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.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why Bother

This one is gonna jump around a bit, from here to there and then back again. Hopefully by the end I will have made some version of a point. If you don't get there, at the end, and don't get it, please try not to blame me. Ya see, I'm trying to make some sense of this myself and I'm not sure I can. So if I cannot 'splain this cogently to you, imagine the fun I am having churning it into sense for me.

I was introduced to a sick, demented, and fortunately tiny subset of humanity when a veterinarian I knew through the interweb was driven to suicide a short while ago. Dr. Koshi tried to rescue a cat from the demented efforts of a cat rescuer. Saving a cat from folks who think they are saviors. This is what ya call a no win situation. Dr. Koshi put the cat's welfare first, while the cat rescuers put their own selfish needs foremost. The crazies won when Dr. Koshi killed herself, and they celebrated long and hard, in their lonely homes and on the web.

One of the loudest haters on the web was a woman who had watched as her 20 year old cat died of kidney failure 20 years earlier. This woman never forgave the doctor who had tried to prolong the life of the doomed cat, and failed. Rational people, and those of us who know a few things, realize that the only 20 year old cats that don't die from kidney failure will be the 21 year old cats who die from kidney failure. The sun comes up in the east, always has, and likely always will.

This poor woman, bless her heart, thought more could have been done for her cat, and to this day, twenty years later, she has waged a one woman war against the profession of veterinary medicine for the slight visited upon her when her beloved cat died. This is her right, and the internet is her weapon, and the world goes on without even bothering to mock her futility. But as each day grows old, this woman seeks out any opportunity to rage against veterinarians who she thinks don't do enough to help animals. She is rather obsessed with this crusade. Death to veterinarians who don't do enough to help animals. She celebrated on her bit of the web when Dr. Koshi died. And daily she does all she can do to harm veterinarians that she decides have not done enough to help animals.

Please, remember this part.

Some time ago, a young man talked the National Geographic TV people into a reality show featuring his father, a quirky, aged, and arguably self-dedicated veterinarian who operates a mixed animal practice in Michigan. Folks love veterinarians, or at least they used to. The show has been entertaining at times, and the TV folks have made a fortune off it. This alone makes them happy. This is a win-win for everyone, right? The ratings are huge. Dr. Pol is the next James Herriot. We should all celebrate.

Well, not quite.

Ya see....on film, the incredible Dr. Pol has committed egregious malpractice, time and again, and some of us, the veterinarians dedicated to doing things right for the animals and their people, have objected to this. We've seen animals suffer at the hands of this man. We've seen him cut corners for no reason other than the fact that he doesn't care to do things correctly. We've seen his arrogance when charged with the abuse of his oath to reduce animal suffering. We've watched him cash the checks from his victimized clients and the TV folks, and walk away smiling.

So we have tried to stop this television program. We are proud of our profession. We are proud of the progress we have made over decades of time in the quality and effectiveness of the care we can provide your animals. We strive over our entire careers to improve this care. And we do this for the animals, and for you folks, and sometimes in spite of you folks. Thus, we want to stop that one doctor, because he mocks the progress we have made, and he attempts to elevate himself by denigrating the good that we as a profession have done for the animals and their people.

What? What you mean, in spite of “you folks”.

Yeah, spite of you folks.

We stirred up a hornets nest when we asked National Geographic to stop popularizing a fraud posing as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. We did this because we are proud of our profession and the care we provide, and because this one TV program is harming animals by undoing decades of progress in the care of animals.

“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”

Mark Twain

When some dedicated veterinarians asked the National Geographic people to discontinue this show, because this TV show harms animals in the long run, of course nothing happened. The money is far more important to the TV people than any harm they might cause.

So some veterinarians filed complaints with the regulatory folks in Michigan, suggesting that they should enforce their own regulations against malpractice in the practice of Veterinary Medicine. Dr Pol clearly demonstrated a need for sanctions on numerous occasions while he was being filmed. God only knows what he did when not watched.

The regulatory people have acted twice now, finding clear evidence of substandard practice, malpractice on the part of the TV star doctor. The man has been shown to be a hazard to the animals put in his care, and a fraud as he sells his services to a gullible public.

Some celebration might be in order here, but instead, a throng of Dr Pol supporters have surfaced to oppose any constraints on this show and this practice. Anyone interested in the welfare of the animals, and also aware of reality, would want the Dr Pol show to go away. But, this is when it's what you know that just ain't so gets in the way of this.

With the throng of rabid Dr Pol supporters speaking out, a variety of opinions have surfaced. All these folks think they know for sure, and sadly don't. Allow me to compress them into an easily digested few.

“Dr Pol cares”

“Dr Pol doesn't use all those fancy tests.”

“Dr Pol is cheap.”

Let me translate, for convenience.

“Dr Pol cares”.

This means that Dr Pol is cheap. Those doctors who want to do things correctly cost more money. Dr Pol doesn't care about doing things right, and he cuts valuable corners to the detriment of the animals. Dr Pol is cheap.

“Dr Pol doesn't use all those fancy tests.”

This means that Dr Pol refuses to use the best methods to help peoples' animals, but instead does something far less. Dr Pol is cheap.

“Dr Pol is cheap.”

Well, never mind.

Just for jollies. That woman who has pilloried veterinarians for the last 20 years because one veterinarian didn't do enough for her cat in her demented mind. Didn't do enough....Death to those who don't do enough to help an animal. The woman who celebrated when a veterinarian killed herself.

