Like every business in the service industry, we try and schedule as accurately as possible and move with purpose. Some days, the wheels fall off. A cow with a prolapsed uterus, or a pitbull versus trailer hitch will set you back like lightning at a Little League game.
It was ten o’clock on a Saturday morning. The parking lot was like a Taylor Swift concert and the lobby was something out of Springer.
Giselle pushed through the crowded clinic with the look of a Victoria’s Secret model slapped with rotten cow placenta, cleared her throat, and announced to no one eligible or inclined to listen, “Someone needs to see my dog… now.”
Claire quick-glanced and extended a raised index finger of acknowledgement, before finishing discharge instructions for Mary Daubert’s cat, Ted. A registered nurse, mother, and mountain bike champion, Mary raised her eyebrows, “Good luck with this one.”
Like a New York traffic cop, Claire turned with an open palm and politely put line three on hold.
I remember when Scotty Roberts had a look of horror on his face the day Harley ruptured an anal gland abscess. He burst through the door and announced, “Doc, you gotta help my buddy, it’s like something crawled up his butt and is eatin’ it’s way out!”
The quarter-cock of Giselle’s impeccably coiffed head, and flare of her nose-job suggested that her annoyance at Diesel, Chief, and Mutton Chop superseded concern over the well-being of her dog.
Receptionists at Hilton hotels are trained to promise what they can do, and avoid what’s obviously been overlooked, “How can I help you and your dog, ma’am?”
“Miss, my little Louis Vuitton has torn his dewclaw and is bleeding all over the Pure Corinthian Leather of my brand-new Mercedes.”
Sarcasm would be throwing a Christmas tree on a tire fire, “Grab a chill-pill from your Gucci, Giselle, Louis’ dewclaw is a long way from his heart, and I’ve got a discount card for Hugo’s Custom Car Detailing.”
Claire avoided the temptation.
“Well, that’s serious, but not life-threatening. My doctors and technicians are working as hard as they can to care for other patients. My best guess is that it could be nearly an hour. I can give you directions to a dozen other veterinary clinics, the University of Wisconsin, or three accredited emergency hospitals.”
Being the veterinarian is sometimes the easiest job in the building. We can concentrate on the patient in front of us, while the technicians collect and run blood, urine, and fecal samples, formulate estimates, and back up the front desk. We are often oblivious to the war being waged against ringing telephone lines and the stream of humanity through the front door.
The day ended in double-overtime, but eventually Louis went home with a Holstein-patterned boo-boo bandage, and three days of anti-inflammatory drugs. Strict oversight by the DEA, and a love for my license over-rode the temptation to send Giselle home with a fistful of fluoxetine and diazepam.
Ginny cleaned, technicians recovered the scene, and Dr. Clark and I wrote records. It’s not unusual for Claire to provide the color for the post-game wrap-up. Today she had plenty of fuel for her fire.
Venting can be therapeutic. Internalizing charged emotions can bind you up like a bean burrito at a baptism. Airing our grievance, done well, can be so much more than a pop-off valve for our greater coronary artery.
Venting allows us to re-live the event, and in doing so search for how we may have better defused or avoided the situation.
Whether at the clinic, at the pub, or on a bike ride three weeks later, we might also ask ourselves, “Have I ever been Giselle?”
After Dad passed, I was looking to settle his estate. There were bank accounts and insurance policies that involved statements, affidavits, phone calls, faxes and emails. I figured I could cancel his cell phone in ten minutes. I anticipated they may require the phone, which could have been in the garage at the clinic, the spare bedroom at the house, or in storage unit #25. I kinda thought they’d take my word that he died, or that my vacuolated face and hollow eyes would be proof of his passing. I’ve been writing checks to US Cellular since I was paying for haircuts and before the bag phone. I thought they might cut me some slack.
Not so much.
To guard against the onslaught of tech bandits faking their father’s death to pirate the services of a flip-phone Walmart sells for $19.99, requires a call to US Cellular HQ, as well as the phone, the death certificate, DNA samples from three of the pall bearers, and blessing by an upper-level deity, or $500. I feigned to the agents that I respected they were simply following protocol… as I wrung my hands, sighed, and paced the strip mall like JoJo the Gorilla.
Recently, Sheila and I were walking the vendor fair at The Western States Veterinary Conference when I spied the Stone Manufacturing booth.
The bold placard on the easel claimed:
Hard working tools built for hard working hands. Tools that were made with you in mind. Ones that can stand up to the punishment of tough jobs - just like your own hands. When they're built this tough, a closer look will tell you they're from Stone. The unbeatable combination of quality and performance is what goes into every product that carries the brand name Stone. We believe our brand name is our reputation.
That is why we insist that every product that carries the name Stone is the best in design, quality, and performance. Stone products made in the United States are built to last. Check them out for yourself.
A claim that I would whole-heartedly endorse, with an addendum. Stone manufactures tools to assist in the delivery of calves in dystocia. (A note of caution: these same tools make expectant mothers uneasy the first night of child-birthing class, should a well-meaning veterinarian decide to bring them along as a show-and-tell prop.)
Late in the Saturday afternoon of a marathon conference, the haggard rep had lost his voice on Thursday. Seeing Wisconsin on my identification badge he conjured up the ultimate cliché, “How does it feel to be down here in the desert, during the middle of winter?”
Ignoring his hospitality, I led with the ultimate disingenuity, “Well, sir, I understand you didn’t make this stuff, but next time you see one of your engineers tell ‘em the calf jack is the best thing since country music, but the bag they make to haul it is useless as a coffee shop at 8:00am.”
I pulled down the blue-nylon display model, thinner than a free windbreaker from a golf course, to demonstrate that it wouldn’t fit over my shoulder in a T-shirt, let alone six layers of poly-pro, fleece, and Carhartt. I pulled the Velcro to demonstrate that it was barely large enough for a foot-long steak and cheese and a bag of chips from Subway.
The rep never broke professionalism and promised to take my concerns straight to the top. Mom taught me to never shoot the messenger.
I’ve since learned to check for the shut the hell up glance from Sheila. She’s stood by me through death, disease, and a teenage daughter. She’ll also dress me down when I’ve got it coming. I walked away feeling like I’d just beat the crap out of Gumby.
The uber-polite agent at MK Cellular was likely searching tattoo designs on Pinterest before I walked in. Their parents are younger than I am; I hope they’d have no clue the toll a two-week stint in hospice will exact.
The exhausted rep in the Stone booth has likely never wrestled a calf jack, bucket, and halter rope through three gates and a blizzard at Ritchie Behm’s farm in January.
For all we know, Giselle may have just discovered a wrinkle, or learned her manicurist has been deported.
Worse yet, she may have not known a mother to show her to “Cast no stones ‘til you’ve walked in the shoes of the messenger.”