Welcome to this week's edition of Memoirs of a Forty Something Fat Chick. This go around I wanted to share an experience I had two days ago that still has me reeling. It's just one more item in the "Why I Should Retire Now" column.
For those of you who're just joining us, I'm a veterinarian and contemplating retiring at the end of May when my husband retires from the Coast Guard. I've been doing the same job for twenty years now...yep, that's the big Two Oh. I've seen and done a lot of things through the years and have learned a lot. Up until the last few years, I've been able to handle all the stresses that come with this job: long hours for low pay, dealing with terminal illnesses of my patients and the quirks of their owners.
Two days ago I "fired" one of these quirky clients. It's the first time I've ever done that and I'm beside myself—actually mortified is a more apt description. How could I let this woman get under my skin this way and push me over the top?
For over twenty years as a veterinarian, I've been able to do the "keep smiling" and kill them with kindness sort of thing. Or I would just keep silent while they bitch and moan. Usually I can wait them out and when it's my turn, I let them have it with both barrels—in a calm, controlled soft spoken voice.
So what the hell happened this time?
I can't take the bullshit anymore. I'm at a point in my life I have ZERO tolerance for the kind of behavior my now former client put me and my staff through. This woman screamed at one of my receptionists in the morning for over ten minutes and never gave her a lucid answer at to why she called in the first place. She called back and finally said she wanted to leave me a message, but again not a clear cut answer as to what was going on with her cat.
Later in the day, the client arrives with her cat. Immediately after checking in she announces to a lobby full of people and their pets, "I gave Mr. Whiskers the medicine you guys messed up on. You know, the one he needs or he dies."
She of course was exaggerating. At the beginning of November, we didn't order a medication she needed because we couldn't figure out what the heck she was asking for. We finally got it figured out and yet she blamed us. "You guys are just too big a hospital. You don't know what anyone's doing over there. I should just find another vet, but it would take too long to break them in."
My staff of course smiled and took her abuse with grace and dignity while she continued to make an ass out of herself in the lobby. Clearly in a manic phase, she paced all over the lobby until we got a room free to toss her in. She couldn't stay in there and kept walking in and out of it until I walked in.
I checked out "Mr. Whiskers" and only found a small recurrent swelling on his lower lip. She insisted he was in pain and wanted me to tell her why. I explained my exam findings and he'd always responded to pain meds and antibiotics for his lip swelling.
"Well do it! I can't stand him like this. I have so much going on in my life. I can't deal with this. I'm trying to make some real money again and now with him doing this I just can't think."
"Doing what? He's fine. You've caught his lip issue early this time. Please calm down. You're making him upset."
"I think he's having flashbacks because the painters are over and the color is the same as the old house. That's where I had my cancer. I was so sick and had so much chemo..." She paces up and down the room tugging at her hair.
Now I know I'm in trouble. Once she starts in on talking about her issues, I'll only have a small window to break through and get her to listen to reason. "Okay, let's not focus on your problems. We're here to talk about "Mr. Whiskers." I can't help you with your issues. We've talked about this before."
"I am focusing on him but you don't understand. I just don't ever get a break. It's go go go. I have so much running around in my head. Oh and I put Bactine on the lump on his lip and it got better. He told me with his eyes it got better."
This is where my head began to throb and the room spun. "Don't put Bactine on anything on a cat. We already told you not to do that. It can be very toxic."
She glared at me. "It worked. He's all better."
"Really? Then why did you bring him here to see me?"
"Because he's in pain? Can't you see that?" She jumped up and waved her arms around. "He's having flashbacks. I just know it. He's reliving all the pain I went through during my cancers."
"Focus on him now, please."
"I AM FOCUSING ON HIM! I don't want a pity party but I just don't every catch a break. I don't want people to pity me."
"THEN STOP! Stop talking about your own issues for one moment and just focus on your cat."
"Well you guys messed up his meds. Of course I'm upset about that and I never got an apology from you today for what I've been through."
This is where she really crossed the line. We did apologize to her repeatedly even though it was actually her own fault. We had no idea what she had called us for from her rambling messages. Instead of arguing with her further on the subject, I switched gears. "I'm sorry you've had to go through—"
"I will not accept a patronizing apology!"
That did it for me. "Let me finish before you interrupt."
"No! You will not patronize me. I've got too much stress."
"That's called LIFE. All of us have stress and deal with it to function and work. I can't help you with your issues but I can help your cats. I'll not apologize to you for something that's been taken care of and apologized for repeatedly."
"You have too many doctors here and have to refer to the record all the time. You should just know what's going on with all of your patients at all times. You don't need any records for that. Why do you all have to get my record to see what meds "Mr. Whiskers" is taking? You should just know! I have too much going on in my life to remember it all. I can barely take care of myself and now he's having flashbacks to my cancer."
"Enough! I'm done. I'll get the meds for your cat and then I will never see you again!" I marched out of the room. My body shook with rage. This woman belittles my staff on a weekly if not daily basis and I simply had enough. Tears filled my eyes from the anger and the embarrassment. I had to scream at her to make her hear me. I've never had to do that before and I've never walked out on a client like that...ever.
My next client heard the entire exchange. He hugged me in the exam room and said I lasted longer than he would have under the circumstances. He made me feel marginally better but my behavior to me was unacceptable.
Does this mean I'll tolerate less and less as I get older? My birthday is in thirteen days. Will I become an absolute ogre like one of the grumpy old men?
The next day, after a restless and nearly sleepless night, I shuffled in to work where my office manager and medical director told me I had handled it the only way the woman would allow. Nothing else had worked. Since I stood up for myself and the staff, I had nothing to be embarrassed about. Because of this incident, it was her last chance. My manager sat down at his desk and drafted a letter informing the client we'd no longer provide her any veterinary services.
This was more than I had expected. I knew I wasn't going to see her again, but the rest of the doctors and staff no longer wanted to either. My outburst actually saved all of us a more headaches and frustration.
Does that make me feel better? A little more but still I'm upset for letting her push me to explode. I used to be better than that. Okay, maybe I was just too young and naive to believe that the client isn't always right. I work in a service industry as well as medicine. Dealing with the public is a part of my job, but taking their abuse isn't.
My guess is now I've reached a point in my life where dealing with mean and belligerent clients isn't worth it. I used to enjoy getting up and going to work each day, but now I dread it. Clients like this woman have caused me to be feel this way. They zap my energy to the point I can't relax on my days off.
With my health issues, stress makes them much worse. In fact, stress lead to me developing them in the first place. I had so much going on in my life that work used to be a safe haven for me—a place to escape the sadness that was in my life. I had gone through divorce, betrayal of an old friend and loss of loved ones. Work was my only relief.
Now I'm remarried and incredibly happy. I no longer escape TO work, but FROM it. I don't like that either. I need the balance again. One way or another I'll not let a client get to me like this again. There will be ground rules for our doctor/patient/owner relationship right up front so there's no misunderstandings on either side.
After all, we're both there together because we are about the same thing—the health and well being of their pet.
So no more! For my own heath and sanity NO MORE. If I'm happy, those around me will be happy so that's my goal for the New Year.