A Wish For More Listening & Less Lecturing

This isn’t the post I planned to write this week, but it’s On My Mind, so it’s the post that happened.

I could also title it, “An Open Letter to the nice veterinarian I won’t ever visit again.” But it’s mostly a rant dressed up in extra-ness, so if that’s not your thing, best skip to the cat pics at the end.

Hello, there! You seem like a good veterinarian. You have good credentials, you have years of experience, and you appear to be a knowledgeable, personable, and perfectly nice human being who loves animals. This is a great vet practice. I’ve worked with another vet & several techs here and had a phenomenally good experiences with all of them. That’s why I came back.

And yet after the one visit with you, I’ve asked the wonderful front desk staff to put a note in my cat’s file: make sure I am never scheduled with you again. Never. Ever.

Why not? (I imagine you wondering) Why would a brand new patient–patient’s owner, to be precise–so intensely reject you after so little time? Welp, a lot of reasons.

The TL;DR edition: Hi there! Maybe ask a few important questions BEFORE launching into the Clueless Pet Owner” lectures and making one-size-fits-none recommendations? Oh, and while you’re at it, save the nutritional guilt-tripping for someone it won’t emotionally demolish. KTHXBAI 4EVAH

Long-form version follows. (btw, I’m not going to name anyone. It’s an excellent vet practice, and like I said, you seem like good people who love animals, & I don’t want anger directed at ANYone.)

It starts the moment I walk into the practice. Your tech “greets” me with a folder full of vendor promotional materials touting products All Good Pet Parents Must Have, along with a vaccinations & wellness schedule for treatments your records should have shown you were already done.

Flustered & bewildered, I anxiously point out that Pips had already had everything on the vaccinations list, that he’s only there for a wellness check so we can schedule his neutering. The tech’s pivot is NOT to ask any clarifying questions like, “Oh, has he been here, we thought he was a new patient?” or “Were you taking him to a different vet?” Nope. They immediately take out the vaccination schedule and begins going through it as if I hadn’t spoken. When I repeat myself, they move on to asking whether I have any specific concerns about Pip’s health.

Beginning with a simple “Hi, is this your first visit here?” before handing over a mass of “buy this stuff or you’re a Bad Pet Parent” propaganda might have cleared up a lot of confusion. A few active listening questions about my pet’s life so far and/or my history of pet ownership seem like obvious basics to get a conversation going. But no. I was handed a folder, and the tech began explaining the schedule at me.

(Pro tip digression: if you must give out pamphlets, let the reciptient read the material in peace for a few moments in silence. Otherwise it sparks information overwhelm/brain shutdown for many of us.)

At this point in the visit, less than five minutes, the tech taking Pip’s history is neither taking me seriously nor listening carefully. This establishes that my pet is being stuffed into the category of A Case, aka A Bundle Of Symptoms. Mistakes are more likely to happen when that’s true. This is scary.

(Spoiler alert: my fears prove real; either the tech doesn’t accurately repeat what I say about Pips, or you, the vet receiving the report, don’t accurately interpret it. Either way, it’s another red flag. More on that later.)

ANYway. Your associate has eroded my trust before we can begin to build a relationship. I’m now feeling increasingly nervous about how Pips will be handled in the Mysterious Back Room where pets are taken for the real exams these days. But you don’t know any of this because you don’t meet me yourself before examining my pet.

Now, Pandemic times means you need to limit your contact. I get that, and I respect it.

But if you are NOT going to meet your patients’ owners even once before handling their animals behind closed door, you need to recognize that pet lovers will be sick with worry and defensive about the wellbeing of their animals by the time you do meet them. Also, a presentation of “brisk professionalism” will only feed the fear that my animal was getting “Interesting Medical Specimen” treatment rather than empathetic, caring, careful treatment.

The way you went from the barest of hellos into “everything looks good, he’s healthy” (‘m paraphrasing) and then straight into an explanation of how you listened for heart issues since he’s a Maine Coon and might have Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy–well. That really grated on me, especially when you added the trivia nugget that most cases of HCM are silent so there’s no way of ruling out later development.

I mean, congratulations, you’ve shown me how knowledgeable you are about the breed. Great job. Pat on the back. But SHEESH. If I wasn’t already knowledgeable about HCM, that would’ve been terrifying.

As it happens, I know Pip’s lineage is clear of HCM, so he’s got as good a chance as possible of avoiding it, AND I’m not breeding him, so there’s no “be responsible about genetics” aspect–but it still jangled my already hyperactive nerves to have it be your main, obvious focus.

It was one more indication that you see him as An Interesting Case more than a furchild.

Next up, you demonstrated you and your tech aren’t communicating by telling me the tech told you I was concerned about my cat’s meow being strange. WTAF. What I said was, Pips makes a weird noise inside his nose when he sniffs at things, something I’ve never had any other cat do, and I was worried it might be a sinus issue.

(I’m still wondering, since you did not address it. Did you even examine his nose or mouth? Are his teeth healthy? He’s teething. It wasn’t on my concern list, but given all the other trust issues, WHO KNOWS IF YOU EVEN LOOKED? I DON’T.)

