Daily Life

Candy Pee and Me: How Big Pharma Seduced Me at NAVC

It’s been entirely too long since I’ve posted, and for that I apologize. I’ve been terribly busy responding to nastygrams depositing my checks from Big Pet Food sneering at plebians going to a continuing education conference this past week, and what a week it was.

Like many of you, I read the Indy Star’s expose about the loose strings of pharmaceutical companies (or, in internet conspiracy parlance, Big Pharma) at continuing education conferences such as the one I was going to attend, and also like many of you, I was surprised. And excited. I had no idea this was what I had to look forward to! I thought I was just plunking down a couple grand in fees, airfare, and hotel for a measly week of polishing my science know-how, and here’s this whole seedy underbelly of riches I had no idea existed.

I arrived in Orlando for the North American Veterinary Community Conference with 16,000 of my closest friends energized, ready to be plied with jewels, cash, and cars. Kind of like The Price is Right, but with drugs.

In the past, I’ve wandered the exhibit hall for a breather in between talks, taking a peek at the new products on the market. Sometimes the companies would give us candy, or pens- enough to get us to stop by and familiarize ourselves with the product, but not enough to justify actually changing how we practice medicine. I would have done it anyway. Because becoming familiar with new products is, you know, what we’re supposed to do.

I wanted to start my day with one of the storied free food lectures, hoping to begin my morning with roasted pheasant and perhaps a fluffy souffle. Then I learned you had to get up at 6:30 and the most they could guarantee was that the food was “hot,” so I passed and had a Kind bar instead.

"All we need is cantaloupe and these vets won't know what hit them."

“All we need is cantaloupe and these vets won’t know what hit them.”

After a few am lectures about respiratory distress, where the speaker (and every other one at NAVC) carefully informed us about their financial ties- or lack thereof- to the topics of their talk, I hit the exhibit hall in search of fortune.

Somewhere past the forceps booth and to the left of the lasers, a long line started to snake through the aisles and out into the halls. Whatever they were giving away, that had to be good.

“Excuse me,” I said to the woman at the end of the line. “Is this where they’re handing out free cars?”

“No,” she said. “This line is for Build-a-Bear.”

“This huge line is for Build-a-Bear?” I asked somewhat incredulously. The three men in front of her turned around and to a one muttered something about little girls at home. It’s cool, guys. Everyone likes Build-a-Bear.

buildabear

“Where’s the contest where everyone wins something?” I asked, and they directed me over to the east hall, where a bored looking woman instructed me to spin a ‘wheel of parasites.’ I won a chapstick with a picture of a tapeworm on it.

As I continued to wander, I heard some grumbling from around a corner, where four people were congregated around a woman clutching a big bag. “Where’d you get that?” they asked her, and she pointed to another long line snaking through the hall.

“Is that the jewelry line?” I asked.

“No,” they said. “This is for the stuffed Olaf.”

“Like Olaf from Frozen?” I asked.

“Yes,” a woman replied, “but you have to be careful. They’re really hard to get. You have to go through a screening process.”

olaf

“What sort of screening process?” I asked.

“No one knows,” she said. “All I know is that they keep turning people away who don’t own practices. I think they sell some sort of financial services. It might involve an application and a credit report.”

“I’ve tried three times for an Olaf,” said another woman. “They’re not very nice about it.”

“Isn’t Frozen kind of old news anyway?” I asked, but that was apparently not the right question to ask.

Dispirited, I walked into the booth of a large pharmaceutical company. “If I listen to your spiel,” I asked, “What do I get?”

“Information,” the rep said, pulling out a sheaf of papers.

“No car?” I asked, disappointed. “Or a trip somewhere?”

She dug into her pocket and pulled out some mints. “I have these,” she said, then brightened. “Or a pen! Do you want a pen?”

“I’m OK,” I said. “I think I just need something to drink.”

“They have coffee over by that pet food display,” she said. “I think the line’s down to 15 minutes.”

By this time, the line for the Build-a-Bear had disappeared, and in exchange for giving a journal my email address, I was presented with a small, naked bear.

“We’re having a contest tomorrow for some scrubs,” the booth person said.

“For me?” I asked. “Or the bear?’

“For the bear.”

After an hour or so of this, my tally of freebies was as follows:

-One naked bear

-A bedazzled lanyard

-chapstick

– 15 pens

-one urine container filled with yellow candy (this was actually my favorite)

schwag

“Why do you think these lines for all these freebies are so long, do you suppose?” I asked my friend Kristen. “Are we that hard up for stuff we’d wait for half an hour just for a chance to win a free ipad?”

