Honest, it doesn’t bother me if you ask

Filed under: @ 10:51 am

Very, VERY soon after I got my DVM I realized that my professional life was going to be inextricably entwined with my personal life.
I wasn’t but three or four days past graduation when a neighbor came knocking at the door of our trailer in the wheat field next door to the Whitman County landfill outside of Pullman. Their cat, he said, had gotten into it with a coyote (looking back on this I can tell you for sure it wasn’t a coyote that their cat had fought with, but that is beyond the point) and had an abscess. The farmer that owned the property on which our trailer sat had told him that I was now a veterinarian and could I come and help? At that point I was so new in my profession that my DVM still squeaked when I turned around too quickly, I was unemployed, worried about my future, and bored out of my skull sitting in our trailer in the middle of a wheat field. OF COURSE I would come and help their cat.
There wasn’t a lot I ended up being able to do. The neighbor held the cat down while I opened the abscess, expressed out the goo, and flushed it as best I could with hydrogen peroxide (and why the cat didn’t immediately eat his owner in an attempt to get away is still beyond me, but that, too, is beyond the point). I told the neighbor that the cat really needed antibiotics, but since I didn’t yet have an official license I couldn’t prescribe anything. Despite my protests he insisted on handing me a $20 for my help.
Having cut my teeth on James Herriot, I was certain that my veterinary career was off to a roaring start.
I got a job, we moved, and I started learning that the realities of modern veterinary medicine are NOT like what is detailed in James Herriot. One of the most major differences being that there are, in most communities, after hours emergency veterinary hospitals so those people whose pets had medical problems when I wasn’t in the office had no real reason to call and wake me at godawful hours of the morning.
Granted that the definition of godawful changes based on the person and the day in question, but in my case the next experience I had with having my professional life interfere with my personal life was the idiot that called me at 0630 on a Sunday. It was a sometime client of the hospital that I worked for, I had seen her dog once. She had found my home phone number in the phone book and had called me because her dog had been vomiting all night. When I, somewhat testily, told her that she should call the local ER, she told me that she’d already talked to them and that she didn’t like what they had told her (again, the voice of experience now tells me that they told her that she’d have to have the dog examined before they could help him at all and that she didn’t want to pay for an exam, but like I said before, it’s all beyond the point). Having been yanked out of sleep at 0630 on a weekend and having had the instinctive reaction that everyone has at getting a telephone call at an unreasonable hour on a weekend, i.e. that the telephone was ringing to inform me of something drastic having happened to a family member, I was a little less than pleasant when I told the silly twit that I couldn’t help her, that I (big fat lie) didn’t even have a key to the hospital and I couldn’t go and see her dog. I slammed the phone down and called the telephone company to have my number changed and de-listed.
As an aside…. I have maintained a de-listed telephone number since that day. When I moved from Olympia a lot of my former clients were looking for me and since I hadn’t told my then ex-employer where I was going to be going they weren’t able to relay any information to people who called to get appointments specifically with me. Matt, whose initials of course, match mine, lived in Olympia as well and did have a listed telephone number at that point. He told me later that he had received more than a few phone calls from people who had seen the M. Hammond in the phone book and called him to see whether or not he was me. Loyal brother that he is he didn’t tell any of them that he was my brother and told them all to piss off.
We moved to Burien and ended (shudder) in a neighborhood where we did NOT fit. Large numbers of dogs in the neighborhood, large numbers of whom wandered the neighborhood all day. Next door neighbor who thought it was a good idea to scoop the dog crap out of his yard and dump it in a corner of ours (“But Aaron never minded it when I did it when HE lived there!”). Next door neighbor whose two large lab type dogs roamed all day whose daughter crowed to her mother in my hearing “Mom! Buddy got into a fight with another dog and I played that I was the veterinarian and put a band aid on his cut!”. I decided early on in our time living there that NO ONE in the neighborhood would know what I did for a living.
I’m not sure how the neighbors learned what I did although since I did work close and at the only local emergency hospital I’m sure that someone saw me or my car at work and at home and then put the pieces together. The one time that ended up being a nuisance was, in hindsight, almost laughable.
A few months after we had moved in I was at work and a large and aggressive dog managed to pop his muzzle off and nail me in the shoulder and upper arm. I ended up at the local ER where they cleaned the wounds, gave me a tetanus shot, and filled me full of antibiotics and pain killers. By the time I finally got home I felt, and this is not exaggeration, like death warmed over. Thanks to the tetanus shot my un-bitten left arm was swollen and throbbing, I was bruised and swollen from clavicle to elbow and oozing serum and iodine antiseptic solution from my right arm, and the combination of antibiotics and pain killers had made me so dizzy I could hardly stand. I was lying in bed watching the ceiling spin and hoping that I’d just throw up and get it over with when someone came banging frantically at the front door. Andrew got up to answer the door and found a gaggle of neighborhood urchins with a kitten. The kids said that the kitten had been treated with dog flea control product the previous afternoon and had been having seizures ever since. Their parents had told them that a veterinarian lived here and couldn’t I come out and save their kitty? Andrew was beautiful. I heard the front door slam and Andrew rumbling then he came back inside and they left. He’d told them, he said, that I was sick and that I was a VETERINARIAN not a veterinary HOSPITAL, that I had no capacity to help their kitten at home even if I wasn’t sick, and if their kitten was so sick that they were coming to bother me that they should just save some time and have their parents take it down to the local emergency hospital. Whatever impression he made on them at the time it seemed to stick. Outside of having constant problems with barking and shitting dogs, we never had anyone from the neighborhood disturb us again.
In the neighborhood where we currently live I would doubt that there are more than three or four people who know what I do. A benefit, certainly, I have colleagues whose neighbors have presumed in every conceivable way on their professional capacity.
Family and friends, of course, ALL know what I do. And this brings us to the point of today’s missive. In 15 years of practice I have ONCE been bothered by having family or friends impose on my professional capacity. It was a friend of a friend type situation where my home phone number was given to someone I’d never heard of and I was called at home by a perfect stranger to discuss breeding poodles. After I pitched my snit at the dude on the end of the phone I called the perpetrators and pitched my snit at them. For family and friends I will always be available for veterinary advice. For casual acquaintances I will NOT. I treat my parents’ dog, my brother’s cats (both in person and over the phone). I’ve offered advice for in-laws and cousins, I’ve aided in referrals for friends. So y’all really don’t have to worry about asking. If you’re one of the few who knows my home phone number or my personal e-mail address you’re in. Be assured that I will give you my honest opinion, and the best options available to you under the circumstances. It’s incredibly liberating to be able to offer my opinions without first sugar coating them in professional-talk. And don’t worry, if you annoy me by asking I’ll be sure to let you know. Just don’t call me at 0630 on a Sunday. 😀

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