going through his mind, but I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the result. What prompts a person to hang on such a detail? Had he not even considered for a minute the absurdity of such a calculation? Did he just want to call and show me how smart he was, or did he actually think that I was an idiot who couldn't calculate a dose?

Instead of admitting defeat, he replied, "How would one go about breaking up one of those small tablets into 32 equal portions?"

"I have no idea. Maybe you should just break it in half and pretend 6/32nds of the thing flaked off when it broke," I said.

This made him laugh. He laughed and laughed until I was beginning to get uncomfortable. Finally, after what seemed like a good two minutes of fake-sounding laughter, he replied, "I guess that brings us right back to where we started. Wow, I guess that is why I'm a banker and not a doctor, huh?"

You got that right, you persnickety sounding rascal, was what I was thinking as he began another round of strange laughter. I had just spent 10 minutes on the phone facing too much emphasis on minor or trivial details.

Dr. Brock owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.

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