There is a well-known saying by George Bernard Shaw: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. Let me preface this blog by saying I don’t agree with this adage, particularly during the past few weeks when teachers have had to come up with novel ways of getting information into young minds from afar. So, teachers, I have a great deal of respect and gratitude. However, I was reminded of this adage the other day when I was reading through a veterinary journal and came across an article titled Clients driving you nuts? Retrain your brain. Of course this caught my attention, as there isn’t a day goes by that some client doesn’t drive me nuts. But I figure after forty years of practice, I can usually handle it; and I’ve pretty much seen and heard it all.
I don’t believe clients intentionally set out to drive me nuts. People just have their own idiosyncrasies and agendas, which tend to be exacerbated during times of stress. I’m sure the “high-maintenance” owners would never consider themselves to be high-maintenance, just as the clients who interrupt me mid-sentence to take a phone call or change the subject don’t consider themselves rude. I understand the people who accuse veterinarians of “only caring about the money” are likely worried because of their financial constraints and their concern for their pets. I also know that the words, “I don’t care how much it costs, just fix Fluffy,” literally mean, “I don’t care how much it costs because I’m not going to pay you, anyway.” I can even, somewhat, understand the overly apprehensive client who drops his pet off for surgery, with the warning, “Nothing better happen to my dog,” although this sends my blood pressure through the roof worrying that the unthinkable, unforeseen complication will occur in this particular patient.
Still, I figure I can always use advice when it comes to dealing with difficult clients. I started reading the article until I read the author bio. Dr. Jane Doe (named changed), a former practicing veterinarian . . . um, excuse me, but why is Dr. Doe no longer practicing veterinary medicine? Is it because her clients drove her nuts and she couldn’t take it? Somehow, her credibility took a nosedive in my professional opinion. Sorry, Dr. Doe, but I am on the front lines every day with clients, where I have been for the past forty years. What do you think you can possibly tell me from your former life in the trenches which I have not already experienced? And while we’re on the subject, just how long were you in real life practice, Dr. Doe? Hmm?
Dr. Doe proceeds with a long litany of psycho-babble with which to defuse uncomfortable situations, with useful tidbits such as, “awareness of what is happening helps to de-escalate the situation.” Okay, I am aware that Mr. Jones is yelling at me, his face is an ugly shade of crimson, and the vein in his left temple is throbbing. Let me stop and think about what Dr. Doe said about this situation. Oh, yes, this is a fear behavior. (Now I not only have to worry about the fear-biting dog hovering in the corner and peeing on itself, I have to worry about the fear behavior of the owner, too?) Well, I don’t know about Mr. Jones’ fear, but his yelling is sure scaring the heck out of me. Not only am I fearful he is going to grab me by the throat and choke the life out of me, but I’m also fearful he may have a coronary right here in the exam room, and I’ll have to perform CPR on a man who may revive and have a better opportunity to grab my throat now that I’m leaning over him.
Now, what do I do? Think, think about what Dr. Doe said. Okay, I’m supposed to “remove myself from the drama and take control of the situation by observing the client, silently labeling the client’s fear reaction, and responding without judgement.” Say what? I don’t know about Dr. Doe, but I’m making all kinds of judgements here, like how fast can Mr. Jones move around the exam table and can I beat him out the door; could that throbbing blood vessel rupture and spray me with (yikes) human blood; and if worst comes to worst, can I slow him down by throwing my stethoscope at him? I’m also making judgements such as, “I think I’ll refer Mr. Jones to a specialty clinic. They get paid the big bucks to deal with people like him.”
She finishes with, “This is all about practice. You won’t get it right the first time, but eventually you’ll be able to choose your responses in any situation.” Uh huh. Well, I suggest that since Dr. Doe has it all figured out, she get back into clinical practice where she can put her expertise to the real test. As for me, my brain is too old to retrain. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.