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?”
Photo Credit unknown
“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.
I used to volunteer one day a week in a Veterinary Clinic. I did this for a number of reasons, the primary one being that I really loved who I worked with. The people there are wonderful. Pet owners, however, can be a breed all their own.
It was a very small veterinary clinic. There was one doctor and only two exam rooms. We were basically an ENT for dogs and cats. We would do minor surgery, but no emergencies. We were just your primary care physician for your puppy or feline, appointments only, rigid schedule due to our size, but always happily refereed and recommended doctors for emergencies. We would always squeeze unscheduled people in whenever we could, but it is simply not always possible. As far as clientele goes, we handled anyone in Austin and anyone willing to drive to us…and there are a lot of eccentric people in the surrounding hill country. Very unique and I guess peculiar would be the nice way of putting it. Don’t forget: a lot of horror flicks take place out here.
We all have dealt with odd people in our daily lives, we all have been those “crazies” to someone else at some point. It’s what makes life interesting. And this encounter was interesting.
On this morning, as I organized the charts for the full list of appointments we had that day, a car pulled into our lot. The driver of the car was a woman dressed in a uniform, a state or city worker, with a badge on her chest that shone in the sun when she got out of her new model Nissan. She went over to the passenger side and removed from the car a lumpy and squirming pillow case. She strode in our door, sack in hand, and I greeted her warmly, as I do all our patients and their owners.
Let me just note here that cat carries are always preferable. That being said, it is not uncommon for people to transport their cats in pillow cases. I’m not kidding.
She grunted at my hello and sat down. I began to ask what we could help her with this fine morning and for her name so I could check her off the appointments list. Her answers were…well, it was as though she knew what she wanted, wanted it done, and didn’t want to deal with logic. In fact, it seemed even paying attention to anything was out of the question.
I asked what she needed, she responded with something about crazy drivers. I asked if we could help her pet in the pillow case, and she was upset with the weather and angry at metal. I don’t know if she meant technology or cars or the genre of music.
My outward queries of her needs became inner queries of wonder: just how did she get on this planet? It seemed she was trying to get care for her cat in the most confusing and angry way. She was very animated when she spoke, doing so with sudden, sharp hands gestures, arms swinging with each sentence. This wouldn’t have bothered me normally, accept in one of her hands she grasped the pillow case containing her cat, who was very obviously not enjoying its morning.
Photo credit unknown. Not me, that’s for sure.
I’m no doctor, but after a few minutes with Unknown Lady #1 of the day, I felt confident to make a diagnosis: Bull Goose Looney. Not mentally handicapped mind you, just missing some marbles. Normally, I wouldn’t jump to make that call; you never know what someone is going through. I promise you, I am normally very kind and patient when I’m in the office, as much as I dislike the human race.
This woman, however, was mean. She was nuts, angry, and none too bright. A deadly combination. ‘Deadly’ as in her existence in common society causes others to kill. I very politely let her know there might be a wait for the doctor, but we would try to see her cat, and I attempted to keep her as calm as possible. I offered to put her cat in the exam room so it could stretch it’s legs and calm down before the exam, but she refused. In fact, in order to even get her to acknowledge her own pet, I had to basically pressure her for answers, and those only came after over ten minutes of angry rants and in short bursts of sentences.
I was trying to be nice and helpful, but I was getting more concerned for her cat with each passing moment.
“You have your cat with you it seems. And it doesn’t seem that you have an appointment. Does your cat need vaccinations?” I asked slowly and clearly.
“Nah! Needs shots. I had my cat’s shots done in Austin last year. I need ’em done agin.”
“Sure, we can do that! Did your cat receive those shots here last year? What’s your last name? I can look up his records.” I rose
to look through charts.
“I ain’t never been here before,” she answered.
“Oh, that’s no problem. We’ll just take your information as a new client. Please fill out the new client form on the counter. Where did you have the shots done last time?” I asked.
