Vet Adventures: Caller on the Line

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I was crouched underneath a horse, checking to see if my nerve block was working. I was starting to sweat and my knees were hurting when someone spoke loudly into my ear.

“Dr. Diehl, I’ve referred Wendy M. to you. Her horse’s name is Richard, and she lives here part time. She’ll be calling you this week.”

I looked up to see the barn owner beaming down at me and gave her an uncertain smile back. We’d had a falling out years ago, based on a horse I’d found major problems with on a pre-purchase exam. I’d advised against purchase of the horse and had managed to mortally offend the barn owner, the horse’s trainer and three boarders (none of them were the potential buyer).

I wondered about the referral all day, and when I arrived home late that night, there was an email from Wendy M, with an attached vet record the length of War and Peace. The email was enthusiastic and I sent a pleasant response back, suggesting we start with a phone call the following day.

Call One

At 6:11 a.m. the next morning, the phone rang. I had just gotten out of bed and without thinking, answered it.

“Hello, Dr. Diehl, this is Wendy M! I own Richard, and I just wanted to tell you about him. Did you read his vet records thoroughly? He’s a very dear boy and means the world to me, so here’s what you need to know about his medical issues.”

She talked for almost six minutes before I could get a word in edgewise. Had I said anything beyond hello? How did she know she was talking to the right person? What if I were the housekeeper or an early rising guest? OK, I didn’t have a housekeeper. But still.

Groggily, I interrupted the torrent of words. I told her that I’d be more than happy to schedule a phone call for later in the day during business hours, and we settled on 1 p.m. She wasn’t happy to be put off, but I was firm. My mornings were precious, and I wasn’t about to spend one on a routine phone call.

The Second Call

At 12:45, Wendy called again. I was finishing up with a client, and didn’t pick up. She called again, and then a third time. Worried, I answered, thinking maybe there was an emergency.

“Oh hello, doctor. I just wanted to make sure you’d read Richard’s vet records thoroughly before our call. I like to have everyone prepared.”

“Ah,” I said, thinking of the 200+ page document I hadn’t looked at. “I’m actually finishing up an appointment right now. I’ll speak to you at 1 p.m. as scheduled.”

I’d read somewhere that if you smiled during a phone call, it put a pleasant lilt into your voice, so I beamed as I was talking. Maybe it worked. Wendy hung up without argument and I finished up my appointment, apologizing for the interruption.

At 12:55 the phone rang again. I ignored it, as I was cleaning the back of my truck and putting equipment away. It rang again at 12:56, 12:57, and 12:58. At 12:59 I answered it.

“Are you always this hard to get hold of?” Wendy M. scolded.

I raised my eyebrows. “Well, we said 1 p.m., and I had an appointment ahead of …”

“OK, so my Richard is a very complicated horse,” she interrupted. “First of all …” and she was off into a lengthy saga about the intricacies of Richard and his many, many health problems.

Fortunately, she didn’t ask me about his records again, and after 18 minutes of stories, she ran out of steam. She certainly loved and cared for her horse, so I agreed to schedule Richard for a wellness exam and some vaccines. Wendy wasn’t going to be present for the exam, but the barn workers would hold Richard for me.

The Exam

On the day of the exam, my phone rang at 5:59 a.m. It was Wendy; I let it go to voicemail. She was wondering what vaccines Richard needed and to please not do too many at once as he was very sensitive. She texted at 6:10 to remind me to listen to his heart carefully, and then again at 6:20 to remind me to collect manure for a fecal sample.

Ten minutes into Richard’s appointment, she’d already called twice more. I finally gave up and handed the phone to the young man holding the horse.

He didn’t speak much English, but since Wendy did all of the talking anyway, I figured she wouldn’t notice. The young man agreed happily with everything Wendy said, and I was able to finish giving Richard his shots.

The next morning, she waited until 6:28 a.m. to call. By 6:45 a.m., I had received no less than five messages and texts wondering if Richard was having a reaction to the vaccines because the barn staff said he hadn’t drank all his water. I promised to go check him over.

The barn owner was there as I dutifully checked out Richard, who was absolutely fine, and she smirked as she asked me how I liked his owner. Smelling a trap, I enthused about how wonderful the owner was, and thanked her for the referral.

My next call was to Wendy M. to update her on Richard and assure her that all was well. She was relieved and thanked me over and over for saving Richard. She was sweet about it, and I realized that she was actually a very kind-hearted lady, and decided to keep working with her after setting some boundaries on phone calls.

I also let her know that the barn owner wished to be in the loop on all of our communications, and to be absolutely certain to call her first, regardless of the time of day or night.

Liked this article? Read past Vet Adventures columns:

Pony Problems
The Bald and the Beautiful
A Watched Mare Never Foals


This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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