Close encounters of the veterinary kind
I’ve deliberated all weekend over whether this story needs telling, especially given my general sensitivity to mental health issues among my clients. And so I disclaim: any resemblance in this tale to persons living or long-dead is a mere coincidence. Rest assured, I have also changed the names and physical characteristics of this client in deference to his privacy.
(Is that acceptable enough of a disclaimer? Let me know if you think it was still unfair of me to tell his story in a blog format.)
So this guy comes into the hospital on Saturday morning and he’s got his cat in his arms and his wife by his side. Fluffy is apparently visiting the doctor to have his skin checked. I look all over and find a couple of bald patches and so we begin to discuss whether or not Fluffy is grooming excessively, seems itchy, etc.
Fluffy happens to be wearing a thick collar for a small cat. Because I always look under clothing and collars for rubbing sores, etc., I [apparently] made a gesture foreshadowing the impending removal of Fluffy’s collar. The owner almost jumped out of his skin. You could almost see him say “Noooooooo….” in slow motion as the collar came off the neck and landed on the exam table.
Inexplicably beside himself, his wife tried to console him, simultaneously giving me the “I’m so embarrassed by all this” look.
Beneath the collar, the apparent cause of all this alarm, was a small puncture wound the size of a pencil point with a hairless area perhaps the size of a dime surrounding it. I gave them a curious look and proceeded to ask gently what the problem might be.
“Omigod, honey, now she’s seen it. But doctor, that’s not what he’s here for. Can you please just forget you saw it?”
(Ummm….OK, but it just looks like a small tick or spider bite. It should go away pretty soon. Don’t worry.)
“I’m not worried. But it’s not going to go away. It’s been there for over a month.”
(If you’d like I can take a photo of it and email it to the dermatologist if that would make you feel better.)
No way! We can’t involve anyone else in this!
(No problem. But it should go away soon, OK? I can give you a salve to see if it will help...)
“No! Look how it’s healing. Nothing heals like that. It’s absolutely unnatural. See how it’s shaped like a square? Don’t you feel the chip there?”
(OK so now I think I know what’s going on…the microchip is the issue and the guy doesn’t want to blame someone for implanting it incorrectly, etc.)
“Not the microchip! Omigod she just doesn’t get it.” (looking at his wife, who’s now not making any eye contact with me)
Finally, the technician grabs my arm and pulls me out of the room. Then she explained what I’d been missing in this whole bizarre conversation:
Omigod is right. This guy was obviously having some sort of paranoid psychotic episode and, if my tech is right, truly believes his cat has an alien implant at the base of his skull.
As he was walking out the door I thought, maybe I should have offered to take an X-ray so he could see there was nothing metallic there. But, then again…I don’t know what kind of materials aliens use…
As it stands, I don’t think I helped his frame of mind too much—or the cat’s skin, for that matter. Sometimes my expectation of boring normalcy in my clients clouds my vision and leaves the truly disturbed laid bare for this bull-in-a-china-shop vet to trample on. I really feel terrible when I think about how my stupid questions must have alarmed him.
But what’s a vet supposed to do in these cases? I guess next time I’ll be better prepared and concentrate on my patient, instead.