I have been a CVT for just over 2 years now, the majority of that time spent in emergency medicine. During a late night in the ER I tried to take on a dog that was just a little too much for me, and injured my back. This injury led to an experience I never expected, and one that I am thoroughly grateful for now.
Shortly after injuring my back, the HR department contacted me about my return to work. They had an idea and wanted to see if I was interested. The idea was this: I would train and work as a Client Service Representative (CSR) at the front desk of DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital. Up to this point I had only worked in the back as a CVT, and I had very little knowledge of what a CSR did - I simply knew it was a position I never wanted to fill. I knew they were the “front lines” of the hospital, and that they worked with clients all day long. Now, anyone who knows technicians knows that most of us became techs so we could work with animals, and not to deal with their owners. So when I got the call about becoming a CSR I hesitated for a split second. But I quickly agreed, wanting to get back to work in some form. Little did I know it would change the way I viewed the hospital and the underappreciated CSR position.
I came to work the next day in my scrubs with my stethoscope around my neck, not sure of exactly what I would be doing. I went up to the front desk and met my trainer. It was a surreal feeling, since I had become one of the senior people on the floor, and I was the one teaching new technicians or extern students from tech schools. I introduced myself and we started to get to work. Thankfully, learning the computers was not difficult - I have an IT background, a general love for all things technology, and we used the same software in the back. As we began to go through what my duties would be and I started taking my first phone calls, I began to realize this was going to be quite the experience! The phones started ringing about 20 minutes into my shift and I don’t remember them stopping until well after I had clocked out.
With phones ringing all around, clients began to approach the desk. Each one brought their precious loved ones in hopes of receiving help and compassion from the person behind the desk. It amazed me how quickly things moved up front. I was used to a fast pace on the floor, but the tension and managed chaos of the front desk was unsettling. As clients approached we quickly decided the type of triage to call. Would it be “Triage to the lobby”? Or the ever feared “STAT triage”, signaling an emergency and calling all hands on deck? Every client that came to the front desk was concerned for their pet, and many were in hysterics. I was impressed by my trainer as she quickly got the necessary information and started the check in process, calming down the owner at the same time. It was like watching a skilled athlete, or a gourmet chef move flawlessly as they handled different ingredients around the room to make something beautiful. I was in for a crash course on traffic control and counseling.
As I began to adjust to the pace and requirements of being a CSR, I realized just how much care and compassion went into everything they did. They wrote sympathy cards to those who had to make the tough decision to say goodbye to their best friend, they walked owners out after the doctor left. Everything was emotionally charged and took its toll. It was extremely difficult not to get emotionally invested, to empathize with the people who were making life and death decisions right in front of and often times with you. I walked away from my first week as a CSR with a much greater appreciation for what actually happened on those “front lines.”
It’s easy to see the physical division between the front and back of the hospital, and I think it’s something we take for granted. I know that as a technician I would often become annoyed by calls from the front asking for an update on the patient who had only been there for 10 minutes and was not a priority (especially when I was in the middle of drawing blood on a fractious animal). What I did not see, or even realize until that week, was that maybe a CSR had a client standing right over them as they asked how Fluffy was doing. Someone eagerly waiting to hear that their pet was not dying, or that we had been able to relieve some of their loved one's pain. I began to realize that as a CSR, the last thing you want to do is bother busy staff, because you sent the patients back to them in the first place! I realized that behind every page there was a cry for help, a gentle asking for anything, even just saying that Fluffy is resting comfortably. Something to assuage an owner who is on the brink of breakdown, when it feels like they've been separated from their pet for an eternity. From that moment on, I knew my reactions and responses as a CVT would change.
The other major lesson I learned sitting at the front desk is that every euthanasia is a carefully orchestrated balancing act. Asking someone to fill out paperwork when they realize they have to say goodbye to their best friend, their loyal companion? That can be quite a daunting task. It's difficult not to come across as a “money hungry, insensitive jerks”, despite it just being a procedure you have to follow. The timing can feel awkward. But without the proper signatures, permissions and aftercare wishes, the whole process falls apart - people get hurt and things get missed. It may seem insensitive, but having been there I can tell you that every CSR is invested. Many times we have to find a moment to shed a tear or two before putting on a brave face for the clients. Or the tough cases that require taking a break to go and cry. The ones where you wished there was more you could do, and you almost feel like a failure for not being able to help more.
After a few months I finally returned back to the floor as a CVT. What a glorious day it was! But at the same time it was bittersweet because I had grown to really love my CSR team. We had fun, we had rough times and good times, we were a team. I never planned to work at the front desk, and if given the option I know where my passion lies. But I have such respect and admiration for the men and women who go up there day after day, shift after shift, dealing with emotions and expectations that would drive most people mad. They deal with it all incredibly well, with poise and composure, compassion and caring. They truly are on the “front lines” and I am proud to have them there. A good CSR is worth their weight in gold, and I am fortunate to be able to work with quite a few. So I simply want to end saying this: Thank you. Thank you for all that you do; the people you calm, the pets you assess, the fires you put out and us technicians you put up with, who many times have no idea what you are going through, how much you have spared them from, and who call you “receptionists” when you are so much more. You are the glue that holds this thing together and I appreciate each and every one of you! And to the technicians who think we do all the hard work and heavy lifting, say thanks to your CSR once and a while, it just might make their day!