Smooth-talking Dr. O fells unsuspecting Arnie

Smooth-talking Dr. O fells unsuspecting Arnie

Apr 01, 2003

It was not a particularly unusual office call.

Mrs. Latherlips was foaming on about something irrelevant while I waited for the opportunity to get a word in edgewise. I had triggered her monologue by inquiring as to the reason for her visit. This led to an avalanche of useless information.

First, she felt compelled to share an amusing anecdote about her neighbor's dog. This was followed by a description of every pet she had ever owned, an explanation of her views concerning pet over-population and an attempt to show me the scar from her recent operation.

Finally, she proceeded into what I call a non-history. She told me everything that the pooch ever did, while skillfully avoiding anything that resembled a straight answer to one of my questions. Interestingly enough, she went home apparently happy with the service at my clinic, even though I had no idea what she came in for in the first place.

My next office call was with Mr. Windtunnel. His cat came for routine vaccinations. Mr. Windtunnel came to educate me. He began with a lecture on several ways to improve my practice. A soliloquy on national health care reform followed. He then began jumping from subject to subject, solving the world's problems one at a time. It took 10 minutes to extricate myself from the conversation.

Later at lunch, I told my friend, Arnie, about these two office calls. Both were clear examples of one of the axioms of veterinary practice. In this case, it was axiom number three which states, "there is no correlation between the amount of talking that a client does and the amount of useful information that you are going to get out of it."

You may recall that last month, I spelled out several of the axioms (or rules) of veterinary practice. You don't? In that case, go check the bottom of your parrot's cage and review that article. I'll wait...

O.K. Let's continue. Since that article appeared, several colleagues have called to ask me for a list of the 13 rules. I have decided to do the next best thing by going over a few more of them this month. Arnie is going to help me. I broke that news to him as our lunches arrived.

"Don't get me involved in any of your nonsense," he said. "I don't like being in that silly column of yours. Besides, if you got stuck with a couple of threes, that's your problem. I haven't seen a three for weeks."

All of a sudden, Arnie started to choke. His face was red and his eyes widened. There was no need for the Heimlich maneuver. What he was choking on was the realization that I had tricked him into breaking axiom number four, also known as Murphy's Law of the unspoken. It says: "You may think anything that you please, but if you say something out loud and it's bad, it will happen."

Merely by mentioning that he had avoided threes lately, Arnie had sealed his own fate. He was now doomed to spend that afternoon treading water in a sea of useless information. I welcomed him to the April column.

"I'm going to get even with you for this, Mike," he said. "I pride myself on having a smooth-running office. We like to avoid aggravations, and you may have just changed my percentages in axiom number eight."

(Number eight says: In veterinary practice, 90 percent of the aggravation comes from 10 percent of the people.)

"Take it easy, Arnie," I said. "A master client handler like you shouldn't have any trouble. I've seen you glide through situations that would tie me up in knots. Your hospital policies are so effective and your staff is so good, that you could master any situation. He seemed to calm down. I had used axiom 12 on him: "You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar, but you can catch the most flies with a shovelful of manure."