Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Building Walls

It's the walls.

You build walls for protection when you fear the pain. Over time, you build more walls, thicker, higher, sometimes in layers that must be penetrated one after another before they can get to you. Inside the walls you can survive. Survive is good, but once inside the walls you cannot see the outside of the walls, and thus you miss that out there that is not about the pain but instead is the good. Eventually you may forget there is an outside.

Often a client asks, as you gather around the table with its dog or cat lying still and quiet upon it, but no longer in pain and despair, thanks to your needle and skill......"Doc, I don't know how you do this...." And their voice hangs in the air, dripping a bit on your shoulder and bowed head.....

You tell them that this is one of the most important things you can do, for when all else is done, you can grant a quiet exit for a dear friend, so that is what you do. And they thank you through their tears and you hug and then they leave so that you can wrap up a limp body in plastic and place it carefully in a freezer. And the pain settles in there, and you promise yourself that it will be ok, and it is not, and so you build another wall.

That spot inside your right cheek, the one you chew on when you really need to rip some asshole's head off and you cannot, and you watch them take the abused neglected animal away to where you cannot force them to let you help, and you know they will let it rot, and you say to yourself....forget it. It's not your problem anymore. Get on with things.

And the pain settle in there, and you build another wall.

Soon enough you are so changed that you cannot see yourself without walls, and you cannot see outside the walls, and those you love cannot see you within.

And then somebody puts this silly thing up on your feed, and they force you to watch it even though you fear it, and it works. It finds a way through all the walls, and it feels for and then hits that place deep in your heart, and you feel the walls fall away leaving you completely exposed and defenseless. Perhaps the tears flow...

You wonder for a moment why this one gets to you, and then in the mirror you see..... This is why you do this thing, for them and despite what it does to your self. But you have to drop the walls before you can even remember why. It takes a silly thing like this to drop the walls.

That bit is the sad bit.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A young man's fancy turns to....

Our little city has grown over the years, new developments have packed houses into most of the available space, up into the hills to mar our views and lining every street with a sea of identical roofs. There are few blank spots on our map anymore. But there is that one, tucked in behind the golf course, a hidden bare piece of land that once was the police shooting range. For a time this was a place into which people rarely entered. So of course this was the logical void to take Vito. 

Vito was an old, fat yellow Labrador retriever. He was a gentle soul, slow moving and uncomplicated by excess intelligence, rarely clean and barely housebroke. He passed wind on occasion. Your basic old, fat yellow Labrador…..

Vito belonged to a man. He was a man’s dog. Took me a while to get the measure of this man. I’d known him since he was young. As a young man he tried very hard to come across as hard. He made himself distant, not rude but aloof, devoid of emotion. A man rock.

Wasn't sure why, but then this wasn’t my business. He took reasonable care of Vito and that was where my interest lay.

Phone rang one morning at the VBB hospital. I try to listen in when the receptionist talks on the phone. Old habit. Gives me a hint in advance when some weird is going to land on us. Half of a conversation, but the clues are there.

“Do you have a question for the doctor? Perhaps I can answer it for you.”

From this I knew she answered the phone and the first words from the other side were, “I need to talk to Doc.”

“I see, well the doctor is with a client now. Can I give him a message? I see, well can you hold for a moment?”

I wasn’t with a client. I was sucking down coffee standing next to the reception desk, listening to the weird beginning. My receptionist looked up.

“It’s Mr. Brando, and no, he won’t tell me.”

I’ll take it, and headed to my office….

Marlon….what’s up?

“Well Doc, you know Vito. He’s getting pretty old, and he can barely walk, and I know it’s time, ya know. So I was gonna shoot him and bury him. Put him out of his misery. I know I could bring him down to you, but this is a man’s job and I was gonna do it.”

OK….always act as if you agree with them to keep them talking. Then maybe you can figure why they are talking.

