Hour 10: The worst day ever

I think all of us can come up with a story about the worst day of our professional lives. I decided to get mine over with quickly. The worst day of my career was my very first one.

It was the summer between my sophomore and junior year, and I decided to brave a rotation on the small animal internal medicine service. I had not done any rotations at the hospital at this point, and everyone else in my group was one year ahead of me in their training.

While my rotation-mates were kind, the residents- well, not so much. Unless if by “kind” you mean “razor sharp bloodthirsty student eating torturemasters.” They had understandably high expectations of us, and I was entirely unsuited to live up to them.

It was with this complete lack of faith in myself that I headed into my very first exam room ever. For my first case, I had chosen an easy one: Louie, a Yorkshire terrier with a liver shunt who was at the hospital for vaccines. His shunt was perfectly well managed; the owner just liked having the head of the small animal medicine teaching hospital be the one to give Louie his shots.

That should have been my first hint.

The second hint was when said head of service (not the residents now, mind you- their boss. The chief of chiefs was my assigned clinician) pulled me aside and said whatever Mrs. Delightful wanted to do in terms of re-arranging the room, just let her do it.

I nodded and went in to perform my role- get a history, do a physical exam. Boom. Easy peasy.

Mrs. Delightful looked me up and down with a sharp eagle eye peering at me out of her wrinkly face. I took my history. Louie was doing great. I listened to his heart, looked at his teeth, took his temperature. Maybe I was a little slow, a little hesitant, but even a second year vet student can muddle their way through that. Then I went to get the Chief.

“Hey, Mrs. Delightful!” said the Chief. “I hope you took it easy on Jessica here! It’s her first day ever in the clinic, you know. How’d she do?”

Mrs. Delightful sneered. “Well, I was going to wait until she left the room,” she cackled, “but since you asked:”

-I stunk

-I had no idea what I was doing

-She couldn’t believe a teaching hospital would turn someone as incompetent as me loose on the public

-If, and I quote, ‘dippy young blondes’ like me were the best they could do she feared for the future of the hospital

and the clincher:

-“If you don’t shape up,” she said, gathering herself up for one last vitriolic spewing, “You’re never going to make it as a vet.”


The Chief, who has known me for all of 2 days and is responsible in part for my entire career trajectory, nodded somberly. We left the room.

“Are you OK?” he asked, and I started to cry. I actually think the crying part is worse than the first part, because it was one of those “OH my god my life is ruined and what the hell am I going to do” sort of cries that you can’t quite stop, because every time you try to get yourself together it starts again.

The Chief said nothing, being the reserved midwestern sort. He got some vaccines together, waited for me to collect myself, and said, “You know, Mrs. Delightful chews Louie’s food for her.”

“Why?” I snivelled. “His teeth are fine.”

He shrugged. “Because she’s a lunatic.” And that is the taciturn midwest equivalent of a big giant hug.

It was awful, but I can guarantee you that I will never have as horrifying or deflating a day as that, ever. Never.

Surprisingly enough, I did make it, so I guess she was a lunatic after all. Take that, lady.

In honor of this stress-inducing post, the first person to offer the nastiest thing a client has said to you (no matter your job) will get an all-natural calming collar from calmingcollars.com.

Filed: Blogathon, Picks of the Litter
  • Good Morning from the East Coast! No nasty client stories from me — I’d have to sew myself a Calming Collar! Any bad client stories would be from my previous life in the corporate world! Keep up the good work!

  • Blogathon has been fun to read! Keep up the good work!
    Am retired now, but remember my first summer job at age 15, working in a dry cleaning drop-off, pick-up kiosk. A lady picked up her cleaning and was not happy about a stain that did not come off her tablecloth! Ranted & raved about how bad the company was. I was trying to be as polite as possible and when she drove away she said “and you’re a stupid little girl, too” I was crushed, but it gave me great insight into ‘real life’ and I think it helped me understand ‘temper tantrums’ a lot better. Now my motto is…don’t worry, they’ll get over it!

    • Oh, what an awful thing to say to a kid! People are rotten, I tell ya. Did she happen to have a Yorkshire terrier with her?

      e-mail me and I will get you the contact info for our lovely sponsor. 🙂

  • silvergrey

    I don’t have any nasty client stories, either, thankfully. But I’ll tell you how the worst week of my professional life started. I was a senior vet student. A client called on the phone, saying something was wrong with his dog, and he was bringing her in. Despite much prompting, he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what was wrong. When he arrived, I met him at the front. He was dog-less, and when I asked him where the dog was, he nonchalantly said, “Oh, I don’t need your services anymore.” I brightly said, “Oh, good!” He replied “No, NOT good. She died on the way here.” I wanted to fall through the floor!

    And that was actually the least-horrible thing that happened to me that week, so you can imagine how downhill it went from there!

  • Megan

    I had a similar experience with my very first emergency case as a veterinary intern. The nasty pet store owner of a very ill baby parrot was full of insults not only directed at me, but also at my wonderful referral hospital. She made me cry (fortunately I kept it together until I was able to leave the room where I was trying to discharge my patient-AMA) and was subsequently fired as a client by my supervising clinician, who has a reputation for being patient with almost everyone. It was one for the record books. That woman was pure evil. (Ps-I plan to donate once I get to work today. Can’t do credit card stuff over the Blackberry!)

