People like me can not even fathom Betty’s kind of poverty, or what leads someone there. Culture? Role models? Lack of them? Financial ruin? Death? Mental Illness? Addiction? Our modern-day lepers – It’s just so easy for us to look the other way as they stand amid the traffic, cross to the other side of the street as they approach, and flip someone a buck when we’re feeling generous. Haven’t they made their own choices? And if they’re an addict, it’s their own doing! Why would I feel sorry for someone who poked holes in the crumpled can to burn a rock, put the lighter under the spoon, or climbs inside a bottle with my dollar?
It’s not so simple. Seriously, do you honestly think that kid sitting next to you in your high school memory really chose to end up penniless and begging? Many do have substance abuse issues. I’ve learned so much about addiction lately from Ryan Robertson’s story as well as a blog I read about Phillip Seymor Hoffman. What an epiphany! I had no idea.
Maybe it’s because I’m a lot older now, or perhaps life’s cruel lessons have made me better, more adept at saying what I really believe. Or maybe I just believe different stuff now, because of those lessons.
“Doctor Klein, that woman with last week’s pyometra is on line 2,” declared the intercom, and I quickly finished the call I was on to grab the other line because I hadn’t heard a thing from her in almost a week. My heart sank when Betty (not her real name) told me “Baby Girl” didn’t like the antibiotics, so she didn’t give them. The dog “hadn’t really moved much” for the first two days after I had done the surgery. My heart sank as I prepared for the grim follow-up sentence – the poor little dog had been so very sick from the infection that I knew, even with our surgery, without the antibiotics, there really wasn’t much hope for survival. It just didn’t make sense. Why hadn’t she… This was all a big … Hadn’t I impressed upon her enough how important this was? Besides, Amoxicillin suspension tastes really good – I had taken it myself dozens of times as a child!
My worst thoughts were interrupted, “But then, all of a sudden, she jus’ started drinkin’ water again. So I tried again, and then she drank it ‘real good.’ Nex thang ya no, she’s jus’ a runnin’ and jumpin’ and beggin’ at her food bowl.” I thanked her for calling, scheduled a recheck, smiled from ear to ear, and did the “happy dance” in a circle around the medical treatment room.
My staff had heard the entire conversation, and although they were glad also, I think it was more because I really suck when I’m in a bad mood, and when I’m in a good mood, I’m basically a pretty big dork. They prefer the latter.
Surgery is often time for interesting conversation in an animal hospital. We typically discuss really important stuff like Jack Bauer’s return, last night’s American Idol performances, and the latest Netflix we’d watched. My CVT’s (kind-of like nurses), assistants, kennel staff, and sometimes some of the receptionists and managers all participate in these important meetings, mainly because they end the morning, and run into the lunch period. Sometimes we actually do talk about important things, like why the hell is it so hard to keep the controlled drug log exact, why personalities seem to clash, and medical ethics; often this morphs into real world morals and ethics – life lessons, if you like.
So today, after deciding last nights American Idol girls were mostly disappointing, I told them how funny it was that my blog about last week’s pyo had gone viral. Admittedly, I’ve only blogged for a very short time, so most regular readers have been family, friends, clients, and a few other followers from last year, when I hiked the Camino de Santiago, and amateurishly began to learn to write. Anyway, I explained that I normally get about 150 or 200 hits a day, and during the Camino there were a few days when I topped 700 views.
Well, the day I posted about our donating our time for Betty and her dog, I got 300 hits. “Wow,” I thought, “People much prefer a veterinary feel good story (or maybe just a gross picture) than the embarrassing , personal, cathartic stuff I usually blog about.” The second day 1000, the third day 3000, then 10,000 views. (Then a surge to 650,000 and as of today, views of 1.42 million)
Like me, my staff was amazed, but they weren’t unanimous about the merits of how it had played out.