“You’re veterinarians,” she said. “Of course you are.” Touche.

After a long day of lectures and wandering, I had worked up an appetite, so I set out in search of the free feasts. I searched every corner of the hotel, and couldn’t find a single one. I realized everyone must have gone to the free rock concert instead.

“Free concert?” I said, intrigued. Maybe there was some credence to this Indy Star thing after all! “Who’d they get? Dave Grohl? Bruno Mars?”

There was a long pause as my friend flipped through the conference brochure. “38 Special,” she said.

38special1

“38 Special?” I replied. “Are those guys still alive?”

“Apparently.” Pause. “My dad’s gonna be so jealous. He almost took a cruise with them last year.”

Hungry and alone, I went to my room at 10 pm and decided to order room service. After 15 minutes on hold, I placed an order for a Cobb salad and was told it would be an hour and a half, because shutting ourselves in our rooms alone with our papers is apparently a popular choice for veterinarians. I’m so predictable.

 

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Featured Posts, Goofball Antics, Lifestyle, Musings Tagged: , , , ,

The Truth About Pet Food Research

About one year after I graduated vet school, I took routine screening chest radiographs of my senior Golden, Mulan. I looked them over, frowning at a small, mottled spot near her sternum.

“She has cancer,” I thought. It’s not an unreasonable conclusion to come to with Golden Retrievers. Before I panicked, I asked my colleague to look at the x-ray, and she agreed it looked suspicious. I was devastated.

I took Mulan to the local specialty hospital, where an intern I knew from vet school patted me on the back while the resident internal medicine specialist pursed his lips sympathetically. He grabbed his ultrasound machine to prepare for a guided biopsy. Before starting, he asked the radiologist to stop by to give his thoughts as to what this strange radiographic feature might be.

“What are you looking at? That? That’s normal sternum,” he said, sipping his coffee with the mildest of eye rolls before strolling out of the now-silent room.

I knew just enough to be dangerous but not enough to actually come to the correct conclusion. Along the way I dragged two other very educated colleagues with me through sheer force of conviction. Mulan lived another 4 years, by the way.

Data and Interpretation

Lots of people have asked me about the controversial results from the Truth about Pet Food’s crowdsourced food safety study. I haven’t said anything, because I couldn’t think of anything to say. It’s the same response I have when people send me this picture over email and ask me what this lump is:

dog

The correct answer is, “I need a lot more information before I can tell you that.” Which is about how I feel about the significance of this study.

As veterinary nutritionist Dr. Weeth points out in her excellent response, scientists kind of live to nitpick and poke holes in one another’s work. It’s necessary to allow criticism because there are so many ways one can go wrong with a project- from the way the study was designed, to the implementation, to the data interpretation. It was the persistent nagging of the science community that led to the eventual discrediting of Wakefield’s autism/vaccine research paper, the public health implications of which we are still dealing today, up to and including 19 people who were sickened with measles at The Happiest Place on Earth.

Without being allowed to evaluate the entire research process, we have no way of knowing how valid the results are. A pretty infographic does not science make. Nor does protesting “it’s not junk science” mean that it isn’t.

What We Know

I’m hopeful that the full set of data will be made public, including methodology. Until then, all we can do is go by what we have been told.

Dr. Gary Pusillo of INTI services, who has the misfortune of being out of the country while all of this debate is going down, was in charge of the testing process. Thixton writes that he is a board certified veterinary nutritionist, which in theory is fantastic because it means that he would have the background in both veterinary medicine and nutrition to not only perform the studies, but interpret the results. There’s only one problem: he’s not. (Nor does he in any way present himself as one, by the way.) A board certified veterinary nutritionist is a veterinarian who is also a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. You may think that’s irrelevant, it’s just semantics, but it’s not.

Credentials are a big deal, as I’m sure Dr. Pusillo himself would tell you were he around. I would really love for Dr. Pusillo and Dr. Purejav to have been available to answer questions while we’re all begging to know what the heck they did, and I’d love to hear more about how they determined “risk.” They may be the most qualified people in the world, but for right now, all I have is an infographic and a consumer advocate’s word that they’re the best.

jerrymaguire

Dr. Pusillo is a PhD who provides forensic science services, which actually sounds really cool and I would love to hear more about it. I have no reason to doubt that he is an excellent scientist. He probably knows tons and tons about how to test a food for specific substances. What he may or may not know is whether or not those substances matter clinically.