“Well anyway, I took Vito out behind the golf course, you know, and I carried him out of the Jeep and I got the shovel and started to dig the hole. I had my pistol and I was gonna just shoot him in the head and roll him into the hole and bury him. Ya know. So anyway, I started to dig and Vito was just laying there next to me and this stick was in the way, so I threw it away. And you know what? That damn dog got up and fetched that stick. So I saw that and I figured it weren’t time yet. So can you take a look at Vito for me and tell me what I can do to keep him around a little longer?”

We got almost three more years of life out of ole Vito, with some weight loss and some meds for his arthritis, and with the directive that Marlon throw the stick for Vito whenever the need arose. And when the time came, Marlon brought Vito in to me. He didn’t cry then. Too hard for that. But he did treat me with some bit more respect and and a touch of friendship over the years.

After his father passed, Marlon even smiled from time to time. Never talked about his father of course, but I’d known that man too. Didn’t need to go there.

This time Marlon didn’t call first. He just showed up in the hall of our hospital. With a question.

“Doc…..Bruno keeps getting jumped by the two pitbulls down the street. He fights them but he keeps getting beat up.”

Now, I might have mentioned that he could keep Bruno from walking down the street to fight those two, but Marlon wasn’t waiting for this answer. He had another answer in mind.

“I need to get Bruno a female, so he can mate with her, for there are no more ferocious fighters than a mated pair. So I want to get him a female Lab, so they can mate and be paired for life.”


“But I need to know, I need a pill or some kind of abortion because I don’t want puppies. I just want them to mate.”

Marlon wants me to help him get his dog laid. This is not an unusual request, generally from the male owners of male dogs, but occasionally from a female owner with a female dog. The female owners are more interested in the mommy experience, or at least I think they are. I don’t generally get into specifics at these times. 

We get requests like this. Not as often as we get, “Can I catch anything from my dog, you know, when we……?” But we get requests like this.

I come up with answers to such questions most of the time. Carefully. But I’m at a loss how to answer this one. 

Perhaps with the truth…….

Monday, January 18, 2016

Just put them in a baggie, sir.

Hello, intrepid readers! I hope 2016 is going well for you so far. Personally, I'm not thrilled with it yet but it's young - maybe things will improve. Anyway...

From a remote VBB outpost closer to Albuquerque than Atlanta comes the following:

Phone call I answered, sounds like a teen-to-20something guy: 
"Hi, I need help with my dog. I gave him some...human pills...I don't think it's appropriate to say which ones. I didn't know the symptoms so I decided to try it in a dog. So at first he was pacing, then about 10 minutes later he was in the corner're not gonna believe me because I've called other vets and they don't believe me...his genitals fell off. So I was wondering if you could reattach them."

"Well, I really can't say yes or no without seeing him. We're pretty full today but I can try to make you an appointment."

"Since you believe me I guess it's appropriate to say what pills they were. I gave him Viagra."

"Ok, well let's have you bring him in."

"Well he's sleeping right now. It happened about a month ago."

"Ok, so it can probably wait until tomorrow."

"Well, he's been sleeping for 2 days now. He hasn't opened his eyes for 2 days."

"Well then he needs to be seen today, now, I suggest you go to an emergency center so they can treat him appropriately."

"What should I do with the genitals?"

" can put them in a plastic baggie and take them with you. Do you need a number to the EC?"

"Number?" "Yes, phone number, so you can call them." "No, I don't."

"Do you know where they are?" "Uh, yeah....[click]"


Sunday, May 10, 2015

For Mothers Day

Every veterinarian has, or had a mother......And many are one themself...
So this....

A little girl wears the look on her face. Her mom knows the look. Moms are smart that way. They know what to watch for when they want to see if the tyke is headed for trouble, like that mischievous change in a little girl's face. Mom lets her wander a bit further this time. But, although one eye might be on the bowl of snap beans in her lap, the mom's other eye stays locked on the little girl.

