Medical genius or ice cream delivery driver; to close to call for some clients

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May 01, 2006



It happened in a little-known place called the Elwood Ivins Steel Tube Mill in Horsham, Pa. The year was 1968.

I was feeding the end of a large pipe into a mechanical glutton called the rotating swage hammer when the tail of my shirt got caught in the mechanism. Fortunately, I escaped a few seconds before the machine was able to start chewing me into half-inch pieces. My shirt was not as lucky. It succumbed to the fate that the device had intended for me. After that, I made it a point to keep my shirt tail tucked in at all times.

My point? It's simple. The clothes we wear can get us into sticky situations. Take, for example, the case of Dr. Flashing. She wrote to me recently to relate an embarrassing experience that occurred in her practice. When it happened, she was still a fairly recent graduate. Being a woman, she felt it appropriate to dress in skirts, feeling that they gave her a positive professional image. With the addition of white shoes at one end and a stethoscope draped around her neck at the other, she was the picture of clinical confidence. Then one day, the Gander family came in with their new puppy, Curtain.

When she bent down to pick up the little pooch, the earpiece of her stethoscope hooked the bottom hem of her skirt. Placing the patient on the table, she didn't know that the curtain had risen in more ways than one. In fact, it wasn't until she reached for the stethoscope that she realized why the Gander children were giggling. Her skirt was well about her waist. (Yes, the slip was hooked, too.)

Needless to say, a smooth recovery was almost impossible. Mr. Gander's face was crimson, and the children never did stop laughing. Dr. Flashing wears slacks now.

A similar, yet opposite, incident was related to me by a colleague, Dr. Kammi Flagje, a large animal practitioner from Wisconsin. She was new on the job and was going to Mr. Brandish's dairy farm for the first time. It was a bitter-cold winter day. Bundled up as she was in boots, coveralls, hat scarf and gloves, Mr. Brandish apparently did not realize that she was a woman. That would explain why, when she looked up from her examination of the cow, she was greeted with the scene of Mr. Brandish relieving himself into the gutter behind the stanchions. She felt it best to pay close attention to her patient until sufficient time had elapsed to ensure that Mr. Brandish had finished experiencing the draftiness of the barn.

In both of the examples, a colleague got into an embarrassing situation due to the clothes they were wearing. However, my friend, Dr. Target, wasn't even wearing the outfit that got him in trouble. It all started while he was vaccinating Mr. Quickly's Tom Cat, Spurt.

Not having the fastest of reflexes, Dr. Target got dosed with a good quantity of ripe Tom Cat urine (something we have all experienced). The trouble didn't come until three days later when he went to pick up the ill-fated outfit at the dry cleaners. The manager wanted to talk to him. In front of several other customers, he was told that they had to change all of their cleaning solutions because of him. Apparently, the entire store smelled like a Tom Cat the day they tried to clean those clothes. Furthermore, he was told that he would not be welcomed back if he ever brought in a similar problem. Naturally, after having been spoken to like that, he never went back anyway.

As a final example, I'd like to tell you something that happened to me during my senior year in veterinary school. (This was four years after my disagreement with the swage hammer.) On my way home from the teaching hospital, I stopped at the market to pick up some groceries. My clinical attire, including white pants and white lab coat made me feel that I was set apart from the crowd. Surely, I looked the role of a future medical genius. That bubble burst when I saw a lady point right at me, and say to her friend, "Let's be sure to buy ice cream today. It must be fresh because the delivery man is still here."