Sometimes I'm reminded what a great country Thailand is to live in, especially when I encounter a level of customer service that I would never imagine possible. I've got a fishy tale for you this month.
We have a largish fish-pond in our front garden containing half a dozen carp or koi fish. I would probably know the difference if I took more interest in them but by and large, the welfare of the fish and the upkeep of the pond itself are my wife's responsibility. She feeds them daily. She cleans the water pump and filters. She'll even climb into the pool and wade around in knee-deep water in order to trim the water plants. She considers those fish very much a part of the family.
Two of the fish are now seven years old. They were the size of fairground goldfish when we tipped them into the pond but they've now grown to an incredible size.
A couple of weeks ago, it was obvious that one of our prize carp had developed a serious illness. Its body was bloated to twice its normal size and all its scales were sticking out, giving the fish a rather unnerving ‘pine cone' effect. My wife and I did some research on the internet and found a number of carp websites, clearly run by enthusiasts who live and breathe all things carp. We were able to ascertain that our fish had ‘dropsy' or ‘pine-cone disease'. It's a malady caused by a serious malfunction of the fish's internal organs. The worse part - or so we read - was that in almost all cases, the disease is fatal. There was no doubt about it - ‘Moby' was definitely on his way out.
Driving around, my wife had noticed an animal hospital or ‘vet' that had recently opened near our house. We decided to drop in ask the vet for some advice. The animal doctor himself was a very young-looking Thai guy and he listened sympathetically as my wife explained the problem. We expected him to repeat what we had already read on the various carp websites but that didn't happen. The vet asked where we lived and said he would accompany us back to the house to examine the sick fish.
"What? You'll come back to the house right now?
"Yes, why not?" the vet replied.
So the three of us made the short drive back home and the vet stood at the side of the fish-pond, scratched his head and worked out a treatment plan. He took a sample of the fish's scales to test (it took two people to hold the fish down as it flapped around wildly) and said he would return just after 5pm with a special transportation pool and take the fish back to the surgery for observation. True to his word, he returned at five ‘o' clock on the dot and took the fish away.
The following morning (Sunday) my wife and I nipped into the vet's office to check on the fish's progress. The vet took us to a back room where Moby was swimming happily in a large plastic tank complete with oxygen pumps and all sorts. The vet had also given the fish an injection and treated the water with various chemicals to kill any lurking parasites. It was clear that the vet wanted the fish to survive just as much as we did. And he seemed to think the chances were good.
Over the next several days, the vet called my wife two or three times to give her an update. He told my wife that she was welcome to drop into the pet hospital at any time. We decided to go once more, not only to see the fish, but to offer the vet some money for the treatment. Up to now, he hadn't asked for a baht in payment. The vet tapped some numbers into a calculator - I'm presuming the cost of home visits, injections, tests and the fishy version of a hospital bed - and told my wife that 500 baht would cover it. Now that's Amazing Thailand right there.
My wife was keen to learn a bit more about this wonderful animal doctor for whom nothing seemed too much trouble and the vet was happy to tell his story. He learned his trade at the Suwanachart Vet Hospital. It's an animal hospital with royal connections so you would certainly expect him to know his stuff. But after years of loyal service, he felt it was time to go his own way and open his own practice. He went on to say that the biggest problem he faced was the fact that Thai pet owners viewed him with suspicion simply because he looked so young. It was a prejudice he knew would be difficult to overcome.
"Thai people prefer older vets for some reason" he said. In addition, he had spent a lot of money on an impressive shop-front so people had the mistaken belief that treatment there would be expensive. Costly animal care was definitely not part of his business plan.
"I set up this business purely to help pet owners on lower incomes and give their animals a service and treatment that they deserve. I just enjoy making sick animals well again"
Feeling humbled and very impressed, my wife and I returned home and went about our weekend tasks. Lying half-awake in bed that night - almost midnight in fact - my wife's mobile phone rang. While not exactly distraught but clearly a little upset, the vet gave us the bad news - our fish had died. The vet had wanted to come to the house and break the news to us face-to-face but it was getting a little late.
My wife reassured him that he had done all he could. He had done his very best. And he had shown a level of care and customer service that she had never experienced at a pet hospital before. I'll certainly go along with that.