This woman has come out in defense of the substandard care offered by Dr Pol. Because he is cheap.

Now, try to work with me here for a moment. I want you to wrack you brains, think long and hard, and then answer these questions.

Can you think of any time when you see someone doing a job, performing a trade, or practicing at a profession where people consistently and persistently beg, argue, demand, cajole, and order to get that person to do a poor job rather than a good job?

Do you, as a functioning human, beg the chef of a restaurant to do a horrid abortion of a medium rare steak? Do you ask the mechanic who wrenches on your Harley to please to a terrible job? Do you ask the surgeon who will attempt to save your baby daughter to please cut a few corners because you don't really want the surgery done right? How about the guys who will paint your house, your plumber, the airline pilot taking you to O'Hara, your kids' teachers, those politicians in Washington ( Oh never mind that one. Forget Dr Pol here), the dude at Starbucks making up your morning coffee, a damn cab driver.

Please do a shitty job, but please do it cheap.

I don't know for sure, but I'm pretty sure I'm right here.

The only time all those people are gonna demand that you do a shitty job, but please do it cheap, are the folks we veterinarians are pledged to help.

And you wonder why I write such things in the dark of night, trying to figure why I bother to go to work every day. In spite of you people.

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.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Peddling your ass about town

Why prostitution is not the world's oldest profession, after all....and what does this have to do with Dr. Pol?

I've been sitting here, sipping some Bulleit, and trying to remember all that nonsense they tried to pound into my head back then.

First off....why the word, nonsense? THEY thought it very important, not nonsense at all, and that is why they pounded it into our heads.

First year in Veterinary College. Note capital letters and spelled correctly. The first week of class. Orientation. THEY were gonna spin our heads until we got it right.

I don't even remember how many of us sat in that classroom. 75? 76? I was 19 years old. The old guy in our class we called Gramps, was 40. The men at the front of the class were much older. They were, each and every one of them, veterinarians. We wanted to become veterinarians, and to a man, and 5 women, we wondered about this nonsense they were laying on us. Where was the important stuff, the how to make animals better stuff? Who cares about this?

I remember THEY were a bit stern. No foolin' around at all. They took this seriously. OK, I was not there to get kicked out. Much as I wished to object, I listened. My momma didn't raise no fools.


Now spell that.....V E T E R I N A R I A N.

We were not leaving that room without knowing how to spell VETERINARIAN. As they carefully, and sternly explained, some people didn't get this one right. We were not spending four years at the taxpayers' expense to learn how to be a vetinary, or a horse doc, or a vet. We were about to join a profession, and we were going to become VETERINARIANS. If they caught us talking about becoming a "vet" they'd shout us down.

Forty-seven years later, and I still cringe when my colleagues refer to themselves as "vets".

THEY very carefully explained to us the definition of a PROFESSION. This is the part I don't rightly remember, but it had much to do with learning an entire bunch of stuff, and then spending the rest of our productive lives learning more stuff. Special stuff, or what they called specialized knowledge. Specialized knowledge was part of what defined a profession.

THEY talked about a code of conduct that sounded much like the Boy Scout oath. We were to be held to a higher standard, so we were going to merit that by behaving to that standard. We were gonna be cheerful, loyal, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Or words to that effect.

We were going to be honest with our clients and with our colleagues. We would police ourselves because no one else could do as good a job as we. We would have a code of behavior that was far higher than what one expected from someone who was not a professional.

We would respect our fellow professionals, never denigrating them to profit ourselves, yet always holding them to the same standard to which they held us.

We were to pledge to always advance our profession, our knowledge, our tools, for that was to the advantage of our patients and our clients. This was our obligation.

How could we argue with any of this? We realized that this was not, in fact, nonsense after all.

Those men at the front of the class.... They'd been there when this was less than a profession. They'd seen "horse doctors" and various frauds pretending to do what we were training to do. They'd seen the neon signs over "pet hospitals" with the wagging tail and the "today's special" signs. They'd seen the fish hooks on the xray cassettes and filthy surgeries. And they had fought to rid our calling of this fraud and nonsense. They'd seen a profession emerge from the muck, and we damn well weren't going to ruin that. And so, they were stern.

My class and I inherited the most respected profession in this land.

The entire point of this orientation course was to introduce us to the notion of a profession. A profession is different when compared to a trade or a job.

There are many honorable trades in this world. Folks learn a complicated skill, practice it until they get it right and then they can call themselves a tradesman/person.

There are many jobs in which one can earn respect by showing up and doing prescribed duties. Lord knows we need folks to do this.

A profession, on the other hand, has special requirements, special knowledge that must be acquired and then augmented over time, and rules of behavior far more constraining that one finds on a job. Professionals are held to a higher standard than tradespersons or folks with a job.

Thus, there are fewer professions than there are jobs or trades, and those within a profession EARN a degree of respect. Which might be why, prostitution isn't really a profession.

Sure, there is that one whore with a heart of gold, and certainly some of these pros can claim to offer special knowledge. Somehow, when it all shakes out, it ain't the same.

When push comes to shove, a prostitute will do, not what is right, but what is paid for. And thus, a prostitute does not join a profession when she spreads her legs. She merely gets paid for what she is willing to do, and what she is asked to do. Right or wrong.

Which brings us to Dr. Pol.......