I know I’m admitting my age, but I remember being told that back in the sixties there was a popular police drama called Dragnet. One of the characters, Sgt. Joe Friday, frequently implored female informants to provide “just the facts.” Actually, he used the phrase, “All we want are the facts, ma’am” (and sometimes “All we know are the facts ma’am”) when questioning women in the course of police investigations. But somehow the phrase “just the facts” has been attributed to Dragnet through the years.
I understand where Sgt. Joe Friday was coming from, as I am a “just the facts” person. I don’t need all the details; I just want the bottom line. Unfortunately, it seems I’m surrounded by people who feel the need to ensure I miss no detail—no matter how trivial or unrelated to what I need to know—in the pursuit of simple information.
I often get clients like this. I will be welcoming a new couple bringing in their dog for the first time for a vague “exam.” I will ask something straightforward (in my mind, anyway) such as, “I see you didn’t put down Buddy’s age. Do you know how old he is?”
“Well, we got him when Caroline was a freshman in high school—” starts the wife.
“No, dear, she was a sophomore. Remember, we got him right after she flunked that algebra test and she was so upset.”
“Oh, that’s right. Getting Buddy really cheered Caroline up.” The wife goes on, excitedly, “We named her after that Neil Diamond song, Sweet Caroline. We just love Neil Diamond.” She laughs. “So it was either Sweet Caroline or Cracklin’ Rosie. Anyway, she’s a junior at the University of Florida now. She’s majoring in elementary education. She was majoring in finance, but she couldn’t stand her economics professor—”
“No, Lorraine, it was her statistics professor,” the husband corrects.
The wife turns to her husband. “No, Tom, it was Dr. Zimmer. Remember? He was her economics professor.” She pulls out her phone, swipes it a couple of times and flips it over to show me. “This is our daughter.”
I utter, “She’s very pretty. Anyway, about—”
“No, Dr. Zimmer was her statistics professor,” Tom interrupts.
The wife puts her hands on her hips and glares at her husband. “Tom, I’m sure he was the economics professor. Oh! Here’s a picture of Caroline with her boyfriend, Kyle. He’s the nicest young boy. He’s majoring in pre-law. His father’s a dentist.”
“Speaking of dentists,” I interject, “Buddy’s teeth could use a cleaning. He has a lot of—”
“Oh, no. Our last vet, Dr. Bates, said he was too old to be put under anesthesia,” Lorraine tells me.
I quickly do the math. Buddy must be about six years old, unless Caroline was held back. Maybe it took a couple extra years for her to get to the level of a college junior. Come to think of it, if she flunked algebra, why was she majoring in finance? Shaking my head, I realize we are now into ten minutes of our allotted fifteen minute appointment, my next patient is waiting, and I have not one relevant piece of information about my patient, who may be anywhere between the ages of six and perhaps nine. Unless he was a few years old when Caroline was a sophomore in high school.
“That’s right,” says Tom, snapping me out of my reverie. “Our neighbor’s dog died under anesthesia, you know.”
Lorraine turns to me. “They were the nicest people. What were their names again, Tom?”
“Parker,” says Tom. “John and Norma.”
“Oh, that’s right. I think I still have a picture of them with that dog.” She swipes through her phone. “The dog’s name was Sparky, I believe. Or was it Spanky? He had the cutest little trick where he would…” Her voice trails off. “I know that picture is here somewhere!”
I try to bring up something relevant about their visit, but they are both ignoring me as Lorraine searches for that elusive picture of John and Norma Parker and their unfortunate canine. Is there anything that takes longer than someone searching for an elusive picture to show you on their phone that you don’t want to see in the first place?
“Excuse me a moment,” I say. I step out of the room, grab a technician and throw her under the bus. “Find out what Buddy is here for. But don’t ask his age.”
“I can’t,” she says, crawling out from under the bus. “I’m in the middle of doing radiographs.”
“When you finish, go in and find out.” I throw her back, as I head into the next appointment.
Buddy’s appointment sets me back thirty minutes and I run behind the rest of the morning.
I often commiserate to my husband about people like this and he says he understands because it drives him crazy, too. Then the other day when we dropped my car off to have the air-conditioner fixed, he started reciting to the service writer, “We had the same problem four or five years ago. I think maybe it was closer to five years because we were doing foster care at the time and we couldn’t be hauling around all those kids in a hot car—”
“Doug! The man doesn’t need to know about the hot foster kids!” The words slipped out. I just couldn’t help myself.
My husband looked like a deer in the headlights until he realized he had been temporarily overcome with diarrhea of the mouth. “Oh. I guess you’re right.”
I smiled and nodded. “Just the facts, dear.”