I’m not much of a pet person, but I’ve read nearly all the James Herriot books. His memoirs provide tremendous insight into good business, good people skills, and good-heartedness. At long last, a suitable analogy for my work (if not always my bedside manner).
I’m a story veterinarian. My patients are stories. Their authors, thus owners, are my clients.
My patients are so familiar to their owners, many think of them as their own children. Said owners spend many hours of loving time with my patients, and become deeply attached to some of their quirks.
I got into this line of work because I truly do love writing, books, and the eloquent employ of the English language, just as the typical vet loves animals and life.
I love to see happy owners with healthy patients, or patients I can help them to heal.
It does not always seem as if I’m that positive and enthusiastic, because I see a lot of patients, and many of them are suffering, and I require a certain thickness of skin in order to get through my working day without absorbing so much suffering that I cannot cope.
It is very hard to tell the owner that s/he was the one who harmed the patient. One can see why the owner would become very defensive and angry. Few pet owners will cheerfully cop to outright neglect. It’s too hard to contemplate.
If the owner doesn’t like what I have to say, s/he is prone to find someone to tell him or her what s/he would rather hear. Poor editors can make great livings telling mediocre writers and storytellers that the story is great, that their writing is great, and that neither will need much change, thus it will be very inexpensive. A number of desperate English majors with private school-level student loan payments are using this method to supplement their incomes from Arby’s. I feel badly for them, but it’s unscrupulous. At the same time, that author would just keep looking until he or she got that answer, therefore someone might as well ‘earn’ the money and enable the publication of the mediocrity, since that publication was going to happen anyway.
Not every owner can handle/wrangle every type of patient I see. Just as a person of 70 with steel pins in a broken hip may have trouble controlling a young German shepherd, a person with poor attention span probably should not undertake an 800-page epic.
Some patients can be healed. Some are terminal. Some suffer from genetic defects. Some just need proper diet and exercise in order to thrive.
No need to apologize to me because the patient crapped and ralphed on the floor. The patient usually craps and/or ralphs on the floor. I am well equipped for that.
My work does not encompass all specialties, and excludes some. As your canine vet may not be able to doctor your pet python, I may be unqualified to edit your offbeat mixing of two disparate genres. All I can do is be honest about my limitations.
I cannot tell the owner what the bill or prognosis will be until I examine the patient in full. Anyone demanding a price or outcome without allowing me a full examination of the patient is being unrealistic.
Every owner comes to me fortified with the accolades of half a dozen fanboys/girls, usually close relatives and longtime friends, who have told him or her that the pet is the cutest and most wonderful thing ever.
There are messages that are very hard to give to an owner, and I won’t always be good at presenting them.
At times, I must tell my client that s/he is abusing or neglecting the patient, and this requires great care and tact. I can experience lapses in that area, especially when it’s obvious the owner needs a serious dose of reality.
A serious dose of reality is often needed, because in many cases, the greatest fiction of all is not the story itself, but the author’s belief that everything s/he does is excellent and marketable.
Not all patients can be saved, or made whole, and the hardest message is to tell someone so.