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 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.