A Lesson in Exam Room Etiquette
Today is the first day of school. After a summer of going to bed at 10+, the kids were snug in their beds at 8:50 p.m. High-five to me and the husband for successfully setting our little angels up for a wonderful, well-rested day of learning fun. We are great parents!
Allergy attacks and nerves (on their end) resulted in much wailing and gnashing of teeth and an actual bedtime closer to 10:30. Stupendous.
This morning wasn’t terrible, but I fell for this last year: thinking the kids had suddenly morphed into cheerful morning people. It’s the first day of school adrenaline rush. By Friday there will be tears (likely on both of our ends).
So in the spirit of education, today I’d like to provide you with a little gem of what will hopefully be new information; something you didn’t know before (or at least I think a lot of people don’t know, based on exam room behavior I have seen).
When the stethoscope is in my ears: I can’t hear you.
I had my first experience with this phenomenon when I was just a little 15-year-old bright-eyed vet wannabe. I was working at my first job at Atascazoo Animal Hospital in Humble, Texas, and I was pretty new at this point, so everything was scary. My first week or so there, I had been bitten (on the first day), experienced my first dog reverse sneeze (terrifying), and almost passed out watching my first surgery (an ear crop, have hated those ever since). My nerves were fried.
I was talking to the vet (AKA my hero, the person I so wanted to be/impress) while she was examining a dog. I was just jabbering away in 15-year-old fashion, probably trying to look intelligent and wise. After I yammered on for some time she looked at me and pointed at her ears (which were sporting a lovely stethoscope) and mouthed, "I can’t hear you," and proceeded with her exam.
I was mortified. How could she not hear me with those tiny little things in her ears? Was she avoiding me? Did she just say that so I’d shut up? I carried the pain of that encounter with me into vet school, when I finally learned the truth:
You can’t hear a darn thing besides the patient when you have the stethoscope on.
So pay attention when you are chatting with the vet during the exam. When the ear buds are on, he or she doesn’t hear a word you are saying. I try to wait 'til a gap in the conversation to don the stethoscope, but the client often launches into another story or more info while it’s on. I see their lips moving but that’s about it. Sometimes I pull one earpiece away from my ear, to indicate that I can’t hear otherwise, but they keep on talking. I suppose I could say, "Excuse me, can you please be quiet a moment so I can listen?" but I’m just not that direct.
And yes, I confess: I have, on occasion, put the stethoscope on and "listened" to a patient for an extra long time, when the client is, shall we say, extra chatty. Just so I can have a moment of silence to think about the case.
So there you go. Vet exam room etiquette lesson for the day: Please refrain from speaking when the vet is listening to your pet.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic: Don’t pet your dog or cat excessively during this time, either. It makes it sound just like your pet has a crazy cardiac arrhythmia through the scope. Scared me to death the other day when a perfectly healthy dog’s heartbeat was all over the place, until I realized the owner was (gently) whacking away at the side of the dog trying to comfort it.
Dr. Vivian Cardoso-Carroll