It may not always seem that way when I’m in my confident professional mode, but I can be socially awkward at times. Sometimes I don’t have a good instinctive grasp of the social norms. My kids are on the Autism spectrum, so perhaps I have a little touch of that as well. The one social norm that continues to confuse me is whether one ever says thank you for being thanked. Taken to an extreme, this could obviously spiral out of control.
“Thank you for saying thank you!”
“Well, thank you for saying thank you to my thank you…”
Ridiculous, right? Best nipped in the bud after that first thank you. Yet, this doesn’t entirely sit right with me either. This is why I am writing this open letter. To all of you who have sent me thank you cards, and thank you emails, and bottles of wine, and cookies or chocolates, and framed photographs of your pets, and other tokens of gratitude – to all of you I say a very sincere and heartfelt thank you. I am thanking you for thanking me. If this is socially inappropriate, so be it. It’s how I feel.
If you, the reader of this letter, have sent me one of those cards, you should know that I have kept it, no matter how long ago you sent it. I have kept all of them. I literally have a large drawer full of thank you cards. One day I will count them, but there are hundreds and hundreds. Sometimes when I’m feeling down about work, I’ll just pull that drawer open and look at them all stacked in there and I will feel better. Occasionally I’ll even pull an old one out and reread it, even though sometimes this will be bittersweet as you usually send me a thank you card after I have put your pet to sleep, although I know that you are not thanking me for that service specifically, but rather for the care throughout your pet’s life. But the sweet outweighs the bitter by far because time does heal many (although perhaps not all) wounds and as time goes on I will mostly smile at the memory of your pet and I will think about the relationship you and I have as people. As I have often said, veterinary medicine is not an animal business that happens to involve people, but rather it is a people business that happens to involve animals. And it is people like you who keep me in it.
Veterinarians are often sensitive people. It is a highly complex job, which means that things sometimes do not go as planned, so criticism, disappointment, annoyance and even anger from clients is inevitable. As sensitive people we take this to heart. We really take this deeply to heart, so a sharp word from an upset client can fester in our minds for a very long time afterwards. We should be able to just shrug it off, but it’s not easy. The only true antidotes are our own confidence that we’re doing the best we can, and the thank yous from clients like you that remind us that what we do is actually appreciated by so many people. If only the patients could express their gratitude as well it would be perfect, but until that magic Dr. Doolittle day, the fact that you did is good enough.
So, thank you for saying thank you. You have no idea how much it means to me.
Dr Philipp Schott BSc DVM
p.s. Please do not feel badly if you’re reading this and are realizing that you have meant to send a thank you card, but never got around to it! Don’t worry! In no way do I expect to be thanked, nor do I notice when I haven’t been. And I totally get it! Even though I feel grateful for all sorts of professionals and other people who keep my life on track, I am terrible at remembering to thank them. Thanking really is such a tricky business.