We, as human beings, are constantly looking for answers. Sometimes we are so lost in ourselves searching for answers that we are blind to how requesting assistance affects others. I wish I were naturally more patient, but I’m not. I generally have to try to be patient. Being a receptionist for over a dozen years does that to a person.
One day at the vet clinic was particularly rough. We were packed with appointments as usual, but a clients dog had been hit by a car. He brought it straight to us, as he didn’t know what else to do, and, because my veterinarian is a warm-hearted person, the dog was immediately brought to the back for emergency surgery. It was up to me to help the vet techs with anything I could and to keep people calm to let them know their appointment might be late due to the unfortunate circumstances. Most people (yes, only most, not all) were understanding, but it was still a stressful afternoon.
Sometimes it’s cruel beyond measure when time stops, and yet everyone around you continues with life as normal.
As it did for me.
“Thank you for calling South Congress Vet. How can I help you?” I am more often then not always perky when I answer the phone, even when stressed. You know, first impressions and whatnot.
“Hi!” a girl chirps from the other end. “I’m – and I’m coming to pick up five Eskie rescue dogs. Can you tell me where you’re located?”
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“Sure!” I replied. I’d been expecting the rescue to send a woman to pick up their adoptable pups that we had been boarding, and I had the dogs in our kennels all ready to go. “We’re at 3300 South Congress Ave, just north of Ben White Boulevard and across the street from Saint Ed’s University. We’re a little peach colored brick building.”
“…Yeah, but can you tell me where you are.”
I got this question a lot: I won’t tell you where I am, but I want you to tell me how to find you.
“I would need to know where you are or which direction you’re coming from. What’s your address or major crossroads near you?”
“I’m near HEB.”
I paused because I thought there would be more. Obviously she must just be taking a moment to figure out her locale. HEB’s are the grocery store in Texas, they’re numerous in every city, and there were at least three within a two mile radius of the vet clinic. When nothing else came I said delicately:
“Ma’am, there’s almost a dozen HEB’s in the Austin area.” This may have been an exaggeration, but only a slight one; there are actually nine. “Do you see any street signs near you?”
“There’s a Taco Bell across the street.”
I heard the clinic door open and glanced into the waiting room: A mother, her daughter, and their new puppy were waiting for a check-up appointment…and were giving the man whose dog had been hit by a car a look as though he was a pervert. Disheveled and red faced, he had stopped crying, but only just, and was still waiting for his dog to come out of the emergency procedure. Another client who had entered a few minutes earlier was filling out our client forms and our schedule listed the many more to come. I had to get off the phone quick.
“Ma’am, we’re very busy and I want to help you. In order to figure out how to properly give you directions I would need to know you’re exact location.”
“Oh, I don’t know that.”
“Could you go inside and maybe ask an HEB employee the address of the building? Or maybe someone near you in the parking lot?”
“I can see a McDonald’s.”
“Ma’am,” I was starting to rush and, frankly, get angry. I couldn’t help but speak to her like a child, with an almost condescending inflection.
“I cannot give you directions without knowing your location! Please ask someone near you, in a car or in the store where exactly you are, and that way I could tell you exactly how to get here.”
“Well, my GPS can tell me ‘exactly where I am’, but I just know I’m lost.”
That bitch just said “GPS”.
Are you fucking kidding? Deep breath now before I split in twain from bitterness and anger and End of Times comes spewing forth from the chest of a receptionist in Austin, Texas.
“Wait – You have a GPS system in your car?” It was taking all my strength not to shout, but I’m sure every vein in my forehead was quite visible and ready to burst. The people in the waiting room had picked up on the conversation, and even the crying man was looking at me in interest.
“Oh, totally! I’m from San Antonio – I don’t know my way around Austin! But, like I don’t know, I just don’t want to trust it, you know? I don’t know where I am, so how can it really be showing me where I need to go? I don’t trust it.” I could still hear a smile on her face: she had no idea how frustrating she was being, no sensing of urgency or annoyance from my end, and absolutely no intention of aiding herself.
I, on the other hand, could hear my heartbeat in my ears.
“Ma’am, please turn on your GPS,” surprisingly hard to say through gritted teeth, “and please hold.”
It wasn’t a question. Without waiting for an answer I hit the hold button just as hard as I could.
And there I left her. In the limbo that is Hold. We had clients coming in waiting to be seen, we had an emergency surgery going under anesthesia. There were four people total working at our little clinic, and I had no idea how to help the woman on the phone. So I took a page from Jesus: I chose to help those that helped themselves.
Photo Credit KarlsKats
I did feel slightly guilty, in case you’re wondering. I do still when I think about this. But everyone has had to be put on hold by a receptionist at some point in their lives, and I wasn’t doing it maliciously: there were clients waiting, being held up with pet medical issues, because this young girl didn’t want to listen to her GPS or ask for an address. Sometimes people just want the answers they want and they want it immediately, without a thought of who are what they’re impacting by holding up the line, so to speak.
