Sunday, 24 October 2010

Cult of Personality

Towards the end of a busy afternoon surgery last week, I had the following appointment waiting for me -

'New client, elderly dog. Check over.'

Sounds fairly innocuous, eh? Not the kind of consult to lose any sleep over the night before, trying to decide how to approach it? Not the kind of consult to worry a young and ruggedly handsome vet? (Or me, for that matter). Well, that's what I thought as well, dear reader.

Just shows you.

Disposing of my used syringes from the previous consult, and wiping my table with a practised swish (just writing that has made me wonder how many times I've done that in my career so far...a depressingly large amount, I suspect. Hence why it's a practised swish and not an amateurish smear. Anyway...) I walked out to call in the next client. Readers of previous blogs will be aware that this in itself can be a bit of a minefield, and has on occasion led to me being mortally insulted in front of a packed waiting room. Well, this isn't what happened to me this time. Quite the opposite, in fact. Disturbing, but definitely opposite.

As I called the name of the animal, I was met by the sight of a woman, who I had never met before, light up with a broad grin (a broad, gap-toothed grin at that. I wasn't going to mention that as it doesn't seem relevant but there, I've done it anyway, further confirming to the minds of any American readers that we Brits have the worst dental care in the developed world. Oops) and say (well, t was more of a shriek, really)

'Here he is! It's NICK! Nick's come to see you!' (This last was said to her dog, just to clear up any confusion. I was certainly confused by this point)

She jumped up as quickly as her new hips would allow, and rushed into the consulting room as if she was a teenage girl heading for the front row at the latest Twilight movie.

That was just how the consult started. By the end of it she was singing my praises to the heavens. When she made her appointment for the following week, she apparently told my receptionists (in front of my next, somewhat shell-shocked client) that she would 'always have time for Nick', and threatened something to the effect of taking me away on a leash.

And what had I done, this paragon of veterinary medicine, to receive such effusive praise? I expressed her dog's anal glands. Apparently she had taken a shine to me when I called the previous client through. Well, I have this effect on women (elderly, toothless women).

This may seem something of a mean-spirited blog. Why I am complaining that I'm liked? Well, (and I may have touched on this point before from a few other angles, but what the hell, I'm going to make it again) the problem is it was undeserved praise. Nothing I could have done it that situation would have made any difference, she would still have walked out of the room floating on air as if I was James Herriot reincarnated. It had nothing to do with my skills as a vet, or my ability to talk to people. She just liked me from the outset.

And here's the problem - I've been on the other end as well. The sort of consult where the client's face darkens like a thundery sky when you open your mouth to call them in. It just seems unfair that you're arbitrarily judged, when it's nothing to do with your clinical expertise.

Now, I can understand it. A few blogs ago I was talking about how much I hate going to mechanics, because I know less about car repair than Jane Austin, and all I have to go on is how nice they are to me. This is, of course, the same situation that a lot of clients find themselves in when they visit the vets. There's an old saying at vet school - People don't care what you know, they only want to know that you care. The reaction above, extreme though it was, I suspect comes about because it is quite a nerve-wracking thing taking your pet into the surgery, and it comes as such a relief that the man calling you into the room doesn't immediately have the bedside manner of Harold Shipman that some people sort of...over-compensate.

(Sorry, there was a brief pause there whilst I went to get my fingerless cycling gloves, because I'm bloody freezing. I'm now tapping away looking like an entrant in an Extreme Typing competition)

I'm not that keen on having personal appointments, myself. I get a little depressed when I see an evening surgery that is full of little 'NM' markers, that means the client will only see me. Partially because I slightly resent the implication to the other vets that they can't do the job, and partially because I feel a bit more pressured not to let people down when I am, shall we say, 'the man' (No? Okay, let's not say that).

(Incidentally, I don't want to give you the impression that this is something unique to me - everyone in the practice has a similar string of personal clients. My boss has at least twice as many as I do. It's true that I get more than my fair share, but that's largely because I've simply stayed in the same practice long enough for people to remember my name. The point I'm trying to make is that it's no reflection whatsoever on how good a vet you are)

Well, there you have it. The cult of personality that grows up around vets in their practices. I understand it from the client's point of view, and I'm all for it if it reduces the stress of going to the vets, but I'll never quite lose my tiny twinge of depression that it's nothing to do with your skill in the job. (I should be careful what I wish for - imagine if it was a true measure of my medical knowledge and skills? Not sure I could face looking at the list of consults every day!)

So it goes. Whatever else I leave you with from this blog, you can take one thing for definite.

There'll be at least one more little 'NM' in the consult lists from now on. She's back next Friday. I think I feel a sickie coming on...

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