The kind of people who spare all costs

The kind of people who spare all costs

May 01, 2007

Any office call involving Mr. and Mrs. Flipflop can be quite a challenge. They truly seem to love their pets, or maybe they don't. And nothing is too much trouble when it comes to their animal's welfare, or maybe nothing is all they are willing to do. It is hard to tell. The truth is, though, they usually are all talk and no action.

Such was the case one day last week when they brought in their dog, Stupor.

"You know how we feel about our animals, Doc," Mr. Flipflop announced. "We sure hope you can make old Stupor feel better. He is just like a member of the family."

"That's right," Mrs. Flipflop chimed in. "Even though we aren't the kind of people who believe in spending a lot of money on our pets, their health is our top priority."

I could see no reason to point out that they weren't making any sense. So, I asked what sort of symptoms the pooch had been showing.

"He's just not been himself lately," they answered.

Sometimes when people say that, I put down the medical record and say, "If he isn't himself today, who is he? I'll go get the record." In this particular case, it seemed wiser just to move on to the next question: "How long has it been going on?"

"We aren't the kind of people who tend to panic and rush right in over every little thing," Mrs. Flipflop answered. "We like to wait and see if things will get better on their own. Anyway, Stupor has been sluggish for almost six days now."

I knew this dog. I had seen him at the low-cost, humane-society vaccine clinic a few months ago. He had been huge. His current condition told me that he had been sick a lot longer than they were willing to admit.

Mentally, I applied something that I call my "square-root rule." Simply stated, clients underestimate time as the square root of the truth. For example, if someone says, "Please wait for me at your office after closing time; I can be there in 7 minutes," the actual time will be much closer to 49 minutes.

Now, applying my rule to the current case, I felt that 36 days gave me a much closer estimate of the length of the dog's illness. His physical appearance certainly seemed to bear that out.

"He seems to have lost a lot of weight," I told them. "Have there been any other symptoms?"

"No, nothing at all, except he doesn't eat anything," was their reply. "You know what kind of people we are, Doc. If there was something that seemed more serious, we would have had him here earlier. By the way, he can't walk."

I recommended some tests and radiographs even though I knew in advance what they would say. "We're the kind of people who don't believe in doing a lot of sophisticated tests on animals. We were hoping that you could fix him up without getting all crazy about it. Sometimes you vets overdo things. You know there are a lot of people in this world who don't have the benefit of all these sophisticated things. Besides, we wouldn't want to see Stupor have to go through a lot of discomfort and expense."

I listened patiently as they continued to share their warped philosophy.