Enough blame to go around

Enough blame to go around

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Sep 01, 2002

Each of us receives the occasional "thank you" note or letter of praise from a grateful client.

If you are anything like me, you have a drawer full of them somewhere. The one I saw recently, however, was too good for the drawer. It was suitable for framing.

Even though the writer's cat had died while in my care, the letter had a glowing tone that would make you think that my mother had written it. Apparently, according to the letter, I could do no wrong. If my efforts failed, then surely no one else's would have been more successful. I was hailed as a miracle worker and a should-be role model for all veterinarians. Unfortunately, I'll never know who the letter was from because it didn't actually exist. Before I finished reading it, my receptionist woke me up to tell me that Mrs. Inkort was on the phone. Apparently, I had been desk dozing, something I often do for 10 or 15 minutes between lunch and afternoon office calls.

"Hello, Doctor," the dreaded phone call began. "This is Althea Inkort calling about my cat, Docket. I'm sorry it took so long to get back to you, but I wanted to consult my attorney before deciding how to proceed. You know, Docket was perfectly healthy when I brought him in there, so I just couldn't believe it when you told me he died."

At this point, I wondered what planet she was calling from. The cat was a seriously ill, unstable diabetic whose kidneys were failing.

When she dropped him off, he had one foot in the grave and was standing on a banana peel.

Her monologue continued.

"I think you should do an autopsy to see if you did anything wrong. My lawyer suggested having one done elsewhere, but if I do that, they might charge me for it. I figured that you would be willing to do it for free since his death was probably your fault."

I briefly explained my view of the situation to the party of the first part and went to see my first office call. It was Mrs. Tofu with her dog, Scratchy.

"Doctor," she said, "Scratchy has a sore foot. I think it's your fault. Another vet told me that you shouldn't have given him cortisone for that rash last summer. Cortisone isn't good for dogs.

One glance at his foot showed that he had two ingrown nails due to a simple case of owner neglect. I asked if the other veterinarian had seen the foot.

"Well, I didn't actually talk to him," she said. "I read it in the newspaper. It was in the pet advice column by Justin Inkslinger, DVM. He said that you veterinarians use too much cortisone and that we should have treated the rash with a high fiber diet and oatmeal soaks. And he ought to know because he is a real veterinarian even though he doesn't practice."

I explained the foot problem in terms that even she could understand. It didn't matter, though, because she wasn't listening.

No sooner had I recovered from her visit than Mr. Void was on the phone.

"Hello, Doctor, this is Warren T. Void calling," he announced as if I should be honored.

"It's about my kitten who died in your hospital last week. I think I know why she got sick. When I asked the pet store to replace her they said that she was too young for those vaccinations you gave. That's why they never give shots to the puppies and kittens in the store. You should have waited until she was 6 months old."

I had heard that line before from people who purchased animals at Pricey Pets, a less-than-reputable local pet store run by Alice Buylow and her partner, Tanya Markitup. Somehow they always find a way to renege on their guarantee. Once, they told a client of mine that their puppy got parvovirus because I said it was OK to feed Poochie Platter after they advised feeding only the Yuppie Yummies available exclusively at their store. I informed Mr. Void that he should insist that they honor their commitment, because, quite frankly, they were wrong and I was right.

Later than evening, I found myself glad to be in my own home where I seldom get blamed for things. And, when my youngest son's homework prompted him to ask, "Dad, who shot President Kennedy?" I was able to look him right in the eye and say, "It wasn't me."