Home » Life Lessons » She wasn’t being rude

She wasn’t being rude

My receptionist Ericka was in tears. The caller had said some pretty mean things, and she’s sensitive to what people say to her. She thrust the phone towards me, and pleaded for me to deal with it, “She doesn’t understand we don’t have any appointments available and, anyway, we’ll be closed in 45 minutes.” Some lady’s dog hadn’t “eated” in 4 days, and so she thinks she’s really pretty sick, and what was I gonna do about it? On such a hectic afternoon, I was glad to take the load off the front desk, and proceeded with the best defense being a good offense. “So he hasn’t eaten in 4 days? Wow, you rushed right in! What makes you think it’s serious now” The colloquialism of her words and accents made it difficult to understand, even for a small town Missoura hick like myself, but I did make out something about not having much money, something about only having a hunnert dollas. Knowing it sounded like a major medical workup, our lab equipment had an hour back log of tests waiting, and it had been a really long day already, I told her that I could see her at 9:15 the next day. My technician Jenny cringed, knowing full well that I had no openings, even for something minor, at 9:15 tomorrow, or anytime, all day. She also thought the front staff might not be very happy when I had allowed someone so rude and disrespectful, accusing them of not caring, to come in when they had been telling good, regular, polite clients that we were booked until next week. I had a funny feeling about this one. I knew this woman’s dog was pretty sick, and a “hunnert dollas” wouldn’t even get her in the front door of the emergency clinic tonight. I hoped it would wait. And that it wasn’t too serious to throw my schedule into seizures tomorrow.

Frankly, I forgot about her until the next morning, when I walked into the exam room. My flippant attitude about her apparent lack of concern for “Baby Girl” quickly dissipated. The “homeless person” stench was overpowering and was immediately telling as to why the visit had been postponed. This poor 12 year old dog couldn’t even lift her head. Indeed, she had not eaten in 5 days now, but was drinking lots of water. “She’s not spayed,” Jenny whispered to me, in case I missed the obvious. We both knew what it was from the history. A pyometra is an infected uterus, life threatening, and one of the important reasons why a female dog or cat should be spayed if she won’t be used for breeding. I’ll spare you the details, but it is typically fatal before five days, from internal rupture, much like a child’s appendix can rupture, spreading bacterial poison and toxins throughout the body.

The pre-surgical workup of confirmatory lab tests and X-Rays alone is about $300, and if it was a pyometra, could easily exceed $1200-1500. And the patient could die, regardless of our best efforts, especially if the uterus had already ruptured. She hadn’t come in because she had been scraping together, begging, and borrowing to get some money together to get her dog fixed.

Nor could I promise her that her little dog would live through the surgery. “So what are you telling me?” the woman shouted at me, with tears in her eyes. Deep down, I knew she had been rejected before, a lifetime of it. I knew she expected me to say to go away, that if she had no money she wasn’t welcome here.

I told her I wanted to run some tests, and that it would cost her “a hunnert dollas.” That wouldn’t fix anything, but we needed to know what was wrong.

Jenny was correct. The test confirmed a high white blood cell count (indicating infection), and the radiographs (X-Rays) confirmed a huge swelling in the area where the uterus would be.

As I delivered the news and the grave prognosis, her eyes reddened and became teary.

Having pets is a commitment. And an obligation. And owning pets is a choice that involves responsibilities and expenses. Therefore, keeping a pet is not a right, nor is it the grocery store’s obligation to feed the dog for free, nor the veterinarian’s obligation to care for it for free. Pets, like people, should have a basic minimum of care: annual examinations, inoculations, and other preventative health care, and the planning for the possibility/likelihood that something may go wrong – an accident or an illness.

So, are people living in poverty allowed to have pets? If she can share what she finds in the dumpster with her only friend in the world, or if she and her cat split a can of food, is that “good enough?”

As I spoke with my staff, receptionists, as well as technicians, I told them that this woman was not rude. The astonished looks of disagreement on their faces faded as I explained. “You can’t be rude if you don’t know what rude is. She doesn’t fit our picture of how we should behave or talk, but she’s not intending to be disrespectful or unappreciative. She just doesn’t know any better. She’s never had anyone give her the benefit of the doubt. How many times had she been excluded as a child, or looked down upon as an adult? How do you expect her to behave?”