The blonde, blue-eyed girl is 3 years old, so the world is a very big place. She knows she isn't supposed to walk all the way to the back of the yard, but there might be something worth seeing over there. She toddles off in that direction. Along the way, she glances back toward her mom. Am I caught yet? Nothing happens. I'm in the clear! What a fine adventure. Soon she is lost in exploring, poking about here and there, peering over and under stuff at all the wonders of the world.

A strange noise. The little girl feels that creep of fear. Turning quickly, she looks for her mom. Everything is OK, because mom is sitting right over there, watching her. Everything is OK.

Years pass, and the little girl is no longer little, and when she toddles off, mom is no longer in sight. The girl goes searching for something worth seeing over there. Mom can still spot that look on the girl's face that tells when she is headed for trouble. And mom finds the courage to let her go again. Mom cannot see, but the phone sits just beside her chair, and when it rings, and it is the girl checking to see if mom is still watching, she is. And everything is OK.

The girl becomes a woman, and when she goes exploring for something worth seeing, over there is across a country away. She doesn't look back nearly as often. And mom learns to stop searching for her in the yard. But when the woman feels that creep of fear, she reaches for the phone again, and mom answers before it rings. And everything is OK.

And then the woman finds herself with one eye on the snap beans, and the other on her own little blonde, blue-eyed girl who is headed over there. And she reaches for the phone with something to share, something new to her, and oh so familiar for mom. And everything is OK.

Decades pass, and the woman walks upon a lonely beach. Dark fog hovers near, and the sea is nervous that day, bearing a watchful eye as she is near the surf. She is working through the morass of things bouncing around inside her head, and she feels the creep of fear again. She cannot turn to see mom watching over her, and be comforted by that. She would dearly love to dial the phone, but mom is no longer there to answer. Instead, there is a vast hole in her heart.

But just then, at that very moment, the woman looks down, and she finds, lying on the dark sand, a fingernail size fragment of seashell, pure white, and carved by the waves into a perfect heart shape. A gift from the sea, or someone else? The woman looks up.

Hi Mommy. And everything is OK again.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Herky won't let me be

The lady was in the cat side of reception, looking through the window at my receptionist. She'd never been in before, and I could tell she was checking us out, to see if we were worthy of her cat and her business. That's fine. I do the same thing when I first visit a dentist or even a barber. You want to be comfortable in such an environment.

I was on our side of the counter, leaning and essentially worthless for the moment, although the staff is polite enough not to ever say that. The lady seemed a bit, oh I don't know, hostile is too harsh but she clearly wasn't just blending in as I've come to expect from my clients. Then she saw the cat. That was the deal breaker.

Jaws was lying on the counter, next to Karen, our receptionist and the best friend of Jaws.

The back story. Jaws came to us as an emaciated, flea infested, filthy orange and white striped eight week old kitten. She was hungry, and she demonstrated that with her rather prodigious appetite. She attacked food. So we named her, Jaws.

Jaws was, oh hell let's be honest, fat. And she hung out with Karen, for when the office was closed for lunch and Karen was eating said lunch at her desk, there was this other plate where some of Karen's lunch showed up in front of Jaws every day. The two were inseparable during business hours. I had no problem with this, and my loyal clients loved to see Jaws on the counter, digesting part of Karen's lunch.

Anyway, this lady saw Jaws on the counter next to Karen, and she just about screamed. She was incensed. She was outraged.

“There's a cat on your counter.”

Ah, yep. That's Jaws. She lives here.

“That's unsanitary. I'd never bring my cat into a place like this!”

Oh, well that's fine. Maybe you should just leave and go find some other veterinary hospital where the resident cat doesn't hang out on the counter. Because you will never be happy here.

Good luck with that. In my experience, most veterinary hospitals have what we call hospital cats. Such cats are generally fat, and they hang out on counters or wherever they damn well please, and the people working in those veterinary hospitals love those cats far better than they like BITCHY OLD SELF IMPORTANT WITCHES!

Oh, I'm sorry. Was I shouting?

