Thursday, April 9, 2015

Did I do OK?

I hope you kind readers will bear with an old man as I try to come to grips with that world out there. Things are changing, things I don't quite understand.

I am a veterinarian. I'm proud to say this. I have poured my heart and soul into this profession, this helping and caring endeavor. I've been a veterinarian for a while. I'm now seeing the pets of the grandchildren of the folks I started with. Over decades, I've made friends, and met many and varied personalities. Some have been a trial, as anyone who works with the public understands. Some have left me muttering obscenities in the sanctuary of the back ward. Others left me laughing. They've mostly made this work fun, but not always. And the animals......bless them. They are the reason, the chore, and the salvation for all the effort.

I have saved lives and lost some, exalted and cried with thousands of people over the years. It's been hard work and it's been mostly worth it. This is not a wealthy area and economics have always defined what I could or could not do for the animals and their folks. But I have mirrors in my house and I can look into them with a clear conscience. I always tried my best, figured and connived and invented around the limits set for me, and put the animals welfare first and foremost.

I've made a living at this profession, and will retire with enough to get by. Never got into this line of work to get rich, and I was right about that. I've helped thousands of animals live healthy lives, and then quietly assisted them when twas time for them to leave. I've advocated for the animals, and sympathized with their people. I've done my job as I saw it, and I think did my best.

I figure I've shown up to work in my clinic, to help animals and their people, almost 13000 mornings over my career. That sounds like a lot, but when you do them one at a time it only takes forty some years. Doesn't make me an expert, but I'll put my opinion up against some of those loud people who haven't yet done this even once. They claim their right to a voice, and I'll claim mine.

Don't know if it is introspection or retrospection. It's the process an old man endures when wrapping up a life's work. I find myself spending too much time with old clients in the exam room, talking. Remembering. Telling stories. Coming to some peace with my life. Takes some thought and time.

I awake in the middle of the night.

The guy behind me honks when the light turns green.

Don't quite understand the process, but it's about this.

Did I do OK?

Should be obvious...right? Client after client, old friends and new, when we tell them we are putting the practice up for sale because it is time to retire, voice the opinion that I cannot leave, that they won't know where to turn when I'm gone. Of course they are trying to be kind, to thank me for those times I tried, and this is the best way they can say this without going maudlin. They tell me I did right by them when they say this. And that's OK.

This should be enough. But they weren't there on those many nights over those many years when I woke in the dark wondering if I'd done enough. And I now have far too much time in which to wonder...did I do enough?

And now, new voices chime in, and they are the motivation for this essay.

Consider this notion. Suppose...just suppose, that the next reality TV show featured someone whose behavior set back, oh say that stuff we call high tech. Suppose he so influenced people through some misguided notions, that they should discard all that useful stuff, like computers and smart phones, and just go back to the days of party line phones hanging on the wall, and those clunky mechanical adding machines. Would that make any sense to you?

Suppose the next TV show featured a confused guy who argued that we should lose modern jet airliners, highly trained pilots, radar controlled air traffic, modern weather forecasting, and instead resurrect the venerable Ford Trimotor in which you could head out into the dark, not knowing if Omaha was socked in with fog or not. Would that make much sense to you?

Would you watch a TV show where the celebrity chef dropped the steak on a filthy bathroom floor, wiped it off with a paper towel, and then proceeded to prepare dinner for the panel of judges, using curdled milk, cheese with hair, and green bread all kneaded together with his bare hands, with that one finger dripping pus from the rat bite?

Would you watch any of these shows, and then cheer them on, and rabidly defend the star from criticism by shouting down high tech, modern air travel, and a safe food supply, solely because the way the stars of these shows does things is cheaper than doing things correctly?

Well, apparently some of you would.

And that is part of why I now wonder if I really did OK.

His name is Dr. Marcus Free. Dr. Free is a physician who practices in Michigan. Dr. Free is vocal in his opposition to those veterinarians who have asked the National Geographic people to cancel the Amazing Dr. Pol show.

