I’m used to all sorts of evening and weekend telephonics. And guess what? I don’t like ‘em. Truth is, I seriously dislike being called on my personal phone — at all —  unless it’s an emergency and I’ve expressly given permission to be reached in such an event.

Yet even in the case of an emergency, my friends and family think I’m crazy to allow such an intrusion on my non-working hours: "I mean, they’re not paying you for it, right?"

And other veterinarians increasingly agree. Being on call is one thing — because we’re specifically compensated for it. Taking odd phone calls at obscene hours (even from your best clients) is quite another. My friends argue it’s like saying, "Go ahead and abuse me. I like it. No, really, I don’t have a life. And what there is of it, is yours. Take it. Please!"

Of course, there was a time when it made sense for veterinarians to take their own calls: We all owned our own businesses back then and emergency hospitals were few and far between. So when the neighbor’s cat gave up the ghost on a Saturday night we were there … because we lived to serve our fellow creatures, and truth be told, because we knew the payment in green bean casserole and apple pie would come in handy mid-week. (People may have expected more back then, but they also knew how to be more grateful. Or so I'm told.)

It was a whole lot simpler living in awe of your neighbor’s way with pie dough than having to explain to every tenth client why it is that you don’t take Discover. But those times are dead and buried. Instead, the evolution is towards increasingly complex expectations of our communicability.

The dicier it gets, the more we vets need to tune out the workday and cling with seemingly heartless zeal to our nights and off days. In fact, this view is so increasingly prevalent that new grads now prefer free time to money. It’s true: zero on-call time can make up for a whole lot of deficiencies in a workplace.

So what’s up with me? Why is it that I haven’t yet learned how to cut out of work, turn the phone to vibrate, and leave it in the glove compartment overnight? 

About a year ago I reached a tipping point on this issue. Here's the story:

An elderly woman calls mid-morning after receiving my telephone number from some unrevealed source. This was Sunday, by the way, and I was working on the household’s breakfast. I must have been in a decent mood or else I would have asked her to call the animal ER upon learning of her non-client status (I guess I’m a sucker for clueless elderly women). Instead, I found myself strangely captivated by a crazy story about a dead cat under the hood of her car.

Said dead cat had presumably been dead for a long time (she spoke of its unspeakable odor), so it should have been obvious that the vet was not the right number to dial, right? Nonetheless, she pressed on with her tale, regaling me with a list of municipal departments unwilling to help her in her plight to free the car of its feline assailant.

She’d called 911, 311 (a County help-line), Animal Services, Triple-A, friends, family, her mechanic and now … little ol' me. Gee. Thanks.

I promised her that someone in Miami-Dade County would surely accept money to remove a dead cat from a car’s nether regions. Tow the sucker and let me get back to my omelettes, dammit!

You know, much as I found the call amusing, it was especially disturbing precisely for the reasons my friends and family list when they decry "the soul-sucking-stress-fest that is your life."

OK, so that’s it. "Not one more client gets my phone number," I claimed. "I’m getting my home phone listed as 'private,' and I’ll never answer the phone again without checking the number first."

Still, I couldn't’t help thinking of the poor dead kitty trapped under the metal of a Mercedes. Would her (his?) death be honored by my telephonic abstinence? Probably not, I (sort of) reasoned. Since then, I've become less attached to my phone, but let me be honest: It's the possibility of a random emergency that keeps me coming back for more, even when I know that "unknown" number on the touch screen can't possibly mean anything good.

I’m this close to chucking the damn iPhone in the canal the next time I go kayaking.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Art of the day: "Beanie iPhone" by bdu