Only then did I learn about the scene, in our front reception area, when Betty came in that afternoon with an intoxicated friend. While she was rushing around, shouting, concerned that her dog had died, he was also up there, to a full waiting room, talking “crap,” certain that even if the dog was alive, we wouldn’t give her back to them; it was all a trick, that’s how “places like this operated!” Even after she had her dog in her arms, she was still “rude and disrespectful.” When she was given the bottle of Amoxidrops, she didn’t even say ‘thank you,’ only a remark that she wasn’t gonna pay any more for it, that she’d already “paid in full.” You can imagine how well this went over with the front staff, but they never shared this part, knowing for sure it would change how I looked back and viewed the whole case.
I could only laugh at these new details. And I (who knew?) got back on the ol’ soapbox. “Should I be indignant, that the ‘Supersavior vet’ and his wonderful clinic hadn’t been properly worshipped? Come on guys, what do you need? You are missing the entire point. You don’t help someone because you want them to love you, or even thank you. Think about it – why do you do nice things for people? Or give someone a gift?” Before he could answer, I reminded him that this had been rhetorical. “You don’t do nice things because you want the other person to reciprocate! That’s not even a gift, that’s an exchange, and you’re always disappointed with what you get back.”
“Here’s the deal. You’ll be so much happier in life if you always do the right thing, because it’s the right thing, not because you expect someone to do the right thing in return.” Expect for them not to. Then it would be a nice surprise. What’s the point of even walking on this earth if we can’t make it better for our having been here. Who cares if someone says, “Thank you.”
“I think you are naïve,” my tech said to me, “Why even try? You can’t rescue the world!” “Daddy mode” kicked in, so I shared a paraphrased Starfish Poem:
One day an old man was walking down the beach just before dawn. In the distance he saw a young man picking up stranded starfish and throwing them back into the sea. As the old man approached the young man, he asked, “Why do you spend so much energy doing what seems to be a waste of time?” The young man explained that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. The old man exclaimed, “But there must be thousands of starfish. How can your efforts make any difference?” The young man looked down at the starfish in his hand and as he threw it to safety in the sea, he said,” It makes a difference to this one!”
Someone else then thought they were agreeing when they said we had done it to help the dog anyway, not the woman. My “daddy mode” was in full throttle now, and I’m sure the churlish cynics will also consider this all to be sanctimonious, holier than thou drivel, but I’m just sayin’…
“No, no, no! It’s not an “either/or, it’s a both/and! Although we obviously treated Betty’s dog, that’s not where it ends, or certainly not the “why?” Remember why people even have pets!” We had had this discourse plenty of other times, and all were in agreement about the importance of that loving bond.
Of course this story involves a pet, but only because that’s what we do. It really involves another human being. I did encourage them to be proud of what they do, and what they did, and where they work, but not smug. “Because every one of us is an accident, a medical diagnosis, a fire, or a divorce away from living in that cardboard box under the bridge.” (There, but by the Grace of God, walk I.) Looking back over 50 years forces me to remember so many dumb things I’ve done, and wonder why not me? “Besides,” just joining us from her kennel duties, Amy added perhaps the most wisdom, “Even if they have become addicts, I don’t think they drink or do drugs to get high. It’s to numb the pain and loneliness.”
I remember a colleague at a convention shared with me that he had become a vet because he liked animals more than people, that he “hated” people. I was stunned. How do you “hate people” in this profession? Perhaps it was his whiskey bravado talking to me, but his words still ring in my ears years later. I do hope he found other work. I shared this story with a classmate and best friend Jim, who practices not far from me. We were enjoying a beer (seems to be a theme), watching our beloved Mizzou Tigers, and solving the world’s problems with our wisdom. He also helps out our church’s philanthropies, such as St. Vincent de Paul and the Brevard Sharing Center (a soup kitchen), so I enjoy sharing our stories together. Jimmy shook his head and agreed that, maybe he’s naïve, but all the vets he knows, the successful ones anyway, in order to really care about their patients, care about their people first.
And so it is a both/and. I firmly believe we’ve placed here not only as stewards of our animals but to love and support each other. At the end of the day, at the end of our lives, when we “que up in front of St. Peter,” which line would you prefer? – the naïve, giving, loving line or the “it’s all about me” line. That’s the choice.
Betty’s calling us that day was no co-incidence. Much Love.
