This may sound strange, but it is sometimes slightly surreal to suddenly be made aware that clients are people, just like me. When I’m treating someone’s animal, be it a pony or a bull, I’m often focused mostly on the animal and only peripherally aware of the owner’s immediate reactions and responses to the current situation. Therefore, when a client innocently makes an off-hand comment regarding something I said on the phone a month ago, or a joke I made a year ago, or how I slipped in the mud the last time I was here and wasn’t that so funny, it reminds me that there is always more going on than what appears in front of my eyes.


Take the following scenario from a while back. I was castrating two miniature donkeys at one of my most favorite client’s barn. I love visiting this couple because firstly they are about as nice a couple as you will ever find, and secondly because they raise mini donkeys and who couldn’t love that?


As I was cleaning up from the surgeries, we were reminiscing about the last time I visited their farm, which was a particularly sad memory, as I had euthanized one of their elderly burros. I was trying to recall the time of year when this happened, when the client assured me it was last St. Patrick’s Day because I was wearing green earrings. I was taken aback by this comment, touched that she even noticed this seemingly insignificant detail of my otherwise banal wardrobe, and I nodded, remembering then perfectly that it was indeed St. Patty’s Day and I was wearing those earrings, and it was rainy and gray, and a generally depressing day altogether. 


Another example of a client’s seemingly random attention to select details involves a dairy client. The father and owner of the dairy is elderly and has trouble getting around, but he’s still out there every day, milking and feeding and cleaning, and when I get called in he’s there ready to help.


The first few visits for me at this dairy were somewhat stilted, as they waited for me to prove my worth as a vet to them, since I was, after all, the “new girl” at the time. Then, after a few surgeries and treatments of sick cows, things became more congenial between all of us. Soon the elderly gentleman was commenting on my hair length: whether it was shorter than last time, or longer, or in a ponytail, or isn’t it time for me to get a haircut? It morphed into a sort of running gag after a while, but I always thought it interesting that my adventures at the salon would be a topic of discussion while placing an IV in a Holstein.


Lastly, my middle finger was smashed between a cow’s hipbone and a metal pole a while back, leaving me in a grumpy mood with a hideous black fingernail. Anyone who has ever had a black nail knows that it takes forever to grow out and in the meantime, it sticks out like, well, a sore thumb. Needless to say, I soon started painting my fingernails in order to conceal my injury, since every single darn client started commenting about my darn black fingernail and frankly, I was getting sick of telling the story. 


On the other hand, on a day when I do something I think is really obvious, like wash my truck, wear a brand new pair of sparkling clean coveralls, or change my notations on the invoice, do you think this ever receives comments? Of course not!


Dr. Anna O'Brien


Image: Claudia Otte / Shutterstock