Scrubs provide us the comfort of an invisibility cloak, so to speak.
The sheer quantity of professions that utilize them is vast – and we are afforded the opportunity to be almost anyone when asked.
So why do some veterinarians seem to thrive off of anonymity when in public? Are we hiding? Or are we simply protecting our peace when we provide a nonspecific response?
One day, here’s what happened to me…
One of my favorite things about relief work is exploring the surrounding area for the best lunch spots. I love to support locally owned businesses, and I’m a sucker for a good taco or burger. I am a complete omnivore and live by the creed that I’ll try anything once, except Fugu – I do have a limit. My wife is not as adventurous, so I often seek out some of my favorite ethnic cuisines during work lunch.
On one day, I was feeling the call of a good curry, so I sought out a local Indian restaurant and was directed to a food court in a local mall. Not exactly what I was looking for, but they had all the staples. Most importantly, they had gulab jamun. For those of you not familiar, these are tiny fried balls of heaven soaked in honey.
Having satisfied my craving, I was getting ready to leave. But my sweet tooth, primed on gulab jamun, got the better of me. Across the food court was an all-purpose snack shop that included a frozen yogurt bar. The siren song of colored sprinkles, coconut, and caramel sauce called to me, and I could not help but enter the snack shop.
There were two women inside, one running the register and the other catching up on the latest gossip. I perused the available toppings and waited patiently for the update on Doris and her problems with the new neighbors to end. The woman behind the register finally greeted me and took my order.
While making my yogurt, her friend strikes up a conversation with me and leads with, “Are you a doctor?”
I wear scrubs when I do relief, always careful to not leave my nametag on when I go out in public. I do this for the purpose of anonymity, as I often don’t wish to divulge my occupation. My response to that question is usually no, and when pressed I use the cover that I’m a lab tech, thus the scrubs. Typically, that is a banal enough of an occupation to not warrant further discussion.
Today, however, my internal filter malfunctioned, and I answered yes. After answering yes, the obligatory follow up, “What kind of doctor?” came next.
I had a choice. I could have said podiatrist or rheumatologist or any other of the myriad of human specialties, but I didn’t. Filter fail again.
I admitted to being a veterinarian, and this lady’s eyes lit up like a Fourth of July firework display. “Did you hear that? He’s a veterinarian,” she said to her friend behind the counter.
Typically, after the revelation of my status, the inevitable follow up occurs. Insert story of your cat, your mom’s dog, your friend’s turtle, how much you wanted to be a veterinarian, how great that Dr. Pol show is, etc. Today, however, was different.
“Let me ask you a question,” she said. She began to discuss her recent visit to her veterinarian. Her dog had intestinal parasites diagnosed on its fecal exam. Ones that could “eat your brain if they got into you,” per her retelling of the visit. She was serious, too, and thankful that there was medication for these brain-eating monsters.
I suspect that there may have been some discussion about neural larval migrans with a bit lost in translation in the retelling of the encounter. Who knows — maybe this dog actually had baylisascaris.
She then proceeded to tell me that she was frustrated as her vet made her pay for another fecal sample to make sure they were gone. We went back and forth for a bit about the how’s and why’s of diagnostic costs. It was a cordial conversation. No shouting.
I got through to her, but it helped that her friend behind the counter agreed with most everything I said. She was also my ticket out of there, as an attempt for another round of questioning began…“Linda let that man be, his yogurt is melting!”
All I wanted was some frozen yogurt when I was asked, “Are you a doctor?”
There is always a moment of hesitation before I reply honestly to that question. Why am I more comfortable with being perceived as a clinician within the human medicine field?
I am innately proud of my profession — and myself — and will chat with clients endlessly when in the clinic. What is different about the outside world? Do I fear the conversations that may ensue? The societal implications that I am somehow less worthy of reverence than my counterparts in human medicine?
I will only know if we allow those talks to take place, yogurt not included.
How about you… Do you feel the same hesitation I do? It may not be frozen yogurt, but it is food for thought.
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