If you have ever had the good fortune to go on safari, you know that everyone talks about the “Big 5”: rhino, lions, elephants, cape buffalo, and leopards. The term was coined by game hunters and refers to the difficulty in getting all 5 because of their ferocity when cornered, but now is mostly used by safari operators as a virtual checklist of animals one must see in order to consider it a successful outing.
When I was working on the book, I tried to pick out a combination of stories that laid the foundation for life in general practice. Along the way, I discovered some of the stories that I thought were so hysterical and weird has happened to EVERY SINGLE VET I know. Now that I’ve been out for a long enough period, my classmates and I can all nod our heads like the sage old people we’ve become and say yes, we’ve earned our stripes, done that.
So in honor of this, I present to you the Big 5: You know you’re a vet when edition. Once you’ve experienced the Big 5, you know you’ve made it.
1. The undercover detective dog
Dogs eating underwear is like the giraffe of the veterinary world: yeah, you see that everywhere. No big deal. The rare and treasured lion of the underwear eating world, on the other hand, is the dog who manages to not only eat something unpleasant, but bust a cheating boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse in the process. Dogs who poop out a red thong that doesn’t belong to the wife. Dogs who vomit up a condom wrapper. Interestingly enough, the dog is almost always the closer companion of the wronged party. They know. They always know.
Animal rating: lion. It’s messy, it gets your adrenaline going, and you are so glad you are in the car and not out there with the lion when they go in for the kill.
2. Involuntary nude client exam
No veterinarian wants to see a naked client. This is why we are veterinarians and not physicians. Nonetheless, with the MD shortage out there and the easy access to veterinarians, it is only a matter of time before a client tries to slip in a totally inappropriate question while you’re examining a pet, complete with stripping. In my case, it was a woman who pulled her shirt down and asked me to examine her breast. I consider myself lucky: a colleague once had a client ask her about hemorrhoids and was halfway to dropped trousers before she got him to stop.
Animal rating: Leopard. It sneaks up on you. You can usually chase it away by yelling.
3. The accidental grope
Physical examinations are, by their nature, very hands on. Most clients get this, but on occasion there will come one who refuses to let their pet out of their protective embrace. Usually the pet in question is a small, heavily haired squirrelly dog. There is only so much you can do when a chihuahua is placed squarely in a woman’s bosom before getting an unintended handful of human. This can vary in embarrassment level from mildly mortifying to near criminal, depending on the client, the location of the pet, and their outfit. Lesson learned: any male clients in running shorts must place the pet on the table, no exceptions.
Animal rating: elephant. Fine from a distance, dangerous up close.
4. The client who makes ass-umptions
I don’t think we spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing with pet’s rear ends: anal glands, rectal exams, fecal exams are but a small part of the work we do- but for some reason some clients get it in their heads that 99% of our interactions with a pet is via their rectum. “Oh no!” they say, when we get the thermometer ready. “Gird yourself, Tommy!” etc etc. These same clients have a hard time believing that medications are administered in any manner other than per rectum. Here’s the kicker: You don’t get to check this item off your list until you’ve been asked about whether each of the following is administered in this manner: Advantage, dewormer, antibiotics, pills of any kind, chlorhexidine scrub.
Animal rating: cape buffalo. Comes in herds. You never know what they’re thinking.
5. Face full of anal glands
You are a seasoned practitioner. You know all the tricks about how to angle your thumbs and cover your target area with a paper towel. You know to evaluate glands by feel, how to note the tell-tale pressure of an impacted gland that is prone to blow. It will never happen to you, you say. You are careful.
It will happen to you.
It will happen to you in a moment you let your guard down, when you’re looking over your shoulder to answer a question and the glands sense an opening. You won’t see it coming. One minute you’re chatting about someone’s tapazole refill, the next moment you’re standing over the eye flush station screaming for Altoids and crying. Two hours later, you will relay the story to your family at dinner with great relish, laughing while the waiter makes a moue of horror and rushes away as quickly as possible. Because that is how vets roll.
Animal rating: rhino. A rare and memorable interaction you are unlikely to repeat but will talk about forever and ever.
How long does it take the average vet to complete the Big 5 Vet Safari? Did I miss any? I’m sure I did.