I apologize in advance for the length of this, but the story is a bit involved, and I believe illustrative.
Blood ran down my arm, across the back of my hand, and dripped onto the exam table. I stood there quietly taking the verbal abuse from an outraged pet owner, my hands resting on the metal surfaced table. It's better to let them rave themselves breathless rather than trying to interrupt. Ya learn this after a while. Once they've spewed their piece, they eventually stop to take a breath. Then they are not talking. No one can listen when they are talking. It's an A/B switch kinda thing.
I'm pretty thin skinned. Don't mean by this that I'm overly-sensitive. Far from it. Nah, I'm just old. Skin gets thinner when you get old, so when the dog rakes you with those front toenails little furrows appear, followed shortly by that red stuff. And when you follow the physician's advice and take those little aspirin daily, this inhibits platelet aggregation. Oh sorry. Big words, This means you bleed with enthusiasm from little furrows.
I learn from such encounters, even after all these decades of playing this game. I listened intently to the young man, occasionally glancing over at his embarrassed wife. I wanted to learn what he thought I'd done incorrectly. She was dumbfounded by his tirade. I was a mite taken aback myself, but I too stood there taking it in.
By the time he finished, it was completely obvious that I need not try to respond. Why waste the oxygen? This guy had it all figured out, and reality had nothing to do with our little predicament. The first words out of his mouth when he had entered the exam room with his dog, “We didn't like the last vet”, would be the first words out of his mouth at the next veterinary practice. Nothing I had to say was going to change that.
I shook my head and turned away, ignoring that little bit of his spittle hanging off his lower lip. I left him puffing in the exam room. Time to bandage the arm again.
“We should have listened to your internet reviews.”
Yeah, you should have. Thought it but didn't say it. I don't read my reviews, No point in that. But someone, (the mayor of our little city) had mentioned those reviews just the week before. Apparently next to all the good ones were two rather nasty ones. I figured I knew what those were about, and when I replied the mayor simply nodded.
One was a young woman who was incensed when I excused her dog before my exam could even begin. It had something to do with not being able to touch her vicious little dog. Her boyfriend had screamed into my face that I get paid to get bit, and I took some small exception to that bit of misinformation.
The second bad review concerned another client who announced as she entered the exam room, (yep, another who didn't like her last vet) that she was dissatisfied with the dose of the pain killing drug the last doctor had prescribed for her cat, so she had raised the dose without asking if this was appropriate.
The second sentence out of her mouth was to demand from me more of the drug, long before I had the opportunity to become familiar with the animal's condition, the history and the physical exam. I didn't jump at this opportunity for a fast sale, in as much as this was a controlled substance, and prudence suggests we not simply supply these to the public .
Numerous other demands poured from this woman's mouth with each new statement she made. And then the complaints as I began my exam. I was to do it the way she required and how dare I do it my way. I smiled and continued my exam. She continued to rail against every single thing I did. I smiled again.
The mayor has been a client of mine for roughly thirty years, so I don't know why he consulted those on line reviews, but I'll get back to this thought later.
Anyway, the young couple and their dog entered my exam room. It was a busy Saturday morning and we were completely booked. We'd set aside the usual 15 minute slot for what should have been a routine visit. The chart hinted at an ear problem, and they needed a rabies vaccination. I greeted them in my usual ingratiating fashion. I'm a heck of a nice person after all. The dog was about 45 pounds of one and a half year old mix-breed.
Warning #1: “We didn't like the last vet.”
#2: Dog is wearing a harness rather than a collar. This is where self-preservation kicks in. It's kinda like how you feel when the guy walks into the convenience store wearing a ski mask. Maybe he just has bad acne, but ya still watch em closely.
#3: I get down into my squat that I use to greet every dog that comes into my exam room. This is diplomacy in the dog world. It invites the dog to come over and make friends. It often begins the process that defuses doggie anxiety in the vet's office. It makes the job easier. The friendly dogs just love it. The clients love it. And I really enjoy the dogs. This dog approaches to a four foot distance, stares at me, raises it's lip about a half inch, and then runs behind the man.
