The inconvenience brigade

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The truth is, veterinary clients can be a little inconsiderate.

ILLUSTRATION BY RYAN OSTRANDERLast Sunday evening, my answering service contacted me with a strange message. A woman had called who was very anxious to speak with me. She would not say what it was about but insisted that I had specifically requested that she call. It turned out to be Mrs. Goodnews reporting on Bootsie.

“Hello, doctor,” she said when I called her back. “Do you remember when I called you last month and told you Bootsie had the sniffles? Well, you told me to just watch him for a while and that the problem would probably just go away. You also said to keep you posted as to how he was doing. Well, doctor, you were right. He's just fine now.”

I was, of course, delighted to hear of the pup's recovery, but I'm sure the announcement didn't have to wait until Sunday evening. Perhaps it's my own fault for telling her to call back without specifying exactly when the communication was to take place.

The next morning I arrived at the office just in time to see Splash Niagara, a cross between a cocker spaniel and a fire truck, hosing down the waiting room again. Splash douses the floor every time he comes in. Mrs. Niagara always says the same thing: “Thank goodness he didn't go in my car.” She never seems to get the idea that she could walk him outside before bringing him in.

Unfortunately, clients like Mrs. Goodnews and Mrs. Niagara are far from unique. Their behaviors lead me to an important conclusion. Some of you who are reading this may want to grab a pen and write this down. Others may have already figured it out after several years in practice.

The truth is this: Veterinary clients are often inconsiderate.

My next client that day turned out to be what we call in my practice a “Snow White.” This is a term that we use to indicate an adult accompanied by a group of little people. During a Snow White appointment, you attempt to examine the dog or cat while Sleepy, Dopey and Bashful explore the drawers and cabinets, Sneezy and Happy practice their gymnastics, and Doc and Grumpy tell you what to do.

The only situation worse is a “Snow White with food.” Such was the case on this particular day. The kids each had a box of animal crackers. By the end of the office call several of the zoological biscuits had been dropped. Some of those had been stepped on or kicked under the table or radiator. I knew the strays would turn up sooner or later.

You see, human nature is such that people often worry only about their own convenience. We have all handled emergency calls at night and on holidays when the only concern of the frantic caller is that we recommend a good product to get cat urine out of a rug. Clients who insist that their routine appointment be scheduled for nights or holidays are not particularly uncommon either. It's just the way it is.

As that same day progressed, things continued to go wrong. Mrs. Tardy called to say that Muffin was very sick but that she just could not make it to our office by closing time. I wound up waiting after hours for her arrival. I couldn't help but think-as I sat there missing my dinner-that the urgent reason for her lateness was probably that she needed time to finish her own dinner before coming over.

As my hunger grew, I tried to think of a place where there might be some food in the clinic to hold me over until I got home. Eventually, a good possibility dawned on me, and I headed to the exam room to search for animal crackers.

Dr. Michael Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

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