Data Collection vs. Interpretation

Let’s assume that the data collection was carried out perfectly. Data collection is only half of the equation- you still have to know what to do with it. You can have all the answers in front of you and still not know the question. The scientists Thixton contracted with are out of town at the moment, so who are we going to ask to help us interpret things?

carmen copy

Given who’s around right now, who could interpret the limited data we have through the filter of what matters?

A microbiologist with a background in food safety would be a good start, as someone who can tell you whether or not particular pathogens are actually of concern.

Or a board certified veterinary nutritionist, who can tell you about nutrient analyses and why dry matter comparisons without calorie content is useless. Both of them have some big reservations about this project.

They know more than I do about such things, which is why I defer to their interpretation. Little things mean a lot- for example, when you say “bacteria are present” what do you mean? Does that mean live bacteria were cultured using sterile handling procedures to eliminate environmental contamination? Or did the test just look for bacterial RNA, which could come from dead bacteria that were killed during processing and therefore prove that production works as advertised? I don’t know, but that would sure make a difference.

When the company you contract with to run your tests asks for their name to be dissociated from any press surrounding you, there’s one of two conclusions: 1. They were not happy about how their data was manipulated in the interpretation stage and didn’t want to be associated with bad science; 2. Big Pet Food Cabal. We may never know. *shrug*

A victory for food safety

I like to look at the bright side of things, and for reasons I can’t fathom, what I’ve found to be the biggest findings of the study are barely mentioned.

What are the three most common concerns I hear about pet food safety?

  1. melamine
  2. pathogens of most dire human significance, specifically Salmonella and Campylobacter
  3. pentobarbital contamination (implying euthanized rendered carcasses in pet food.)

Why were these not mentioned in the risk report?

Because they weren’t found. They did look for all of these products. All twelve tested foods were clear of the three biggest worries in recent memory to pet food safety. That’s something, don’t you think?

I’m an optimist. Let’s look at the bright side of things, what do you say!

quote2

So let’s review here: I like asking questions. I have no problem questioning consumers, colleagues, my own professional leadership. I think concerned consumers are good consumers, and I applaud anyone who is invested enough to care about what goes into their pet, be it food, drug, or plant. I have chosen not to work in the employ of companies in the field specifically so I can feel free to say what I want without worry about my job or advertisers.

That being said, I think we also have to take the Occam’s razor approach to life and assume at some point that companies are telling the truth when they tell us they aren’t actively attempting to kill our pets. There are problems, some big and some small, and those are worthy of being addressed, but if you can’t accept at the end of the day that they are generally trying to do the right thing, then we may not ever be able to come to an understanding. As part of a profession that deals with this type of distrust on a regular basis, there comes a point where you have to say, “If you’re going to insist I’m out to harm you no matter what I say then I probably should just leave now.”

So let’s end on a high note: a toast, to those who care. I think everyone’s here arguing for that reason even if the conclusions are different. Salmonella free appetizers for all.

quotes

 

 

Filed: Ask Dr. V, Blog, Daily Life, Featured Posts, Health, Musings Tagged: , ,

How to find your Special Snowflake Vet

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “otherwise you wouldn’t have come here.”

cheshire-cat-alic

Every time I come across a “how to choose the best veterinary hospital” article, I read it, because it’s fascinating to me to see how different authors choose to guide you in this task. The articles exist, presumably, because not all hospitals are the same, therefore some are great and some, not so much. I think we can all agree this is probably the case. It’s like dating- lots of choices, but not all are a match.

Of course, the recommendations are pretty disparate, depending on how you define “good hospital.” Are you the holistic vet, the guy who’s dedicated his career to evidence based medicine and refutes anything without a journal article to back it up, the disgruntled owner who’s displeased with one bad experience and parlayed it into a major website, or the practice owner who’s looking to attract new clients? They all have different ideas of what makes a “good clinic,” to the point that one person’s perfect place is another person’s house of quacks and vice versa.

We've all had those "what are you smoking?" moments.

We’ve all had those “what are you smoking?” moments.

 

Clinic Dating

It’s good to know what your needs are, and good to know what a clinic provides. A client/vet mismatch is unpleasant for everyone. Like that girl in college who insisted that her jerk of a boyfriend who left his dirty socks in your living room was just misunderstood and refused to believe the stories of his drunken overtures to every girl on the dorm floor, some poor souls really have a hard time believing that most people just don’t change simply because you want them to.

