Consulting is an art, not a science. No matter how well you know your medicine (and I am certainly not claiming any special expertise in that department), a consultation can often be spun in an unexpected direction by what we shall charitably call 'the human factor'.
Yesterday afternoon, I opened up the medical file of my next consultation - a booster vaccination for a cat. Something about the surname rang a bell, but I hadn't seen this cat before, and the client didn't seem to own any other animals. Something still nagged at me, however, so I clicked another button in the top right-hand corner of the screen. The button is marked 'Show deceased'.
Three more animals appeared under the clients name, all cats. The names all sounded familiar. Sure enough, I had seen all of them. Not only had I seen all of them, it was me that had been with them for their final consultation. I had put all of the owner's previous cats to sleep. The most recent had been several years ago, and try as I might I was saddened to find that I couldn't bring any of the cases to mind, or the client. Nevertheless, I was glad I had checked; I didn't remember the client, but it was a fair bet that they would remember me, having euthanised three of their previous pets. Now, at least, I could show a little tact, caring and diplomacy in the consulting room, even though I was just vaccinating their last remaining pet.
I stepped out into the waiting room, and quickly located a tall man sitting with his daughter, a cat box on his knee. I smiled at him, and with a quiet, respectful demeanor I called his cat's name.
The man looked up, smiled, and nudged his daughter in the ribs. 'Oh hello!' he called, cheerfully. 'It's Doctor Death!' He stood up and cheerfully walked towards me, while his daughter and I competed on which of us would rather a hole opened up in the ground and swallowed us up.
The man continued his own brand of peculiar gallows humour all the way through the consultation. 'Careful, Misty,' he said as I plucked the black and white cat from it's box. 'He should have a scythe, not a stethoscope!' I smiled politely while his daughter rolled her eyes and folded her arms, staring at the floor.
'Yes,' I said, trying to lighten the mood as I drew up my vaccination. 'It's a happier occasion, today, isn't it?'
'I'll say!' said the man. 'At least we won't need a coffin at the end of it!' I felt like saying that if he kept this up, then I couldn't promise anything, but I remained as ever, calm and professional. Still, it was a surprise that I had no memory of this man. If he was like this during a vaccination, God knew what he was like during an actual euthanasia.
'All done,' I said, putting his surviving cat back in it's box and closing the door behind it. 'There,' I said, smiling at the man, 'All of us made it through in one piece!' The man smiled and winked at me. His surprising attitude was growing on me. There was no malice at all in him. Why not be cheerful? The cats weren't suffering, and I had done a professional job. Doesn't joking about a dark subject make it something less to fear? Maybe we could all learn something from his attitude. I was starting to decide that perhaps I rather liked him.
I opened the door and let the man, his embarrassed daughter and his still-alive cat out to reception, where upon he announced loudly to the packed waiting room, 'This is the first time one of my pets has seen that vet and come out alive!'
I shut the door, and decided that maybe the best thing would be if a hole opened up in the ground and swallowed him instead.