The great foal awakening: A veterinarian spares his clients and himself from unnecessary distress


How I kept my crazy clients from glimpsing what they must not, under any circumstances see.

The foal was in bad shape when it arrived from three hours away. It was colic and the tests didn't look good. As if that weren't enough reason to be bummed out, the owners were oddballs. The lady was a hippie, and her boyfriend was wearing a do-rag with a sports jacket and cutoff jeans. And to top that off, they were anal retentive about the foal, asking questions so fast I didn't have time to answer the first before they started asking the second.

I can deal with badly colicking foals, but crazy owners who won't quit asking questions and worry about tiny details drive me nuts. After dealing with pet owners for 22 years, I have lost all ability to cope with the nutty ones. These clients may have been the worst I have ever seen. They wanted to stand in the room during surgery. I politely told them that there was a big window that looked into the horse surgery room where they could stand and watch.

I informed the veterinarian who was performing anesthesia that I did not want this foal to go too deep under. There are many valid scientific reasons to keep foals from getting overanesthetized, especially in this condition. She followed my instructions to a T. There were several times during the surgery that the foal became a little light, but I was not complaining because I did not want its blood pressure or cardiac output compromised.

The surgery went well. We found the problem and corrected it in short order. I told the crew, as I left it with them to close the incision, that I did not want this critter dying from anesthesia.

The foal's owners greeted me outside the surgery room in front of the window with more than a thousand questions, just as I expected. The hippie lady was now mad at the do-rag-wearing boyfriend because he was asking questions faster than she was and I just stood there watching them argue over whose turn it was to ramble meaningless questions that had no answer.

As luck would have it, they were standing with their backs to the window and I was facing them. I noticed all the team members in the surgery room suddenly begin moving quickly with deliberate intent. Then I noticed that the foal was moving on the table—it was waking up before they had time to get it off the table. Which was good in a way and bad in a way. Good because the foal wasn't going to die from the effects of the anesthesia, bad because if these clients were to turn around and see their baby moving on the table, they would lose it.

All of the team members in the surgery room were looking with big eyes at me. Somehow I never changed expressions. Don't ask me how; I usually have no poker face at all. I even managed only to use my peripheral vision to assess the situation and never lost eye contact with the bickering duo. They were beginning to gradually turn their bodies to a position that would allow them to pick up on the motion in the surgery room. This launched me into action.

Instead of listening to their questions, I began to volley a continuous stream of meaningless observations their way. While rattling off these inanities, I got louder and more serious and gradually moved to my right, which made them turn their backs to the window once again. I wouldn't even let them finish answering a question before I bellowed out my next comment with even more conviction in my voice and a higher eyebrow placement on my forehead. This seemed to be just what they longed for. They were hypnotized by my facial expressions and tone of voice and began digging deep into their gray matter for equally explosive contributions.

This went on for a good five minutes until the surgery crew could get the foal into the recovery room. When the door shut to that room, my face immediately went back to an expressionless skin bag with many eye wrinkles. They seemed to be disappointed by the subliminal interaction that had just occurred. In fact, they both just paused for a moment and looked into the now empty surgery room.

"Wow, we were so involved in the conversation, I didn't even see them take our foal out of the room. I sure hope she wakes up soon. That is the scariest part of surgery, you know?"

I could hear laughter coming from the lab and I knew what the team was laughing about even though I couldn't make out a word they were saying. I eventually sent the foal's owners on their way and got to rehash the entire event from the other side of the window. They were more proud of me for managing to keep the clients from seeing the pandemonium than anything I have done before or since. I love this job.

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

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