This is the difficulty faced every day in this profession, If it were only about caring for animals, it would be easy. But the people, oh the people can make it so pleasant, or so difficult and frustrating. Many people do think that owning a pet is their right, and that we stand in between them and the medical care that their pet needs because we expect monetary exchange for the service and products they need. How many times have I been angrily accused of ‘not caring for animals’! How many times have I been told that they would be by next week to pay the bill, or ‘put that on my account’, what? You don’t have an account, obvious by the “Payment is expected at time service” sign. What other professional service allows you to walk out without payment? Do you yell and cry at the dentist if he won’t fill your cavity for free? How about leaving the auto parts store with a sack of goods with a promise to be by on pay day? I would love to be able to see past all that and realize that everyone has a story, but I would also love to see the veterinarians receive the respect they deserve. This story does make me want to slow down and not be so quick to judge the clients that are more difficult, and to think about the reasons behind their words and actions. Thank you for your service, and thank you for writing!
I’m retired now and I miss practicing every day. Reading your blog about Betty and Baby Girl brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t get monetarily rich as a DVM, but my life is much richer for all the Bettys and Baby Girls I was able to help over the years. Sounds like yours will be, too. Much love!
Michele, actually yes, the hospital or doctor bills me, the auto parts man or mechanic, bill me. my dentist? bills me. I don’t pay then and there. I can make two payments, or three. only the vet wants it ALL, now. I do understand that but if they have a patient who has been coming in for years maybe there could be a difference? Not everyone has a credit card. Amazing eh? These days I can afford it, once upon a time I occasionally had to opt for euthanasia. It’s heartbreaking. But my debt load was already overwhelming.
I picked up a dying stray once, and could not get him euthanized because “we have not seen him before”.. what? really? Yeah I got a bad attitude that day. Had to take him home to die slowly. Sometimes I DO wonder why a person became a vet!
However I much appreciate my current vet, and am happy to pay his fees. These days I can do it, all of it, then and there and I do not mind. And I know he’d have helped me with that dying cat (I had the money!)
I totally agree that it’s not about getting back, it’s about doing what is in you to do! It’s nice to know the dog lived. I knew a dog who died once, because the owner could not afford more treatment at that time. She’d already spent quite a bit. But she loved her little dog. I could not afford it either then. I’ll never forget that dog.
Myra, re the dying stray — know that some people have been known to take other people’s pets to the vet to be euthanized, leading some vets to be very strict about who they do and don’t euthanize. Unfortunately some animals get caught in the middle. (imagine how you’d feel if someone euthanized your animal without your consent)
Yes. Thank you.
Hmmm. What type of arrangement or relationship do you have with these places to allow this? Never have I ever heard of a dentist doing payments or a doctor’s office and definitely not a part’s store and I’m a great customer and always pay in full but when I didn’t have it I wasn’t allowed to get these services. Seems odd and there definitely are vets who do payment plans but definitely not for randoms as it should be.
Reblogged this on Randomness.
Thank you first of all. Words are free and easy to use for some people, but what comes from the heart is another story altogether. I read this because my niece had posted it and I cried through most of it thinking about Betty and her dog.
I live in “Misery” to. Your story immediately had me thinking of JD. Jack Daniels was an amazing friend. I lost him this past November after 17 incredible years & 5 days. He was an ORE-PEI. Part Sharpei and part Pug. I am looking at his ashes on the mantle piece as I write this. He had long hair and amazing colors throughout his body. He was brown,black,gold and pale yellow.
It seemed he got old in just a week or so. One minute he was full of life & then he was old. I watched him loose the strength in his back legs and I hand fed him,lying on the floor to do it. I am 62 and have a really bad back, busted ankles and way to fat to be doing this, but I did. He got to the point he would not eat anything. Even his beloved bacon bacon bacon. then his back legs gave out totally.
My back was really hurting and the room mate took him to the vet that Saturday. I took a nap and when he got home JD was not here. He was sitting in the living room crying and I knew. He said his legs had given up and the vet said it was time to let him go. I called the vet and asked fi I he was still there. she said no, they had come to get him. I was heartbroken as I had not been there to hold him as he left us, She said she had held him for me.
