Indecent Exposure in Vet Medicine (Part II): I Didn't Really Need to Hear That... Or Did I?
To continue the series on indecent exposure (there will be three installments) I’m going to tell you all about the amazing things our clients tell us about themselves and their lives.
As vets we are in the unique role of hearing things we wish we’d never heard. Ever heard the three-letter acronym TMI? It stands for too much information and it’s what we’re both subjected to and blessed with on a daily basis.
I hear about divorces, child custody battles, infertility issues (in amazing detail), personal health crises, drug and alcohol dependency, mental health statuses, near-death experiences, financial predicaments, sexual dysfunction and other extremely personal life details.
When faced with such vital personal calamities from otherwise private personalities it becomes clear that our clients are bestowing upon us a special, sacred bit of themselves. And we treat it as such. There are no back room jokes and no jeering quips after the fact, just a profound respect for the delicacy of the matter—even if the weirdness of the situation makes us uncomfortable.
Conversations often segue from a pet’s need for anxiolytics (anti-anxiety medication) to a client’s personal pharmacopia for a similar condition with all its attendant details. Will my pet also suffer sexual dysfunction? sleeplessness? night terrors? Hard questions to answer but ones we can’t afford to act amused by. They’ve just told us so much about themselves in the course of this one interaction we can’t help but to express ourselves sympathetically.
Staff, especially vet techs, also hear these personal anecdotes. They don’t need to be instructed as to how to take this information. Everyone knows better. After all, it’s part of their job, too.
Then there are the times when hearing of a family member’s illness changes how we treat our patients. Cancer and chemotherapy treatment, pregnancy, HIV infection, coumadin therapy and other issues help us tailor our protocols to meet not just our patients` needs but also those of the entire family. We include drugs we might otherwise not consider, treat patients more aggressively for certain skin conditions, recommend hospitalization over home care, etc.
One recent case comes to mind, whose details must be omitted here for obvious reasons. In this situation the pet’s medication was the cause of a family’s tragedy. Because they confided in us we might now be capable of preventing the same misfortune from befalling them again. It’s times like these when we acknowledge the importance of holding our clients` trust in high regard.
But things are typically not so serious. Sometimes we hear funny anecdotes about client’s sex lives we’d rather not know. For example, on more than one occasion I was asked how to deal with the issue of removing a pet from the bedroom during a decidedly human-only sexual interlude. (But Fluffy feels so sad when I pick her up and unceremoniously throw her out the door. She sulks for hours.)
And there’s the all-too-common issue of how to deal with divorce. Along these lines, I was once asked to intercede in a family dispute. I did so reluctantly and only because there was a threat of legal action (against me!) from one of the parties for refusing to provide medical information on a pet (the pet was listed as belonging to only one owner—what did I know?). I’d like to think the subsequent mediation went a long way towards healing a foundering relationship. They’re still together.
I hope none of this sounds self-aggrandizing or corny, but we really do play the role of family doctor for so many of our clients. I’d like to think we’re capable of affording our clients the same kind of respect their family physician would, in-spite of its non-human connection. Ultimately, indecent exposure in this context means we have the capacity to do more good for our patients. If we do well by our humans their pets will doubtless reap the benefits.