Yes, we all know at least one vet who had a major epiphany mid-career and did a complete 180, but most don’t. And if you know one who did, it’s probably not due to you and the article you clipped out of a dog magazine you picked up at Whole Foods. I’ll be happy to look at it- heck, I probably already read it myself, I love Whole Foods- but please don’t be disappointed that I don’t change my entire medical perspective based on our 30 minute visit.

You’re paying me to give you my opinion, but if you don’t like it, well, we have decisions to make. While I’m happy to discuss my approach and how we might adjust it to your needs, it’s unlikely I’m going to completely change my medical perspective, because, well, I’m old enough now to be at least a little set in my ways. They’ve worked out pretty well for me. And if that thing I’m not into is that important to you, rather than getting really irritated with me for not changing, it’s probably easier for everyone if you cut your losses and find someone who’s a better match.

tinder

I like to make people happy. I will do everything I reasonably can to accommodate that. But at the end of the day, sometimes you and I- we just aren’t meant to be. And that’s OK. No matter what you’re into, from crystals and aromatherapy to a $30,000 kidney transplant assisted by a human nephrologist, there’s someone who can provide what you want.

Your Compatibility Score

There’s no match.com for vets (though hey, what an idea! who wants to help me develop that?) so you’re on your own for screening your vet for a potential match. You’re going to have to figure out your top couple of priorities and go from there. Here’s some things to consider:

  • If you want an office open until 8 at night every day because you work, don’t go to a solo doctor office.
  • If you want to see the same vet every time, don’t go to a huge office with enough staff to be open every day until 8 at night.
  • If you harbor some deep down issue with blondes/men with mustaches/people with tattoos/some other random thing, don’t go to that vet out of some weird sense of guilt. They’d probably prefer you didn’t anyway. Life’s too short to spend it explaining to a relative stranger why you don’t like them. I can tell when someone doesn’t like me. I’ll survive.
  • If you want a holistic vet, go to AHVMA and find one. Acupuncture is becoming very common, and a lot of places that practice mostly western medicine offer it, but if you want homeopathy or chiropractic, you’re going to have to look a little more. Most vets offer western medicine because that’s what most vet schools teach, that’s all.
  • If you want a place with the best prices in town, don’t be mad when the doctor won’t answer your midnight emergency. If you want a doctor to answer your midnight emergency, don’t be mad when they don’t have the best prices in town. Same goes for fancy stuff like lasers and endoscopy.
frustration

Nobody likes to be frustrated.

If you ask me about Chinese herbs, I will tell you honestly I don’t know anything about them. You can go with what I do know, or I can help you find the guy down the street who studied them (I have one doctor in mind, and he’s great.) Forcing me to prescribe those unfamiliar drugs for you is not an option.

So here’s my one sole bit of advice for how to pick the best veterinary hospital:

Find the vet who’s already your own special brand of crazy, whatever that is.

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

fatherwilliam

After a decade trying to be all things to all clients, I have finally embraced my own brand of crazy. While I am not your doc for orthopedic surgeries, just the other day I wore a client’s bathrobe and smeared cat food on my hands to help a nervous cat feel more comfortable. If I’m not that one for you, let’s break up so you can find your One True Vet Love.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” 

Filed: Blog, Featured Posts, Health, Musings Tagged: , ,

On the tenth day of clinics…

On the tenth day of clinics, my clients brought to me:

derp

9 beggars prancing

8 screws a-stabilizing

7 mites a-swimming

6 Old Souls Graying

5 Moldy Rings!

4 Gastric Grommets

3 Dead Pens

2 Blown Up Gloves

And a linear Foreign Body!

Filed: 12 Days of Petmas, Blog, Daily Life, Featured Posts, Features Tagged: , ,

On the ninth day of clinics

My boarders gave to me:

beggars

Hold on! That’s eight? Where’s number nine?

begdance

Hamming it up by the ham, of course.

8 screws a-stabilizing

7 mites a-swimming

6 Old Souls Graying

5 Moldy Rings!

4 Gastric Grommets

3 Dead Pens

2 Blown Up Gloves

And a linear Foreign Body!

