Working with spouses: Way to form a more perfect union

Working with spouses: Way to form a more perfect union

Apr 01, 2010

As humanitarians, you will be pleased to hear that my mailman is recuperating nicely and will be returning to the job in a few weeks. I am relieved since his injury was at least partly my fault.

It all started when I wrote last month's column about my wife coming in to help out in the office. Apparently, I gave many people the impression that I do not truly appreciate the veterinarian's spouse in helping to run the professional practice as well as his or her personal life.

When the issue hit the fan, many of our profession's husbands and wives sprinted to their computers to put me in my place. Do I owe anyone an apology for comments I have made? You be the judge as I present some excerpts from recent letters.

The wife of a New York colleague writes:

"I often help to screen after-hours telephone calls for my husband. Sometimes, he gets to sleep through the entire process because the phone is on my side of the bed. By the way, about one third of the night calls are from people who are unable to reach their 'regular veterinarian.' Their use of that phrase is annoying to me. Exactly what is a regular vet? Is this some reference to colonic motility?"

Another woman wrote about her frustrations with some people.

"One client in our practice is responsible for about 80 percent of our total aggravation. His name is Ira Tik. There always seems to be some unexpected crisis that keeps him from getting to scheduled appointments on time. Usually, it's something like finishing his dinner or needing a hair cut.

No inconvenience is too great for him to put us through. One night, he called while my husband was out of town. After referring to himself several times as a 'good customer,' he made a small request. It seems he had a bad case of the flu and wanted to know if I could come to his house and walk his dog, Luna. It seemed like a reasonable request. (Oh no, wait! That was his opinion.) I remembered seeing Luna Tik in the office. She is criminally insane. Take the personality of a killer bee and put it into an 85-pound sack of ugly, and you've got Luna.

Naturally, I declined the offer to confront her at night on her own turf. I explained that I couldn't help him because I had children to watch at home and the baby was asleep. He wasn't inclined to take no for an answer. Then, the baby woke up and started to cry. Mr. Tik could hear it and responded quickly: 'Good,' he said, 'now that your baby is awake, there is nothing to stop you from bringing the kids over and walking Luna.' I hung up on him."

You can see from these letters that the problems described are not unfamiliar to our spouses. They are frustrations that are shared equally by both partners. And that's the way it ought to be.

One letter from the husband of a veterinarian proposed a plan to shake up the status quo:

"Three cheers for veterinarians' spouses. We deserve recognition for the role we play. Why not organize? I don't mean that we should join an auxiliary organization or anything like that. I think we should unionize. Please print my name and address in your column so that any husbands and wives who are interested in forming a union can contact me."

Well, I may or may not owe an apology to our spouses for what I wrote. You can be the judge. However, I do need to apologize to those husbands and wives who would like to unionize. You see, I accidentally lost that would-be organizer's name and address.

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