When clients think that they're the veterinarian, everyone loses

Dec 01, 2010

Mr. Toolhead has a one-track mind. While my world revolves around the sun, his revolves around auto-mobiles. This became painfully apparent the very first time that he came to my office with his cat, Sandbar.

The diagnosis was easy, and the explanation was simple. (So was Mr. Toolhead.) It took several repetitions of my standard urinary blockage lecture, but eventually I saw the proverbial light bulb flick on over his head.

"Oh, I get it, Doc," he said. "You mean it's just like a clogged fuel line. I guess we have to clean out the filter, right?"

"You could say that," I told him. "Cats don't actually have a filter, but we can remove the blockage."

"Are you going to do it, or are you going to show me how?" he asked.

I assured him that it would be better if I took care of it. The treatment turned out to be both uneventful and successful. Two years went by before I saw him again. "We've got a whole 'nother problem this time, Doc," he said. "Sandbar is acting tired, and he keeps his mouth open when he breathes."

The cat was obviously in respiratory distress. I explained that the cat's lung sounds were muffled and his respirations were labored.

"I don't get it, Doc," he said. "Doesn't muffler trouble make things louder, not softer?"

I told him that things were different in animals and had him stick around while we took some X-rays. The problem turned out to be a diaphragmatic hernia. After giving him several simplified thoracic anatomy lessons, the light bulb went on again.

"It all makes sense now," he said. "What you're telling me is that Sandbar has the exact same thing as a leaky gasket on a cylinder head."

"You might say that," I told him. (You might say that, but you'd be wrong.)

Time was of the essence. I helped him set up an emergency appointment with Dr. Carver, a local surgeon, and sent him right over there.

There is more to the story with this particular wrench turner and his wheezy cat, but first I have to tell you about Mr. I. Ken Dooit.

After his last visit, he felt that he had been overcharged.

"What? You've got to be kidding! Are you actually going to charge me for this visit? All you did was to trim a mat in the fur."

Naturally, there was more to it than that. He had presented his dog, Logjam, with a severe constipation problem. It was one of those deals where a tangled mat cemented with feces caused a complete obstruction of the anus. The surrounding skin was raw and painful. (Ask me if there were maggots. You betcha!)

We had sedated the pooch, clipped the fur and cleaned the skin. Ointments were used for the irritation and antibiotics for the secondary infection. The whole process took two people nearly half an hour.

"I can't believe you're going to charge me for something I could just as well have done myself. I'm going out and getting a clipper of my own in case this ever happens again." (Good luck with that.)

I. Ken Dooit and his dog came to mind because of my last telephone call from Mr. Toolhead.

"Doctor," he began. "Remember when we decided that Sandbar has a condition exactly like a bad cylinder gasket? Well, that surgeon you sent me to wants an arm and a leg to fix it. I can take the top of an engine apart, replace the head gasket and put the whole thing together in under an hour. Why should he make five times as much money as I do?"

I had an answer. I told him, "You'd be worth as much money as he is if you could do the repairs the way he has to, with the engine running."

Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.