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How to deal with a difficult client?
29/07

It was a quiet moment, a rare and valuable thing in the practice I was locuming in at the time. It was so frantically busy that you seldom got to take more than a hurried gulp of your cup of coffee before some urgent task popped up. I was chatting to one of the other vets. He looked tired, worn, big dark circles under his eyes.

“Rough night on call, eh?” I asked him.

“Oh god…” He took a deep breath, and inhaled half a cup of coffee. “I was dragged out of bed twice. A cesarean on a dog, a calving – and it was cold and grim out there, I tell you!”

I looked out the window into the grey, cold, windy day, and grimaced in sympathy.

“Those were at midnight and 3am, so I was right in the depths of my deepest sleep when the phone rang. It took me five minutes of incoherent mumbling for the calving before I could get the poor farmer to understand a word I said. The one that really got my goat was in the middle of my dinner the day before yesterday. This lady was so demanding, and rude, and difficult. Her dog had a sore eye, and what do you know, it had been worrying the dog for three days. Three days!!! And then she rings me in the middle of dinner.”

“You gotta love those ones, don’t you,” I said. “Nothing cheers you up like a difficult client, especially after hours.”

He rolled his eyes, and continued. “We all have one now and then, don’t we! So I’ve come into the clinic, and she kept me waiting for 30 minutes. I nearly gave up and went home. She bustled in, all “What are you going to do to help my dog?” and “You’re not Tracey” (the boss), and “How long have you been out of vet school?” And talk! She wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise, went on about this, that, and the other thing for ages. In the mean time I was looking her dog, and wistfully listening to my tummy grumble. He had a nasty ulcer, all right. Then something in me snapped, and I drew myself up tall, and this is how it went.”

“Don’t you realise how serious this is?” I asked her. “Your dog could lose his eye! You’ve neglected this for three days, and now it could even burst. Then all the insides would ooze out, and we would have to operate and take his eye out.” That silenced her, I tell you, she went pale, and swayed a bit, I thought she was going to faint. “Here are the drops, and now you need to give your little dog these drops every hour, 24 hours a day, WITHOUT FAIL! Here, watch me put some in, and go straight home, keep him quiet, and I will book you in to see me the day after tomorrow to see how he’s going.”

“She scuttled out with her tail between her legs,” He told me, with a weary smile.

“Jeez,” I laughed. “The most you’d normally do is four times a day!”

“Yep,” He chuckled. “She came back in, and she looked like I felt today. Tired, wrung out, exhausted. And you know what? That ulcer was completely gone! It would normally take a week at least to totally clear up. And she was treating me with immense respect. I’ve never snapped like that before, and it was a bit naughty, but damn it felt good!”

“Good onya!” I told him. “I really don’t blame you at all – and it was a win win in the end, anyway!”

The organised chaos of the clinic reached out and sucked us both back into it’s frenetic embrace, but I smiled to myself as I went back to work.

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