#4: “The last vet took a foxtail out of his ear.” When was this? “Last July.” OK, that's foxtail season. Seems reasonable. “But it didn't get better.” (Seemed he intimated that the other vet faked taking a foxtail out of the ear. Heard that nonsense before, too)
OK, how long has he had this ear infection? “I don't know.” Well, how old was he when you first noticed it? “He was about 7 months old.” So, about last February. And it's been infected ever since? “Yes. It didn't get better after the last vet treated it.”
Small wonder. Ears infected for a year, treated once, didn't get better. We gonna need more than 15 minutes for this.
Dog had erect ears, so from across the room I could see a bit of the inside of the ears. They were pigmented black. Bad sign. Usually takes years of neglect before the ears turn black. Turning black is scaring from chronic inflammation, and it portends other damage that is not only permanent but often requires what we call salvage surgery to keep the dog from suffering needlessly. Poor dog's owners clearly lacked the clue.
The young woman showed me the crinkled flattened tube of ear infection medicine. It contained plenty to treat the ears for the usual 10-14 day treatment. “We've been using this ever since, and he didn't get better.”
Without understanding the reasons for chronic or recurring ear infections in dogs, the poor owners who are treating these ears are unlikely to get it right. No knock on owners ( this time), but when not handled correctly such infections often turn into disasters, and even when handled correctly they are often not cured, but merely managed. The sun comes up in the east, and some dog ear infections are extremely challenging to treat. That's just how it is.
Educating pet owners is the single most important thing veterinarians do. This is how we best help the animals. It is critical. It prevents a lot of the preventable disasters. It is also the most challenging aspect of the job. (there he goes, picking on pet owners again) So I spent a half hour explaining the basics to this young couple. My receptionist stopped by to wag two fingers in my face. The next two clients were already waiting. But I was getting somewhere with these two and I didn't want to stop. They seemed to be learning.
Now you might wonder why I still hadn't examined this dog. Normally, this would precede the education part, but I like to give the fearful dogs time to become accustomed to the room and me, and it gives me time to defuse some of the anxiety or hostility residing in the owners, for they set these dogs off by how they react. So I laid on the whole lesson, going back over each concept in different ways when they didn't understand. I'm good at this. Done it for decades. Most clients thank me once they figure things out. I made my other clients wait while investing important time with this couple. It began to feel as if we might make this work.
The time arrived when I would try to examine the dog. Prospects for this hadn't improved much. The dog still would not come over to sniff me. It had sniffed the entire room, wandered out of the room when the owner didn't pull him back by the leash, but never once approached me. You don't simply reach for a dog behaving like this.
I got into my squat again, and it approached to that same 4 feet, and then headed for the other side of the room. The man holding the leash stood right beside me. His dog was over there, giving me the eye. Silly veterinarians often wonder why the owners don't simply use the leash to pull the dog to them so we can actually do our job. Rarely happens. So after a bit, I reached up and took the leash from his hand, and gently pulled the dog toward me. He stopped at that magic 4 foot distances. A bit more tug on the leash as I entreated the dog to come. Harness goes up and over head, landing limply on the floor. Dog hurries over to stand beside the woman, over there.
I held up the useless and turned to the man. “This is why you don't use a harness. They give you no control over your dog.”
Woman stands next to dog. Doesn't grab his collar. Doesn't try to bring the dog over to me. Man does nothing. Woman speaks, “Maybe I should leave the room. He gets real protective of me.”
Ah...warning #5. I shouldn't need to explain this one.
I turn to look at the man standing next to me. Why don't you go over there, take the dog by the collar, and bring him over here? A novel concept he had apparently not considered.
He squats next to me, dog cradled between his legs, biting part facing out. Perfectly wrong set up for dealing with an untrained fearful dog.
