Once the exam room door closes, it’s time to get personal with pets and their owners. Asking questions about a pet’s care at home is an important part of the exam. That’s why we veterinarians usually ask indelicate questions such as: What does your dog’s poop look like? Or, how large is the clump of litter after your cat goes in its litter box? Veterinarians talk a lot about body fluids it seems. We talk about vomit, urine, diarrhea, nasal secretions, and other unsavory matters with our clients. I guess once you’ve talked about such nasty things with people, they begin to talk more freely about other personal matters.
Behind the closed exam room doors, many clients choose to share very private health information with me. Almost daily I make a diagnosis that mirrors some health issue going on in a client’s family. For example, if I hear a heart murmur on a pet during my exam, the pet owner might share with me that they also have a heart murmur. If I diagnose diabetes in a pet, the owner might already have insulin and blood sugar testing equipment at home because they too have diabetes. Recently, when I diagnosed liver disease in a cat and prescribed a certain medication, the pet owner broke down in tears and sobbed that he had just lost his wife to liver disease and so still had a bottle of that same medication at home. At times like that I lose my composure.
Recently, clients have begun to share personal financial information with me once we are behind closed doors. I think these disclosures increased while the U.S. Congress was also behind closed doors trying to make the debt crisis go away. Many of my clients are seniors who survive on Social Security or families economically devastated by the Great Recession. This past week the clients were frightened. Many of them requested “just the minimum” for their pets because they feared their next check wouldn’t arrive in August. More clients paid only with cash. Some clients even told me they are struggling to support their family on $250 weekly unemployment checks, and have done so for the past year. A few clients said they have lost their homes and are now sharing living arrangements with blended families and blended pets. Yet, these clients still try to provide basic veterinary care for their beloved four-legged family members. These sorts of disclosures also make me lose my composure.
My job is to advocate for the pets who cannot speak for themselves. It is up to me to advise pet owners on the best course of action to prevent disease, diagnose problems, and treat medical conditions. Given the state of the economy these days, my job is tough. I have great compassion for the clients who are frightened and challenged financially. I have great compassion for the small business where I work trying to provide a living for all the staff members. I hope our elected representatives have compassion for all of us. If they would like to know how the debt crisis affects their constituents, I invite them to spend a few hours behind closed doors with me. A dose of compassion would be good for what ails us. It’s just what the doctor ordered.
Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, Florida
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