How to handle incompetent clients


When clients try your patience, try this response.

Mr. and Mrs. Bungle have absolutely no confidence in my medical ability. Unfortunately, they keep coming back to me. Alice Bungle either can't or won't follow simple directions and somehow always finds a way to blame me for her incompetence.

"You must be mistaken, Doctor," she said at their last visit. "We can't give half of this pill twice a day. That's too much medicine for a little dog like Itchy. You said he should take one pill a day, but the label says to give half a pill twice a day. It's a good thing I caught your mistake before any damage was done."

I tried to explain that giving half a pill two times a day would add up to one pill daily. Then, when it became obvious that I was wasting my breath, I decided to use a visual aid. I placed a pill on the exam table. Then I took another and broke it in half, clearly demonstrating that two halves equal one whole.

"Of course, they came to the same amount," she replied, "but you are giving it twice instead of once. That's too much. You know, Doctor, this reminds me of that time you gave us medicine, and it made Itchy sick. Do you remember that?"

Of course, I remembered. It was 12 years ago, but they remind me of it every visit. The Bungles were trying to apply flea medicine but couldn't get their puppy to hold still. So, in spite of the label warnings, they put the medicine in his food. Somehow, they still feel that their bonehead stunt was my fault.

"You need to be more careful with prescription medicine," she went on. "I read somewhere that giving the proper amount can be important. In fact, did you know that some medicine can be harmful if you give too much?"

You don't say.

"Mr. Bungle and I are still a little annoyed about the time you gave us a week's worth of antibiotic liquid, and it ran out in just one day. Don't you people measure how much you sell?"

She was referring to another incident that I remembered well. They were to give a dropper full of liquid every 12 hours. Unfortunately, they lost the dropper the first day. They figured they could use a turkey baster and guess the correct amount. They couldn't.

"You had better rethink this twice-a-day thing, Doctor," said Mrs. Bungle. "I don't want Itchy to suffer from another one of your mistakes. Can't you just put him on a stronger pill once a day?"

At this point, Mr. Bungle chimed in on my behalf. "Be quiet, Alice," he said. "Can't you see that you are making a fool of yourself? Obviously, the doctor is using the metric system. In the metric system, sometimes two is one. Isn't that right, Doc?"

How was I supposed to reply to that statement? Should I have set him straight and started the argument all over again? I carefully formulated my answer. "Yep." Alice was beside herself. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Doctor. I didn't realize you were using the metric system. I'm sure twice a day will be okay then. Do we need new pills or can I use the ones I have let over from Itchy's ear infection last year?"

I explained that the condition called for a new prescription, unfortunately a rather expensive one. She was shocked by the price.

"Do you have to charge so much for these?" she asked. "When you add up the cost of the pills and the office visit, it seems that you are charging us a lot of money."

Hey, it worked once, why not try it again?

"I have to," I said. "It's the metric system."

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

For a complete list of articles by Dr. Obenski, visit

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