An animal does tell you things


“Let’s be honest, many human doctors regard veterinary medicine as crude, plodding and nebulous.” — Dr. Nick Trout, Tell Me Where It Hurts: A Day of Humor, Healing and Hope in My Life As an Animal Surgeon

Part I of II

Over a lifetime, I have held veterinarians in high regard, having been blessed to have grown up as a neighbor to one of the best. Doc Smith set the bar high, and he was as good with a wild-eyed bull as he was a tiny kitten in distress. His knowledge was remarkable, but his touch often bordered on the miraculous.

I have thought many times of my conversations with Doc after I had grown up, married, brought my own dogs and stray cats to him. One day, sitting on the inviting back porch at their home, Doc and Shirley talked with me about how challenging vetting in a small farming community had been at times.

“It sure seems I rarely ate a hot meal with my wife and kids,” Doc said. “There were many events interrupted by a farm call. While I was out, Shirley might call with another emergency to route me in the right direction, or I might get home and find out I was needed right back in the direction I had just left.”

Would do his best

Doc’s territory cut a wide swath. He would do his best with what was presented to him. At that time, there were many family dairy farms, as well as farrow-to-finish hog operations, so most of his calls involved large animals, often forced to render treatment in horrid surroundings, challenging circumstance. He might treat a terribly torn udder, followed by a beastly feeder pig bite in the finishing barn, or be forced to deal with the nastiest of them all: a sow pig with piglets.

He might return home to someone holding their beloved dog in their arms, seeking a miracle.

Doc knew the anatomy and physiology of every beast presented to him, a stunning realization in itself. And yet, as the author quoted to open this column points out, some human doctors look down their nose at vets.

Dr. Trout

Trout writes, “Why? Well, two seemingly interchangeable words, symptoms and signs, provide much of the answer. A symptom is any sensation or change in bodily function that is experienced by a patient and is associated with a particular disease. A sign is something that suggests the presence or existence of a fact, condition or quality. A sign is a clinical finding we touch, hear, see, smell and occasionally, inadvertently, taste. This distinction may not sound like much, but it is everything.”

Consider for a moment the need to study the anatomy of an enormity of complex species without a single word communicated between doctor and patient. As Trout points out, “The inability to communicate the presence of mild abdominal discomfort, to convey an appreciation of a twinge in my right elbow if I play a fifth set of tennis, makes all the difference.

Animal disease is obliged to thrive and prosper, unchecked, so that it may become grossly visible, palpable, malodorous and offensive, audible or debilitating to a sufficient degree that we finally realize something is not quite right.

Veterinarians spend their professional lives interpreting the language of animal signs, denied the luxury of plain, unambiguous communication.”

What Doc said to me stays with me. “Oh, an animal does tell you things. You just have to know their language and be willing to listen.”

Be sure to check out the second part to Judy’s column.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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