In my experience, most veterinary hospitals, filled with people who care about their clients' animals, always have a few of their own beloved companions hanging about the place. It's just me talking here, but I wouldn't be comfortable in a veterinary hospital that didn't have a few, uh, normal challenged, animals living there.

Normal challenged?

Yeah, I usually say that you have to be defective to work in a veterinary hospital, but my wife takes some offense at that, and says for the animals at least, I should use the term, “normal challenged” when speaking about the cats and dogs living in veterinary hospitals.

Ya see, most of the animals living in veterinary hospitals have had issues before they came to live with us. Often they are missing various parts, a toe, a leg, a tail, an eye. They often have been abandoned by uncaring owners, or simply adopted by the staff when somebody wanted them dead because they were missing a part or were something less than perfect. They say the fastest route to insanity is to care more for the animals than the people who own them, and that may be true. But, it certainly is the fastest route to accumulating a few more hospital cats.

I look back on our hospital cats, to Moocher, Sam, Momma Tom, Kung Foo, Spaz, Jaws, Mohamed Ali, One Eyed Jack, Quirk, Lefty, Jill, and Herky and I wouldn't trade one of them for the opportunity to serve a woman who couldn't stomach seeing one of ours in our own hospital.

I was thinking about Herky today. He came to us as Herkimer, a ten month old tomcat who got into one too many cat fights, and sustained an abscess in the middle of his back, the consequence of a bite wound. We sent home the usual antibiotics, and all would have been fine except that this bite wound had penetrated to the bone of one vertebrae. The owner noticed that Herkimer was paralyzed at some point and after letting this steep for far too long, and when it didn't “get better by itself”, finally rushed him in. Not surprisingly, he was still paralyzed. Another course of antibiotics actually returned him to normal, but when the owner didn't follow up as we had suggested with further treatment with more antibiotics, he went down in the rear again. When they finally brought him back in, his rear legs were history. They couldn't have cared less.

So Herky came to live with us, and for the next twelve years he slid around our hospital with two good front legs and a back end that came along for the ride. He couldn't feel anything behind his last rib, so he bathed to there and stopped. He built up some fine callouses on the right side and slid along the smooth concrete floors as if they were designed for him. We tried to build him a cart, but he kept spinning out in the corners, so we just let him do as he preferred.

Some clients saw Herky sliding along the floor, and they felt sorry for him. They'd ask if we were going to put him to sleep because he was suffering, and then he'd slide up to them and rub his chin against their ankles purring until they'd pet him, and then it would dawn on them that he was actually a pretty happy cat. And he was.

What I remember best about Herky was his wisdom. From time to time I'd have one of those days when I'd rather be the janitor in a porno theater than to continue this nonsense of being a veterinarian. I'd wander back to the kennel to Herky's home expecting some sympathy, some understanding from a paralyzed cat when I was having a bad day.....and he would bite me. It kinds boiled down to one simple thing. Herky wouldn't listen unless I brought a complaint with some legitimacy. If I was just whining, he'd bite me. Come to me when you've got something important to say, and I'll listen. Smart cat. I learned much from him.

Due to his medical issues, Herky couldn't pee on his own. We needed to hold him over the sink and with gentle finger pressure, we'd empty his bladder each day. When we let him out of his cage each morning, he'd slide around on the floor until he moved his bowels, and that took care of that, most days. But each and every day, somebody needed to express Herky's bladder. On Sunday, that was my job.

Before doing anything fun on Sunday, my only day off, so to speak, I would first have to drive over the hill to the clinic, and squeeze Herky. It became something of a routine. Once I'd done that, my day off could begin. For twelve years.

Right now, we are remodeling our home, because when we finally sell the practice and we can retire, the house will also be sold and we will move to paradise for the remaining days of our lives. So right now, our cats are living at the clinic. So that means, on the weekends I get to drive over the hill to the clinic and make sure the litter pans are clean and the cats have fresh water and food. I was doing just that today, and while I enjoyed the scenery on the drive, it dawned on me that as many times as I have done this, this drive over the hill to the clinic to care for the cats at the clinic on the weekends when normal people are simply enjoying their weekends away from their work, I would soon no longer need to fulfill this duty..... and that brought a tear to my eyes.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Grown-up Angst

I made my Mom laugh really hard once. Didn't intend to, but that is what happens sometimes when you're convinced you know everything, and you haven't yet been shown the error of your ways.