In case you just woke from a 50 year nap and you know not who Dr. Pol might be......

Dr. Pol is like many veterinarians in that he sometimes wades into boot deep mud and manure to administer to a downer cow. On his show he gets kicked by the occasional horse and gets rained on, snowed on and sunburned in the course of any given day. And he sees dogs and cats when not out on the road in his truck. So far, so good. Sounds like a regular James Herriot. Kind and caring, dedicated, and most importantly.....he works cheap.

OK for myths. The reality...James Herriot worked in rural pre-war England, some 80 years ago. Veterinary medicine has advanced some since the 1930's, as has air travel, food safety, and communications. In his day, James Herriot was on the cutting edge of his profession, and over the years constantly improved the quality of medical care he delivered to his patients and for his clients. The man is dead now, but I would venture that he would be appalled at the malpractice portrayed frequently on the reality TV show that celebrates the incredible Dr. Pol. For James Herriot in the mid 1930's practiced more advanced, and effective medicine than Dr Pol now does. And for the record, James Herriot was never cheap. And he heard about this constantly from the clients who were cheap, and he endured this just like the good veterinarians of today.

Getting back to Dr. Marcus Free.....

Like all professions, veterinary medicine tries to police itself, to protect those animals and their people from bad veterinarians. So when our family of veterinarians witnessed the horror that is Dr. Pol's show, we petitioned National Geographic TV, and the various regulatory agencies that oversee our behavior, to put an end to a TV show that pretends to amuse folks with a charismatic (cheap) veterinarian, all while showcasing unadulterated malpractice and subsequent abuse of animals. The show is popular, and makes National Geographic a ton of money. So screw the animals, Dr. Pol stays on the air.

On a facebook page dedicated to ending this travesty, Dr. Pol supporters appeared. Some were amusing, some quite sad, and a few overtly threatening. And then Dr Free spoke up, “If it is true that the standards of care were broken by Dr. Pol, then the standards have grown out of control. Let's keep in mind that we are discussing non-human animals here. If they die it is unfortunate, but certainly no tragedy. We have enough sky-rocketing expense on our side of the fence.”

By this I'm sure Dr. Free means to say that the use of sterile technique and inhalant anesthetic is the reason why the costs in human medicine have climbed so in the last two centuries. Because these things are right up there in our discussion of Dr. Pol's oversights. He could fix these things for a few dollars per procedure but apparently he thinks it unnecessary. But according to Dr. Free, if a few animals die because of this callous indifference, both to the animals and their people, that's just tough shit. Because Dr. Free apparently doesn't care about animals, and ya gotta wonder about Dr. Pol.

I believe Dr. Free is a surgeon, and his comments beg the question: do ya really think it would improve human medicine to go back to the Civil War when a bottle of whiskey passed for anesthesia, and four guys held down the victim, I mean patient, while he chewed on a stick as the surgeon lopped off his leg with a hand saw and then seared the stump with a red hot iron?

Presumably, the good doctor would say that wasn't what he meant, but heck, it would be cheaper.

So far, every person I've heard, and there have been many, who defend Dr. Pol's malpractice state one and only one thing in his favor.

He is cheap.

As long as it doesn't cost folks money, the horse doctor can drop the steak on the floor, crash the ancient plane into a mountain, and listen in on the party line call.

And those veterinarians who try to do the best they can.....well, they just be a bunch a crooks.

Amongst all the things I reminisce about, about did I do all I could, did I do my best, did I help, this reality surfaces. A whole bunch of people don't care squat about their animals, or the care their animals receive from veterinarians. And if I have any advice to pass on to the young ones who dream of becoming a veterinarian, it would be to only do this if you really care, for the folks who have these animals often do not, and if you don't really care, and if you are not prepared to die inside daily for a 13000 day career because you do care more about their animals than their owners do, don't go there. For this profession will then kill you if you cannot convince yourself every freaking day, that you are doing the right thing.