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how high a value I place on the “human-animal bond.” That unconditional love thing is impossible to put a price tag on. Of course this dog is suffering now, but what about the past decade of loving relationship? Do you honestly think this dog’s life didn’t live a happier, worthier life for having met this woman instead of starvation on the street, or the animal shelter’s needle? As Pope Francis said in different circumstances, “Who am I to judge?”

“I can only promise you two things,” I told her solemnly. “I’ll do my very best to save your dog, and she most definitely will die without the surgery.” I was emphatic, because she needed to really understand how sick her little friend was. “Baby Girl” couldn’t lift her head, but her eyes followed my every move and she wagged her tail when I scratched behind her ears.

I told her that we had all discussed it and that we were willing to do surgery during our lunch break, and that it would only cost her the “hunnert dollas.” I’ve learned over the years that even if you work pro-bono that the client must contribute something, to take ownership, and to feel the value – something about pride, that they had contributed also.

I don’t take any credit. And I honestly do not write this story to look like some kind of a hero. My staff clocked out over the lunch hour and also donated their time. We’re all confronted with choices in life where we can make others’ journey’s better, or at least less miserable. I know pain, and anguish. We all do. We have a choice to be angry at God or whomever for allowing/causing crap to happen, or we can rise up from the ashes and be better for our losses. Is it to better to be bitter and angry, or realize what suffering feels like, and gain empathy?

“Really? No one’s ever done anything nice for me before,” this smelly woman wailed and wanted to hug me, so I embraced the leper. If you’re skeptical, of course this may seem disingenuous, and I do get it, I’m from Missouri (this is the origin of “show-me”). We are constantly barraged with cardboard signs on the off-ramps. Are any of them really willing to work for food? At the end of the day, does it make any difference? “I was hungry and you gave me to eat.”

It’s easy to puff your chest out when you do something difficult. But this wasn’t difficult. If I’m not there that day to fix the torn ACL knee ligament, the liver shunt, the heart defect, the broken hip … someone else would have. I’m truly not particularly intelligent or even very talented. But I sleep well tonight, knowing that no-one would have done this simple surgery for this indigent woman. This was truly no big deal, a very simple surgery that took just a few minutes. But after so many years, these opportunities to make a difference, make it all worth while.

I usually ask for comments, but not on this one. Please don’t leave any comments. Like it if you want, and share it. If you like this story, pay it forward. You think your life sucks? Look around. Make a difference. This isn’t even a story worth telling if you don’t use it yourself and think about it tomorrow as you look around. This story would have remained untold if I hadn’t had a couple of beers and like to write. Your life is charmed and blessed BECAUSE you are reading this, are capable of thinking about the big picture, and can make a difference. It’s not the big things we do that are heroic.

At the end of the day, this woman ran in, frantic about her dog. She didn’t have a phone so had no idea if her dog made it through surgery. Certainly, she thought the worst when she was escorted into the room, and told the doctor would be with her shortly … she stomped and shouted and cried for some answer, “How is my dog?!! PLEASE dear God, please somebody just tell me, did ‘Baby Girl’ die?!!” I ran from the appointment I was with when I heard the commotion, but Jenny beat me there. All I heard was, “She’s alive?!!! She’s alive?!! Oh dear God, praise dear God! My Baby Girl’s ALIVE!!!”

I’m sure they heard the shouting and crying next door.

Pay it forward. Much Love.

(Addendum: Please note that although comments for this post have closed, you can still be heard at the end of “Rude, Part Two” to this post – simply click on this on the right side of this page, under “Recent Posts.”)  Thanks for sharing!

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1,268 thoughts on “She wasn’t being rude

  1. I am forever grateful that I read this post. Why does society rip peoples words apart? The man told a story of helping someone and instead of embracing the good in what he did some embraced the wording to make this a very negative story. I feel if there were more people that helped one another we would be way better of. Thanks for sharing doc.

    • Thanks, but IF I get there, it will be from my ever strengthened faith in a loving compassionate God, who sustains and carries me through my darkest days. Much Love.

  2. I know you said not to comment, but I can’t help myself. Thanks for sharing such a great story. Heartwarming. Just sayin

  3. I am absolutely in tears. Both my cat and my six-year-old daughter are staying nearby, wondering why Mommy is crying. All I can say is, I wish I had seen this story before I taught this morning’s Sunday School lesson, based on Matthew 5:44: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

  4. I have no words…except thank you all.

    10 years ago my cat quit eating and drinking. My husband and I are on SSI and I could not take him to a vet. We had no money. Days went by and, when just a skeleton, one night he asked to go outside and never came home.

