Why I’m sometimes tardy for the party…

I am a person who thrives on organization. The clothes in my closet are not only color coordinated, but are subdivided into categories such as sleeve length, textile pattern, and type of fabric.

I’m one of the few standouts who prefer using day planners comprised of paper rather than electronic versions. I derive a deranged amount of pleasure in creating a multi-colored, sub-categorized to-do list.

My obsessive organizational skills carry over to how I approach my workday. I arrive at the same time each day. I have rounds set for 9 a.m. I have a set schedule of days I work per week, and I have set appointment times for new consultations and recheck appointments.
Despite my overwhelming need to appropriately “sort” my life and my agenda into well-ordered, compartmentalized portions, veterinary oncology is prone to chaos and unpredictability. My carefully structured schemes often fall to pieces, despite my best efforts to the contrary.

Innumerable variables lead to alterations in my day, the frequent consequence of which is appointments running behind and owners needing to wait.

I understand how frustrating this scenario can be. I value my time, and my aforementioned type A personality staunchly opposes tardiness when it comes to my own health care appointments.

On those occasions, I’ve caught myself considering what exactly it was my doctor or dentist was doing all day to be so far behind in their schedule. It’s easy to assume it’s because they were behaving in a lazy or inefficient or uncaring manner. How else could they manage to become so delayed?

I wish the reasons for lateness during my appointment days had to do with taking a break, resting my feet, or even just behaving rudely out of lack of concern about how my owners felt about me wasting their time. Unfortunately, if my well-oiled machine of promptness is falling off track it’s because of one or more far more serious conditions.

The most common reason for my lateness includes a patient presenting with complications related to their cancer, and/or owners needing more time from me than originally allotted by an already thinly stretched appointment book.

Most owners innately understand that tardiness on my part is a sign of something out of the ordinary. I’m also fortunate that my human doctor counterparts have set low expectations amongst pet owners of how medical appointments are “supposed” to flow. There’s also no arguing that some people are just exceptionally nice and remain persistently tolerant under such circumstances.

Doctor/client/patient confidentiality dictates that I am prohibited from revealing specific details about one owner or their pet to a different owner. However, when it is the case, I will apologize and explain that an unpredicted emergency arose and I try to assure owners that I will provide them with their fair share of my time once I’m able.

For some owners, however, urgency is still considered an insufficient excuse for tardiness and complaints are fired about terrible it is that they are being asked to wait. Ironically, these are typically the same people who would not only expect, but demand, that their pet be seen immediately should they be in the same position.

My schedule can also become backed up when owners are the ones running behind to their appointments. An owner showing up even 10 minutes late can turn a perfectly planned day into a frenzied mess.

I have no wiggle room built into my day. Unlike our human-care counterparts, I don’t have a policy of refusing to see a pet whose owner arrived more than a certain allotted time after their appointment time. I also always accommodate an owner who shows up on the wrong day or at the wrong time. Can you imagine your own physician or dentist’s office being so kind?

The fancy machinery I rely on to count blood cells or produce radiographic images undergoes mechanical meltdowns with enough frequency to make the category of “technical difficulties” another common cause of a delay.

I wish I had the luxury of taking a leisurely lunch or stopping mid-afternoon for a coffee break. I don’t particularly enjoy dealing with a distraught owner, or making follow-up phone calls to obtain records for my next appointment and subsequently causing a backlog in my appointments. I’d much rather sit down and catch up on my e-mail than race around the ICU looking for a helping hand to stabilize a patient.

If you’re at you veterinarian’s office and time is passing by, chances are your pet’s doctor is simultaneously juggling 4 or 5 different crises behind the closed doors of an exam room. They are also painfully aware of each minute that ticks past your appointment time, hoping you will not only be merciful about the delay but grateful for their attention to the other animals, knowing that yours will get the same.

It’s not easy to be patient, but keep in mind you may one day find yourself on the opposite site of the ticking clock, waiting to hear word from the veterinarian who is working tirelessly to help your pet.


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