Sorry! Wrong number! Adventures in equine texting


Technology is great tool for connecting with clients. Just use it carefully to avoid Dr. Brocks embarrassing mistake.

Twenty-six years ago when I graduated from veterinary school the idea of being able to talk on the phone while driving was pure fiction. I purchased my first cell phone in 1993. It was a “bag phone” and was about as easy to carry around as a suitcase, so I never took it out of the truck. My, how things have changed. I typed this article while riding shotgun in the middle of nowhere, on my iPhone, which has more capabilities than the space shuttle.

I have to say that for an old dude, I feel like I've ridden the cell phone craze pretty well. I've learned to use it to communicate with my clients, keeping them in the loop through text messages and pictures. I probably send 20 to 30 texts a day to clients and referring veterinarians. I love it. It lets them know you're thinking of them and gives them an update on their critter without having to carry on a long conversation.

Mrs. Craig's horse's name was Olaf. He was an extremely pink-skinned paint horse that had befallen the curse of many pink-skinned geldings-skin cancer. And most of them get it on the penis. Horses with pink-skinned penises have a very high risk for squamous cell carcinoma as they age, and Olaf was no exception.

The cancer had become invasive and conservative treatments were no longer working. The only solution was to amputate the penis to remove the cancer cells. It's a fairly routine surgery that equine surgeons perform quite often, but it can be bloody. It also requires a surgeon and an assistant surgeon. One person needs to hold the penis in the proper position while the other performs the surgery.

Mrs. Craig was a technology nut. She insisted that I text her pictures of her horse's surgery step by step as it happened. I assured her that I'd have one of my technicians take pictures and I would send them to her when we were finished.

We began the surgery and I instructed one of the technicians to photograph the process one step at a time so I could send three or four to Mrs. Craig.

After the surgery, I went to Mrs. Craig's chart to look up her phone number and send her the pictures so she would know everything had gone just fine. I glanced at the photos with the eye of a veterinarian but never really stopped to think about how the “before” photo-a pink penis with a hand grasping the base-might look to nonveterinary eyes.

I sent the photo to Mrs. Craig. But before I could get the second picture downloaded and sent, my phone rang with a call from another client I needed to talk to. I chatted with that client for about 10 minutes.

When I finished the call and returned to my task of sending the next two pictures, I was surprised to see that Mrs. Craig had already responded. I clicked on her message and read, “That is the most perverted thing I've ever seen. You're gross and disgusting and should be turned over to the police. I have your phone number and I'm going to send this to the police. You will never send women horrible pictures again!”

I couldn't imagine what all the fuss was. I hadn't had a chance to send the next two photos, or a description, but what in the world would have made Mrs. Craig go off like that? I looked at the picture and tried to imagine what I would have thought if someone had sent it to me with no explanation. Oh my … I figured Mrs. Craig didn't know my phone number and when she saw the next two pictures of the surgery, she would know it was her horse and would be just fine. So I sent them.

Not one minute later I got an enraged reply with more threats of sending me to prison. It was then that I checked the phone number closely. I was one number off! I had sent three pictures of a pink horse penis (which didn't look like a horse penis) to a total stranger-the last two revealing surgical amputation.

I panicked. Somewhere someone was looking at an equine surgery and thinking I was some pervert. They had seen the first picture and were disgusted; there was no telling what they thought about the others. I decided there was nothing to do but call the number and do my best to explain.

The voice at the other end of the line sounded like an older lady. I had called from a different number than my cell phone, knowing she would probably never answer a call from that number. I began with a profuse apology and did my best to explain the situation, while using a respectful tone and as many “Yes ma'am's” as I could muster up.

It turned out she was a really funny old lady. When she finally believed that I was a veterinarian sending pictures to a client, and looked close enough at the pictures to see it really was a horse, she laughed with me for a good five minutes. She told me she was going to send the pictures to her grandson, who was studying to be a veterinarian in Wisconsin.

I hung up and thought of that giant bag phone from 23 years ago. This would have never happened back then.

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