Monday, April 21, 2014

Healing as an open wound.

The Air Force tests a number of things. Some of these things are totally cool to me. The function of people in zero gravity. How many G's can ya take. How fast can we make this thing go?

The Air Force used German Shepherd dogs for many years to guard things. Things like nuclear weapons, bombers, and interceptors and the places that nurture such items. In the course of this, they decided to see how well German Shepherd dogs did their jobs. So somebody in the Air Force figured a way to measure the bite pressure generated by a German Shepherd dog who was munching upon your arm.

Seven hundred pounds per square inch.

In case you were wondering.

These were dogs trained to bite, so they would bite that thing and within the thing was a measuring device. A German Shepherd dog trained to bite can generate that much bite. Such a bite could fracture your femur, that rather large bone hidden in your thigh.

That would hurt!

In case you were do not want a trained German Shepherd, one with sufficient motivation, munching upon your femur. Now, the average backyard German Shepherd won't bite that hard. Even the one on the chain that had every kid in the neighborhood scared out of Mr. Wilson's yard wouldn't bite you that hard. But the trained ones would and could.

The one that bit me, all those years ago, up on my forearm just below the elbow where those muscles used to bulge, wasn't trained to bite... so he just gave me a little nip. It hurt, of course. Surprised me, for I wasn't expecting to get bit that day. But in this business you don't get an engraved invitation to a little nip. You simply get to enjoy it. Without warning. Without option.

What surprised me....was the noise. Oh no, not the bark or the growl. No, not that. It was that pop....the pop when his canine tooth popped through the taunt skin of my left forearm. I could hear it as he bit me. That makes it seem real, in case you were wondering.

The scar is lost amongst those others, probably that dot next to where that other shepherd got the muzzle off and with his front teeth, those twelve incisors, he pinched a wedge of skin and tugged my arm that way when I thought it should have been going this other. I turned to see my arm in his mouth going west, and I requested he give it back.

I don't get bit often. I've learned most of the tricks to avoid this. Several dogs every day consider biting me. Sometimes more than several. Through diplomacy I avoid most of these bites. I win them over. I'm good, after all. Maybe one or three a week give it a good try, and miss. Like I say, I'm good. And a few times each year one will get me. Most are an annoyance. Every two or three years I get one that hurts. After four decades, I've the scars to prove how good some of these dogs can be, and how fallible I be. I remember many of these.

I'll remember this one. The scabs are slowly shrinking, and I exhibit supreme discipline in that I've not picked at the scabs hardly at all, which is unusual me. I'm an inveterate scab picker. And I've resisted for two weeks. They are jolly good scabs, and it would be fun....

While the Air Force was training German Shepherds to guard our military bases, the Soviets under Joseph Stalin had a few military bases too. After losing a few million people in the process of driving Hitler's armies out of the country, the Russians took guarding their bases seriously. The dog they came up to do this with is now called a Black Russian Terrier. It is a formidable beast. It looks like a bear, tips the scales at 120 pounds or so, and it is fiercely territorial, passionately protective, and as one breeder confessed, inordinately intolerant of any invasion of its personal space. Where most dogs must be trained to attack, according to this breeder, you must train this dog not to attack, and you must continue to train it for the entire life of the dog.

In other word, if you try to pet it, this dog will kill you.

This is not a dog for the casual dog person. It is not a dog for beginners. And it is not a dog for those silly people who think they need a guard dog that is nastier than their neighbors' guard dogs. Guess who bought this dog to be their family pet?

It was a nice social puppy. But by the time it was 9 months old, it tried to bite me because I touched its ear. When I gave it a correction with the leash for that misdeed, it came right up after me. That's when I gave the owner “the talk”.

Some dogs cannot be kept in polite society. At all. Some others can if the owners know what they are doing. Here we had a dog in the first category, and owners who didn't even come close to the second. Here is the number of the best dog trainer in the area, the one I send the worst behaved dogs to, to see if he can save them. The rest will die, hopefully before they really hurt someone. Go see this guy.

They went once.

But since the dog was behaving himself in their home, they decided they didn't really need to go again.

The trainer told them to never take the dog out in public without a muzzle. So when they showed up at my hospital when the dog was 16 months old, the lady told me she had a muzzle on the dog. This beast has hair everywhere, so you cannot see his face, his eyes. You cannot read him, see his tells. He doesn't even have a tail. He just stands there. You cannot see the muzzle.

Turns out the muzzle was not such, but only a strap loose around his nose and mouth. When I petted him, he attacked. No growl. Didn't get tense. Didn't look at me. Just boom. He bit like an experienced dog, with enthusiasm and power.

The strap kept his mouth partially closed. Those twelve incisors were latched onto a bit of skin on my left forearm. He wasn't letting go. He was growling.

Remember the eyes....the great white shark on “Jaws”? Yeah, those eyes.

I ripped my arm out of his mouth. That makes a sound, too. He left with my skin.

The owner expressed surprise. She thought she was holding him. She didn't think she needed the real muzzle. The dog had only attacked one person, a friend visiting their house, and they caught the leash in time.....

Without that strap, the dog would have opened his mouth fully and my arm would have been entirely within. Something in excess of seven hundred pounds per square inch. The bones would have been broken. The muscles and tendons torn asunder. The nerves likely lost forever. Crippled. For life.

“Doc, will I still be able to play the piano?”

“Certainly, my friend.”