  • Sara

    Me: “Mrs Crazy let’s talk about why we recommend a heartworm test before selling you interceptor”
    Mrs Cray: “And what school did YOU go to?”
    Me: “Ohio State, Ma’am”
    Her: “WELL – I’ve never had a good experience with any vet that didn’t go to Texas A&M so I doubt you even know what you’re talking about”
    Me: *blank stare* “OK, well… perhaps you should go find a vet from A&M prior to shouting loudly in my waiting room that we’re trying to rip you off by recommending a $13 blood test. *explains HW and why we test*”
    Her: Well Dr. Soandso said the tests weren’t necessary!
    Me: “Was he from Texas A&M??”
    Her: “….I don’t know”
    Me: “Well maybe you should just take Fluffy to go see him…”
    … Keep in mind we live in Pennsylvania – Texas A&M grads are very few and far between here…
    OK so that story’s not exactly hair-raising like yours BUT it sure did get my blood pressure up. Thankfully I haven’t been in the biz long enough to get totally floored.. Yet.

    • It couldn’t have been that vital to her, then! What if Dr Soandso went to that crummy school…I don’t know which one I am talking about but I’m just inserting one for her benefit. The one that isn’t Texas A&M? lol.

  • Kristie

    I could tell a lot about nasty customers after five years working in big box retail, but your story has me making a donation in memory of my first day ever teaching in my very own classroom, a day which involved a fight, my cell phone being stolen, graffiti in the bathroom by some of my students, and getting cussed out. And I taught 5th grade.

  • When I first started doing agency PR, I had a nasty woman client ask me, “Are you as stupid as you look, or stupider?” I started crying. It turns out she’d insulted all of the team at one point or another and the agency never did anything about it.

    Earlier this week I was onsite for a client’s big launch and the marketing guy went berserk as 10:35 because he hated the results. We’d been working since 5 a.m. and he had expected all of their coverage to hit at 5:01 a.m. When it didn’t, he started to get nervous. When I arrived in his office he started screaming at me in front of everyone about what a colossal failure the launch was, how it was amateur hour and the coverage was terrible. I explained to him how launches work down here in the real world and he was having none of it. The worst was that at no point did any of the 7 other people in the room try to stop him. Then, because I didn’t freak out he started yelling at me because I wasn’t panicking, telling me that me being calm & collected only made him feel worse because it meant I didn’t get the gravity of the situation. My hands & knees were shaking – I was in enemy territory with no reinforcements. I finally talked him down from the ledge and by the end of the day he was happy with the results, just like I guaranteed him he would be. Last night we got a note from him saying the results were exceptional, but I’ve never received an apology for basically being his whipping post that morning.

  • When I worked at Pottery Barn after college I was responsible for signing people up for their registry and helping people find registered gifts. The system was pretty new and it would sometimes turn buggy and go offline for no apparent reason. We had a lady come in who was dressed to the nines, but in all cheap stuff. Fake gold, fake Chanel, fake LV. She was definitely trying to play a part, but I recognized her for what she was. She wanted to pull up her daughter’s registry, but the system was down. I tried explaining this to her and she started waving her red talons in the air talking about what a shame it was that stores were no hiring incompetent people who probably didn’t even graduate high school and couldn’t figure out how to work basic technology. I was livid, especially because I had gone to college and because of the dot com crash the best I could do was Pottery Barn. I asked her what college she went to. She looked at me blankly and was like, “I didn’t, but it doesn’t mean I can’t spot someone without an education when I see it.” I looked her square in the face and told her that in addition to her fake couture, she had revealed her ignorance of the world because unlike herself, I was a college graduate and I wasn’t going to deal with people beneath me.” And I walked away to help a nice little old lady pick out a candle. And then I went and cried.

  • Hmm. I’m a former animal control officer, and I don’t remember the worst thing a citizen ever said to me (you grow a thick skin very fast in that business), but here is what must be the funniest thing:

    I knocked on the front door of a house whose resident had committed some infraction or other. The woman who answered was on the phone, and she became belligerent the instant she saw my uniform. I insisted she hang up. (Hey, I might not have been a cop, but I was not about to let someone play status games with me.) I went through the standard questions to get her contact information—name, etc. When I asked her phone number, she said to me:

    “I don’t have a phone.”

    This was the only time I ever remember being speechless with a citizen—mainly because I was trying to keep a straight face. I wasn’t insulted that she thought I was that stupid—I thought it was hilarious that she was stupid enough to THINK I was that stupid!

  • Shannon

    Oh boy do I have one lol. Im an RVT at a small animal clinic. We had this one looney client with a persian cat and a shih tzu mix. When I say looney, I mean looney. Her previous vet mentored my boss, she came to us after she was asked to leave his clinic due to her finding his phone number in the phone book, calling him at home, and making very derogatory comments to his wife. Anyway she came in one day, totally off her rocker, accused me, in the waiting room, of sleeping with my boss to keep my job. She would call the clinics fax number instead of the phone number, then she would come in a reem reception out saying they knew it was her calling and they were transferring her to the fax machine on purpose. The last time we saw her, she made her way into our surgery room inthe back after we removed her from the waiting room for causing a scene, proceeded to curl up in the fetal position on the floor and cry…the police came and got her.