Thursday, May 17, 2012

That trapped feeling

Being in exam rooms with clients is nervewracking.

No, seriously. It looks easy, right? Examine the pet, chat happily with the client, make cute jokes with their kids, it's all fun and games. Mm, no. Being an introverted, self-conscious sort of person, I get more than a little stressed being stuck in a small room with one or more people hanging on my every word. One of the main reasons I never considered being a teacher-the profession of much of my family-is that a roomful of eyes on me, all day long, has always sounded like a scary way to spend my days. No matter how much I like the client (and in spite of the prickly misanthrope I come across as, I really like most of them), I always feel relieved when I can get out of there, beat it back to the treatment room, and pull myself back together.

Now, any vet will tell you that some clients make you feel more trapped than others. There is a subset of pet owners who just spend a little too many of their waking hours obsessing over their pet. Did he just wink at me funny? Is our tap water going to give him cancer? I just had a fly in my kitchen, will it give my dog any exotic diseases?

So thusly I found myself, late in the afternoon, trying as kindly as possible to extricate myself from an exam room. The owner in question is one of the nicest people I know. Her dogs are lucky to have her. She has taken stellar care of them through some terrible illnesses, and to be blunt, has spent money she really couldn't spare in order to do so. One dog is having some issues that are probably not serious, but there's a slight chance they could be. So, lots of questions. What if she does this? What is a symptom of that? Should I let her do this thing? How often? Knowing her ongoing anxiety, I spent all the time she needed, answering them all. Finally, we were done. Score! About to be away from these prying eyes, it's late in the day so I can finally be in my car and away from all of them. Well, one more, actually. As we're talking, another client is waiting right next to the room for his own dog, and he's been waiting awhile.

I've made it to the doorway when she thinks of one more thing to say. I pause at the doorjamb and eke out more answers. My hand absently touches the little hole in the strike plate, the place where the bolt from the doorknob goes into the doorframe. I poke the knuckle of my pointer finger into the hole. Why? I don't know. Like Mount Everest, it was just there, and my slightly overloaded brain was making me fidget. I move my hand away. But my knuckle doesn't budge.

Huh? I look again. My finger is stuck in the hole. I wiggle it a bit, flex it a little differently, but it's still there. I'm STUCK TO THE F*&^ING DOORWAY, in front of this owner, and right next to another one. This time, I don't just feel trapped. I am trapped. I've run out of that few seconds one has when one can still play it cool, and I finally have to choke out, "I'm stuck. I can't get my finger out of here."

The owner, bless her heart, at once turns her obsessive caring in my direction. She crosses the room and blurts urgently, "Oh no! Are you okay? Are you sure? Here. Here's some soap from the sink. Maybe I can lube your finger up with it. No? Are you sure? I think it will work." But just then, I manage to turn it just right and pull it out, if not very gently. I shake off the pain, thank her kindly, and finally retreat to the blessed isolation of the treatment room.

And then, immediately walk back up front, introduce myself to the gentleman who was standing right next to this little tableau, and review his dog's exam findings with him. He never mentions the previous scene, and neither do I. It's the elephant in the room.

In case you wondered, my finger is still kind of sore. The staff is still laughing. The whole thing was immortalized on our security tape. And if the second owner thinks I'm such a flake that he'd prefer to see a different doctor next time...he hasn't said so yet.


  1. I feel like I've done something like this in front of a parent (I run a child care facility) before... "Clearly, I'm capable of taking care of your child ma'am, just not myself!"

  2. We want to see the tape, just kidding ;) Too funny.

  3. We'll just change your name to *Grace* ;)

  4. At least no one had to call the fire department to cut part of the door out. Look on the bright side! :D

  5. I laughed out loud. I'm the same way in exam rooms so I could see the whole scene unfolding with me and my version of your client.

    I'm sure the second client was impressed with your composure ;p

  6. Can't think of a specific example right now, but that kind of thing happens to me often enough I now have a stock answer for my patients and their families:

    "And they let me take care of human lives!"

    I'm sure they're thinking it so I may as well say it out loud.

  7. Oh, I have tripped going into the exam room. And after one painful introduction, I repeat the name and the sex of the patient three times before entering the room. Because with hairy dogs, cats, is not always obvious. Some douche got mad when I called "Chase" a boy. Sorry, time try to pick a feminine name.

  8. Oh so right there with you...I've run into doorjambs, knocked things over because the more uptight I get the more I talk with my hands, and countless other lovely faux pas. My favorite recurring one was at my first job. The exam room doors had handles that stick out rather than knobs and my white coat was of the type that has slits in the sides to access your pants pocket. I never wear my coat buttoned and am always rushing hence I routinely caught the slit of the coat on the door handle. I'd rush into the room just to be yanked back out like a yo-yo by my own coat... Oh sure I'm capable of taking care of your pet...

  9. Oh, I did that at my first job a lot too. I also used to keep my stethescope in my pocket, but I stopped after I yanked it out on the door handle. I've stuck myself in the face with needles, spilled Strongid on myself in all its sticky yellow glory, mispronounced pet names, forgotten their gender, called the pet by the owner's name, and totally misconstrued clients' relationships. Wow. I'm about to talk myself out of going to work tomorrow.

  10. My best mistake that I've made was getting all the way to work (25 minutes from my house) to find out I had two different sneakers on. At least it was April fools day. I just kept thinking all day 'I'll be your doctor today, don't mind that I cannot achieve the most basic task of matching. I get most of my diagnoses from ESP anyways'.

  11. ... great story. Sorry you had to be the punchline, though.