The Tribe

I belong to the tribe of veterinarians.

There is an internist near me who is naturally gregarious. She walks in to a clinic for a consultation and cries out, “Brother!” or “Sister!” when she spies the veterinarian, and goes over for an enthusiastic handshake or hug, depending on the level of touch that the person is comfortable with.

I like the greeting ritual. I respond with an equally eager, “Sister!” and it becomes a high point of my day. My positive interactions with clients or staff can’t equal this one, because of the recognition that flows between us that we are fellow warriors. We are of the same tribe.pexels-photo-590510.jpeg

Tribe is a good word. To me it implies a group of individuals woven together with a common thread, and there’s a bit of an unpredictable wildness implied in the word as well. There is room within a tribe for unconventional thinking, individuality, innovation, and plain weirdness without compromising the underlying concept of kinship. There is room for the crazy uncle, the funny brother, the kind grandfather, the eccentric cousin. Within a tribe we are relatives and we’re okay with the “different”.

Veterinarians are all of a tribe, whether they know it or not. If you think about it, we have common interests, and at a very fundamental level, common experience and feelings. I like to think back to when we were all 8 years old. I bet every veterinarian had a real soft spot for animals in childhood, a natural affinity or affection for them. That is our common bond. No matter what drove us later to follow through with becoming veterinarians (because we all have different drives), no matter what paths our careers took, or what influences came from our personal lives that might have warped that original affinity, we come from the same foundation “stuff” – an abiding respect or love for (or fascination with) animals.

The love of animals is so much a part of our constitutions that it’s nearly impossible for most of us to imagine not having it. If we look at every other veterinarian as being first and foremost a person who shares that most basic, most elemental trait, it causes a shift in our attitudes toward one another.

It is easier to empathize with one another in times of strife if we consider that we are arguing with a sister. It is easier to understand and forgive mistakes if it is an uncle making them. It is easier to reach out and help someone in need if it is a brother who needs our help. It becomes natural to mentor rather than condemn if it is our little cousin who is struggling. And it is easier to let unimportant things go if it is in the interest of the tribe to do so.

Ethology of the veterinarian, part III

This is the third and perhaps final installment in this series for novice owners of Homo herriotus pollulus (the common small animal veterinarian). The first article, The Husbandry and Feeding of Veterinarians, and the second, Ethology of the Veterinarian Part II, were eye-opening to many, if the volume of email the author has received is any indication. Here we hope to further enlighten the (as yet) uninitiated.

Greeting rituals. Interactions with animals outside of the workplace take on an atypical form. Veterinarians might perform a verbal acknowledgement of an animal and perhaps pat or stroke it, but will then use this activity to mask a covert inspection of the teeth or palpation of the ribs, or both. Your veterinarian may then incautiously advise the animal’s owner that the animal has “rotten teeth”, or is “obese”. Your veterinarian may learn that this conduct results in social marginalization, but will continue to perform the greeting ritual regardless. It appears to be a hard-wired behavior.

“Hidden” paraphernalia. If you are cleaning up after your veterinarian and come across needles and syringes in its pockets or find them in the lint trap of the dryer, do not panic. It is not a “dope fiend” and is not “chasing the dragon”; it simply ran out of room in its hands to hold everything it needed at some point in its day. If your veterinarian repeats this behavior, you can attempt to train it to empty its pockets before leaving the workplace. This training meets with variable success and requires continual reinforcement.

Pen hoarding. If the problem is pens rather than needles and syringes, the problem is more serious. Controlled studies show that veterinarians cannot be trained to leave pens at the workplace. Don’t even bother. Enjoy your new office supplies.

Scars. Some of those new to H. herriotus relationships may be alarmed by the amount of physical damage evident on their veterinarian, particularly on the medial forearms. You must keep in mind that your veterinarian works every day with animals who suffer its interference with varying degrees of patience. Some love your veterinarian and would never harm it. Others tolerate your veterinarian only as long as it does not step over a certain line, the location of which, in the case of cats, changes from instant to instant. These patients come armed to the fight, and human skin is no match. Expect more battle scars over the years.