Filed: 12 Days of Petmas, Blog, Daily Life, Featured Posts, Features Tagged: , ,

What Your Natural Health Magazine Doesn’t Want You To Know

After the fifth time someone forwarded me “The Shocking Truth Your Vet Is Hiding” type articles in the past week, I had to take a stop from my scheduled 12 Days of Clinics to address it. I debated on a few clickbait titles for this post:

alt: “Why Magazines are Getting Away With Murder”

alt: “The Shocking Truth These Publishers Are Hiding”

It doesn’t really matter what the title is or if it related to the content anyway, but I imagine you already know that. But let’s step back a moment, and go back for a breath to 2011.

The most singularly amazing experience of my life took place in a forest in Tanzania. I had waited my whole life to visit the chimpanzees of Mahale, an experience I had anticipated with baited breath. Good, gentle, kind chimps.

And this is what I actually learned: chimps can be asses. Petty, sneaky, grumpy asses. Most everyone kind of knew that, though, right? They’re allowed bad days just like everyone else.

IMG_4318

But I learned something else, which was also an eye opener not only for me but for the rest of the people there, for researchers who have spent their whole careers in the M community (by convention these communities are all lettered). Chimps, under pressure, can be vindictive.

The events I witnessed in my time, a Machiavellian soap opera of alliance forming, led to the never before witnessed assassination of the alpha chimp by his own community, an event so unexpected and rare it was written up in multiple journals. Pimu was a jerk, no doubt about it. He ruled with an iron fist. But no one expected the other males in his own community to kill him.

I was there. I saw it. I saw the way the pot-stirring chimp, third in line from the top, systematically groomed all the other males in the group, waiting for just the right moment to take advantage of their fears and frustrations with Pimu. Then- triggered by some small infraction that in other circumstances would have passed without comment, he lit off the powderkeg that resulted in an alpha getting his head smashed in by a rock.

The instigator didn’t even have to get his hands dirty. He was the Petyr Baelish of Mahale, climbing the ladder of the chaos he sowed.

chaos

The argument can be made that we are hard-wired for a black and white view of the world, to see people as friend or foe, with us or against us. Once someone’s a foe, there is nothing valuable, worthy, or meaningful in anything they say or do, ever, marinating in their evil fortress of pain or whatever it is enemies do.

It takes work to suppress that natural inclination and try to genuinely understand the actual truth of things- that most people, even those on the other side of the fence, usually have good intentions and may actually have a point about some things. But you can’t start a conversation when the guns are firing.

There’s always one person who benefits when two factions are fighting, and it’s rarely the ones out there actually getting bloodied.

Skull Smashing in Modern Veterinary Medicine

I am part of the V community of pet lovers: the veterinarians. This informs how I view the world and my place in it: as a pet lover, trusted advisor, someone who cares enough about the health of our companions that I chose this as my life’s work. I believe in the value of our work and our research and use that to make recommendations for my clients.

I am also part of the larger O community of pet lovers: the owners. I understand knowledge evolves. I attend hundreds of hours of continuing education, became certified in acupuncture, and I’m not afraid to change my advice based on evolving knowledge. I came out the gates of vet school ready to challenge old assumptions about vaccines, pain management, and nutrition, and over the last decade we have changed the way we practice medicine as a community.

I kind of assumed it was ok to be on both teams. So do you understand why it drives so many of us crazy to see this sort of thing?


bad1

These are Dogs Naturally Magazine’s most popular articles. Half the time the articles don’t even really correlate with the tone of the headline, but the damage is done. Clickbait is the equivalent of the pot stirring chimp sticking a rock in your hand and then shrugging and saying, “What? I didn’t tell you to hit anyone with it.”

evil vet

I promise I never once looked a dog straight in the face with maniacal glee as I prime a syringe in front of their face, imagining the piles of money I get to roll in after work after wiping the blood of a thousand sickened pets of the floor with the research showing all these medications I recommend are actually totally unnecessary.

I’m not holding the V community blameless here. I understand there are vets who dig in their heels and refuse to admit that you have a valid interest in researching things and asking questions. There are those who look at everyone with a concern about DOI studies like this:

tinffoilcat

And they really wish you would just stop looking things up and just do what they tell you, no questions asked.

But that’s not most of us. If these types of publications (I’m picking on Dogs Naturally but that’s only because they’ve published about 10 pieces like this in the last month) really cared about the overall wellbeing of pets, they would be advocating for better ways to communicate with your veterinarian instead of just telling you we all want to kill your dog with Drano injections, euthanized horsemeat kibble and drugs we are prescribing solely because we were given a free pen, so you should just stay home and feed them coconut oil and canned pumpkin and whatever else their advertisers are selling you.

help

(I aced “Making Little Kids Cry in Terror”, which I took the same semester as “Why Sick Pets are Better for Business than Healthy Ones so Make Sure To Keep them Sick Through Recommended Shots and Foods.”)

