The day was simple enough; a few vaccinations, a black cat with a chin abscess from cat fighting, and another black Tomcat with a blocked urethra. There would be plenty of time for coffee and an in-depth discussion of veterinary ethics with some students under my experienced instruction, a whole 3 months now since I graduated. The vaccinations were easy; there were no biters. The abscess was simple, a little anesthetic, lanced the abscess, placed a drain, and ready to go home with antibiotics. It was the blocked Tom cat that would be a problem.
This black cat had not been able to urinate for 2 days now. He had developed sandy grit in his urine, a common problem seen in cats. The grit was so thick it plugged up the urethral opening out the penis. With a little sedation, fluid therapy and catheterization the Kitty would be fine. Only I was not able to pass a catheter, the blockage was impassable. I only had one option to save Blackies life, a perineal urethrostomy, an involved surgery requiring amputation of the penis. Time to talk to the owner, time for good communication!
"Well Mr. Smith, Blackie has a need for a serious surgery," I began.
Mr. Smith gave me all his attention in that small exam room. I went on to explain in depth Blackies problem, I described the entire procedure blow by blow. I knew I was doing a good job because Mr. Smith was nodding to everything I said, and as I explained the penis amputation he grimaced and crossed his legs, yes-sir-eee, I was communicating! I was doing such a good job, he had no questions, just a little hint of confusion on his face, understandable with such a complicated discussion of surgical technique.
I finished, " And unfortunately this will be an expensive procedure. Mr. Smith, do I have your permission?"
"Of course,” he answered, "Blackie is part of the family."
We said our good-byes, and as he walked out of the room I complimented myself on a job well done.
As Mr. Smith passed a student in the hall the student offered a smile and said, "Hi, Mr. Smith, Blackies doing fine and almost ready to go home."
Mr. Smith a looking a little bewildered continued to walk to his car. Upset with this confused inexperienced student I confronted him. "What are you doing telling Mr. Smith his cat is OK? Blackies problem is serious and not to be treated so lightly."
Timidly the student answered, "I'm sorry I didn't realize an abscess was so serious."
"An abscess?" I questioned.
Suddenly I realized I had been talking about the wrong pet. Mr. Smith belonged to Blackie the abscess, not Blackie the blocked tom cat. I quickly ran to the parking lot to catch Mr. Smith just backing out.
" Mr. Smith Wait!" I shouted. "There has been a mistake!" I went on to explain the mix-up and inquired, "Why didn't you say anything?"
He responded sheepishly, "Well I thought it was peculiar your messing around with my cats ding-dong when it was his neck that was hurt, but after all you're the Doctor."
As Blackie the cat with a healing abscess and intact “ding-dong” drove off with Mr. Smith, I realized the trust that people were willing to give there veterinarians and I swore never to betray it. And as this young "Dr. Kildare" walked back to the clinic I pondered the lesson learned: "It takes two to communicate!"