When clients trust you enough to drop trou
Julie Cappel, DVM
Dr. Julie Cappel owns Warren Woods Veterinary Hospital in Warren, Michigan. She served as president of the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association in 2015.
Have you heard the one about the veterinary client who pantsed herself in the waiting room? Heres how it happened.
I'm always impressed and entertained by how intimate the relationship can become between veterinarians and their clients. People just love us and often feel so close to us that they share things that they shouldn't-or we wish they wouldn't. It can be a big responsibility and it's stressful at times. But mostly it's an honor to be thought of as a trusted friend by people who pay us to help their pets. I see it as the human-animal-veterinary bond.
Here's an example of this awesome phenomenon.
One of my favorite client pairs was a sweet, happy and proud Polish couple we'll call the Kowalskis who brought their very fat cocker spaniel Taffy to the office regularly. They spoke English, but they had heavy accents that were sometimes difficult to follow. In fact, I don't know that Mrs. Kowalski understood much, but she would always smile and nod her head vigorously in agreement with everything I said.
Mr. Kowalski would explain Taffy's symptoms in broken English with many details, most of which I got. He would point and gesture with each word, then smile and shake his head in the affirmative if I repeated his words correctly.
Taffy was very loved, as evidenced by his obese physique. He was always well-groomed but would waddle into the exam room and wag his very stubby and plump tail and promptly lay down because he was so fat. He was the kind of fat that makes a dog look like a walking tabletop or ottoman.
Each time he came in I would gently suggest that they reduce his food. And they would go on and on about how little he ate.
“Doctor, he eats only a few bits of food. How can he get so heavy?”
“Do you give him any treats or food from the table?” I'd ask.
“Oh no! He only gets a little toast with butter for breakfast, a couple bites of chicken, a little of my sandwich. He likes pasta, and once in awhile he likes a little ice cream and dog treats when he goes outside. But he really isn't a very good eater.”
One day this poor eater arrived for an emergency visit. It happened when Mr. Kowalski was taking Taffy for his daily car ride. When they returned home, Taffy jumped out of the car as he always had, except that on this day he jumped from the car seat instead of the floor. When he landed on the cement driveway, both of his front legs gave way. He screamed out in pain and couldn't walk.
Mr. and Mrs. Kowalski rushed him to me. Taffy was in a lot of pain, and I could see that his legs were already starting to swell. I explained that we were going to need to give Taffy pain medicine and take radiographs to assess the situation.
The radiographs showed that both of Taffy's carpal joints were completely dislocated. All the ligaments were torn, and Taffy would no longer walk on either front leg unless he had some major reconstructive surgery, which is not on my list of talents.
I talked to the owners and explained that I would get Taffy comfortable and wrap his legs for stabilization, but they would need to visit a specialist to get his legs repaired.
Once I contacted my favorite orthopedic specialist, we packed Taffy up for transfer. We all went out to the reception area to get paperwork together and take care of the charges.
As we were waiting, Mrs. Kowalski had a revelation of understanding. She called out to me “Doctor!” And as I leaned in, readying myself to understand her, she dropped her pants clean to the floor and pointed to her knees.
She obviously understood what her little pet needed. She was standing in the middle of my reception room, smiling broadly and nodding her head with her pants at her ankles, pointing to the scars on her knees from her own knee surgery.
I smiled back as I looked at her in her underwear, now smiling and nodding my head so she would know that I understood and thinking how much I really love my job. This is communication and trust at its best.
If you're a veterinary professional, try to remember how much trust and love our clients have for us, and treat yourself in the same loving way. You're the person they trust enough to drop their pants in front of.
Julie Cappel, DVM, works as a small animal and exotic pet veterinarian, leadership and life coach. She has been a practice owner for more than 20 years, running afour-doctor veterinary practice in Warren, Michigan.