Saturday, February 11, 2012

What's below the surface

I've been thinking about one of the comments posted recently, by user CSDVM on the "Veterinarians Behaving Very Badly" blog post. This user wrote:
"I too worked for one of these guys while in high school. He was also abusive to certain staff, throwing retractors in surgery, etc. He once choked a dog to death that was resisting anesthetic induction prior to spaying. He took the dog into surgery and opened it up so he could tell the client it died from surgical complications. There were many other incidences. He too was very well respected in the community, practiced in the wealthiest area of town. He made it very clear that that his recommendation would be necessary for entrance to veterinary school. No one in my practice is even allowed to yell at an animal unless under immediate attack (thank goodness that is almost never). If an animal is very agressive, that is when modern pharmacology makes everyone's life more pleasant."
 It made me wonder how many people like that there really are out there. I mean - not just veterinarians. There was that terrible story a few years back about the pediatrician who was molesting patients in Delaware. I imagine none of the parents ever thought he would ever do something like that, but he did. There's video evidence. It seems to me that some of these people, these sociopaths who put their own needs above those of everyone else in their lives, are so good at hiding it, it's frightening.

Anyway, the point of this post is not to scare you, gentle readers, into thinking that everyone you encounter is out to get you. It's just that this comment by CSDVM put me in mind of my own past experience, and I wanted to share it. So here I go.

Years ago, before I was a graduate veterinarian, I was working in an animal hospital in my home town. The owner of the practice was a well-respected member of the community. He took care of my parents' pets. He was very good-looking and charming. All of his clients loved him. Do you see where this is going? I was totally under his spell until I started working there. While I worked there, these things happened:
  1. I personally saw him strangling animals to the point of hypoxia as a form of "restraint." Not manual strangulation per se - hanging them from a leash is just as effective, though.
  2. He would not see working police/military dogs without at least 24 hrs advance notice, so he could remove illegal drugs from his office & make sure not to have traces on his person
  3. He used office staff as personal servants - not just "go get my dry cleaning" but "go get my kids from school," "do my grocery shopping & put it away at my house," "take my wife out to run errands because she can't drive because she had a drug-induced seizure and her asshole doctor restricted her license," and he did not give any kind of driving allowance for this either, or pay for gas.
  4. He regularly fucked the 18-22 year old girls he would hire to work the front desk. I have no idea if his wife knew about that.
  5. He regularly made all kinds of slurs against everyone in any way different from him.
  6. He sexually harassed me and everyone else he felt like harassing.
  7. He constantly called one particular very kind & dedicated homosexual employee a "fudgepacker" while slapping him on the back and pretending to be joking.
  8. He was an incredible diagnostician, rarely incorrect in his conclusions.
  9. He was able to treat severely ill patients successfully with remarkably limited resources.
  10. He had fabulous "tableside" manner, and was greatly beloved by his clients, who never knew any of the bad stuff was going on.
 As a young person, in my first work experience, I had no idea what this meant. Were ALL veterinarians like this? Were all adults like this? Should I try to DO SOMETHING about this? I'm not proud to say I just ignored most of it. I didn't take any crap from him - I was in fact fired more than once because of that! But he would then call and beg me to come back, and I did, and I generally kept my mouth shut about the rest of it. Apparently his associates did, too, or else they tried to do something and failed, but at least I wasn't totally alone in my failure to stop this behavior.

And, he was a great vet! You know, except for the hanging animals from the leash, which - UGH. But, he generally practiced very high quality medicine, given his general circumstances. I could not fault his medical care. This bothered me. I had always held veterinarians in the greatest of esteem. I found it painful to see this one behaving so very very badly. If he had been a bad veterinarian, I could have rationalized it - you know, he's just a generally bad person. He should never have become a vet. But, no. He was a great animal healer, and a terrible person.

So, that's my sordid tale from my past. I'm pleased to report that these things are no longer going on in Smallville, USA, as so much time has passed and the vet in question has retired. I've never since encountered this type of behavior in person. I hope that if I do, I will shine a light on it.


  1. I have the same rule in my practice. Worked for an asshole at my first job. Here the staff all knows that I will fire them on the spot if there is any hint of abuse. And that includes yelling. You can yell if the building's on fire. Period.

  2. I think this goes on in all kinds of professions. In my previous life in academia, genius seemed to often be associated with being an asshole. My impression was that the asshole knew s/he was exceptional at what s/he was doing, and so could get away with it. And the administrators likewise knew it, and let it go. In police work, the same is true. Those that treat line officers the most poorly generally seem to be the ones that rise to the top the fastest. From there, they can do anything they want to anyone they want. Sad.

  3. I work as a hospital nurse and my experiences there make me cautious. My vet usually takes the animals to a back room to draw blood, but I have to keep them in sight. Not because I think anyone is abusive, but to reassure myself. Based on what I've seen at work creeps can hide in plain sight.