My heart is broken and I tell him Good Night and Good Morning every single day. We have two more. One girl 8 years and one boy 7 years old. I know how Betty felt now and it really hurts. But, thanks to Animal Health and Healing here in Saint Louis he was well loved and well taken care of when he left us to go lie in the sun under that rainbow.
Thank you for allowing me to share this.
Art, my condolences on the loss of your baby. I understand; I did the same thing with my cat who passed last Thursday. I rigged up my bedroom to be her sanctuary. Moved everything so it would be close. She had trouble with her legs also. I knew it was time when she started to soil herself. She would crawl into the litter box, and since she couldn’t get to a squatting position, she soiled mostly herself. Oh, how she complained about this. When it was decided to send her over Rainbow Bridge, I had my daughter help me bathe her back end. Being 62 myself, fat and handicapped, I couldn’t dead lift a 20 lb. cat from the floor. I wasn’t sending my girl over the bridge with a poopy butt. Amazingly, when she was clean, she calmed right down. I’m sorry you didn’t get to say goodbye. Bless you, and I hope your days get easier.
Thank you so much for these two posts. Part one was wonderful but I almost loved part two even better — the idea of a gift truly being given with no expectation of reciprocation. Anything else is kind of barter, isn’t it? “I will give to the poor and they will give me their thanks and maybe give up some of their dignity while they are at it,” doesn’t really sound like charity to me.
(I am the kind of person who sometimes says she loves animals and hates people but if I hear about more people like you, I might consider tempering my hyperbole. I doubt that your friend really “hates” people, I suspect he is probably someone who has been very hurt and betrayed and disgusted by the behavior of too many people he’s known and that just “hating” people feels like the safest path to take. Or who knows, I’m guessing on the internet.)
Thankyou. I hope a million times 10 read your essay.
Enjoyed your story very much, and will share it. Re homelessness and addiction:
I have a stack of elementary school report cards that say the same thing: “Dana’s such a bright girl, if only she could pay attention.” I was a classic underachiever.
I also stole money from my parents to support a pathological sugar addiction, started smoking at 15, drank 12-18 cans of Tab a day, and flunked out of college my freshman year due to majoring in marijuana, sunshine, and sex.
I managed to get my s*** together, starting when I read a book on the psychiatric effects of nutrition at the age of 19, and dropped sugar and white flour. I went to trade school and got straight As, wound up with a pretty steady income, took some classes at the local Junior College, found a good guy, got married, and eventually started writing for a living.
And at the age of 52, I was finally diagnosed with ADD. I found the best psychiatrist in town. When I told her about all those addictive behaviors she said, “You were self-medicating.”* Turns out that we have triple the risk of every kind of addiction, from cigarettes to gambling. Triple the risk of obesity, too — because of addictive food behavior.
How many panhandlers, how many of the people who gather in our local park because they have nowhere else to be — how many of them are self-medicating? Our culture has a negative attitude about psych meds — about psychiatry in general. It’s considered a character issue. Worse, because of our godawful health care system — or lack thereof — people can’t afford psychiatric care. I pay for my psychiatrist out of my own pocket; it runs me $125 three times a year or so. How are those people in the park supposed to get the help that might let them change their lives?
I am where I am because I have been hugely privileged. I was born a wanted child of a well-to-do family, with two Ivy League English majors for parents. That alone was a gift — I grew up speaking upper-class English, a great advantage. They could and did pay the high property taxes to live in a town with excellent schools. Mom read to us, took us to the library weekly, took us to museums and historical sites. They paid for enrichment classes on the weekends — I was looking at pond water through a microscope at age 10. When, in adolescence, my school performance dropped even further and behavior became ungovernable, they ponied up the money for private school, where I did far better.
What if I had been born with this off-brand brain, but none of those advantages? I could easily be one of those people in the park.
* When people say or post “My child was just diagnosed with ADD, but I don’t want to put him on drugs!” I want to shake them and say, “Do you have any idea how desperately I wish I had been diagnosed and medicated by 3rd grade? Which do you prefer — that a competent psychiatrist medicates your child, or that your child try to do it himself?
It is so important to spay and neuter our pets!