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Where did I go wrong?


Case-in-point: Consider the many uses of an ordinary wire hook and Fred Flintstone's cup

Turn to the back of any veterinary journal and look at the help-wanted ads. Hospitals that are seeking a new employee love to blow their own horns.

They imply superiority by focusing on two major areas, such as equipment and client education. A typical ad may say something like: "We have three anesthesia machines, an ultrasound and one of those little pens that you poke at an eye to measure glaucoma." Brag. Brag. Brag.

Big deal! We have equipment at my hospital, too. Better equipment.

For example, there is the wire hook. We made it out of an old coat hanger 26 years ago. (I designed it myself, and it cost a lot less than an ultrasound machine.) It is used to hang IV bottles from cage doors or surgical lamps. However, the list of other potential uses goes on and on. It has been used to retrieve items that have fallen into heating vents or behind cabinets. It can hold the storage room door opened while deliveries are being made, and as if that isn't enough, it makes a great back scratcher.

The wire hook is kept on a shelf in the treatment room right next to our hospitals most valuable piece of equipment, the Fred Flintstone's cup. This old plastic cup joined our staff almost 30 years ago. When the peanut butter that came in it was all gone, we were left with one of the most versatile tools that the veterinary profession has ever seen. It can be used to scoop kitty litter, collect urine samples or drain abscesses. Through it all, there's still a smile on Fred's face. So, when it comes to the area of specialized equipment, let me just say that my clinic is second to none.

The other area of journal ad boasting contains phrases something like this: "We place a strong emphasis on client education."

So what? Don't we all?

Let me tell you about the last time Mr. and Mrs. Dufus were in to see me. Catnip and kitty litter spilled all over the exam table as I dumped their reluctant cat from the carrier. I ignored the mess, examined the cat, and then, showing a great deal of patience and concern, I explained all aspects of the cat's bladder problem. I asked if they were following the diet recommendations that were made the last time this problem occurred.

"Well, to tell you the truth, Doc, our neighbor gets us a great deal on Notsogood Kitmunchies. So, we've been feeding those instead of the stuff you recommended."

I asked if they gave the last prescription until it was all gone.

"We would have, but our dog got diarrhea that week. So, we gave him the pills instead."

My opportunity to emphasize client education was at hand. I could be just like those hospitals in the journal ads.

I sat Mr. and Mrs. Dufus down and explained just how antibiotics work. I told them about the culture results. I made it clear that the infection might not get better unless they gave the pills according to the instructions. Then, I handed them a vial of 28 bactomycin tabs.

They looked at the vial. They looked at me. They looked confused. Then, they asked an important question. "What are the pills for?"

Client education? Are you kidding me? You couldn't teach these people to fetch a stick.

After they left, we swept up the spilled catnip and litter. It was easy because we had the right equipment. We used the Fred Flintstone cup.

Dr. Obenski owns the Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.

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