She wanted magic, and I’m no Penn Jillette.
I got to work helping the others. I took deep breathes and, within a few minutes, I had forgotten about her. Alone and on hold.
I had forgotten about her until about twenty minutes later when, quite miraculously, she appeared in our waiting room. All cheery and spunky, no less. When I saw a bright dullard prance into our office, I instantly knew who she was, the memory of the phone call came rushing back.
And her cheery disposition annoyed the shit out of me.
“Hi! I’m here for the five Eskies! They’re about 30lbs each, right?” she asked. She had a single leash around her neck.
“Yes,” a stated dully. I had no energy to even fake a smile. “Do you need more leashes; there are five dogs.”
“Oh, no, I’m all set. I’ll go grab the carriers!” She flittered out. She flittered back. “Here ya go!” Grin, grin.
I looked at what she brought me, completely unsurprised that it was all wrong.
“Ma’am, these are cat carriers. And there’s only two.”
“Yeah, but they’ll fit, right? The dogs are, like, 30 pounds each?”
I look at her. If this emaciated, Juicy t-shirt wearing, peroxide blonde could lift a single dog weighing thirty pounds – let alone four at once crammed into tiny carriers – I would eat my hat.
“Yes, the dogs are standard Eskimos and roughly 30 pounds. Each. No, the five dogs will not all fit in two carriers rated for a maximum of TEN pounds.”
I stared at her. Over time, and mostly due to my mother, I learned that nothing can spur shame like a good stare. I wasn’t being any more helpful in person then I was on the phone, but I wasn’t trying to be rude. I was at a loss and the rest of the people in the waiting room stared at us with entertained and mildly morbid interest. I just wanted a thought, any thought, to cross her mind. After the mood in the room noticeably changed from cool to downright chilly, I felt she may have gotten the point enough for me to get on with my day.
The doctor’s assistant finally got the chance to bring out the dogs from the kennels and I moodily helped the Lost Girl secure the five dogs to the inside of her vehicle with various pieces of rope. The mayhem inside her car would have been slightly lessened had most of the little coupe not already been occupied by her own personal dog on top of the five rescues. His incessant barking wasn’t helping either, as the other dogs were getting more and more excited with each yelp, and Lost Girl seemed only capable of infant babble as a way of reprimand. I ditched the dogs in her “care” as soon as I could. As I walked back inside she stuck her head out her car window and yelled:
“YES?” I spun around too quick to hide my obvious annoyance. Three clients and a crying man were still waiting for me inside. She was too time consuming an individual for someone who was just picking up rescue dogs. And I was concerned; I didn’t feel confident leaving the five rescue dogs in her care, but legally I had to. I just wanted this experience over with.
“Hey, I was just wondering. I wanted to ask what kind of birds you have?”
“I beg your pardon?” I demanded, rather than asked.
“What kind of birds?!?”
“Ma’am, this is a dog and cat clinic. We do not treat birds.” I continued my retreat through the public parking lot. I looked up to see the man and a client standing in the doorway waiting for me. Shit, I was needed back inside!
“But then who owns them?”
I turned on my heal, any patience I had mustered completely gone. “Ma’am,” I growled, “I don’t know the birds you’re talking about!”
That’s when she gestured wildly toward the random bird droppings that littered the sidewalk under a tree outside of our clinic.
Holy shit. No pun intended.
“AAAAAARGH!” I stomped away. No, it wasn’t mature, and it wasn’t professional. But I was young, busy, and I didn’t know how to even begin to explain to this Grade A Moron that birds exist in the wild.
I charged past the clients in the door, into the clinic and retreated behind my desk.
As I plunked down into my swivel chair, I heard snickering from the other side of the counter and knew that all those waiting in the lobby had heard what occurred outside. I was annoyed that the Lost Girl wasn’t thinking outside of herself, I was annoyed we had such a busy afternoon. I was annoyed over the safety of the rescue dogs. I was really annoyed I didn’t have a good zinger for her bird comment. And if in the very off chance she said it just to screw with me, why would she mess around after seeing the chaos inside the office? I sighed heavily and dropped my head, staring at my shoes, trying to think of a mantra to let it all go.
Hearing a voice snapped me back to reality. It was the man waiting for his poor old girl lab mix who had been hit by a car, eyes still slightly puffy and red from the shock of her surgery, waiting for news of his beloved pet.
“Oh!” I rose, suddenly feeling so guilty. “Mr. –, I’m so sorry, I’ll go ask about Gretchen right now, I’m sorry, is there anything I can get you?” I was knocked right back to normalcy and the words just tumbled out. I genuinely felt for him.
“No – no, it’s not that. I know the doctor will come see me. I’m okay. I just wanted to tell you, about that blonde girl –“
“Oh, god! Did you know her? I’m didn’t mean- I’m sor –”
“No! No. I just wanted to tell you: I would have killed her.”
I’m sure it’s wrong, but I have to admit, his sentiment made me smile.
And his dog was fine, by the way.