July 19th, 2006

Wednesday. Today I saw Lola, a friend’s very sick little Dachshund mix. She spends a lot of her time in the Florida Keys chasing lizards and living la vida doga. She’s a happy dog.

But on Thursday night, she came down with a serious fever. She was hot, very hot, and quiet, very quiet. Since the keys suffers from a severe dearth of all-night vet hospitals, my friend took her to a recommended hospital as soon as he could on Friday morning.

By then, Lola had no fever, just severe case of low platelets. Thrombocytopenia, we call it. And it can mean a lot of different things are wrong with her body. What these are still remains a mystery.

But during Lola’s visit to the vet, the veterinarian mentioned that Lola had a big spleen. A curious and generally laid-back individual, he asks, “how can you tell?”

Now, this guy was just being interested and responsible—he genuinely wanted to understand how these things are determined and he was worried he had missed a basic piece of information he should have had last night as he fretted over Lola’s condition.

In response to his query, the vet sets her shoulders, looks him squarely in the eyes and says: “Because I went to vet school.”

Needless to say, he didn’t ask any more questions.

Sometimes, as veterinarians, we have long days with too much stress on our shoulders. We snap when we shouldn’t, just like all of us do in traffic or at a colleague in the office. I’m not about to condemn her outright for her statement. However, it made me think how important it is to receive a potentially confrontational question as an opportunity to teach.

I often have clients who behave confrontationally. They can be downright mean at times in expressing their disdain for my qualifications. It makes me mad. So mad, in fact, that I work to kill them with kindness. I explain things three times over and them had them a personally highlighted article. That’s my f--- you. And it always works.

Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between a hyper-curious person and a crabby skeptic. But you have to care for their pet just the same, whether you like the client or not.

My conclusion: as a vet you have to get used to the interrogation, like it or not. After all, if you’re good, a question asked is just another opportunity to show off.