Inability to watch nature shows. Your veterinarian may not be able to tolerate the sight and sounds of gory animal death. To you, the footage of a lion eating a gazelle is a fascinating window into the life of a carnivore; to your veterinarian the gazelle is an injured animal that needs fixing. The tension of not being able to relieve the suffering may overwhelm your veterinarian’s nervous system and cause grief. Observe your veterinarian for signs of distress when watching this kind of programming, and consider changing the channel to a more soothing choice like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, or an MMA match.


Old houseGod, I hate a mystery.

I had two of them this week, which made the week both diagnostically interesting and somewhat frustrating. Today is Friday and one of the mysteries was solved (post-mortem, unfortunately) but I’m left with a lingering sense of having not done a good job.

It’s interesting that despite the “wins” this week (patients with complex issues that I was able to sort out, the rare disease I recognized at a glance, curative surgeries that went off without a hitch), I’m dwelling on the “losses”. I know I’m not alone in this habit. Most of my vet friends express the same pattern, where the great good they do and the many lives they save are relegated to the attic of the mind like the crazy old auntie, while the mysteries and failures occupy the main floors, making our heads into haunted houses. Continue reading

The Husbandry and Feeding of Veterinarians (for new owners)

Congratulations on your new relationship! Partnering with a veterinarian is not without its challenges, but with some care and effort you can make things work. Here are a few pointers to help you maximize the bond with your veterinarian.

1. Veterinarians are omnivores – unless they are vegetarians. You’ll have to figure out which type you have. Start out by offering a nice mid-rare steak. If your veterinarian looks ineffably sad and turns away, you have a vegetarian. Eat the steak yourself and turn on fans to vent the smell of cooked flesh, then offer your veterinarian a nice pasta or salad. Timbits Continue reading

Does Kristen Lindsey deserve to die?

Orange catPeople are angry. There are calls for Kristen Lindsey, the veterinarian in Texas who allegedly shot a cat with an arrow, to be killed. Strung up from the nearest tree. Shot through the head. Tied up and dragged behind a car. Skinned alive. Many say she should kill herself and save all of the outraged readers the trouble. Save the state the cost of a trial.

She didn’t set off a bomb in a public place, or commit genocide. She didn’t join ISIL and behead journalists, drive drunk and kill someone with a car, burn down a school full of children, or shoot a police officer. She didn’t bilk old ladies out of their retirement money, didn’t sell drugs to ten year olds, didn’t sit in a clock tower with a gun and pick off strangers. Continue reading

Not quite speechless

I’ve been inundated with emails about the recent case of a veterinarian who allegedly shot a cat in the head with an arrow. (Warning – the link contains graphic content.) While I like to reserve judgment about everything reported online, the evidence is pointing toward this report being true, and her actions as being deliberate. Continue reading

If my mind was a person I’d unfriend it

I love my brain. Brains in general are great things to have, and I’ve got a good one. I can restore and retrieve information from it easily, it’s quick, can perform many tasks simultaneously, and seems to have an infinite capacity. Whatever makes a “smart” brain, probably a combination of genetics, training, and micro- and macroenvironments, seems to have come together in my skull.

It’s my mind that I find quite disturbing. It supplies me with a seemingly endless supply of thoughts that I don’t necessarily want and sometimes surprise me with their hostility. Continue reading

Reality check

A high school student came to my office the other day to discuss a job shadowing opportunity. In North America students take at least 2 years of undergrad study before being able to apply for the 4 year veterinary program, and most successful applicants have a 3 or 4 year Bachelor’s degree. The screening committees like to know that they aren’t admitting students with unrealistic expectations of what the job involves, so they like to see practical experience on an application as well as the relevant education.

I’ve had many students shadow over the years. They come in and hang out at the hospital mainly to have something to put on their application forms. I don’t think the experience sways them much; if they really want to be a vet, it’s what they want. And at that age it’s difficult for them to realize that this isn’t just “what are you going to do after high school”, it’s about an entire 40 year career. Continue reading