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Archive for August, 2012

It was my first weekend on the job. The middle of June 1960 and I told my new boss that I would be happy to handle the Saturday calls and any emergencies that weekend.

I was on the last scheduled call of the day when Dick Mathes, our office manager/ receptionist/call scheduler, reached me on the mobile radio.

“John Jones is bringing in his cow dog, got caught by the mowing machine. His ranch is about thirty miles from here, in the badlands. He called about three so he should be here soon.”

A petite, young woman, blonde hair, dressed in clean but worn Levi’s, a denim shirt, and cowboy boots jumped to the ground from the passenger side of the pickup. She turned to lift down a young girl, her blonde hair almost white. An older boy, another towhead, jumped out unassisted.

The way the rancher carried the dog into the hospital told of his gentle nature. I noted his weathered face, thickly callused hands, and massive chest.     I held the door open and directed the Jones family into the exam room. Skipper, a two-year old Border collie bitch, black and white with wide set, expressive brown eyes thumped her tail on the stainless steel of the examination table.

Skipper raised her head, the rancher patted it and the dog lay back down on the table with a sigh. Both front legs and the left hind leg were lacerated, it appeared that metacarpal and metatarsal bones were broken. The upper portion of the left hind leg looked strange. When I palpated it the dog flinched. There was dried blood, dirt, and hair contaminating all the wounds.  I detailed all the damage to the family and explained what it would take to repair it.

“How much Doc?”

“Three dollars to put her to sleep, probably at least a hundred if we try to save her but here’s the deal, I’m new. I’m anxious to prove what I can do and I want the challenge of trying to save this dog,” I glanced at the two children. “It appears to me that Skipper is pretty special.”

The boy couldn’t stay quiet any longer. “Please Dad,” then he clenched his mouth shut.

The little girl chimed in. “Yeah, pleath Dad, we have to.” She was missing front teeth.

The rancher sighed. “OK . . . you guys understand this means no Christmas or birthday gifts this year?”

I called my new bride and convinced her to come and help with the surgery. I needed a “go-fer” since I was all alone. Several hours later, we finished. Skipper had her fractured hind leg in a Thomas splint and both front legs in casts. The next morning she was frantically banging around in the cage, but calmed down immediately after I took her out to treat her. When I tried to put her back in the cage, she became frantic again. I finally realized she was a ranch dog that had probably never seen the inside of a house, let alone been in a cage.

She was happy as could be in a stall in the barn and there she stayed, content, for almost two weeks recovering. Then on a very hot evening, we left the barn door open for ventilation. Somehow, Skipper got out of the stall and was gone. While out on farm calls I searched the sides of the road for the next week and a half, hoping to see her, nothing. The Jones family also searched, put up posters, called into the radio. The radio station made numerous announcements about Skipper and the newspaper ran an article about her, nobody reported seeing her.

As I walked through the door to the clinic, the phone rang. It was John Jones announcing Skipper had arrived home, a thirty-mile trek on one good leg, the previous evening. He brought her in and I was able to repair the casts and Thomas splint and dress all her wounds. She was terribly thin but happy to see me and eventually made a full recovery.

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I leased my practice in Phoenix and moved my family to Mexico City after accepting a one-year appointment with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. FAO was operating a project with the veterinary school at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The purpose of the project was to aid the college in upgrading their programs. My job was to help establish an ambulatory clinic to give the students hands-on experience diagnosing and treating animals on the farm.

While visiting a small community a group of students and I diagnosed a mule with tetanus. It was a textbook case and I decided that as many students as possible should be able to have the experience of observing and treating the animal. I explained to the owner, in my rudimentary Spanish, that the prognosis was very poor but that I would like to arrange to move the mule to the veterinary hospital to give as many students as possible experience with this kind of case. I was careful to explain that since the case was valuable as a teaching tool he would only be responsible for the cost of the drugs used and then only if the animal recovered enough to work again.

He agreed to the arrangement and I arranged transport for the mule to the veterinary teaching hospital at the university. Various groups of students assigned to the case treated it under my supervision for over three weeks. At one point, we had to put him in a sling because he was unable to stand on his own, but he made a miraculous recovery. It was extremely unusual for an animal with tetanus to recover in 1967. I arranged to transport the mule back to the owner the next time we went to the village where he lived.

I explained to the owner how to care for the mule until he fully recovered and handed him a bill for five-hundred pesos, about forty dollars, a small fraction of the cost of all the drugs we used in the treatment. I explained that I had substantially reduced the bill by charging for only a fraction of the drugs we had used because so many students had benefited by working on the case.

“But Senor Medico you say me I would not have to pay if the mule could not work. You see he is very weak, he cannot work.” He was speaking in elementary school Spanish so I could understand.

“I understand,” I said. “He will recover and when he does you will accept this obligation, true?” I fully understood that the poor farmer probably only earned twenty-five pesos a day, maybe less and five-hundred pesos was a fortune to him, but the mule was worth at least a thousand or more pesos.

Two months passed and we visited that village three or four times. Each time the farmer took pains to seek me out and explain that the mule was still too weak to work. I told him I understood and smiled to myself.

Three new students were with me in the truck a few weeks after my last conversation with the mule’s owner. As we drove past the village, I saw my man out in a field plowing with the mule. I stopped the truck.

“Now you will experience the practical side of veterinary medicine,” I told them and related the story. All of them knew about the mule and were amused that I had been unable to collect the bill, interested to see how I would handle the situation.

“Buenos dias,” I greeted my client.

“Muy buenos dias Sr. Medico,” he replied.

“I see the mule is fully recovered and working well.”

“Si senor, but it was not your medicine.”

“Oh?”

“You see the leather thong on his left front fetlock?”

“Yes.”

“A curer in the market at San Angel sold me that. It is treated with many special cures (mostly urine my students explained later) and the curer said me it would make the mule completely recover if I tied it around his left front fetlock.”

“What if you tied it around his right fetlock?” I asked.

“He said me it would only function if I did it properly and with the correct knot he showed me.”

“And it obviously worked,” I smiled.

“As you see, the very next morning he was cured.”

I turned to the students.

“Today’s lesson is to never believe you are smarter than your clients.”

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