  1. I've never watched the Dr Pol show, never intend to. Partially because I'm one of the (apparent minority) folks who doesn't care for reality TV, but also because of reviews from veterinarians I trust.

    As a client, who owns two dogs and two cats, I appreciate it when my vet takes an extra minute to figure out which lab would be the cheaper one to send that expensive blood work too. But I also spend the extra money to have the greyhound protocols followed when my one dog has to be put under because he comes from a breed with know problems.

    I understand that money talks, but there is sometimes too much of a focus on it. If by spending an extra few dollars I can make a procedure safer for my animals I appreciate knowing that.

  2. "If they die it is unfortunate, but certainly no tragedy." Rarely have I ever heard such a profound expression of implied unprofessionalism and total of self-illegitimacy.

  3. Sadly, most veterinarians who have had to cope with the misadventures created by physicians, who think they know everything, including the everything involved in helping sick or injured animals, will tell you that at best physicians are a hazard, and at worst they make Jeffry Dahmer look like a beginner. No surprise that a physician, who couldn't even bring himself to address the veterinarian who brought the charges against Dr. Pol, as a Doctor, would denigrate the efforts of us all. Problem is, that leaves his defense Dr. Pol to be, "Well, yeah he screwed up, but who cares?" If he thinks he knows all, and he thinks that nobody cares when a pet dies, god bless him, and I hope he never loves anyone that he might lose.

  4. Every letter of every word you wrote hit home. At 48yrs old, I hope I still have at least another 20yrs of practice to go, but I didn't realize I had a mentor I didn't know. I hope I am still the veterinarian I strive to be now at the end of my career and can make you proud. You nailed it. Did you do ok?? Yes you did, and some ...and thank you :)

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  6. Your last paragraph sums up my ten-year career in private practice. I'm not as brave as you are. I couldn't do it anymore. Though I am still employed as a veterinarian, I left private practice several years ago now. Life is better.

    As for Marcus Free... a prime example of why I have no regrets about not even considering attending medical school. Ignorant and arrogant.

  7. A quick visit to HealthGrades revealed that Marcus Free, who practices surgery but is apparently not board-certified, has had his own problems with the Texas and now Michigan boards of medicine. He forged his wife's signature in order to obtain money from an offshore account. Apparently, he lost at minimum hundreds of thousands of dollars day trading. The charge was moral turpitude and he was ordered to consult a psychiatrist. Sounds like a great guy. Copies of documents, including his signature:

  8. Oh good grief, really? Thanks for the links, Jenna. Why does this not surprise me?

    And Dr. Bob... you not only did OK, but you get to die with your soul intact as you always did what was right, like the majority of us in this profession. I'm proud to call you my good friend and colleague.

  9. I own a small farm. I've had the "old codger" vet, and was sad when he retired! You really can't beat a mix of continuing ed, fueled by a lifetime of scientific curiosity, and 40 years worth of experience. It's also been my pleasure to watch a newly qualified vet grow with her 1st decade of experience. I watched an episode or 2 of "Dr Pol" after hearing of the controversy, and all I can say is that he wouldn't be invited back to my farm. I know a couple of small farmers who seem to think he's a god, but those people are running crappy farms and don't even have a regular vet. They're the kind of people who expect 6 neighbors to pin down their horse when it gets quilled by a porcupine because sedation is a "waste of money".

  10. I have been a first and second hand witness to veterinary malpractice and the repercussions of that very very inadequate. The lack of concern by the governing boards is probably why this continues to be a thing instead of being dealt with..

    Until animals are granted a status above that of your toaster, this will continue to be a thing

  11. You cared about the animals, kept learning and wrote this defense of your truly professional colleagues...much, much more than OK.

  12. You did more than just okay. I've never watched Dr. Pol and I never will. I don't watch National Geographic, or The Learning Channel, or Discovery anymore because their standards are gone. Just having heard about Dr. Pol was enough. He sounds like a sadist, not a veterinarian.

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