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Would I lie to you?

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Has someone spoken to you about safe sleeping for baby?’ From the beginning of my wife’s second trimester of pregnancy we had been drilled by various healthcare professionals in the rituals of safe sleeping for our new baby: feet-to-foot, firm-flat-on-their-back, 16 to 20°C, not by a radiator or window, and most definitely never left unattended with a cat.

Needless to say, by the time our baby boy was one-week-old we had become a little loose with the rules.

I recall one rather chilly Sunday where I had reached the end of my tether with ‘safe sleeping’. We had barely slept the night before. I was covered in more excrement than was morally acceptable and my coffee had been re-heated in the microwave twice already. Baby had been placed in the crib by the radiator under the window, with the cat watching from her perch. And I fell asleep on the sofa.

Tranquillity enveloped the house. Then the doorbell rang; it was the midwives. With skills reminiscent of Basil Fawlty I opened the front door and ushered them into the dining room – denying them even the briefest glance at where baby was happily sleeping. I rapidly retrieved the baby from the crib and, on entering the dining room, I heard them ask my wife ‘Are you happy practising safe sleeping?’ Like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, we replied in unison and with gusto, ‘YES!’

This got me thinking about the things our clients hide from us. Why do they do it? Is it the embarrassment of failing to follow the advice or do they think they know better than the ‘expert’? Perhaps it’s a ruse by our clients to see if we really do know what we’re doing. Don’t get me wrong, a sense of scepticism is healthy, but why lie blatantly to our faces? Of course, most of our clients tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth; some take the health of their pets more seriously than their children’s. However, there are a few classic examples of owners bending the truth.

The weight-loss clinic is fertile ground for porkies. How many times have you had a client point-blank deny that their pooch gets any snacks. Nada, zilch, nothing. And then, with further investigation over the coming weeks using our veterinary charm it comes out. ‘Oh, apart from half a pork pie each day, veterinary’. Half? Why not a full one three times a week, I ponder.

Then we move to the dispensary. ‘Did you complete the course of antibiotics?’, ‘Oh yes’. Then three months later they return the unused tablets for a refund. I recall one lady who ordered a repeat prescription one month after picking up a three-month supply of medication. She claimed she was ‘stocking up’. It turns out that it was cheaper to get her personal antihistamines from us rather than the high street chemist. What her westie thought about the re-distribution remains unknown.

Of course, many times it’s not outright lying, it’s simply that they don’t realise which path our diagnostic mind is heading down. When you were in the first year of university, did you ever think that high water intake was suggestive of an underlying endocrinopathy?

And, therein, lies the big reason why I joined the veterinary profession (I even put it on my UCAS form), being a vet is much like being a detective. It is our job to see through the mist of confusion that some clients send our way to get to the root of the problem. We are like Inspector Gadget; each day keeping Dr Claw under control with our dog, Brain.

If you would like to contribute to ‘A practitioner ponders’, please e-mail vet.inpractice@bmj.com for further information. We pay a small honorarium for contributions that are published.

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