Immersed in some version of teen angst, and seeing no quick and easy way through, I was thinking out loud. Mother had been a teen once, which didn't make her an expert on solving teen angst, but then Mom took after me; she didn't need to be an expert in order to voice her opinion. I can laugh at this bit now, but at the time I was dead serious.

Me, “I can't wait to grow up.”

Mom, “Why's that?”

Me, “Well, this being a teenager is just so full of problems, but when I am an adult, I won't have near so much difficulty.”

I'll give Mom credit, because she tried out of politeness to remain cool in the face of my folly. But, as Rocky the flying squirrel once noted, that trick never works. Mom finally wailed with laughter as she staggered out of the room. At the time, I had no idea why she did that. I have since learned what she knew I would.

Some decades ago I took a walk in the mountains. The John Muir Trail through the best of the Sierra Nevada mountain range is some 220 miles long, and I didn't rush through it, taking some 18 days to finish. Didn't cross a road for the entire length. Nothing but wilderness, altitude, scenery, and wonder filled my days and nights on the trail. It was difficult and thrilling. I remember most all of this. But the part I distinctly recall was that last day as I walked down the mountain toward the dusty truck we left parked on the road, that time of triumph and accomplishment, and also the utter disappointment of knowing that this unparalleled experience must end. Such joy. Such sadness. Such life.

In June of 1972 I walked into the building. It was brand new, having opened for business on the first of the month. I was brand new also, having finished up at the School of Veterinary Medicine just a few weeks earlier. On July 1st I officially began working there, and I've been showing up to work in that building most every day since. Forty-three years.

And now I'm walking down the mountain again, approaching the end of another journey. I am filled with the triumph and accomplishment, and also the utter disappointment of knowing that this unparalleled experience must end. I'm putting my practice on the market so that I can retire. It's time to go elsewhere in life.

Mom was correct of course. That bit about being a grown-up, about not having any more problems....well that never quite happened. Practice was not a party. It had its moments of unforgettable joy, and success, and also those of gut wrenching disappointment and pain. Sitting at this end of my career, I now have the luxury of looking back at the good and bad that happened over four decades, of trying to make sense of it all, and of trying to measure the success or failure of my life, at least that large part spent in that building.

In other words, I now am enjoying yet another dose of what I can only call grown up angst.

The voice on the radio yesterday was talking about the riots, looting, and arson devastating an Eastern city, and since his job is to incite outrage, he decided to excuse the lawbreakers by stating that they only torched a few storefronts. No big deal, right? I listened with interest.

Show of hands.....who knows that there were two veterinary hospitals in the path of the rioters, looters, and arsonists that destroyed much of Fergusen, MO? Those two buildings did not make the news because they didn't burn to the ground. They didn't burn to the ground because terrified men stood outside them with shotguns, facing down the mob.

Have you ever wondered if you would do such a thing? When the last bunch of riots were only miles away from my practice, I wondered. Would you stand in the way of a mob, the wall of a building at your back, the shotgun in hand, just so angry people wouldn't burn the place down?

Would your decision be influenced by the fact that you have worked your entire adult life inside that building, doing important service for the animals and their people, and also supporting your family through thick and thin? Would a building that represents so much of your personal identity really be missed if it became a pile of ashes? Would your decision be influenced by the sad reality that the building represents a significant part of your retirement savings, an investment you worked decades to create, the difference between not getting by or having some comfort? Take on such a discussion in your head in the dark of night sometime. You won't enjoy it either.

