Urban Jungle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2007, 12:00am

This week: the perils of unpredictable clients

Don't undress for the vet! Being a veterinarian is not all work and no play - and there are certainly lots of hilarious things that happen behind the scenes. Animals and their owners can be very silly, and at the very least, very unpredictable.

There was a client I first met working at a clinic on Cheung Chau. I remember it was a routine visit and she had brought in a mongrel puppy for a check-up. She was kind-hearted and had picked up this little black dog near her place on a nearby island. It had a runny nose and was on the emaciated side of skinny.

Nothing we couldn't handle, so we treated it with an appropriate antibiotic and various drugs to dry up the nasal discharge. We taught the owner how to give the proper amount of nutrition and she was a very good, attentive and a patient learner. Since being a vet on Cheung Chau could be rather quiet, sometimes I went swimming while waiting for the next client. On this day, we were particularly quiet and she was the only scheduled appointment for the day, so I figured I would spend more time with this client.

Often during consultations the conversation gets diverted to general chit-chat not related to animal husbandry. So I learned that she was a primary school teacher on the outlying islands. She was keen for her students to learn more about keeping pets, teaching them responsibility and respect for life. She sounded like a great teacher. The 'consultation' took about two hours and eventually she had to catch the next ferry home. I thought no more about it and never really expected to see this lady again.

A few months later while working at a clinic in Wan Chai, a familiar name appeared on the appointment schedule. It appeared the very same lady was bringing a new kitten to see me. So I got the nurse to call in the next appointment and she strode into the room, but something was amiss. Sure it was hot that day, but the outfit she was wearing was not becoming of a primary school teacher, and she was also wearing heavy make-up. It was a stark contrast to her conservative presentation during her last visit. But I thought nothing more of it and got down to the serious job of treating the animal. I started asking some basic questions about the kitten, but all the client did was blink her wide eyes at me through her mascara eyelashes. It made me very uncomfortable. She said the cat had a skin problem. Checking the cat, it turned out the little guy had a serious case of ringworm. Ringworm is a fungus we call a zoonosis, which means it is contagious to humans. On the cat, the symptoms are typically a round area where the fur has gone and there is often a ring like scab in the bold area.

I pointed this out to the client, saying: 'Your cat has ringworm on its underbelly; see this patch of hair loss?' She then said in a quite matter-of-fact manner, 'I know it has ringworm, I caught it too,' and started to pull her top down to show me a lesion near her left nipple. That totally caught my male nurse and I by surprise, my jaw dropped and he fumbled the cup of tea in his hand, spilling it over himself. I quickly said, 'It looks like a ringworm lesion,' and looked away.

I was sure I was blushing severely and quickly told the client that it was easy to treat the problem on the cat and I would dispense an antibiotic that should fix it in no time, and rushed her out the clinic door. I turned around and caught my nurse staring at me and we cracked up laughing for at least five minutes before we recovered our dignity.

Talk about clients being unpredictable. A couple of weeks went by and what we feared came to pass - it was time for the kitten's vaccination. The lady came into the room with a dreamy look. I tried to go through the basics of kitten care as efficiently as possible, gave the kitten a clean bill of health, vaccinated the little guy and rushed the lady out of the room before anything strange could happen.

I quickly realised in my rush I had forgotten to listen to the little kitten's heart through the stethoscope. There were at least 20 clients in the waiting area and I figured it should be safe to go out there and listen to the kitten's heart. So I headed outside and quickly told the lady that I had forgotten to listen to her kitten's heartbeat, placed the stethoscope in my ears and began to move the diaphragm end towards the animal's heart. I was dumbfounded when the lady grabbed my hands and moved the diaphragm towards her heart! I jumped backwards and hit my head on the wall, and with as much dignity as I could muster, casually walked back in to the sanctuary of the clinic room.

Just to clarify things with the readers, it's wholly unnecessary to undress in front of a veterinarian even though he has the title 'doctor' before his name. We are not accustomed to clients taking off their clothes, and our animal patients rarely need undressing.