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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Turning Off Doctor Mode

Early in my marriage my wife pointed out something I hadn't realized at the time.  When I'm talking about work-related issues I have a "doctor voice".  There are distinct volume, tonal, and speech pattern changes that I have unconsciously developed and which I only use when speaking as a veterinarian.  A psychologist could probably give more insight, but I believe that it's a way of speaking that blends compassion, authority, knowledge, and ease of description.  Since she made me aware of it, I'm usually able to tell when I slip into "doctor mode".

The strange thing is that I do it involuntarily.  When I speak to friends and relatives about their pets, I automatically tend to use this voice, often not realizing it.  There's just something that comes over me and it's like slipping on a comfortable jacket when it's cold.  My wife often finds it amusing and isn't afraid to let me know when I'm doing it.  But I don't want to do it all of the time.  Like today.

Today I brought my brother-in-law's guinea pig into the clinic with me because he wasn't eating and I couldn't see anything obvious at home.  A quick oral exam showed normal teeth, but a foul-odored liquid in the mouth that smelled like pus.  He also had sores on his tongue.  I realized quickly that we were dealing with a hidden abscess, kidney disease, or something else equally as serious.  My brother-in-law is currently out of work and his wife is in beauty school, so they really don't have money.  I was willing to do a few things for free, but couldn't do a lot of medications for free.  So to prevent his suffering, we euthanized him.

Now this is someone I've known for 13 years and have lived in the same town with him for the last 4-5 years.  We're not best friends, but we know each other well.  I also know how his family feels about this pet, especially considering that they have four children.  When I called him to tell him what I found, I realized that I had slipped into "doctor mode" and was talking to him like I would talk to any other client.  I had to work hard to change my voice and pattern into something more familiar and friendly like I normally talk to him.  Honestly I don't think he noticed, but I certainly did and I didn't want to sound that way to him.

It can be strange how your professional life and attitude infiltrates your personality and can cause a change in your behavior without you realizing it.  I often say that being a vet is what I do, not who I am.  But maybe I'm a little in denial and at least in part it has become who I am.