The conclusion of our tale of a new veterinary associate's startling encounter over an estimate with a long-standing veterinary client.
When we last saw newbie associate Dr. Greenskin, she was holding the reins of the clinic while Dr. Codger was away on a quick vacation. She had just diagnosed a gastrointestinal obstruction (a piece of corncob) in one of Mr. Sketch's young pups-upon which Mr. Sketch, a longtime client of Dr. Codger's, had stormed out the door amid a stream of choice words relating to Dr. Greenskin's surgical estimate. Catch the complete account here.
The hospital is hushed and subdued in the wake of Mr. Sketch's enraged departure, and the image of his very sick puppy wrapped in his arms is haunting the whole team. Dr. Greenskin manages to trudge her way through the afternoon appointments, but she just can't shake the feeling that she has done something horribly wrong-the scenario plays over and over in her head. She feels justified that she made a rapid and correct diagnosis. It's not her fault that the pup ate a corncob, and it's not her fault that the client can't afford the appropriate care. Still, she feels she let that puppy down, and she knows her boss will have something to say about the situation.
This brings her to her next stressful dilemma: to call or not to call the boss? This is Dr. Codger's first vacation with his family in nearly a decade. Does Dr. Greenskin interrupt the boss' sacred time away, proving yet again that she can't be trusted to run the clinic? Or does she risk not calling, potentially setting herself up for a serious reprimand when Dr. Codger finds out about the incident from someone else?
Trepidation on line 3
As it turns out, she doesn't have to make the decision. The young veterinarian is sinking deeper into her chair in the doctor's office when the receptionist barges in and announces that Dr. Codger is on line 3.
Oh boy. Dr. Greenskin lets herself marinate in the feeling of dread for a few seconds, watching the hold light blink on the 1980s desk phone. But then she manages to grab hold of the well-worn handset. Muttering a frail “Hello?” she flinches while waiting for the reaming that surely lies ahead.
“I'm proud of you, Greenskin!” Dr. Codger bellows.
Dr. Greenskin feels her muscles relax and her anxiety start to melt away as Dr. Codger explains his long history with Mr. Sketch, acknowledging what a difficult client he is.
“Look, I'm coming back to town tonight early because my wife isn't feeling well,” he continues. “I'm going to work out a deal with Sketch and have him bring the puppy back. If you don't mind staying late, we can take care of that pup together.”
Dr. Greenskin is glad to comply and hangs up the phone in utter relief. She quickly logs on to her mobile DVR app and sets Game of Thrones to record.
A cutting-edge conversation
Later that night, the duo is chatting on a more professional level than ever before. Dr. Codger is running anesthesia and letting his protégé handle the surgery-and not an hour too late, as the jejunum is about to perforate. Dr. Greenskin is doing a wonderful job with her small intestinal resection while Dr. Codger passes some wisdom onto the young vet, giving a bit of surgical advice along the way.
Illustration by Ryan Ostrander
“There are a lot of things that they ain't gonna teach you in vet school,” he says. “That Mr. Sketch, I've known him for a long time. Like it or not, his relationship with animals has helped me build my practice. Of course he has taken advantage of me from time to time, and I probably give in too much when he asks for help with a bill. The thing is, we need to know our clients and appreciate that they're the reason we're able to keep our jobs and our businesses. Mr. Sketch breeds these dogs as his own business and not much more.
“Over the years, though, he has listened to me and improved his husbandry,” Dr. Codger continues. “He does a very decent job as far as breeders go, and it has been my own conviction to help him out once in a while. You're going to have a unique relationship with each of your clients. Sometimes you have to rely on your heart and your instinct to decide what's best. We're not always right, but we will thrive as long as we're always trying to do our best.”
The lesson sinks in as Dr. Greenskin places the last skin suture. It's late and both doctors are exhausted. Yet they're thankful for being able to do what they love.
“Go home, Greenskin. I'll stay and take care of the pup tonight. I'm going away again next weekend, so you'd better be ready!”
Are you having a tough time adjusting to your old crotchety employer? Is your new inexperienced associate just not fitting in at your practice? Please send stories, ideas and comments to email@example.com. All emails will be kept confidential, but the scenario may be featured in an upcoming installment of Old School, New School.
Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in emergency and critical care private practice in Southern California. This series originally appeared in Pulse, the publication of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.