I think I might be right in guessing that most of us didn’t join the veterinary profession because we like talking to humans, so it comes as something of a surprise quite how much talking to the pet-owning public is involved in general practice.
Communicating with the general public can be delightful, frustrating, inspiring, depressing, maddening, gladdening – and occasionally, completely baffling.
For your reading pleasure, here are a couple of veterinary vignettes of the latter variety…
Get yer rocks off
The client was of the “ageing rocker” variety – an immense man squeezed into a tired-looking Rammstein t-shirt and motorbike leathers (even though I was pretty sure I saw him getting out of a VW in the car park), with a greying beard that would have made ZZ Top proud.
The chocolate Labrador puppy in his arms looked like a jelly baby balanced on a blancmange, but it seemed very happy with its owner, licking his face and wagging its tail as the man lifted it down on to the table for me to examine.
“A new arrival, I take it?” I asked, settling into my usual patter.
“Got him last night,” the man replied, tickling the dog’s ears as I gave it the once over.
“No sign of mites,” I said as I checked the puppy. “Heart sound fine, no murmur. No hernias.”
My hands reached the back of the dog to check all was okay between the legs. It was.
Now, normally at this point I’d say something along the lines of “All feels fine there, everything that should be there is in place,” but that little euphemism had always bothered me – I have learned it’s generally better just to say what you mean to avoid communication problems, so I had recently decided to use a different approach.
“Two descended testicles,” I said matter-of-factly.
The big man’s eyes widened and a grin spread across his face. He lifted the pup high in the air, its tail wagging in front of me like an excitable helicopter.
“Heyyyy,” the rocker said in a delighted voice. “That makes two of us.”
I didn’t know whether to be happy for the pair (or should that have been quartet?), or disappointed that I wasn’t involved in this testicle-buddy moment. Being British, I decided the best strategy was to brazen it out and ignore the situation. Clearing my throat, I began to discuss vaccinations, while deciding that maybe some euphemisms weren’t such a bad thing after all.
Only one of the three young Polish women spoke English – or at least spoke it well enough to converse with a vet, as she had apparently been nominated the spokesperson of her group.
“Well,” I said, examining the wound on their little cat’s ear. “All seems to be healing fine. I think we can sign her off now.”
I smiled up at the small group. The not-unattractive interpreter turned to her expectant friends – or possibly sisters – and quickly translated. Smiles spread across their faces, and one of them gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up as I returned their cat to its box.
“Good news, thank you very much,” the young English-speaker said. I smiled and nodded, trying to look modest.
My natural inclination was to gaze off into the middle distance, and say stoically “Well, I’m just doing my job, ma’am,” before spitting out a wad of tobacco onto the floor, but I may have watched too many films. Instead I smiled and nodded and said “I’m very glad she’s feeling better.”
The girls picked up the cat box, and I turned to the computer to write my notes. Then I stopped. The young spokeswoman’s hand was on my arm. I looked at her, and she raised her eyebrows, a half-smile on her face. Her companions stood behind her, grinning. The woman lifted her hand to the zip of her hoodie and slowly began to undo it.
“Um…” I said, wondering if I had fallen asleep mid-consult.
The woman smiled wider as her hoodie slipped open to reveal… a pair of wide, red braces over her t-shirt.
“Er…” I added, helpfully.
The young woman hooked her thumbs under the braces, and pushed them outward, purring in thickly-accented English, and thoroughly rolling her Rs: “Rrrrrrock on Tommy!”
The three girls grinned at me, delighted to have successfully completed what they obviously considered a vitally important ritual in British etiquette – second only, presumably, to the classic “Luvvly Jubbly”.
I nodded and smiled as they exited, and wondered if it was too late in my career to get a job where the general public didn’t feature quite so heavily.