There was one week last May that brought a series of strange circumstances and odd problems to my usually smooth-running office. Tasks that normally received top priority suffered neglect, while we concentrated on less important office jobs.
I can weather mild catastrophes such as a computer breakdown or a donut shortage, but this was far more complicated.
It all started when two of the receptiontists called in sick.
Under normal circumstances, this wouldn't faze us. However, two other people were away on vacation at the time.
Out of desperation, and after careful deliberation, I made a daring decision. I decided to ask my wife to come in and help out at the office.
Like many practices, mine started out with my wife serving as chief assistant in all phases of the operation. Then, as things became more comfortable over the next few years, her participation became more and more limited. Finally, her involvement was reduced to occasional remarks at home such as: "Someday I should go in there and show them how things ought to be run." And, "We never had problems like that when I was running things."
Shortly after her arrival in May, I noticed that she did not seem to tackle the office jobs in the same order that I would have wanted.
Filing piled up while she put all of the waiting-room plants on an intensive health-care program. Half of her first morning was spent watering, pruning and pep-talking our plants back to vitality.
No sooner were our photosynthetic friends off the critical-care list then she launched an assault on our accounts-receivable list. Between office calls, I got the third degree about every delinquent account. "People wouldn't have gotten out of the office with bills like this when I was running things," she said.
By the second day, she had half of the staff doing tasks that I didn't even know existed. They were dusting in places that even the dust didn't know about. The freezer was defrosted for the first time in seven years. Any waiting room magazine more than two years old was culled from the herd.
Occasionally, I found myself feeling a little self conscious about having my wife around. I'm not complaining, mind you, but one sure sign of spring in my area is a marked reduction in women's attire. This phenomenon has always irked my wife. If she had her way, we'd keep a rack of full-length lab coats in the waiting room and hand them to any female between the ages of 9 and 90 who wore an outfit more revealing than an official NASA space suit.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that the textile industry gives up much of its ability to restrain the anatomy of Americans as the weather gets warmer. I will also admit that I occasionally take a moment to observe this phenomenon. However, I don't spend anywhere near as much time watching as my wife spends watching to see if I'm watching.
But there were advantages to having my wife in the office. For one thing, we're normally too polite for our own good. Our team members know how to treat each client as if he or she is always right. Furthermore, no one is to make waves except the boss, and the boss doesn't make waves. My wife doesn't abide by this code of conduct. In fact, she says whatever she pleases. In our practice, it works out well.
You see, children normally wreak havoc in our office. If there was an electronic urchin-control machine on the market, my practice would be the first to buy one. On the other hand, if my wife were always in the office, we wouldn't need one.
For example, when Lotta Kinder came in for her office call with all four kids while her husband waited outside in the van, my wife didn't hesitate to ask: "Do you take your dog along when you take the kids to the pediatrician?"
Could there be two sides to working with your spouse? I suppose there could be. So, before you sit down to write an angry rebuttal, please stay tuned. Next month's column will tell a wife's side of the story. After all, we believe in equal time.
Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.