Despicable Me: How this Vet’s Telephone Habits Leave Much to be Desired

Patty Khuly and her cat

Mea culpa. What else can I say? I’ve always hated telephones. Since I was just a little thing, I remember fearing them. When tasked with telephone-answering duties, I’d pretend to be in the bathroom or out in the yard, oblivious to the ring of the thing. This is why I resisted carrying a mobile phone long after the technology was in common use. People would complain over my unavailability but in the early days I could demur, citing my low funds as a recent grad student for my no-cellphone stance.

Even now, I keep my phone’s ringer on the off setting. Of course, if a family member is in need, a meeting is pending, or I’m specifically expecting a client’s call, I’ll keep the thing with me, waiting for the inevitable vibration to shock me from my current task.

But that attitude is no longer consistent with our cultural norms. People expect more from me. Which brings me to today’s topic: I'm no good at returning your calls.

It’s doubtless a major source of frustration for my clients. If it's an emergency and I can get to the phone, I'll talk with them. But if it's not a dire emergency and they leave a message, they're unlikely to hear from me for hours. And if I fail to glance at my message box for half a day or before I leave in the afternoon (usually after an especially busy, stressful or emotionally trying day –– which probably happens four out of five days), they’re out of luck.

Which inevitably makes me feel bad. So bad, in fact, that sometimes I “forget” to call them back the next day, so unwilling am I to face their disapproval/disappointment. It’s a vicious cycle I struggle with daily.

What’s more, I’ve noticed a pattern. Most of my favorite professionals -- family physicians or colleagues I utilize as specialists for my patients -- share this trait. They’re somewhat unavailable, technologically. They prefer to interact personally, as do I.

Perhaps it’s a side effect of being one of those “creative” types. Maybe I’m the kind of person who requires that I not be disturbed from my reading, writing, cooking, exercising, or otherwise fully absorbing behavior, so I can accomplish what I need to in the time allotted me. (After all, there are only so many hours in the day.)

I do realize it’s my biggest shortcoming. I do know it diminishes me in your eyes. I do recognize it affects my ability to offer your pets the best possible care. However, I do also hope that whatever our faults, even veterinarians can be forgiven. After all, we’re just like you. We’re only human.

And consider: It could be worse. I mean, poor telephone skills are undeniably more forgivable than so many other failings. Or am I just trotting out my self-deception in a transparent, self-indulgent ploy for your forgiveness?

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