“Good, because I couldn't play a note before.”

Ten fingers. Two eyes. Two ears. That's how I wish to end this career.

So far, so good.

Yes, this dog will hurt someone some day. Seriously. He may kill someone. But not in my practice. But he will hurt someone. Everybody sees it coming. Except the owners. Everybody has warned them, threatened them. Somebody will be hurt or killed.

I hope it's not a kid.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

I Am More Than a Veterinarian - Guest Post

I had an epiphany today. I am more than a veterinarian. I have read that when you ask a veterinarian who they are, they answer, I am a veterinarian. And I’ve thought, well of course they do. Because in our culture who you are is what you do, right? Sure, I’m a mom and a wife and a gardener and the caretaker of a menagerie of animals. Recently I’ve decided to be a runner and am training for a marathon. I’m a cheese maker, a daughter, a homeschooler, a sister, and when I have time, a damned fine cook. But if you ask me what I am, I will tell you I am a veterinarian.

And that is a logical answer. I am the owner of, and the only veterinarian of a small, rural practice. I get up 6 days/week and go to work. I spend my entire day there, usually not leaving the building nor taking a break from the time I arrive until the time I go home. I often get home at bedtime, or sometimes even after the bedtime of my kids. Some days I don’t see my kids at all while they are awake. Because I am a veterinarian. My days are full of caring for my patients. I try to keep the healthy ones healthy. I try to make the sick ones well. I spend hours every week holding the hands of my clients (literally and figuratively) while they try to work through their own issues. Sometimes the issues we work through have little to do with their pets, but that’s OK, because I am a sounding board, a psychologist, a shoulder to lean on, a hander of tissues, a cheerleader, a veterinarian. I care deeply about my patients and the people who bring them to see me. I care about them so much so that I put my own life on hold, regularly, to be there for them.

But I am not there all the time. Sometimes I have obligations outside the four walls of my office. Sometimes I need to be a parent, a wife, a patient myself. Sometimes I need to get my hair cut. Sometimes my own pets need me to drive them to a vet across the state. Sometimes I try to squeeze in a run or an exercise class. Sometimes I try to weed my garden, or visit my elderly parents, catch up with a loved, but rarely seen friend. These things get put in the small hours, squeezed in between the big picture. I miss my run 8/10 times. The weeds will win the war this summer as they have every summer before. My husband is a single parent most days and nights. I have not been involved in my children’s homeschooling this year. I don’t get to stay home with a sick, feverish child who cries for me to stay. I have a nine year old who cried, asking me if I could please work less because I am never home. I pay this price because I am a veterinarian.

I was heartbroken today to talk to a client who was angry with me for not being available to her when she had an emergency. I had a local veterinarian and two emergency clinics who could have helped her. But I was not available. Her dog suffered waiting for me. She is angry with me. I have let them all down. She and her husband had a lot of things to say to me today. And one of them was something along the lines of, “you are a veterinarian and that should be your life.” It has been my life. For the last 15 years I have been a veterinarian first, second, and mostly. But I spoke words I didn’t know I would ever speak. I look this sad and angry couple in the eye, and I said, “I am not just a veterinarian. This is not my whole life. I have a husband. I have 3 children. I have a life and hobbies outside of this building. I work 6 days each week. I can not there for everyone all the time. I can not please everyone.”

I said that. You don’t know me. You don’t understand the power of those words. But I understood. Instantly. In that moment I realized. I am more than a veterinarian. I am a lot more. And the rest of me is important. To my husband, my children, my pets, my parents, my friends, my sisters. And to me. It is easy to get caught up in the needs of your clients and patients in this business. They need me. And I have gotten lost in trying to be there to fill all of their needs. 

I have lost track of all of the other hats I am supposed to be wearing. I have sacrificed the needs of the people I love the most. My clients are quick to turn on me when they feel wronged. I wasn’t there for this woman. She turned to Facebook to let my entire community know what a monster I am. My family is neglected by me on a daily basis. They have rarely complained to me and never publicly humiliated me. They love me and support me for Not for being a veterinarian. Because that isn’t important to them. I have spent my life defining myself as something that isn’t even important to those that mean the most to me. I realized today that I am not a veterinarian. OK, I am a veterinarian. But that is my profession, it isn’t me. So, if you see me pulling weeds, if I invite you to a dinner I cooked, if you catch me reading a book to my toddler, running on a back road, sharing a morning swim with my girls, milking my goats or out to dinner with my husband, please know. I am still a veterinarian. I still care deeply about you and your furry friend. The wellbeing of both of you is important to me. But the wellbeing of me and my family is important to me, too. And while I will probably always define myself as a veterinarian, I will be a far better one for realizing that all those other things I do are important, too.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Humorous interlude for neuro geeks

Paging Dr. Grumpy! 

With apologies to The Knack...

OOh, my little jerky one, my twitchy one
Coming in to see me with MY-OCLONUS

Got my work cut out for me, out for me,
Looking for the cause of your MY-OCLONUS

Never gonna stop, it won't stop
Such a twitchy one, wonder what it's from
CJD, serotonin syndrome?
MY-MY-MY ay-ay-woo!

Come a little closer huh, a will ya? huh.
Lesion in your spinal cord? MY-OCLONUS!
Keeping it a mystery, gets to me
Twitching down the lengths of your THIGH-OCLONUS!
You may now return to your regularly scheduled time wasting :)