At this point, I now doubt you’re hearing anything I say, and my anxiety level? Reaching low Earth orbit, propelled there by the way you indulgently brushed off my actual concern as ‘cats make funny noises, it’s pollen & dust season. It sure looks from where I’m standing like you’ve categorized me as Clueless New Cat Mom worrying over nothing. You don’t know me, do you? This is an ASSUMPTION.

Your body language indicates you consider our interaction is wrapping up satisfactorily, with all my concerns allayed by your confidence. Not that you ASKED me if there was anything I might have forgotten earlier. Not that I was in any fit state to remember anything by then.

So to finish up, you ask what I’m feeding him, like it’s a social question rather than the interrogation trap it turned out to be. Once you hear I’m feeding him KITTEN KIBBLE (O, the HORROR) you damn the brand with faint praise and deliver a trainload of unsolicited feeding advice in an “I know better than you because I’m an Expert” tone.

That’s where our possible relationship went full crash-and-burn. When you told me (again, paraphrasing) “You need to be putting him on part or all canned food as soon as possible, and here’s why, according to All The latest Recommendations,” I snapped.

Was it diplomatic of me to flatly turn you down by saying, “that’s not going to happen?” No. Was it confrontational? Sure. Put someone on the defensive for several straight interactions and then gut-punch them with a massive guilt trip, they’re likely to lash out in desperation.

It hasn’t even been 2 months since my beloved Pip’s littermate had to be euthanized due to an incurable, degenerative, congenital condition. I do not have the emotional endurance to deal with owner-shaming.

Did you query why I was so adamant in my disagreement? NOPE. You trotted out All The Usual Phrases in your attempts to bludgeon me into compliance. “Cats are obligate carnivores, dry food has too many carbs,” “cats evolved from desert animals and have a low thirst drive, they need moisture from their food,” and “cats don’t like change, gotta start changes early,” blah, blah, fuckity-blah.

Here’s the thing. You might as well have told me, “I will now use all my Expert Words to overcome your ignorant, I do My oWn rESaRch objections.”

And I understand that impulse. IDMOR objectors are legion. But challenging you doesn’t make me wrong. It means I disagree. You could have asked why. We could have had a discussion. But no. You simply kept listing dire health consequences until I insist I understand and I’ll see how things go, and you begin to realize Things Aren’t Going To End Well.

Maybe free-feeding my kitten dry kibble is sentencing Him To disastrous UTIs, Diabetes, Obesity and Early Death, but was it a necessary part of the evaluation for a 6-month-old kitten who has a great body condition score? I don’t know. I do know it left me reeling from emotional overload.

Look. I am not a veterinarian. That’s why I GO to a veterinarian. But I am neither stupid nor ignorant. I have a degree in biology & 30+ years experience working with kittens & cats in a variety of settings. I research scientific topics as a professional necessity and also for FUNSIES. Yes, I track down primary, peer-reviewed material, check methodology, and investigate citations & related works (among other things) on numerous topics of interest. It’s what I DO.

You bet I’ve done a damned lot of primary journal dives on cat biology and behavior in general, Maine Coons in specific, and medical issues in particular. Expert catchphrases don’t soothe me. They’re like fresh wallpaper. The walls beneath might be great or moldy. It looks the same, and that makes me instantly wary.

I need a professional partner in my cat’s care. Someone who will treat me like the well-read, intelligent, committed caregiver that I am. Part of that is recognizing that questions about diagnostic conclusions and objections to recommendations are learning gaps to be filled or legitimate differences of informed opinion to be discussed, not ego challenges.

Treating disagreement as an obstacle to be bludgeoned down is not a partnership behavior. It’s bullying.

FFS, I just wanted to confirm Pippin was healthy before getting him snipped & chipped. I was not expecting to get run over by the “You Bad Pet Parent, iF yOu dO NoT Do AS I SAY, YOUR PET IS DOOOOOOOOMED” freight train.

But that’s what happened.

It isn’t my job to teach you how to not accidentally humiliate and emotionally bruise your patients’ owners. It isn’t my job to convince you I’m justified in making educated, needs-based choices that don’t mesh with your “latest research indicates” talking points. I am too old and cranky to deal with this shit, and I will not subject myself or my pet to it again.

But I do wish you well in your work with your other clients now and into the future.

–Sincerely no love, KM

Hello, reader friends! Still with me? Wow, you are dedicated. <blows kisses>. As a reward, have some new pictures of cutie-pie Mister Pippin. Now that I have this vet issue off my chest, maybe I can focus on the WIP or at least a decent post-con roundup. (Gen Con was phenomenal. It deserves a post.)

But for now: KITTEH:

tabby kitten seen through the metal grid of a pet carrier door
Sleepy kitty weirdly loves his carrier.

That’s all for now. Until later!

One thought on “A Wish For More Listening & Less Lecturing

  1. Oh my. They really f’d up that visit didn’t they? Ooomph. I would have a very hard time not mailing them (the Vet and the Tech) a copy of this post, but understand why you might not want to spend that energy, especially if you want to keep using the practice.
    Hugs to you and scrittches to Pippin!

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