“Oh, I dunno. Somewheres in Austin. Y’all have ’em in the records.” She ignored my request for the form.
“So, we DO have the records? So your cat HAS seen our doctor before? Or did you have the records sent over from the previous vet? What’s your last name? And, if you’d like, I can help you fill out the new patient form.” I still had no answer on either a name for the woman or her cat.
“I haven’t been here before and I sureishell don’ know yer docteer!”She seemed to be getting annoyed and again ignored the new patient information request.
We looked at each other. I was blank and confused, but at least I was in good company. Let me just point out, that by this time my boss, the veterinarian, his assistant, and the vet tech were standing just out of sight of the client area in the hall listening, a swirl of confusion and entertainment playing on their faces.
I repeated, “Did you have the records sent to us from a previous vet of the vaccinations?”
“I don’t need vassinations, I need shots! I don’t need ‘er records neither, cause I got her shots done ’round in Austin. YOU – GOT – DEM RECORDS!” She was yelling now.
I had no idea what to do. I paused. I was not a cryer. If someone has the audacity to make you cry or come close to tears at the office they are horrible human beings and not worth the energy.
And…Stupid does this. It seeps in, infects the air, hovers heavily, thickly like a smelly fourth grader with awful hygiene and weird food for lunch. It hangs there, staring at you, waiting yet thoughtless, ignorant of it’s own irritating cycle.
You almost want to feel sorry.
I forced my self to smile. And I maintained quiet and calm and spoke…very…very…very…slow…ly.
“Ma’am, if you haven’t been here before…
…and your cat hasn’t seen our Doctor…
…and you haven’t had records sent over from another vet…
…then there is absolutely no way that we have records for your pet.”
The woman was silent for a moment. After a bit her eyes changed, like suddenly she was figuring it all out. For about an eighth of a second I was thankful, I thought we could move forward and communicate. I almost sighed with relief.
Then the woman blinked. Something had clicked. Evil.
Out she spat her next topic, which still had nothing to do with her cat. “You’re a big girl. You gained weight since las’ time I were here.”
That was it.
At that point I had worked at the clinic barely a year and I could hear my coworkers snickering out of sight in the exam room hall. Our waiting area was filling with competent pet owners who actually had appointments. And I wasn’t about to hold them up any longer.
Screw reality. Reality isn’t a necessity. Let’s do crazy, bitch.
“Ma’am,” I sighed calmly, politely. “We can’t treat your cat.”
Suddenly, the prospect of no longer getting attention made her understand English. “But the sign say y’all do cats!”
“Yes, we do ‘do cats’. But those are special cats. We only treat THOSE cats,” I pressed, leaning forward as though I was sharing a secret with her.
“Oh…Thems like those SPECIAL cats?…” she asked.
She started to smile. Thems special cats. She was nodding like she was privy to a veterinarian insider tip, like she knew exactly what I meant. I didn’t fucking know what I meant. It seemed, however, to make her feel special that her cat was in a “special cat” vet office, like being there was AS GOOD as getting her cat the actual shots it needed, even though she was being turned down.
“Yeah. I’m sooooooo sorreee about that. Thought your cat had been here, but hasn’t, so can’t. So sorry! But you have a good day!”
I walked over to the door out of politeness in case she needed a hand leaving.
“Tha’s fine, darlin’. I gotta git to work any how. Somebody’s gotta drive that bus.” Magically and totally placated, she was smiling a far off smile, and left nodding without another word, just like that.
I wish I had asked her the bus route she drove just to avoid it. I should have asked her if she was going to drop her cat off at home or if it had to stay in a pillow case in her car all day. And I should have asked if she needed a recommendation for another vet clinic. But, after a frustrating and fruitless 20 minutes in which I couldn’t even get a name, other people waiting and getting annoyed as well, it was too important for my own sanity’s sake to get her out the door.
And to this day I have no idea what ‘thems special cats’ are, but I bet they’re awesome.
Like Thunder Cats.