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The office desk chair
How long should a veterinarian’s office desk chair last? That depends less on the quality of the chair and more on the pace of your work.
I have been thinking about the chair that sits behind the desk in my office. That might seem like an odd thing to ponder, but just today I sat down in my chair and one of the arms kind of sprung off to the left in a weird manner. I couldn’t believe it. It seemed like we just bought the chair the other day.
I called in the office manager, showed her the failing of the chair and asked her when we got the “cheap thing.” She thought for a minute and replied, “Two years ago.”
What? Two years? Man, they don’t make stuff like they used to. I couldn’t believe how flimsy this thing was. And I remembered that we had paid way more money for it than any chair should be worth. In fact, I had told the office manager that I wanted a chair that was comfortable but durable. She is wonderful and came up with this one. She ordered it and it took me about two days to put it together.
After she left the room, I sat down in 2-year-old, now-rickety chair and began an eye-opening discussion with myself. I realized that I’ve had just three desk chairs over the past 25 years. That’s right…three.
The first one came with the clinic when I bought it. It was already pretty old when I got here. It was nice enough but didn’t lean back at all. Now that I think about it, that chair really wasn’t comfortable at all. It didn’t roll, its arms were way too low and it made all kinds of terrible noise, like it was going to break, when you sat in it. Maybe it was already a pile of junk when I took over the practice. But with all that was wrong with it, that chair lasted 17 years.
The next one came along, and it was really nice: great comfort, rolled and leaned back, adjustable arm height, shock-absorbing seat that softly descended when you plopped down on it and a look of dignity that the previous one just couldn’t pull off. That chair lasted about six years before it broke and needed to be replaced. I had put that one together also, and it seemed to be about the same quality as the one I was currently sitting in that only lasted two years. Hhmmmmm…
But two years? There just had to be something bad wrong with this chair or it would have lasted longer than that. Then I began thinking about how much time I spent sitting in each of them. For that first 17 years, I was here mostly as the only veterinarian. I never sat down. I was a skinny rascal, too. All that running around trying to fix animals was a constant aerobic endeavor. I really didn’t know how comfortable the first chair was because I seldom sat down. Who cared what it looked like if you never even saw it?
The second chair came along at about the time I started getting more veterinarians in the practice. I suddenly wasn’t the only doctor in the building, and I was discovering that the new veterinarians were actually better and smarter than me. This gave me a little more time to sit behind that ancient metal desk and do some management things that I had always needed to do but never had time. Of course, with more sitting came more belly fat.
My mentor, Dr. Charles Deyhle from Clarendon, Texas, came and did some relief work for me one time, and his final words to me before he left were, “Big Doctor, your prosperity has masked your inefficiency.” As I sat in the desk chair pondering those words, I decided that I was going to fix that problem and sitting behind a desk was going to be necessary.
Now, I have sat behind a desk so much that my fat self wears out a chair in two short years. The issue is not a poor-quality chair; it is a desk-sitting old veterinarian who has surrounded himself with young, skinny veterinarians who are learning, without even knowing it, how important it is to never sit down for 17 years. Only then, after all that living and experience, will going through desk chairs so fast have any value.
You are probably thinking about how getting old and fat is a poor excuse for being lazy. You are most likely correct. I am working on getting skinny again, and I am working on trying to understand how a desk chair tells so much about a career and the phases that we all have to go through.
I kind of feel like I have somehow earned the right to wear out a desk chair every two years. Maybe that sentiment shows a bit of hubris, but it gives me a little comfort knowing that I put in the years and learned so much from both failure and success. As I look back on what all has happened in 30 years of practicing veterinary medicine, I realize I couldn’t physically do all the things I did when I sat in that first chair. I also realize I am so blessed to have a hard-working group of veterinarians coming in behind me who allow me to wear out chairs.
Dr. Brock owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas. His latest book is Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere: Tales of Humor and Healing from Rural America.