Thursday, December 13, 2012

How to disgust clients and horrify people

New puppy visits make my day.

I usually get to check out a playful little creature that wants nothing more than my full attention for a few minutes. When I’m doing the physical exam, I rarely find any serious problems.  I get to talk to clients in the lighthearted way I do when things are going smoothly- I can relax, because I don’t have to give anyone bad news.

One day recently, I was doing one of those appointments. I had never met the client before, and was very conscious of the first impression I was making. The Ewok-looking puppy on the table had done its best to lick me to death and was very happy to hang out in the technician’s arms while the owner and I talked.  We discussed the vaccines and dewormer I had just given the new addition to the family.

“Oh yeah, I saw a couple of worms earlier this week. They were really long. What were they?”  the client asked.


“Those were probably roundworms. They’re very common in puppies, and the dewormer that we gave will kill them. You’ll probably see more tonight, and that’s OK.  If you will, please get your kids to wash their hands especially well for a few days until the dewormer has time to kill them all.”  I replied.

The look on her face had changed instantly from cheerfulness to concern. “Why? Can my kids get them?”

“Well, yes they can, but deworming and good hand washing are the best ways to make sure that it doesn’t happen.  It’s not common in healthy children and people with normal immune systems, but it never hurts to be cautious.” I was trying to hard to keep the mood light. I was about to fail, and I didn’t know it.

“What happens? What should I look for?”

I sat down in one of the exam room chairs. I had to find a way to give necessary information to the client while not sending her into a full panic.

“Well, a few things can happen, but one of them is that they migrate into a child’s eyeball and cause blindness.” That statement had the effect I was afraid it would. The woman’s jaw was slightly open in an expression of disbelief.  This was not what she expected to hear… her puppy, the epitome of cuteness, was harboring eyeball destroying monsters. And it slept in the bed with her children. So much for the light mood.

At this point, I figured I had nothing to lose, so I just told the client what I was thinking.

“You and I just met, and I hate having conversations like that with people that don’t know me very well. The problem is that if I don’t have those conversations, I’m just not doing my job- and I haven’t done either of us any favors.”

Thankfully, she understood that I wasn’t trying to scare her or exaggerate things, but she had asked me a direct question and expected a direct answer.  I just felt awkward having to give it to her.

I try not to frighten people, especially on their first visit with us. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out that way.  Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t scare her away and I’ll get to see her and her Ewok again.