    And now I am crying all over again…thank you for giving that woman a reason to keep on…

  5. Too bad the accompanying picture is of a segment of intestine and not a uterus. Took me out of the moment. Booooo.

    • Well, get back in the moment! Indeed that is the pus filled uterus in a 12 pound little doggie! Should be the size of two pencils, eraser to eraser, it had swollen to about 50X this size and was actively leaking at removal. Dogs have a bicornate uterus (two long horns, designed for multiple babies, as opposed to the primate with a big body and tiny horns). You must be human medical.

    • You were very quick to put a downer on this wonderful story, to a man who gave of himself and asked for nothing in return…. I think he deserves an apology from you! And next time you may want to do your research before pointing fingers!

    • There is no doubt that this is the photograph of a uterus @ Jules. It is engorged with fluid, you can clearly see the uterine body at the top of the photo where the two uterine tubes come off of.

    • It is NOT intestine. It is a infection filled uterus from a very small dog. Anyone in veterinary medicine would know this.

  6. May God send many blessings your way for helping the lady knowing she didn’t had any funds to pay you with, and much more for saving the dog life, you truly are a hero. Thank you so very much for caring!!!

  7. Thank you. For doing the surgery, sharing the story and asking for something in return: to pay it forward. Thank you.

  8. You did a good thing for the dog, but the way you spoke about this woman is terribly demeaning.

    “…it would cost her “a hunnert dollas.” ” Was it really necessary to this story to make fun of the way she spoke? Admittedly, I’m not a regular reader of your blog; perhaps you make fun of people on a regular basis.

    “…this smelly woman wailed and wanted to hug me, so I embraced the leper…” Wow. Did you proofread that paragraph before posting it? That is unbelievably demeaning.

  9. Hi my names Alex Im a 25 year old guy. my dads email was doggydr and my moms riovet, They met at my dads vet hospital he worked at for 30 years but died at 56 before he could retire. I was 15, and, i never paid attention anything that went on in the hospital, I would just finish cleaning kennels and go play a video game, but I wish I had. I wish my dad had kept a blog like this, it truly says alot about us as people the place where we interact and help society. Thanks for posting this. Id like to think my dad did something like this in his life. Thanks for being a good person.
    Alex

    • Hi Alex. As I was going through and scanning for posterity old photographs, letters and documents, this very epiphany occurred to me. I really do not know who my own father was, and grandparents, etc are lost in time. Who were they? What experiences did they have? Did they have fun, torment, angst with friends and others from which they learned? And from which I and my own children could learn? This was exactly the reason I started blogging. Perhaps one day one of them can look deeper and see what made the old man tick. Good stuff you pointed out. Thanks.

  10. Thank God for loving ,caring people like you. My vet will also
    do as much as he can for anyone that truly loves their animal family members, and has shown up at my farm at all hours of the night when called. Thank you for being the kind of person that renews a faith in humanity.

  11. thank you for this beautiful story!…to bad people can not see the forest from the trees…i understand your use of the word leper…like a leper no one wanted to touch this woman (i would be surprised if any of the people putting you down for saying it would hug her)..good work and keep on keeping on!

  12. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR LOVE AND KINDNESS TO SOMEONE LESS FORTUNATE. I WILL TAKE YOUR ADVISE AND “PAY IT FORWARD”

  13. I love this story. I’m a dog groomer. I groom because I love the animals. My mom taught me at a young age. She said, Be kind little sis (she called me that) you never know when you will entertain an angel, they even come in the form of an animal. I never forgot that, and I truly believe that. You did good Doctor.GOD Smiles

  14. Thank you!! I was so touched by your story. Indeed there are many vets who would turn her down, thanks for not being one of them. :-)

  15. An amazing, touching story, Doctor. Please ignore the ignoramuses that feel the need to criticize. Your writing, including the *real* vernacular, were spot-on in creating the back-drop to the story. I’ve worked through similar scenarios….I used to work for a vet who used to think like you, but unfortunately, became more entranced by the ‘profit margin’ factor than the human factor, and would have turned that woman away. Please feel pride in knowing you still have The Right Heart and an awesome staff, too!

  16. Pingback: An incredibly moving story about a vet, a homeless woman, and her dog | Best Friends For Life

  17. I will pay forward based on your contribution. My field is about the lady, not the dog, but plenty of opportunity there. Imagine our world if everyone who could pitch in actually did.

  18. PS— I used the pronoun she but I don’t know, could’ve been a guy. I’m not sure. But whatever. Any gender can be an ass.

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