The trouble with texting your veterinary client

Even veterinarians aren't immune to messages lost in translation.
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Dec 01, 2012

When texting first came on the scene, I hated it. I told my daughters it was the stupidest thing ever invented and that it would never catch on. Boy was I wrong. And now I text more than anyone I know. I think it's great. I use it as a way to communicate with clients and still show concern for their critters—without having to listen to endless stories about irrelevant matters. But technology can still play tricks on you, however great it may seem.

The plot of this story involves two people who brought their horses to my clinic at about the same time. They were both from the Houston area and had the same area code. Now Houston is a long way from Lamesa, and I don't get many text messages from phone numbers with a Houston area code.

One horse was a mini that belonged to an older gentleman named Colin. We had done a colic surgery on the mini, and Colin stayed at our clinic for two weeks while the horse recovered and went through some complications. Colin spent every working hour at our place and got to know every horse that came through during that time.

Colin was a wonderful man and we became fast friends. He was 75 years old and just fell into our place like he worked there. He would feed horses and clean stalls. He knew what was wrong with every horse at the clinic. One of the horses, Bird, was of particular interest to Colin, since this horse had also undergone colic surgery and complications that were similar to his own mini's.

The other person with the Houston area code was a very wealthy woman who traveled all over the world and who owned a horse named Hiney. The horse had run its foot through a tin barn wall and sustained a terrible laceration that required intensive treatments. The client never actually came to the clinic, though. Her trainer brought the horse in and picked it up when it was through with treatment. But I would text the woman every day and give her updates on Hiney.

All of these introductions led to the event that occurred after Colin, his mini and Hiney had been gone from the clinic for at least two weeks. One day my phone buzzed with a text. Now I usually don't put people's names in my phone, since I don't want 10,000 saved phone numbers clogging up my address book. But I recognized the Houston area code on this number. The text read: "Hello Dr. Bo, I hope things are going well there in Lamesa. We have not received a bill from you yet and we need it to turn in to the insurance company. Thank you so much for all you do. You guys are great."

The first person I thought of was Colin. He had texted me several times to keep me up on his mini. (To be honest, I had completely forgotten about Hiney's owner and was not expecting to ever hear from her again.) So still assuming it was Colin, I sent him this text back: "Hello, my friend. I am not sure when bills are to be sent, but we just send them once a month so you should get it soon. Just finished doing surgery on Bird again. He developed adhesions and we wound up having to put him to sleep. Bad day here."

Remember, I thought I was talking to Colin about a horse named Bird—the one he had helped me work on while he stayed at our clinic. Imagine what went through my mind when I got the following text in reply: "So sorry. I love birds and am down on the coast where there are millions of them. Thanks so much for your excellent care of Hiney. Susan sent pictures and she looks fantastic. Can't thank you enough."

After reading that text, I sat at my desk and laughed for five minutes. At least I didn't send anyone a text saying, "I sure do miss your Hiney."

Dr. Brock owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas. For a complete list of articles, visit http://dvm360.com/brock.