Life as a Veterinarian

The Story is in the Details

DSC_0507 copyEveryone of us has a story, whether we share it or not. Our stories come alive because of the details…the words the author chooses to share cause us to we feel, see, taste, and touch. The details of our days bring the ordinary to life and create the extraordinary.

In the veterinary world, the story often starts a mystery…the villain is disease and dysfunction; the detective is me. People see their pets everyday and I often ask the question “How did they not see this?”. Sometimes it is just a matter of “We don’t see what we look at every day” but years of training in detection and deduction allows me to see the details when others simply don’t look or can’t see. It is those skills which define the veterinarian’s skill and competence.

Like a photographer that starts with a wide-angle lens I note the posture, behavior, general overview of the animal and then zoom in until I have a macrolens. Most clients just assume I am petting their dog or cat. But it is a systematic uncovering of details.

I start at the eyes…the windows to the soul and teller of what lies beneath. Move to the ears…teeth…gums. I run my hands under the fur and feel boney protrubances, palpate the tendon attachments, all while looking for the subtle discussion my patient may start…a look of worry, a grimace…Most owners assume their pet will cry or tell of pain but in nature pain is hidden and reserved for the weak.

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My nose seeks scents that may indicate infection or a change of the breath that tells of disease within. The little dogs and cats often smell of their owner’s perfume as they spend most of their day’s minutes in arm or cuddled.

I feel the fur thru my hands, matting or greasiness a detail not missed. The rounding of the mid-section with ribs deep below tell of a meals too large and walks too short. I slip the loops of intestine thru my fingers, seeking the details that tell of infiltrative disease or function not perfect. The cat’s bean-shaped kidneys should be smooth and without pain and in our senior friends a finding of irregularity or smallness tell of aging that has been unkind.

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The detective has many tools at hand.  To ausculate means to listen and so I auscultate to the heart and lungs. To hear a crackle or wheeze of air that doesn’t follow its set path thru the trachea and bronchi to fill the microscopic sacs of air that form our lungs. The heart beats its song of  “lub-dub”, “lub-dub”, lub-dub”. A missed beat, the song too fast or too slow, an irregularity in the lyrics tell of cardiac disease.

In the geriatric small breed dogs, I often hear a quiet whisper that sneaks its way in between those lubs and dubs…”lub-shhh-dub”.  The details tells the story of a heart valve that was once smooth and efficient, a door ushering the blood between the rooms of the heart. As I hear the “lub-shhh-dub” I visualize that blood now turbulent and paint a picture in my mind of a valve now nobby and irregular, the victim of degenerative disease.

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I collect a blood sample. How spectacular is the story that blood can tell. Within the liquid life are cells, hormones, and enzymes that tell the details of the inner organs. Within the blood are cells and under the microscope I can see warrior immune cells. With the subtle changes within them I can tell if the army is just being mobilized or if they are battle wary and fighting for the life of the pet.

And as the technology advances it takes the story and gives us more details… more ways to enter into the fascinating world. How clever are nature’s systems and we the detectives that seek to uncover the complexities, abnormalities, and find attackers and invaders.

Within minutes, the details tell the story of health and wellness or disease and dysfunction.  While I chat and pet and give treats my hands, my mind, my nose seek the details that make the story. For my patients that can’t talk I write the story of their health. In the discovery of details I often put a voice to their pains, aches, dysfunction, and disease.

Each of us have days filled with details.  What details tell your story? The details of my work have become an almost meditative invitation. I sought the extraordinary but found it in the ordinary.

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