Thursday, 28 January 2010

The art of veterinary medicine

It is said, by some, that at University you learn the science of veterinary medicine, and then in practice, you learn the art. Well, I've always resisted this - I consider myself a scientist, and would like to think that I at least try to practice evidence-based medicine.

(I was surprised when I qualified to find this is not the view of all vets - possibly not even the majority. I know a few vets that would be almost offended to hear themselves described as scientists. But my degree says Bachelor of Veterinary Science, so I'm right and they're wrong. Nyah.)

(Okay, okay, not all veterinary degrees are BVSc - there's Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine, Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Science, etc... but I'm cheerfully going to ignore that point in the interests of brevity. Or I would have done if I hadn't rudely interrupted myself)

However, there is one aspect of being a vet that even I must admit has something of an art to it. Consulting (or convulsing, as my wife happily calls it). The (inexplicably named) surgeries, the part where we, the vet, actually meet the public.

The artistry begins in the waiting room, when you go out and call the client into the consulting room (unless you have a nurse do it for you. In which case you're lazy. Ahem.). This in itself is a bit of a minefield. Do you call out just the animal's name? The clients surname? The animal's name followed by the surname? All have their pitfalls.

In a full waiting room just calling out 'Tyson' generally leads to three different owners standing up at once (probably all bringing a Rottweiller in. I'll have to do a blog on animal names at some point...). Also, you run the risk of calling out 'Princess' or, worse, 'Honey', and having a large, hairy and slightly pissed off man stand up with a cat box, to the titters of the rest of the waiting clients.

Just calling out the surname, as my boss tends to do, strikes me as a little public school, and always makes me think of the Rowan Atkinson sketch where he is a teacher calling out increasingly bizarre and rude names from the register (Mydic? Has anyone seen Mydic?). It seems brusque and rude (though my boss is charming enough to pull it off effortlessly). It can also cause embarrassment when you fail to pronounce a surname correctly (especially if it's Greek - some real tongue twisters there), and it may well have got me into trouble last night when I saw someone with the unfortunate surname 'Fuchs'. (Other potential problem surnames - 'Cock', 'Uren' and, (honestly) 'Handaside-Dick').

A variant of this option is to call out 'Mr Smith' or 'Mrs Jones' or whatever. The problem here is that the person who registered the animal is not always the person who is bringing the animal in, often leading to you having to make a snap judgement of the marital status of the person in the waiting room. Getting in wrong risks a withering look and an 'It's Miss, actually.' (I once had this delivered not with a withering look, but infinitely more frighteningly, with a wink). Even worse (as has happened to me sadly often enough) is having to make a snap judgement of a person's sex. Bear in mind, if you get this basic fact wrong you will be spending at least ten minutes talking to them, and it's not the best way to start a conversation.

The third option, calling out the animal's name followed by the surname often leads to an exasperating reaction from the client of a puzzled look, and a giggle, and a comment like 'hee hee, 'Bilbo' Maclean, like he's one of the family!' - possibly funny at first, but when you've seen that reaction thirty times a day it does get a little wearing.

My personal preference is for option one, but scanning the list of names first to make sure we don't have duplicate animal names in, defaulting to option two with a particularly embarrassing animal name (a la Peaches Fru Fru...or for those bizarre times when the owner has seen fit to call their animal 'Mr' or 'Miss' (never 'Mrs'!) something - we saw a lot of mice called 'Mr Jingles' after The Green Mile came out. For the record, none of them lived quite so long as the one in the film) or option three with multiple-monikered mutts. (I don't mean mutts offensively, I just wanted an 'm' word for my alliteration. For what it's worth, if you've got a mutt, you've probably got the healthiest animal in the room. And that is definitely a subject for another blog)

One last point about waiting rooms - it happens to me about once a month, that I go out and call a clients name (with all the pitfalls mentioned above), and the client looks at me questioningly and says 'Yes?'

Now, I don't mean to be rude, but you are sitting in a WAITING room, in a veterinary surgery, with your animal, and a man in a green coat with a stethoscope sexily wrapped around his neck (okay, okay, just wrapped, then) walks towards you and calls your name. Is it possible you might have some contextual clues about what he wants?

Sigh. Okay, I know it's stressful taking your animal to the vets, so I apologise if that comes across a little mean-spirited. But really. Some people. I don't know.

Well, I was going to talk a little about the process of the consult itself, but I seem to have rambled on somewhat just about the waiting room, so I'll leave you in suspenders for the next exciting installment!

Happy new year, by the way :)