Smooth-talking Dr. O fells unsuspecting Arnie


'You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, but...'

It was not a particularly unusual office call.

Mrs. Latherlips was foaming on about something irrelevant while I waitedfor the opportunity to get a word in edgewise. I had triggered her monologueby inquiring as to the reason for her visit. This led to an avalanche ofuseless information.

First, she felt compelled to share an amusing anecdote about her neighbor'sdog. This was followed by a description of every pet she had ever owned,an explanation of her views concerning pet over-population and an attemptto show me the scar from her recent operation.

Finally, she proceeded into what I call a non-history. She told me everythingthat the pooch ever did, while skillfully avoiding anything that resembleda straight answer to one of my questions. Interestingly enough, she wenthome apparently happy with the service at my clinic, even though I had noidea what she came in for in the first place.

My next office call was with Mr. Windtunnel. His cat came for routinevaccinations. Mr. Windtunnel came to educate me. He began with a lectureon several ways to improve my practice. A soliloquy on national health carereform followed. He then began jumping from subject to subject, solvingthe world's problems one at a time. It took 10 minutes to extricate myselffrom the conversation.

Later at lunch, I told my friend, Arnie, about these two office calls.Both were clear examples of one of the axioms of veterinary practice. Inthis case, it was axiom number three which states, "there is no correlationbetween the amount of talking that a client does and the amount of usefulinformation that you are going to get out of it."

You may recall that last month, I spelled out several of the axioms (orrules) of veterinary practice. You don't? In that case, go check the bottomof your parrot's cage and review that article. I'll wait...

O.K. Let's continue. Since that article appeared, several colleagueshave called to ask me for a list of the 13 rules. I have decided to do thenext best thing by going over a few more of them this month. Arnie is goingto help me. I broke that news to him as our lunches arrived.

"Don't get me involved in any of your nonsense," he said. "Idon't like being in that silly column of yours. Besides, if you got stuckwith a couple of threes, that's your problem. I haven't seen a three forweeks."

All of a sudden, Arnie started to choke. His face was red and his eyeswidened. There was no need for the Heimlich maneuver. What he was chokingon was the realization that I had tricked him into breaking axiom numberfour, also known as Murphy's Law of the unspoken. It says: "You maythink anything that you please, but if you say something out loud and it'sbad, it will happen."

Merely by mentioning that he had avoided threes lately, Arnie had sealedhis own fate. He was now doomed to spend that afternoon treading water ina sea of useless information. I welcomed him to the April column.

"I'm going to get even with you for this, Mike," he said. "Ipride myself on having a smooth-running office. We like to avoid aggravations,and you may have just changed my percentages in axiom number eight."

(Number eight says: In veterinary practice, 90 percent of the aggravationcomes from 10 percent of the people.)

"Take it easy, Arnie," I said. "A master client handlerlike you shouldn't have any trouble. I've seen you glide through situationsthat would tie me up in knots. Your hospital policies are so effective andyour staff is so good, that you could master any situation. He seemed tocalm down. I had used axiom 12 on him: "You can catch more flies withhoney than you can with vinegar, but you can catch the most flies with ashovelful of manure."

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