So yes I’m irritated, not because the content in articles like “Why Vets Are Getting Away With Murder” has no merit despite the misleading headline, but because those clickbait pieces really just serve themselves. Information is good. Using it to sow discontent instead of discourse? Not so much.

Communication, not Coconut Oil: The True Key to Health

Concerns about vaccinations, sarcomas, immune system function, and nutrition are all perfectly valid. This should be able to be part of a discussion with a good veterinarian without bloodshed or Yelp. You are all smart people. A nice, polite, rational approach to collaboration may not sell magazines, but it does create better outcomes. I will talk to you about anything, even coconut oil, delayed neutering, titers, and raw food.

I understand the difference between your pet and the community as a whole, and if you ask why we have the recommendations we do, I’d be happy to go into all the boring public health theory and discussion of cell mediated immunity and why titers don’t prove definitive immunity and all those other things a drug rep with a burrito did not teach me in a one week course. This is communication, and it’s what two people who don’t want to kill each other do.

Bad_ced6a6_78363

The Truth I Don’t Want You To Know

Is there one? I don’t know, maybe this:

  • the times I went home crying because I couldn’t save a pet.
  • The times I vomited in the parking lot because of the stress of the day or the person who threatened my receptionist with a gun.
  • The fact that on some days, I said to myself had I known the physical and emotional cost of this job, I might have chosen a different path. Especially on the days people tell me I’m only doing it for the money, or the glory, or the free pens.
  • I understand there are crummy vets out there. There are crummy whatever it is you do for a living, too. Just try not to be one of them.

You know what I’d really be doing if I was in this for the money? Looking for a pet with a genetic problem to exploit for fame and fortune. Alas.

I find it ironic that people are willing to believe, without question, the word of a person selling magazines, conference tickets and, I assume, advertising, and that this is done solely out of their benevolent desire to tell you the truth about the crapfest that is my profession and nothing else. There’s no room for nuanced discussion and benefit of the doubt when you’re trying to grow a brand in a world that thrives on conflict. I’d have a much larger site if I were willing to throw a few thousand colleagues under the bus for fun and clicks, but sadly, I’m plum out of rocks today.

You and I want the same thing, long and happy life for your pet. Bananas for everyone.

Filed: Blog, Cats, Dogs, Featured Posts, Health, Musings Tagged: , , ,

On the sixth day of clinics…

My clients brought to me:

 

6pic

 

5 Moldy Rings!

4 Gastric Grommets

3 Dead Pens

2 Blown Up Gloves

And a linear Foreign Body!

Filed: 12 Days of Petmas, Blog, Daily Life, Featured Posts, Features Tagged: , ,

On the fifth day of Clinics

On the fifth day of clinics, my ref lab sent to me:

moldy rings

 

4 Gastric grommets

3 Dead Pens

2 Blown up Gloves

And a linear Foreign Body!

Filed: 12 Days of Petmas, Blog, Daily Life, Featured Posts, Features, Goofball Antics Tagged: , ,

On the fourth day of clinics

My clients gave to me:

grommet

 

3 Dead Pens

2 Blown Up Gloves

And a linear foreign body!

 

Thank you to Jessi J for the radiograph! She writes: “Boo ate a leather drawstring bag, and my only clue were a few remaining pieces of string. The radiograph was our confirmation…” 

Filed: 12 Days of Petmas, Blog, Daily Life, Features Tagged: , ,

A Veterinarian’s Holiday Wish

It’s the holidays, and that means lots of things: peace on Earth, goodwill to men!

Was Brody this teeny on his first Christmas? Time sure flies.

Was Brody this teeny on his first Christmas? Time sure flies.

Just kidding, it means cranky people fighting in the parking lot, someone getting shanked over the last PlayStation, and passive aggressive fruitcake gifts.

I wasn’t always this cynical. I, too, was once a merry-eyed elf with stars in my eyes and garland round my neck, until I worked long enough in veterinary medicine. Then I began to dread the month of December. It is a month of ill portents:

  • Too many people who blew their budget on Black Friday, cannot afford to work up their cat’s pancreatitis, and then blame it all on you in a waiting room explosion worthy of the Fourth of July;
  • The strange but consistent uptick in euthanasias the week before Christmas. Always.
  • Wondering where your card is from your favorite client then remembering with a pang of pain that they lost their dog to cancer in October. Yes, we feel sorrow for your pets. We love them too.
  • Hearing the two most dreaded utterances in veterinary medicine:

1. Fifteen minutes of telling us how every vet before us has wronged them, but we are awesome.

We’re not flattered. We’re terrified. We know it’s only a matter of time before we’re next on the naughty list.