When you put a veterinary practice up for sale, you open your business to evaluation. Some things don't come into play. You are trying to sell a business, so things like saving a kitten at no cost to a little girl can go into the memory bank, but since that other bank doesn't enter into the equation, this doesn't count. Not one thing you did just because you felt it was the right thing to do counts now. That number in the computer, all those times you trusted someone who promised to pay, and did not...that number works against you now, too.

Every time you cut a corner because someone begged you to do less than a good job, now counts against you. Every time you didn't raise your fees to keep up with inflation, because so many of your clients were out of work, counts against you. Even the fact that you worked all those extra hours, just so you could help more animals and their people.....even this now works against you.

The numbers are all in the computer. You cannot hide from them. You cannot hide them. And the person who may look to buy your practice will wonder why those numbers make this business look so feeble. What you did all your life to help, means nothing.

Bad business doesn't sell. And if you cannot sell it, those four decades of work trying to help, trying to be the good guy....well that just makes a veterinary practice's contribution to retirement less and less. A lifetime of trying to build that investment squandered. It's only money, you might say, and that would be true. You still have the sense of satisfaction of knowing you wanted to help. 

But when the young doctors ask you why they shouldn't let a client promise to pay a bill, you had best tell them the truth. When they someday are old, and struggling to pay the rent because they sacrificed as they bent backwards to help, they will remember the advice you tried to give, and they tried so hard to ignore.

When I retire I will have enough, but yeah....something more than just enough would be nice. I'd like to do more with my retirement, but I know I cannot. I will have memories and satisfaction. And that will have to do.

I'm almost at the end of my trail, often looking back now. With mixed emotions, regrets and smiles. Not a victim, but a product of all those decades. I get to live with all those decisions.

Such joy. Such sadness. Such life.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Requiem For A Rogue

For ten years I wrote a weekly (weakly) column in the local newspaper, about this and that and sometimes animals. This bit comes from that. The first part ran in the first year of the column, and then came the second part.

Clyde is part of our blended family at home. He is a big, gray cat who thinks he is a dog. Clyde would rather hang with the dogs than do the usual cat stuff, he sleeps on his back and watches TV upside-down, and he looks at us in complete disdain when he catches us bad-talking cats, if he thinks we are including him.

This is not to say that Clyde doesn’t like us, for he delights in bringing presents into the house and leaving them around for our pleasure. He specializes in the perfect gift for every occasion. Wednesday, it was the gopher that he left at the front door. Last week he strategically placed the back half of a roof rat right in front of the entrance to the master bath for my bare-footed enjoyment. My wife says the mouse he dropped on the bed next to her the other day, as she was putting on her make-up, was an interesting surprise.

You gotta love the guy for his enthusiasm and originality.

Clyde is laying low, right now, because his latest little present, delivered last night, hit about ten on the Richter Scale

I was pretty comfortable in my chair in front of the TV, but experience has taught me to attend when my wife lets loose with a blood curdling scream in the bedroom, so I trotted on back. When I got there, she was cowering in the corner in her birthday suit, vibrating, and pointing to an innocent looking bathrobe lying crumpled on the bed. And, she had a few unkind things to say about Clyde.

Not quite sure what to make of this, I picked up her robe and out dropped about five inches of seriously annoyed blue-belly lizard.

It turns out that a lizard inside one’s bathrobe can produce rather interesting sensations as it runs up your back, and when it is your wife’s back, it’s time to remove the lizard. So I wrapped up the little guy and returned him to the bushes in front of the house. In parting, I told him it might be best to stay away from big gray cats in the future.

Poor Clyde can’t figure out what he did wrong.

A short 10 years brings us to today, and I'm still trying to write a good column, but sadly, now I have to do it without Clyde's help. The ole rogue has left us. It's just not the same without him, and since they broke the mold, there won't likely be another.

Say what you want, but Clyde was always his own man. He got something out of living with us, else he would have moved on. He didn't intend to amuse us, but I guess he didn't mind, either. He ate our food and slept on our bed if it was cold, and then he melted into the yard to do his own thing, as he chose. We buried him back in the trees, his heaven, before the devil knew he was gone.