Treatment protocol for a chatty veterinary client

Dealing with a pet owner who's allergic to silence? I found the cure.
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Sep 01, 2013

When you're with a patient, sometimes you just need to stop and think. You know what I'm talking about—those moments in an exam that require a tremendous amount of concentration. It's during those moments when a little peace and quiet would be nice.

My client Tera—a five-foot-tall, ball-of-fire barrel racer—brings her world-class horses to me, and usually the problem is a subtle lameness that requires my full concentration. The problem is that Tera is a talker. And when I say "talker," I mean this little gal has a pathological aversion to silence. She'll make sure something is being said all the time and fill in the gaps with questions.

This particular day found me working up a difficult lameness for one of her horses. I was digging deep into my gray matter trying to piece together the clues of why her 7-year-old gelding was three-tenths of a second off. But every time I began to ponder the results, she would let loose with a volley of questions. Eeeesh!

The last thing I wanted to do was hurt her feelings by asking her to be quiet, so I began looking around for something to occupy her for a little while. She was rambling on and on about a horse she rode 10 years ago that had acted a little like this one, when it occurred to me that her constantly moving hands were a vital part of her conversation. I began to wonder what would happen if I could somehow still those hands. Could it possibly stop the talking?

As she entered the fifth or sixth paragraph of her story, I simply handed her an empty syringe case. She took it and continued on without so much as a comma. Next, I handed her an empty bottle of mepivacaine, which she gladly accepted with her other hand and rolled right on.

This was getting kind of fun. I was starting to wonder how many things she would hold before she actually looked down to see what they were. So I handed her a pair of hoof testers. This momentarily stopped the chatter. It was heavier and there was no readily empty hand, so she placed them under her left arm and continued to blabber.

I maintained eye contact and occasionally nodded my head to make it seem like I was listening very intently, but I continued to hand her things. Next it was an earpiece from an otoscope that was sitting next to me on the counter. After that an extension set, still in the package. Next was a digital thermometer and the case it came in. At this point, her tempo slowed a bit. It was now almost impossible for her to move her hands, which obviously was causing the conversation cortex in her brain to sputter.

I stopped handing her stuff for a second to see if she would stop and notice the random set of objects she was holding. Nope. Time to hand off some more items.

Next was a package of 2-0 suture, still in the plastic. Then a pair of rubber gloves I had just taken off. Not enough? How about a three-inch-tall stack of four-by-four gauze?

This finally stopped her ability to move both hands. She now had to hold some of the stuff between her arms and tummy. When this happened, all talking came to a standstill. But she still hadn't looked down.

A few moments passed in silence. Then I couldn't maintain a straight face anymore. She finally asked what I was giggling about.

"Thanks for holding all that for me," trickled out the corner of my mouth. She looked down and assessed what all she had in her possession. Then she started laughing too.

"I guess you figured out that I can't talk if I don't move my hands. Well, I was just getting to the good part," she said, moving to set all of the stuff down on the counter.

"Oh no!" I bellowed before she could empty her hands. "You have to hold all of that until I've had enough quiet time to figure out what's wrong with your horse. Then you can set it all down and start telling me the story again."

Now every time Tera comes into the clinic I greet her with an armful of meaningless stuff. I tell her if she can't be quiet, she's gonna have to hold it all until I'm done.

Dr. Bo Brock owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.