2. The four words you must never say: “Money is no object.”

Translation: That’s because we have no intention of paying the bill. Been there, done that, many times.

 

So please forgive your vet if they seem a little more harried than usual, if their eyes are open a little wider than normal or their smile seems a little strained. It isn’t you. It’s December and they are bracing themselves is all. Should you wish to improve their month, aside from being the lovely clients I know you are (and appreciate more than you know!) I propose the following ways to make some vet’s day a little merrier:

  1. Food, of course, always lovedMake sure to include the staff in the note. Usually they work as hard or harder than the vet and get none of the glory.
  2. Did I mention food?
  3. Cards. We read every one, especially on the bad days. I still have some from 2003!
  4. Pictures of your pets. They make me smile and I love them.

And should you be stuck for ideas, I’ve made you some ecards:

Feel free to send one to your favorite vet. Trust me, it’s as good as cookies.

 

Filed: Blog, Daily Life, Picks of the Litter Tagged: , , ,

The greatest Thanksgiving ever

I grew up in New England, a place where tradition runs supreme. Holidays were a big deal, and we spent most of the major ones shuttling from this aunt to that grandmother and back again, enjoying the camaraderie only a large and extended family can afford. Those were the halcyon years, when my mother could still get away with dressing me as a doily.

doily

When I was eight years old, we moved across the country to Southern California, and those days came to an abrupt end. We still celebrated every major holiday with all the pomp and circumstance my mother could bring to the table, but in the end it was always just us, and while it was still lovely, it was more….quiet, somehow. We called the family religiously, listening to the hubbub in the background and the people shouting in tipsy voices, “Tell em we said hi! What’s it, 70 degrees out thah? We’re jealous!” And so was I.

We always toyed with the idea of going back to spend the holidays with the family, just once, but the lure of nostalgia was overcome by my father’s distaste for holiday travel, so we remained home, year after year, in the quiet serenity of a sunny and warm Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In 2003, I was just celebrating my first anniversary, settling into a new job, when my mother told me her father, my beloved Pepe, was in trouble. He had been in trouble his whole life, truth be told, but it was a different kind of trouble this time.

In all the old pictures from my childhood, you could see Pepe smiling with the ineffable twinkle of a person who liked to tell stories, usually embellished. Always embellished.

Box_13  Pepe

 

The other thing you could always find, when you looked hard enough, was the small rectangular outline of a box of cigarettes.

We tried for years to get him to quit, bought cartons and emptied them out only to replace the contents with candy, but to no avail. He did quit eventually, when he was finally diagnosed with lung cancer about 20 years after it should have happened, but of course by then it was too late.

We visited him at the start of his radiation therapy, and my mother, who had long missed the embrace of her family more than the rest of us put together, spent a lot of time with him helping him get set up.

She’s a nurse. Of course she would be his caretaker. And when he rallied, he sent her back home to California.

 

pepe

 

Several months later, she was once again beckoned to New England. Pepe was doing poorly, and now he was in the care of hospice. Did she want to come, they asked. And she did.

She warned us that this time it was different, that the end was actually coming. If we wanted to say goodbye, she told us, we should be ready.

The week before Thanksgiving, Mom called both my sister and I and told us that Pepe had only days left, and should we wish to say our goodbyes, we should get on a plane. So we did.

The story of his passing is for a different time, but suffice it to say he did it his way, like he always did, and as strange as it is to say, we spent a good deal of those last hours laughing even through our tears.

He died on November 23, 2003. He was to be buried the following week, and Thanksgiving was only 4 days away. We piled into my aunt’s home, collapsed in the basements and crammed into the living room, while my aunt tried to manage both the grief of her father’s death and the sudden influx of new guests. The preparation was a welcome distraction. She shopped for turkey while my mother took my grandmother coffin shopping. “Mom picked our her own while we were there,” she said with some chagrin. “She always was a bit of a control freak.”

I don’t remember what we ate, balanced on paper plates on our laps. I don’t remember the pie or the turkey though I know we had them all. I remember laughing my butt off at regular intervals, my father looking in horror at the assembled group and asking, “Why are you all smiling and laughing? Your grandfather just died.”