I take collar and pull dog in front of me. He lunges left, he lunges right, he lunges left again. I hold collar. He stops lunging and I turn him to face away and induce him to sit. Soft calming voice, praising him for a sit, petting and scratching his back. He settles a bit. I touch an ear.
Dog lunges left, dog lunges right. For expedience I will not repeat this part over and again. The dog did. Take my word for it. After some considerable time, I give up on examining ears. I turn to look at the man who is still squatting right next to me. No attempt whatsoever to control his own dog.
Your dog really needs a good obedience training course. Not only will it teach him to behave, but it will impart him with some badly needed confidence so he won't misbehave like this. Nothing.
OK, enough wasted time. I give the dog his rabies vaccine, and go to stand up. Dog launches one more time, spinning in a circle, which locks my hand in the collar. Not a good thing if he begins to nibble on my arm. Manage to untangle my hand without injury, but dog rears on his hind legs and rakes my arm with his claws. I know that feeling. I'm done with dog and turn him loose.
I'm washing the blood off my arm when the man launches on me. He doesn't like how I held his dog by the collar. Really? How else does one hold a dog by the collar? Silly me. Took me a bit before I realized that he didn't want the dog held at all. That thing where I always say that the use of a harness is the owner's concession that he has no desire to control the dog at all. That's this guy.
So I stood beside my exam table, bleeding, while he assailed me. And then I walked out of the room, bandaged my arm, and then put on my smile for the next client. Excuse me for trying to help. The day went on, as they have for all these decades.
Will this guy put up a bad review on line? Don't know. Don't care. I don't read reviews. I don't defend myself when a bad one shows up. Don't care. My practice has been growing for decades because satisfied clients send their friends to me, and people who don't like how I try to help their animals are welcome find someone who does it differently. Lot's of ways to skin a cat. (sorry cat lovers)
Does it hurt my feelings after all these years of dedicating my life to helping people and their pets to have someone scream at me like that. Yeah....a little. I got into this profession to help, and I've sacrificed a lot to continue doing this for a lifetime. Mostly it is rewarding. Sometimes it breaks my heart.
So why the longs story? Well, last week a few people killed a veterinarian I know.
Oh, they didn't poke her with a knife or shoot her with a gun. But they killed her.
Shirley was in practice for over thirty years, and although a bit unconventional at times, she was always compassionate, up to date, hard working. She finally got the chance to start her own little practice. On a shoestring, she opened a small place in the city of New York. As all start-ups do, it was a struggle. The economy still sucked. The weather sucked. The likely illegal collusion between landlord, banker, contractor and maybe even organized crime nearly bankrupted her. But it took crazy cat ladies to kill her.
A feeder of feral cat colonies in the city adopted a cat from a shelter and then turned it loose in a city park, in the snow and the 2014 winter, to struggle on its own. This lady thinks this is good for cats. Some friends of hers brought the sick cat to Shirley for a medical problem, but of course declined most everything necessary due to cost. So as she had done in the past, Shirley asked them to surrender their cat so she could care for it and then try to find it a nice home. Because they could not provide properly for the cat, they agreed. Later, the woman who had turned the cat loose in the park showed up to claim the cat, and Shirley refused. She didn't want to see the cat abandoned again. And she didn't at that point even know who owned the cat. For she had been duped into believing the first two people owned it.
That's when it started. Vicious evil people have the same voice on the internet as the rest. An organized assault on Shirley began on the net. An on-line blog that specializes in character assassination zeroed in on her. Protesters with signs lined the street in front of her hospital, and had to be removed from her clinic by the police. People who had no idea of the facts hopped on board with the mob because the evil rich veterinarian deserved it. They were vicious, conscienceless, and evil. But they got their wish.
Shirley killed herself the other night.
And the vermin on the blog celebrated, cheering her death in their posts.
Ask any veterinarian out here. This hurts us. So I guess they win.