Client talking doesn't necessarily guarantee information

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Nov 01, 2002

I entered the exam room and introduced myself as I always do with new clients.

That was before I realized that Mr. Siesta was fast asleep. His two dogs, Hale and Hearty, were wandering around the room. I repeated the introduction a little louder.

"Uh, hello, doctor," he said. "I guess I must have dozed off."

Since it was obvious the Mr. Siesta was not going to move from the chair, I picked up one of the pups and put it on the exam table.

"What brings you here today?" I asked, but when I looked back in his direction, he was gone again. I called a technician to help with the office call and made sure to do so loudly enough to wake him up. I repeated the question.

"I guess there must be some problem with the dogs, Doc. Didn't my wife tell you when she made the appointment?" he asked.

His answers to my next three questions were, "I don't really know," "Beats me," and "How should I know?"

This is what I call, in my office, "tenesmus history" because it's hard to squeeze any facts out of the owner. Still, I was able to diagnose the problem with ease. It was a case of "information constipation." (Mr. Siesta had the disease, but I was the one suffering from it.)

Under normal circumstances, with a quiet but knowledgeable client, the disease can be cured by putting a stethoscope in your ears. However, in this case, a phone call to Mrs. Siesta was in order. Unfortunately, I was forced to modify my original diagnosis. This was a case of the somewhat less common form of the disease known as "familial information constipation."

After further interrogation, I was able to glean that one of the pups wasn't acting right and the other "wasn't himself." It turned out (you are never going to believe this), that they had the two almost identical dogs mixed up. Someone had put the wrong collars on after their bath.

My technician and I showed great restraint in holding our laughter until they were out the door. Then I just about passed out I laughed so hard.

Not 20 minutes later, I found myself facing another diagnostic challenge.

This time it was Mr. Thesis with his Dachshund, Long Boy. Thesis doesn't understand the difference between a "true" or "false" question. Every answer goes on and on and on. He suffers from a severe case of "chronic verbal diarrhea." (One of the few things that cannot be fixed with duct tape. Although I have often been tempted to try it.)

Each time he finished one of his diatribes, I would try to change the subject.

"I'm sorry to hear that your marriage is not doing well, but let's get back to Long Boy and his problems," I said as I attempted to get a word in edgewise.

My next two responses were:

"Yes, that's an interesting story. That dog you had in the '60s must have really been something, but what about Long Boy?" and

"No thanks. I don't need to see the scar from your hernia operation. Can we get back to Long Boy and his problems?"

Did you notice the recurrent theme in my part of the conversation? Mr. Thesis didn't. The office call lasted just 10 minutes short of forever. When it was over, one unpleasant task was left for me to accomplish. I would have to give you, the practicing veterinarian, some horrible news.

Here it is: both of the diseases I have just described are incurable.

They are responsible for one of the ironclad rules of veterinary practice (you may write this down.)

There is no correlation between the amount of talking that a client does and the amount of useful information that you are able to get out of it.