And my mother smiled back and said, “Because he would have been so happy to see us all together again. This is what he would have wanted.”

Even if it took him dying to do it. Stubborn man.

Life gives us beauty when we least expect it, and what I am most thankful for is the ability to recognize those moments when they arrive. A blessed Thanksgiving to you all, my friends, and may you find your beauty in strange places as well.

Filed: Blog, Daily Life Tagged: ,

The Long Dark Twee-Time of the Soul

As you probably know, I have a bit of a complicated relationship with the PTA moms. Not moms in general, mind you, just the small subset of Pinterest loving, glue-gun wielding domestic lifestyle experts whose expectations I can never, despite my best efforts, seem to live up to. It doesn’t matter what school we’re at, it happens every time. First it was the art project/pooper scooper incident in kindergarten. Then it was the Have a Very Agro Valentine’s Day episode. And now it’s crudite, crudite that torments the soul.

It started simply enough: an email asking for volunteers to bring in food items for the teachers this conference week. I looked on the sign up sheet and put my name next to crudite: veggies and dip. Easy, I thought, a quick run to the grocery store for some carrot sticks and dip and done.

I forgot where I was.

(Not two weeks ago, I found myself in the midst of a malestrom for the fifth grade Halloween party when all the room moms got together and asked the parents to bring in food. I asked my class parents to bring in pretzels and fruit. The other moms showed up with cookies shaped like rotting fingers with almond nails and jelly blood, and eyeball eggs with veins hand-painted on with food dye. My pretzels were shoved under the table.)

So now, a few minutes after signing up for the veggie tray, I received an email instructing me to be creative!  which is always concerning. To illustrate her point, the organizer included this helpful photo:

crudite

As to what our vegetables should aspire to be.

Now at this point a normal person would laugh and say, “OK, lady,” and bring in a tray from Costco, but unfortunately I still have the sin of pride to contend with on a regular basis, so I instead spent the afternoon standing in line at the grocery store watching YouTube videos of Martha Stewart blanching asparagus. Three hours of cursing later, with piles of peeled burnt chestnuts and carrot shavings dripping out of my hair like Jackson Pollock on a bender, I came up with this:

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This is the dogged tenacity that makes people like me get through vet school even when all indicators point to the “why?” factor. We can’t explain it. We just have to.

I shared this with my friends, and they all got a good laugh out of how silly it was, and then later in the day my friend in Ohio sent me a link and said, “See? You’re not alone.” It was a photo of some artfully arranged food items a group of mothers had arranged for their teachers.

It was, upon further inspection, a photo from my very school from earlier in the day. It had already made the Pinterest rounds and ended up in Ohio, where my friend saw it and sent it to me as an example of Moms Gone Styled. I scrolled through it, looking for my contribution.

Notably lacking? The crudite. They were apparently so lackluster as to have not even rated a Facebook photo, and when I returned to pick up the dish I found they had been shoved in the corner in order to make way for some gluten free turkey wraps with hand-whisked dressings in, of course, Mason jars.

At this point, even a not quite normal person would just give up, which is theoretically what I should do, but it’s become clear to me I live in a parallel universe where I am destined to almost-quite get it, over and over and over, but not get it entirely. This is why I am a veterinarian, the almost-quites of the medical field.

So you know what? I’m embracing it. This afternoon I decided to go on a Pinterest binge and make a little Pinterest and dog-friendly crudite platter my way. Hope you enjoy it.

twee

A bright autumn day, full of promise and gently whispered secrets amongst best of friends, calls for sustenance.

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Lovingly hand-extruded kibble, with ingredients sourced from local artisans in an organic human-grade facility in Portland by men with bushy beards. In a Mason jar.

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We end our afternoon in the garden of delights (it’s water friendly succulents! We’re eco friendly here in drought-parched SoCal) with hand-cut carrot bones from the local CSA, mint from the garden, words of wisdom from the dog sketched in canine-friendly peanut butter hand ground at Whole Foods. And of course, no pet garden of delights would be complete without the coup de grace:

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nitrate free ham roses.

IMG_7369

 

You saw it first here, folks. I’m waiting on sponsors for a YouTube tutorial but I think a ham bouquet is a lovely thing.

Filed: Blog, Cooking, Goofball Antics, Mother of the Year, Musings, Photography Tagged: , , , , ,
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